With the ability of public bodies to meet remotely under “any circumstances” set to expire on December 31, 2020, the Michigan Legislature recently amended the Open Meetings Act to extend any reason remote meetings through March 31, 2021. These amendments also now mandate certain safety protocols for in-person meetings held before April 1, 2021. If a public body meets before April 1, 2021, it must:
- Adhere to the Centers for Disease Control’s recommended social distancing and mitigation measures related to COVID-19, including remaining at least six feet from others.
- Adopt heightened facility cleaning and disinfection standards to limit participant exposure to COVID-19, as well as protocols to clean and disinfect in the event of a positive COVID-19 case in the public body’s meeting place.
Public bodies should remember that, separate from these new amendments, they must also still adhere to gathering restrictions and requirements issued by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (current orders likely prohibit most in-person meetings).
After the “any circumstance” provision sunsets on March 31, 2021, public bodies may still continue to meet remotely under specific circumstances pursuant to changes to the Open Meetings Act enacted earlier last year. Public officials welcomed those new provisions last year, which allow remote participation when necessary due to military duty, a medical condition, or a statewide or local state of emergency or state of disaster.
The new amendments retain provisions adopted last year requiring those participating remotely to announce that they are participating remotely. Other than those participating remotely due to military duty, the board member must identify their physical location by stating the location from which the board member is remotely attending the meeting.
Electronic meetings must be conducted in a manner that permits two-way communication so members of the public body can hear and be heard by other members of the public body and so that public participants can hear members of the public body and can be heard by members of the public body and other participants during public comment period.
Public bodies also may use technology to facilitate typed public comments during the meeting submitted by members of the public participating in the meeting that may be read to or shared with members of the public body and other participants to satisfy the requirement that members of the public be heard by others during the electronic meeting and the requirement that members of the public be permitted to address the electronic meeting.
Although last year’s revisions to the Open Meetings Act were a welcome change for many public bodies, if boards opt to meet remotely or allow remote participation for some members, the public body must ensure continued compliance with the processes and safeguards under the Open Meetings Act, including the recent amendments.
For more information, please contact Jason Hanselman (517-374-9181 or [email protected]), Courtney Kissel (248-203-0743 or [email protected]), Kyle Asher (517-374-9151 or [email protected]), or your regular Dykema contact.