New Developments Affecting Meetings of Public Bodies in 2021
There have been two new developments in the last week affecting the ability of local governments to continue meeting virtually into 2021. First, on December 18th, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) updated its emergency order to combat the spread of Coronavirus (the “Emergency Order”). The update to the Emergency Order allows for some specific indoor activities to resume. However, under the Order, which is in effect until January 15, all local government meetings must remain virtual.
At this point, the Emergency Order (and the meeting ban) expires January 15, so at least as of now, local governments could schedule an in-person meeting on January 16 or later. However, given the high level of COVID-19 infections across the state, and past practices of MDHHS, it is possible that the Emergency Order and prohibition on in-person public meetings will be extended. If a local unit does plan to schedule an in-person meeting after January 15, 2021, it may be prudent to include language in the notice that depending on public health conditions and applicable orders and directives, the meeting may be changed to a virtual electronic meeting.
In addition to the updated MDHHS Emergency Order, on December 22nd, the Governor signed Public Act 254 of 2020 into law. The new law further amends the Michigan Open Meetings Act to extend the ability for public bodies to meet virtually for any reason through March 31, 2021. The previous deadline was December 31, 2020. Beginning April 1, 2021, through December 31, 2021, remote participation is permitted only for military duty, a medical condition, or a statewide or local state of emergency or state of disaster. Additional changes enacted in PA 254 authorize local governing bodies to declare a state of disaster or emergency by ordinance (in addition to those declared under law or charter).
As with the previous amendments to the Open Meetings Act, in order to hold a meeting virtually, the public body must:
- Post advance notice of the meeting on the public body’s website not less than 18 hours prior to the virtual meeting; the notice must clearly explain (a) why the public body is meeting electronically, (b) how many members of the public may participate in the meeting electronically, (c) how members of the public may contact members of the public body to provide input or ask questions on any business that will come before the public body at the virtual meeting; and (d) how persons with disabilities may participate in the meeting.
- Post the meeting agenda for the virtual meeting on the public body’s website (not less than two hours prior to the virtual meeting).
The attorneys at Mika Meyers are prepared to answer questions from our clients regarding the MDHHS orders and meetings of public bodies under OMA during the pandemic. Please contact us if you have any questions on how the updated Emergency Order or PA 254 may affect your municipality. Our attorneys are standing by to assist.