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Wednesday, March 2, 2022

The Open Meetings Act, Remote Meetings, and COVID Measures

There have been a lot of questions recently about the relaxation of certain COVID mitigation measures (such as the mask mandate) and how these changes might affect public bodies in conducting future meetings under the Open Meetings Act. As of today, we don't know whether the Governor will extend his current disaster declaration that was issued on February 4th and is set to expire later this week so we are providing two potential scenarios.

If the Governor does issue another disaster declaration this week, then public bodies can choose to conduct their meetings remotely or in a "hybrid" fashion subject to the rules contained in section 7(e) of the Open Meetings Act. That section allows public bodies to meet remotely so long as certain conditions are met, including (1) the State has issued a disaster declaration relating to a public health situation that covers the public body's area and (2) the head of the public body makes a local finding/determination that it is not practical or prudent to meet in-person because of the public health situation and (3) the public body follows all of the statutory rules for these remote meetings, including ensuring public access, recording the meeting, taking roll call votes, etc. It will be up to individual public bodies (and specifically the head of that body) to determine whether local conditions are such that an in-person meeting is not practical or prudent due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

If the Governor does not issue another disaster declaration this week, then once the current declaration expires, meetings of public bodies will need to be conducted in person and remote attendance would have to follow the "traditional" rules under section 7(a)-(d) of the OMA would apply so long as the public body has adopted a policy to allow remote attendance under this statute. Those rules allow an individual member of the public body to attend remotely if there is a physical quorum of the body physically present at the meeting, the public body approves the remote attendance, and the member's absence is due to (1) personal illness or disability; (2) employment purposes or business of the public body or (3) a family or other emergency. 

We will keep you posted as more information comes out but stay tuned to what the Governor does over the next few days. As with all things COVID, the situation remains fluid and could change rapidly. 


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