Legislative Update 10-9-20

MAC-backed OMA bill clears Senate; quick House vote expected

A bill to change the Open Meetings Act (OMA) to allow remote attendance at local board meetings under certain circumstances was approved 36-2 by the Michigan Senate Thursday and now heads to the House for quick consideration.

Senate Bill 1108, by Sen. Lana Theis (R-Livingston), however, gained many changes during the Senate floor debate that did not exist in the bill approved by the Senate Local Government Committee. 

The version now before the House will allow members of public bodies to meet remotely due to medical leave (current law), a medical condition or a state or local emergency, through Dec. 31, 2021. 

MAC heard from numerous members concerned about board actions taken since April 30, when the governor’s authority to extend the State of Emergency unilaterally and implement further Executive Orders was deemed unconstitutional by a majority of the Michigan Supreme Count. (Reminder: MAC legal counsel advises that the EOs are still in place as the federal court has yet to rule in the challenge against them.)

To address this issue, the bill would apply retroactively to April 30, 2020, and provide that the remote meeting could take place under any circumstance. Since the governor’s state of emergency declaration has been called into question, and not all counties have declared a local emergency, this would ensure board actions since April 30 that took place over an electronic platform are covered by law.

In an unexpected turn of events, an additional amendment was added so remote capabilities revert to current law (remote participation only for a military absence) on Jan. 1, 2021. This caused much confusion, as it conflicted with allowing meetings through limited circumstances through December 2021. MAC staff has verified this was an error in drafting and the bill should revert to current law on Jan. 1, 2022, as consideration continues.

Despite this confusion, MAC is still supportive of the latest version, so long as the House addresses the date error.

MAC encourages members to speak to their representatives this weekend and remind them of the importance of this legislation. The House is expected to come back to session on Tuesday, Oct. 12 to act. Please remind them, as a county commissioner, interfacing directly with the public is preferable, but under the current COVID-19 situation, we need this bill to allow county officials to decide what is best for their community and provide safe measures for all residents, while continuing to govern and address county needs.

For more information on this issue, contact Meghann Keit at keit@micounties.org.


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