Amendment to OMA Permitting Boards to Meet Virtually Is Pending Governor’s Approval
On May 23, the Illinois General Assembly passed Senate Bill 2135, which in part amended the Open Meetings Act to permit, and set conditions for, conducting board meetings by audio or video conference without the physical presence of board members. The amendment will become effective immediately upon the Governor’s approval of the bill, which is expected shortly.
The conditions imposed by the bill for conducting meetings by audio or video conference are:
- Issuance of a disaster declaration relating to public health concerns by the Governor or the Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health that covers all or part of the jurisdiction of the public body.
- A determination by the head of the public body that an in-person meeting is not practical or prudent because of the disaster.
- Verification that all members of the public body participating in the meeting, wherever their physical location, can hear one another and all discussion.
- For open meetings, members of the public present at the public body’s regular meeting location must be able to hear all discussion and votes of the public body members, unless attendance at the regular meeting location is not feasible due to the disaster. If the meeting cannot be conducted at the regular physical location of the meeting due to the disaster, alternative arrangements, such as a telephone number or web-based link, must be made to allow any interested member of the public to hear all discussion, testimony, and roll call votes. Although not addressed in SB 2135, means for public participation in the meeting must still be provided.
- Presence at the regular meeting location by at least one member of the public body, chief legal officer or chief administrative officer, unless not feasible due to the disaster.
- Conduct all votes by roll call, with identification and recording of the vote of each member of the public body.
- Give 48 hours notice of the meeting, except in case of a bona fide emergency. The notice must be given to all members of the public body, posted on the public body’s website, and provided to any news organization that has requested notice of meetings in accordance with the OMA. Special notice requirements arise for emergency meetings.
- Prepare and maintain a verbatim record (audio or video recording) of the meeting.
Each board member participating remotely in a meeting that meets the above requirements is deemed present for purposes of establishing a quorum and participating in all aspects of the meeting. The public body must bear all costs associated with conducting the meetings in accordance with the above requirements. This likely means that members of the public cannot be charged by the provider of the service used to afford electronic access to the meeting.
We will develop detailed guidance, including a checklist, notices, and templates for compliance which will be announced in another alert. We will also send another alert when the Governor signs the bill and if there are any unexpected changes to the requirements described above, but boards should begin to plan now for meetings which may be scheduled shortly after the bill becomes law. The Governor’s current declaration expires on May 29. It is expected that a new or extended declaration will be issued to cover any gap before SB 2135 becomes law and to permit the use of SB 2135 when it becomes law.