The N.J. Department of Community Affairs (DCA) recently issued a notice concerning emergency regulations for remote meetings held during declared states of emergency. These regulations were issued pursuant to P.L. 2020, c. 34 enacted on May 15, 2020, and they apply to all public bodies of a county or smaller, including local boards of education. The regulations cover many different aspects of remote meetings, including those outlined below:
- Room Capacity—Participant capacity in the meeting room shall be consistent with the reasonable expectation of the public body for public meetings. If the local public body meets in person, the regulations require members of the public to be able to attend the meeting in person. If a local public body is holding an in-person meeting in a location where the declared emergency necessitates capacity restrictions reducing the number of individuals that can be present in the meeting room to an amount below that reasonably expected for the public meeting by the governing body, the local public body must either hold the in-person meeting at another location with adequate socially-distanced capacity for the reasonably expected public attendance, or hold the public meeting both in-person and as a remote public meeting. A meeting held in-person for board members shall not prohibit members of the public from attending in person.
- Technological Standards and Public Participation—The local public body shall use an electronic communications technology that is routinely used in academic, business and professional settings, and can be accessed by the public at no cost. Participant capacity on the selected platform should be consistent with the reasonable expectation of the public body for public meetings of the type being held and shall not be limited to fewer than 50 public participants. Any presentations or documents that would otherwise be viewed or made available to members of the public physically attending a local public body meeting shall be made visible on a video broadcast of the remote public meeting or made available on the board’s website. The board shall allow members of the public to make public comment by audio, or by audio and video if the remote public meeting is held over both audio and video, during the meeting. In advance of the remote public meeting, the local public body shall allow public comments to be submitted to the official responsible for creating the meeting agenda by electronic mail and in written letter form by a reasonable deadline. The meeting service used must meet federal standards for storing information in remote servers.
- Closed Session – A local public body entering into an executive or closed session shall ensure that audio or video of the session cannot be accessed except by those individuals that are participating in the session. A separate non-public conference line or e-platform session may be employed for this purpose.
Earlier this year, the Legislature passed and the governor enacted P.L. 2020, c. 11 which contains amendments to the Sunshine Law to specifically address remote meetings. Boards of education are urged to consult with their board attorneys concerning the interaction between these two laws.
For further information, contact the NJSBA Legal and Labor Relations Department at (609) 278-5254 or your board attorney.