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Pennsylvania Allows Local Governments To Conduct Public Meetings via Telecommunication

In light of COVID-19, local government units have been uncertain how to approach public meetings and hearings. While public health and safety precautions limit individuals’ ability to gather together, Pennsylvania’s public meeting laws and municipal codes require the opportunity for the public to participate in meetings. In the absence of specific guidance, each municipal unit had been left to its own devices to determine whether to hold meetings in person, conduct meetings remotely, or postpone or cancel meetings altogether.

Senate Bill 841, signed into law by Governor Wolf on April 20, 2020 (2020 Act 15), removes the uncertainty and unequivocally permits municipalities to hold public meetings and hearings via telephone or video conference for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Importantly, Senate Bill 841 permits municipalities to return to regular business and allows local property owners to proceed with their land use applications. Zoning and land development applicants may continue moving through the review and decision process to keep their projects on track and eliminate bottlenecks and delays when businesses reopen and construction projects resume.

Key points of Senate Bill 841:

  • The legislation applies to all political subdivisions in Pennsylvania (counties, townships, boroughs, cities, and municipal authorities).
  • Local governments may conduct meetings and hearings remotely via telephone or video conference.
  • The local government unit should provide public notice of the meeting or hearing, including information about the technology used to facilitate the meetings and how the public can participate.
  • Public participation may be facilitated through telephone or video conference or written comments by mail or email.
  • Zoning and land development applicants may now request that the municipality hold a remote hearing or meeting to decide their application (although the request is at the discretion of the municipality).
  • The authorization for remote meetings expires when the COVID-19 Disaster Declaration is lifted.

If you have questions or require assistance related to land use and zoning for your property or other municipal matters, please contact us.

This update was prepared by Attorney Sheila V. O’Rourke, who practices in the areas of zoning and land use and litigation.  This update does not constitute legal advice and has been prepared for informational purposes only.