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Monday, June 28, 2021

More Detail on Governor's Most Recent Disaster Declaration & Remote Meetings

As we reported late on Friday, the Illinois Governor extended the State's Disaster Declaration and various Executive Orders relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. That decision means, among other things, that public bodies can continue to meet remotely (or in a hybrid fashion) under the recently amended OMA procedures that allow remote meetings without a physical quorum, at least for another 30 days.

Last spring, the General Assembly amended the Open Meetings Act to add a new section 7(e) that allows public bodies to meet without a physical quorum under certain conditions, including the following language, in part:

(1) the Governor or the Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health has issued a disaster declaration related to public health concerns because of a disaster as defined in Section 4 of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency Act, and all or part of the jurisdiction of the public body is covered by the disaster area...

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(4) for open meetings, members of the public present at the regular meeting location of the body can hear all discussion and testimony and all votes of the members of the body, unless attendance at the regular meeting location is not feasible due to the disaster, including the issued disaster declaration, in which case the public body must make alternative arrangements and provide notice pursuant to this Section of such alternative arrangements in a manner to allow any interested member of the public access to contemporaneously hear all discussion, testimony, and roll call votes, such as by offering a telephone number or a web-based link; 5 ILCS 120/7(e).

As you know, the Governor had issued a disaster proclamation relating to COVID-19 last March and extended that every 30 days. Those decisions allowed public bodies to take advantage of this new remote meeting procedure as the disaster proclamations met the requirements of 7(e)(1). After the State of Illinois went into Phase 5 of the Restore Illinois, it was not clear whether the Governor would extend the disaster procomation for another month; however, last Friday afternoon, he did, and extended the disaster proclamation through July 24, 2021. The 6/25/2021 proclamation includes, among other things, the following:

Section 12. For purposes of Public Act 101-0640, Article 15, section 15-5, amending the Open Meetings Act, new section 5 ILCS 120/7(e)(4), I find that the ongoing public health concerns at issue in this proclamation continue to render in-person attendance of more than ten people at the regular meeting location not feasible. However, as the number of fully vaccinated individuals in Illinois continues to increase, I do not expect to make this finding again, and public bodies should plan on its expiration as of July 24, 2021.

The Governor also signed an executive order (EO 2021-14) that extended prior executive orders, including EO 2020-07, as stated below:

Executive Order 2020-07 (In-person meeting requirements):

Section 6 of Executive Order 2020-07, as amended by Executive Order 2020-33 and Executive Order 2020-44, is re-issued and extended through July 24, 2021, whereafter Section 6 shall be rescinded.

Based on the language in this latest disaster declaration, public bodies may want to prepare to go back to in person meetings starting July 24, 2021, if they haven't already been meeting in-person. At that time, public bodies can still take advantage of the "traditional" remote meeting procedures that allow members to attend electronically if they meet certain statutory reasons (illness, work, emergency), but an in-person quorum will have to be physically present at the meeting place if the Governor no longer finds in-person meetings to be "not feasible." 

Post Authored by Dan Bolin & Julie Tappendorf


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