Tired of reminding speakers that they are trying to talk while “on mute” during a public meeting?
For the past two years, there have been several emergency proclamations issued by Governor Inslee under the Proclamation 20-28 series mandating certain requirements for municipal agencies subject to the Open Public Meetings Act (“OPMA”) and the Public Records Act (“PRA”). The Governor’s proclamations affecting open public meetings required public meetings to be held remotely, with the later option of including an in-person component to the meetings. The proclamations affected public record requests by not requiring agencies to allow in-person inspections of records and suspended the 5-day response requirement for all requests other than those received electronically.
On April 29, 2022, Governor Inslee issued Proclamation 20-28.16, which rescinds the Proclamation 20-28 series effective at 12:01 AM on June 1, 2022. You can find a full version of this newest proclamation here.
Effective June 1, 2022, public agencies are again required to allow inspection of the records at their facilities/office as an option for public record requests. The five-day response requirement is required again, regardless of the format of the request.
Effective June 1, 2022, meetings subject to the OPMA are no longer required to be held remotely. The default will be that meetings will be held at a physical location again. However, recall that earlier this year, new legislative updates to the OPMA under ESHB 1329 provided some new nuanced requirements for open public meetings.
ESHB 1329 UPDATES:
Here is a quick summary of the notable updates to the OPMA under ESHB 1329:
- The Legislature encourages public agencies to make use of remote access tools “as fully practicable” to encourage public engagement.
- Public agencies are encouraged to accept public comment during their decision-making process.
- Agencies are encouraged to provide for “real-time telephonic, electronic, internet, or other readily available means of remote access.”
- Agencies are encouraged to make audio or video recordings of regular meetings available online for a minimum of six months.
- All meetings of a governing body of a public agency must be held in a physical location where the public can attend (unless there is a declaration of emergency – see next bullet below).
- If there is a declaration of emergency and an agency can’t safely meet in person, it may hold a remote meeting or limit the physical attendance of the public. No action may be taken at a remote meeting when the public can’t be present.
- Members of the governing body may attend the meeting by phone or other electronic means that allows for real-time verbal communication (regardless of whether there is a declaration of emergency).
- The announced purpose for excluding the public for executive session must be entered in the meeting minutes.
- At any meeting when final action (a vote) will be taken, public comment must be allowed.
- If oral comment is allowed and an individual who has difficulty attending the meeting in-person requests an opportunity to provide oral comment remotely, the agency must provide this opportunity when feasible.
- The bar for being able to opt out of posting agenda’s online is now much higher.
- The rules for posting notice of special meetings have changed slightly.
Some changes to the OPMA under ESHB 1329 are effective March 24, 2022, while others do not become effective until June 9, 2022. For the full details of the new requirements under the OPMA, you can access a ESHB 1329 here.
STATE OF EMERGENCY STILL IN EFFECT
Note that the State of Washington is still in a “state of emergency” (Proclamation 20-05 is still in effect). Because the state of emergency is ongoing, some public agencies may have their own emergency declarations and policies still in place. Now may be a good time for public agencies to re-examine their COVID-19 OPMA and other workplace policies and to update them accordingly.
If your public agency needs assistance reviewing its COVID19 OPMA or other workplace policies, please contact Allison Beard of Chmelik, Sitkin & Davis P.S. at email@example.com or 360-671-1796.