PENNSYLVANIA PASSES A NEW LAW ALLOWING MUNICIPALITIES TO CONDUCT REMOTE PUBLIC PROCEEDINGS & TOLLING OF CERTAIN DEADLINES DURING THE COVID-19 DISASTER
On April 20, 2020, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed into law Senate Bill No. 841 permitting governmental authorities, boards, and commissions to conduct public meetings and hearings remotely by telecommunications during the COVID-19 disaster emergency declaration which began on March 6, 2020 (“Emergency Declaration”). The new law, which went into effect immediately upon the Governor’s signature, and will expire automatically when the Emergency Declaration ends, also suspends the time periods for governmental action on a wide range of permit and development applications from the beginning of the Emergency Declaration through May 20, 2020 (i.e. 30 days from the April 20th effective date of the new law).
Under this new law, the time clock for governmental action on an application that was pending on March 6th, when the Emergency Declaration began, is suspended or tolled until May 20th (i.e. 30 days after the effective date of the new law). The time clock for governmental action on an application that was filed during the time of the Emergency Declaration, and before May 20th was (or will be) immediately suspended or tolled until May 20th. The governmental agency is required to provide notice of the new deadlines to the Applicant, and of the right to request a public meeting or hearing on an application.
The new law provides explicit legal authority for the municipality to conduct public proceedings, and to achieve required quorums through the use of approved telecommunications devices. Prior to enactment of this law it was unclear whether these proceedings could lawfully proceed in this fashion. This will provide an important new tool for municipalities and developers to conduct business during these challenging times.
Public notice and participation requirements are relaxed during the Emergency Declaration. Unless a public proceeding directly involves a response to COVID-19, at least five days prior notice must be provided through the municipality’s website, a newspaper of general circulation, or both, and must include the date, time, and the technology means to be used for the public meeting. Public participation must be provided, to the extent practicable, through the telecommunication device or written comments submitted through the mail, or an email account designated to receive comments. The applicant and each party receiving notice of the proceeding will be deemed by the law to waive any challenge to the proceedings regarding the notice, conduct, or participation in a proceeding.
The members of our land use department can assist you with understanding the deadlines for your applications and help you to request that public meetings or hearings be conducted during the period of the Emergency Declaration.