Pennsylvania Sunshine Act
The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act legislates the methods by which public meetings are conducted. Title 65 statutes 701-726 of the Pennsylvania code define the law.
Relevant legal cases
- See also: Court cases with an impact on state FOIA
Here is a list of open meetings lawsuits in Pennsylvania. For more information go the page or go to Pennsylvania sunshine lawsuits.
(The cases are listed alphabetically. To order them by year please click the icon to the right of the Year heading)
We do not currently have any pages on open meetings litigation in Pennsylvania.
Proposed open meetings legislation
We do not currently have any legislation for Pennsylvania in 2010.
Statement of purpose
The statement of purpose of the Open Meetings Act states, "The General Assembly finds that the right of the public to be present at all meetings of agencies and to witness the deliberation, policy formulation and decisionmaking of agencies is vital to the enhancement and proper functioning of the democratic process and that secrecy in public affairs undermines the faith of the public in government and the public's effectiveness in fulfilling its role in a democratic society. The General Assembly finds that the right of the public to be present at all meetings of agencies and to witness the deliberation, policy formulation and decision making of agencies is vital to the enhancement and proper functioning of the democratic process and that secrecy in public affairs undermines the faith of the public in government and the public's effectiveness in fulfilling its role in a democratic society."
Which government meetings are open to the public?
The law states that a meeting is any prearranged gathering of a quorum of the members of a public body to discuss public matters.
Notable exemptions to this definition include:
- Working sessions of the boards of auditors
- Conferences where a quorum of an agency is in attendance and no deliberation concerning agency business occurs
What government bodies are subject to the laws?
The act defines government body as the committees and boards of the legislative and executive branches of the government and all political subdivisions including the boards of all state aided or owned universities as well as any similar organization that were created by statute to perform a government function or have governmental authority.
The legislature falls under the definition of public body found at 65 Pa.C.S.A. § 703 and is subject to the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act. The act does however exempt single party caucuses in the legislature and House or Senate Ethics Committee meetings.
Agencies are required to advertise and give the public notice of all meetings. They are required to give public notice of its first regular meeting of each calendar or fiscal year not less than three days in advance, including, place, time and date. They must then give public notice of the schedule of its remaining regular meetings.
An agency must give public notice, at least 24 hours before commencement time of the meeting, of each special meeting or each rescheduled regular or special meeting. In the case of an emergency meeting or a conference, public notice is not required. The company may provide public notice by either posting the notice outside their office or publishing it in a local newspaper. The public agency is required to provide notice to local media outlets who have requested notice of meetings.
Professional licensing boards within the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs of the Department of State of the Commonwealth must include each matter involving a proposal to revoke, suspend or restrict a license in the public notice.
The act requires that all public bodies record accurate minutes of their meetings, including the time and place of the meeting, the public officials present, any subjects discussed, any votes taken and any testimony received. A person attending a meeting of an agency has the right to use recording devices to record all the proceedings, but the public body can make reasonable rules for their use. For all political subdivisions, the public body must allow time for public comment during each meeting.
|Common executive session exemptions|
|Personal privacy (including employees)|
|Purchase or sale of property|
|Exempt under other laws|
Executive closed meetings can only be called for the following reasons:
- Discussions of matters involving employment or performance of officers or employees of the agency, provided that any affected individual is given the opportunity to request, in writing, that the meeting be held in public.
- Meetings involving collective bargaining, labor relations, and arbitration.
- To consider the purchase or lease of real property.
- matters falling under the attorney-client privilege regarding litigation or issues where an identifiable complaint is expected to be filed.
- To discuss agency business which, if discussed in public, would lead to the disclosure of information protected by law, including ongoing investigations and information exempt under the Pennsylvania Right to Know Law.
- To discuss matters of academic standing or admission at state schools
Executive sessions may be held during an open meeting, at the conclusion of an open meeting, or announced for a future time. Prior to convening an executive session, the agency must announce with proper specificity the purpose of the executive session. If the session is not for a future time, the members of the agency must be notified of the session 24 hours in advance.
Anyone can bring a legal challenge within 30 days from the date of a meeting, or within 30 days from the discovery of any action taken at an illegal meeting, as long as the complaint does not come more than one year before the meeting.
The court can hold any challenged action until a judicial determination is reached about whether or not the meeting was in violation.
If the court determines the meeting was in violation, it may rule that any or all official action taken at the meeting is invalid. If the court finds that the meeting was not in violation, the official action taken at the meeting will become fully effective.
Any member of any agency who intentionally violates the act by participating in a meeting commits a summary offense. If convicted, the violator will be sentenced to pay a fine not exceeding $100. They will also be responsible for the costs of prosecution.
In cases of violation, the Commonwealth Court rules over the actions of State agencies and the courts of common pleas rules over the actions involving other agencies when enforcing this chapter when appropriate.
State of Pennsylvania
|State executive offices||
Governor | Lieutenant Governor | Attorney General | Secretary of State | Treasurer | Auditor General | Secretary of Education | Commissioner of Insurance | Secretary of Agriculture | Secretary of Conservation and Natural Resources | Secretary of Labor & Industry | Chairman of Public Utilities |