Changes to OPMA and OPRA in Response to COVID-19

March 21, 2020
By: Kasi Marie Gifford, Esq.

To Our School Board Community:

We have been trying to anticipate and quickly respond to your questions during this time, given the unprecedented challenges presented to our Boards with COVID-19 and the school closure to students.  We have been providing guidance on how best to meet the needs of your students, staff, and community. On March 20, 2020, Governor Murphy signed Assembly Bill 3850, An act concerning the conduct of public meetings during periods of emergency and supplementing P.L.1975, c.231 (C.10:4-6 et seq.) (the “Act” or “Bill”). 

This bill explicitly authorizes a public body to:

  • conduct a meeting and public business, cause a meeting to be open to the public, vote, and receive public comment by means of communication or other electronic equipment during a state of emergency, public health emergency, or state of local disaster emergency. 
  • The bill also allows a public body to provide notice of meetings electronically through the internet during that time, but 
  • requires that public bodies who exercise this option limit, to the extent practicable, the public business conducted at that meeting to matters necessary for the continuing operation of government and that relate to the applicable emergency declaration, i.e. bills, or resolutions directly related to the emergency.

Notably, our previous guidance was that Boards should have the Superintendent and BA present at the advertised location during the Board Meeting in order to facilitate public comment for any members of the public that may choose to appear. However, this Bill explicitly gives Boards permission to hold fully virtual meetings, without the need to advertise a public location, where the public can appear. Therefore, no one will have to be physically present for Board meetings moving forward during this public health emergency.

In addition to the above, Governor Murphy also signed Assembly Bill No. 3849, which relaxes the strict seven (7) day response time imposed by the New Jersey OPRA statutes. The bill modifies those deadlines in the event of a public emergency to require instead that a records custodian make a reasonable effort to respond within seven business days, as circumstances permit.

Our e-mails about recent developments are not intended to substitute for our legal advice to our clients based on your specific needs or requests.  In addition, our guidance is subject to, and can be superseded by new laws, rules, regulations, or orders.  Moreover, some directives from the Federal and State authorities can appear, and can be, contradictory or in conflict, so please contact us for assistance.

As always, please contact us with any questions. We will continue to do our best to keep you updated in the coming days and weeks.

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