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New law allows virtual meetings to continue through 2020, virtual participation for limited reasons in 2021

Townships, along with all public bodies, can conduct electronic “virtual” meetings under a newly enacted law. Public 228 of 2020, sponsored by Sen. Lana Theis, (R-Brighton Chtr. Twp.), amends the Open Meetings Act (OMA) to allow for electronic meetings under specific circumstances and for a limited period. The law was critical to ensure meetings held electronically since March 18, 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic are valid and allows public bodies to continue to hold meetings via this option through the end of this year. The law deems electronic meetings that took place since March 18, 2020, are valid if the public body complied with the requirements contained in the law and permits these virtual meetings to continue until Dec. 31, 2020, for any circumstance.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, through Dec. 31, 2021, only, any member of a public body would be permitted to meet electronically due to the following: military duty (current law); medical condition defined as an illness, injury, disability, or other health-related condition; or statewide or local state of emergency or state of disaster declared that would risk the personal health/safety of the public or members of the public body.

Additionally, PA 228 requires any member of the public body—other than a member participating remotely due to military duty—attending a public meeting remotely after Dec. 31, 2020, to declare, and be included in the meeting minutes, that the member is attending remotely and the physical location (county, municipality, and state) from which they are participating remotely.  

State Supreme Court rules governor's executive orders 'of no continuing legal effect'; MDHHS issues REVISED emergency order—restores capacity restrictions, face covering requirements for government offices, businesses, and more

UPDATED MTA FACT SHEET: Township Meetings, Activities and Facilities Under Michigan Supreme Court opinion and REVISED MDHHS Emergency Order Under MCL 333.2253 —“Gathering Prohibition and Mask Order” (Updated Oct. 9)

On Oct. 12, the state Supreme Court rejected Gov. Whitmer's request to delay its earlier ruling that effectively nullified her previous pandemic-related executive orders. In its most recent ruling, the court said that the governor's EOs are "of no continuing legal effect." The governor had initially said her orders remained in effect for 21 days to 28 days and asked the state's highest court to clarify. 

However, a revised "Gathering Prohibition and Face Covering Order" emergency order was issued on Oct. 9 under MCL 333.2253, by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) that requires government offices, as well as businesses, schools and other operations to prohibit indoor gatherings of any kind unless they require those individuals, including employees, to wear face coverings. Compared to MDHHS's initial emergency order, new provisions also provide for capacity limits in businesses, as well as libraries and museums, added protections for workers, and requirements for contact tracing. Note that Region 6, encompassing 17 northern Michigan counties, are exempt from certain requirements in the order. The order has the force of law and includes the following:

1) Requirements to wear masks at indoor and outdoor gatherings: The order requires individuals to wear face coverings/marks at indoor and outdoor non-residential gatherings, and requires businesses and government offices to enforce mask-wearing requirements on their premises. Indoor gatherings of any kind are prohibited, including at a government office as well as businesses and schools, unless individuals—including employees—are required to wear a face covering. The wearing of face coverings is required at schools, except in Region 6, encompassing 17 northern Michigan counties, where face coverings in schools are encouraged but not required.

It cannot be assumed that someone who enters a government office, or other establishment, without a face covering falls in one of the exceptions for not wearing a covering, including those who cannot medically tolerate a face covering, but asking someone and receiving a verbal response may be accepted. In addition, signage must be posted that face coverings are required, and that individuals cannot enter if they are, or have recently been, sick.

2) Limitations on the size of gatherings: Indoor gatherings of more than 10 and up to 500 people occurring at a non-residential venue are permitted within the following limits:         

  • Attendance is limited to 20 people per 1,000 square feet (25 people per 1,000 square feet in Region 6), in venues without fixed seating.
  • In venues with fixed seating, limit attendance to 20% of normal capacity. In Region 6, gatherings up to 25% of normal capacity are permitted.
  • Non-residential outdoor gatherings of between 100 and 1,000 persons at venues with fixed seating are permitted at up to 30% of normal capacity, and at 30 persons per 1,000 square feet at venues without fixed seating

3) Capacity restrictions. Libraries, museums and retail stores cannot exceed 50% of total occupancy limit (except in Region 6). Recreational sports and exercise facilities cannot exceed 25% capacity, and workout stations must be six feet part. The order also includes capacity limits for outdoor (50%) and indoor (25%) pools.

The order includes worker protections, as well as record-keeping requirements for certain facilities—including recreation centers—to enable contact tracing. It requires athletes training or practicing for or competing in an “organized sport” (except swimming) to wear a facial covering except when consistently maintaining six feet of social distance. Under the order, bars must close indoor common areas where people can congregate, dance or otherwise mingle. Indoor gatherings are prohibited anywhere alcoholic beverages are sold except for table service separated by at least six feet.

Under MCL 333.2253, if the MDHHS director determines that control of an epidemic is necessary to protect the public health, the director by emergency order may prohibit the gathering of people for any purpose and may establish procedures to be followed during the epidemic to insure continuation of essential public health services and enforcement of health laws.

The MDHHS order is in effect through Oct. 30, and violations are punishable by a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment for not more than six months or a fine of not more than $200, or both, and violations of the order are also punishable by a civil fine of fine of up to $1,000. The order can be enforced by state and/or local law enforcement.

The Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity is expected to issue an order soon dealing with workplace protections.

In addition to MDHHS, county public health departments have authority to issue rules and adopt regulations to protect the public health, and several counties have already released their own orders following Friday's court ruling. Check with your local health department to see if they have issued any rules regarding masks and other safeguards or measures. Townships may also have their own COVID-19 preparedness plans for township operations.

MTA will continue to provide members with the latest on the evolving changes.