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Pennsylvania Sunshine Act Needs a Digital Update Post COVID-19

Pennsylvania Sunshine Act Needs a Digital Update Post COVID-19 | Newtown News of Interest | Scoop.it

Guest Opinion: By Scott Bomboy

 

One of the lessons learned during the COVID-19 era is that more citizens want online access to local government meetings. But the Pennsylvania state law designed to make that happen is badly outdated and needs a digital overhaul.

 

In Perkasie, where I am a borough council member, we saw a notable increase in video views for our live and recorded Zoom and YouTube meetings during COVID-19 compared with in-person meetings held at borough hall before the pandemic. Neighboring towns probably saw the same increase.

 

The video meetings were held using temporary rules passed by state lawmakers to supplement the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act of 1998. The Sunshine Act doesn’t account for local government meetings that are livestreamed to digital devices.

 

However, during the pandemic, the temporary rules were simple. Local governments had to post advance notice online including the date, time and technology used for the meeting, and how public could comment “directly through the teleconferencing or videoconferencing system used to hold the meeting, via email and/or via postal mail.”

 

...live video meetings allow more citizens to participate in the process, especially those who face physical barriers attending in-person meetings, increasing civic engagement. And unedited video recorded meetings also would benefit the free press and allow for a broader public discussion of issues.

 

The state Office of Open Records also issued advisory guidance about the recorded video of virtual local government meetings, with a strong recommendation that “any agency holding a remote meeting record the meeting and proactively make the recording available (preferably online) so that a full and complete record of the meeting is easily accessible by the public.”

 

That said, those guidelines expired when Pennsylvania’s state of emergency ended. With the rules gone, local governments providing live or recorded video to residents now must rely on outdated laws or make up rules on the fly — risking a lawsuit.

 

The Sunshine Act ensures residents and taxpayers have a voice on “matters of concern” at local government meetings. But without a revised act, these governments are stuck in limbo when it comes to live or recorded video. It is in everyone’s best interest to update the Sunshine Act for the digital age.

johnmacknewtown's insight:

According the the PA State Association of Township Supervisors: "Since the disaster declaration has been terminated, townships of the second class should go back to pre-declaration conditions and conduct in-person or hybrid meetings. Hybrid meetings must have a physical meeting location where the public may attend in-person, as well as a virtual option, and supervisors may participate in-person or virtually."

 

Do you favor the implementation of hybrid in-person/online township public meetings where officials meet in person as before COVID-19 but the public has the option to participate remotely via Zoom, Youtube (or other technology) or in person? TAKE MY SURVEY: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/KKDF5C5

 

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