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Suspension of Sunshine Law and Virtual Public Meetings

Suspension of Sunshine Law and Virtual Public Meetings

On March 9, 2020, Governor of the State of Florida, Ron DeSantis, declared a State of Emergency for COVID-19 which required Florida government officials to take necessary and timely precautions to protect their communities. See Executive Order 20-52.

In response to the social distancing guidelines and limitations on public gatherings, numerous county and local bodies contacted the Governor’s office with regard to concerns about conducting public meetings. Governor DeSantis requested an advisory opinion from the Florida Attorney General, and on March 19, 2020, the Florida Attorney General issued its Advisory Legal Opinion on public meetings and quorums using technology. See AGO 2020-03.

Ultimately, on March 20, 2020, Governor DeSantis issued an Executive Order temporarily suspending any requirement under the Sunshine Law or any Florida Statute that a public entity board meeting must be held in a public place and that a quorum must be physically present. See Executive Order No. 20-69. These waivers are in effect until Friday, May 8, 2020, the date that the Florida Declaration of State of Emergency is set to expire (subject to extension).

As such, local and county governmental agencies are permitted to hold public hearings via teleconferencing or other technological means so long as they provide the public virtual access to the meetings, and there is a quorum virtually present.

At this time, both Lake County and Osceola County have held virtual public meetings allowing participants to attend through teleconferencing or other technological means.

Public Assistance For Governmental Entities and Non-Profit Organizations:

Certain entities may be eligible to receive public assistance for emergency protective measures taken as a result of COVID-19.

WHO: The Florida Department of Emergency Management (“FDEM”) is currently accepting Requests for Public Assistance (“RPA”) from governmental entities and certain private non-profit organizations.

HOW: The entity must complete an RPA submission to be eligible for FEMA reimbursement of emergency protective-measure expenses related to COVID-19 through September 2020.

WHAT: Emergency protective measures that eliminate or reduce immediate threats to lives, public health, or safety, and conducted before, during, and after the State of Emergency may be eligible for FEMA reimbursement under Public Assistance as Category B expenses.

WHERE: The online RPA application is available at www.floridapa.org.

WHEN: FDEM is requesting all applications be submitted no later than Friday, April 10, 2020, as FDEM’s deadline to forward RPA’s to FEMA is Sunday, April 12, 2020.

Central Florida local governments are all responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in various ways.  Most have continued operations online, while other have implemented modified protocols for submittals, building inspections, etc.  Most, if not all, have cancelled public meetings and hearings for the time being.

For specific information on local jurisdictions please click on the name below:

 

Heidi Mitchell, Esq.
Winderweedle, Haines, Ward & Woodman, P.A.
hmitchell@whww.com
(407) 246-6570

Allison E. Turnbull, Esq.
Winderweedle, Haines, Ward & Woodman, P.A.
ATurnbull@whww.com
407-423-4246

Heidi Mitchell, Esquire
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Allison Turnbull, Esquire
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