A bill to amend Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act has passed the House last month and is now awaiting action in the Senate. House Bill 1069, sponsored by Representative Aaron Bernstine, would amend the Sunshine Act to require government agencies, including school boards, county commissioners and local governments, to post agendas 24 hours prior to voting meetings.
Currently, public notice requirements do not include a requirement for an itemized agenda. Thus, if House Bill 1069 is enacted into law, governmental agencies should be prepared to make significant adjustments to their public notice policies.
The legislation would require conspicuous physical and electronic posting of meeting agendas. Specifically, agendas would have to be posted at the principal office of the agency, at the location of the meeting, and on the agency’s website. The posted agenda would have to include each matter that would be subject to deliberation or a vote and be made available to all attendees. If a matter was not included on the posted agenda, the agency would be prohibited from deliberating or taking official action on that item.
Under Rep. Bernstine’s bill, an agency may take official action on an item that is not on the agenda in in only certain limit circumstances, including: a de minimus matter that does not involve spending or contracting, a referral of agency business to staff for further research, or where a majority votes to add an item to the agenda. If items are added to the agenda for any reason, the amended agenda must be posted in accordance with the law within twenty-four hours. Unfortunately, given how important issues sometimes arise at the last minute, these restrictions on an agency’s ability to act could delay and impede action.
Sunshine Act Reform bills have been considered by the legislature in recent years without success. However, House Bill 1069 was passed unanimously. Therefore, it should be considered by local governments as a bill to watch.