Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering how municipalities can continue to use virtual meeting programs such as Zoom when needed for public meetings.
In Pennsylvania, each type of municipality—districts, cities, and towns—has different regulations or laws. Most codes require that the board of directors convening a meeting must have a quorum of board members to attend in person. Except for emergency orders, completely virtual meetings are not allowed. The exception is the second-class town code, which does not mention whether members must be present in person.
The quorum is the minimum number of board members required to hold a meeting. For example, a seven-person board of directors may require at least four members to be present in order to meet or make a decision. If only three people are present in person, the meeting will be cancelled. As long as the quorum actually exists, other members can appear virtually.
Before COVID-19, county commissioners, township committees, and city and district councils held public meetings with the entire committee in one room. Some people regularly broadcast their meetings on the Internet or on local TV. Elected officials interacted with the public present at meetings but not with online or television viewers.
But for Microsoft Teams or Zoom meetings, the members of the board broadcast from their home computers, and members of the public also use their computers to interact with the board. Everyone is looking at the computer screen, elected officials and general public viewers are all seen, and the public can electronically raise their hands to participate in public comment time.
According to testimony at a joint hearing of the Harrisburg House of Representatives and the Senate Local Government Committee on Monday, more and more members of the public are participating in virtual local government public meetings. But now Governor Tom Wolf’s COVID-19 emergency order has ended, the completely virtual municipal public meeting has ended, and public participation has declined.
Amy Sturges, who testified on behalf of the Pennsylvania Municipal League and the Pennsylvania Association of Township Commissioners, said that when COVID-19 prevented in-person meetings, municipalities scrambled to find ways to continue business. As a result, the General Assembly passed Act 15 of 2020, which abolished the in-person requirement for a quorum during Wolf’s emergency order.
Once the emergency order ends, the municipal regulations will come into force again.
Sturges told The Epoch Times in a telephone interview: “We require flexibility at the local level to establish a quorum in another way if necessary.” “The public should know when that is. But. [we] It’s not that the governing body never meets in person again. Rather than leave the code as it is, let us update our code so that next time they cannot show up in the room, they can have a virtual meeting without a full quorum. “
Sometimes, the demand for virtual meetings may be regional. The recent flooding in Pennsylvania has caused road closures in some areas. With the flexibility of virtual meetings, the board of directors can meet safely without encountering the road.
“This virtual thing is certainly good, but when you can sit across the table, it always makes more sense,” Republican State Rep. Jerry Knowles told The Epoch Times. “The people who came home didn’t choose me to stay at home. We can’t let this remote thing become the norm.”
Knowles is the chairman of the local government committee, and he believes that both meetings are good in different situations.
“When people are elected to public office, they are expected to attend the meetings,” Knowles said. “I don’t want people to hide behind virtual meetings. However, if they are in a position where they can only participate virtually, they can do it at home Otherwise, they have the responsibility to sit there, keep their eyes together, and listen to the opinions of the voters.”
The newly proposed legislation, Senate Bill No. 794 and House of Representative Bill No. 1318, call for the abolition of the in-person requirement for a quorum in administrative districts, but it does not address the requirement to meet the city or township.
This News Originally From – The Epoch Times