April 23rd – MPL Municipal Update
We want to give you a few important updates from this week.
Act 15 of 2020
On April 20, 2020, Governor Wolf signed Act 15 of 2020 into law.
- The most significant aspect for municipalities relates to conducting public meetings remotely.
- Act 15 codifies many of the accommodations and guidance previously set forth by the Office of Open Records. In particular, Act 15 explicitly permits “hearings, meetings, proceedings or other business through the use of an authorized telecommunications device until the expiration or termination of the COVID-19 disaster emergency.”
- An “authorized telecommunications device” is defined as “any device which permits, at a minimum, audio communication between individuals.” This means that meetings may be conducted via conference call, provided that the public has an ability to call in and hear and be heard.
- Act 15 further clarifies that meeting participants (such as boards of supervisors and borough councils) do not have to be physically present with each other to constitute a quorum.
- Notice of these remote meetings should be given on the municipality’s website and/or in the local newspaper in “advance” “to the extent practicable”. The notice should include the “date, time, technology to be used and public participation information”. The law allows for notification on the website or the newspaper, but both are not required.
- Public participation, “to the extent practicable” should “allow for public participation . . . through an authorized telecommunication device or written comments” (emphasis added). In other words, it is permissible to allow for public comment to be given by way of having residents/guests of the meeting email to or drop off questions at the municipality.
- Minutes taken at remote meetings held “without advance notice to the public” to address “any issue related to the . . . disaster emergency declaration related to COVID-19” must be “posted within 20 days after the meeting or before the next regularly scheduled meeting, whichever is earlier”.
- There are additional details in Act 15 related to a municipality’s taking action on any “application, plat, plan or other submission for an approval or for an action on an appeal or curative amendment”. For such applications, etc., “the number of days provided to satisfy statutory time limits in review, hearing and decision shall be suspended and tolled as of the date of the disaster or emergency declaration or as of the date received if received during the disaster or emergency declaration”. Once the emergency declaration terminates, then the above-referenced “applications”, etc. must be dealt with within 30 days. This aspect is a bit more detailed, so if you have any questions about handling these kinds of matter, please contact our office.
- Act 15 is set to automatically expire upon the termination of the emergency declaration.
Here is a link to Act 15: https://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/PN/Public/btCheck.cfm?txtType=PDF&sessYr=2019&sessInd=0&billBody=S&billTyp=B&billNbr=0841&pn=1623. The municipal aspects of Act 15 can be found starting at “Subchapter E” on page 56.
Here is a link to the Office of Open Records for additional information on remote meetings: https://openrecordspennsylvania.com/2020/03/11/the-sunshine-act-and-covid-19/
On April 22, 2020, Governor Wolf issued a press release outlining some details for reopening PA. The Governor’s plan contains three “levels” of opening—red, yellow, and green. The current state of emergency covers the entire commonwealth and is at the “red” level. The existing plan is to begin moving certain counties and/or regions to “yellow” beginning May 8. The first targeted areas for moving into the yellow level are in the north-central and north-west parts of PA. The progression of the opening will be centered on on-going “social distancing, universal masking, and other public health guidance.” The Governor’s office is working with Team PA, PA DOH, PEMA, the Department of Community and Economic Development, the Department of Labor & Industry, and others, to “develop guidance for businesses, local governments, workers, and customers with the goal of guiding a safe and iterative reopening process.” Below are two links to give more details on the plans for re-opening.
You may also have been made aware that the Governor has announced lifting restrictions on construction work as early as May 1, 2020. Construction work that had previously been deemed “non-essential” may resume working May 1. Although the restriction on certain non-essential construction work will be lifted, strict social distancing and masking requirements will stay in force. The greatest impacts of this change on municipalities is two-fold. First, municipalities should prepare to see new building permit applications and requests for inspections. Second, municipalities contracting with private contractors can now resume non-emergency projects beginning May 1. Below are several links for additional information on construction openings:
Penn Waste Customers
Penn Waste has implemented certain restrictions/modifications on trash and recycling collection practices. Below is a list of those changes as published on its website (https://www.pennwaste.com/waste-management-resources/blog/new-collection-changes-take-effect-monday/):
- All trash must be bagged and tied. If you’re in a municipality that has a mobile cart, all bags must be placed inside your mobile cart. Loose items will not be collected.
- All recyclable materials must be placed inside your recycling container(s), including your flattened cardboard. Recyclable items left outside of your recycling container will not be collected.
- We will enforce the bag and/ or cart limits as designated by your municipality. If you do not know what your limits are, you can check on our website by selecting your municipality on our municipality resource page – https://www.pennwaste.com/for-your-home/municipalities/.
- Bulk item and yard waste collection is suspended until further notice. We are doing this so we can continue to focus all our efforts and personnel on trash and recycling collection.
Republic Services Customers
Republic Services has also implement similar (though less detailed) restrictions/modifications to trash and recycling collection practices. Per Republic Services website (https://www.republicservices.com/coronavirus):
- We will accept cart contents only. Drivers will not be authorized to leave their vehicles to pick up waste outside of the cart.
- For customers who do not have carted service, we will accept waste placed in bags only. Bags cannot exceed 50 pounds.
If you believe that any of these changes violate your municipality’s contract with Penn Waste or Republic Services, feel free to contact our office to conduct a review of your contractual options.
Last night we attended the first public meeting since all this began. Social distancing was followed and everyone in the audience wore a face mask. Face masks and hand sanitizer were provided at the front door. Attendance was low. The meeting was not a return to normal, but a step in that direction. We also reviewed the legality ahead of the meeting. Government services are considered a separate category of service that is allowed to continue during the shutdown. Residents are allowed to leave home to access the government service. So, in our opinion, whether or not to hold meetings has been left to the local government units. We don’t condone public gatherings at this time, and we do have concerns about negligence or similar liability if an outbreak results from a meeting, but as a purely legal matter we do not believe municipal meetings are prohibited by the Pennsylvania Department of Health shutdown order. The decision is left to your governing board.