Sunshine Law Changes to Require Prior Public Notice of Official Actions at Board Meetings | Tucker Arensberg, PC

On June 30, 2021, Governor Tom Wolf signed into law Law 65 of 2021, amending the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act to establish new public notice requirements applicable to school district board meetings. The changes come into effect on August 29, 2021.

Display of agendas

In addition to any public notice requirements under the Sunshine Act, the amended law will require the following:

  1. The meeting agenda must be posted on the school district’s website at least 24 hours before the meeting is called. The agenda should include a list of each agency business matter that will or may be the subject of formal deliberation or action at the meeting.
  2. Copies of the agenda, including a list of each agency business matter that will or may be the subject of formal discussion or action at the meeting, should be made available to people attending the meeting.
  3. The agenda must be posted at the meeting location and at the school district’s main administrative office. (It is worth noting that the amendments do not specify that such posting must be done before the meeting. However, posting this information at least 24 hours before the meeting would constitute good faith compliance with this requirement).

These notice requirements apply to any meeting where deliberation is scheduled – even if there is no vote. Therefore, such public notice is required for planning meetings and committee meetings. Notably, however, the requirements do not apply to executive sessions or conferences that are not required to be public meetings under the Sunshine Act.

Changes to an agenda

The new law also prohibits a school board from taking formal action on a business matter at a meeting if that matter has not been included in the required public notice, except in certain circumstances:

  • If the subject matter of official action involves an emergency involving a clear and present danger to life or property;
  • If the official action relates to a subject which is de minimis of a nature and does not involve the expenditure of funds or the entering into of a contract or agreement; and
  • If, during the course of the meeting, a resident or ratepayer brings an agency business matter that is not on the agenda, the school board may take steps to refer the matter to staff. for further research and possible inclusion on the agenda of a future meeting.

A matter may be added to the agenda during the course of a meeting by a majority vote of the principals present and voting at the meeting, and the reason for adding an item is announced before the vote. For matters added to the agenda by majority vote, the board may then formally rule on the matter provided it posts the amended agenda on its website and at its principal administrative office no later than the first working day following the meeting at which the agenda was changed. In addition, the official minutes of the meeting must reflect the substance of the addition, the vote on the addition, and the stated reasons for the addition.

Practical impact

These new requirements and limitations create an additional burden on directors who must plan board meeting agendas carefully to ensure that the necessary topics of potential action are included. Additionally, school districts should review and revise their meeting policies to ensure alignment with this legislation.