Executive Order 20-69: Concerns with Public Meetings in Light of COVID-19
In the midst of the COVID-19 (“coronavirus”) pandemic, the Florida Governor has taken steps to ensure that the local and state government can continue operations. Due to the need for social distancing, many local governments have been concerned with the Sunshine Law’s requirements for public gatherings. An additional concern is that many Florida Statutes require a “quorum” be present in order to conduct any business.
On March 17, 2020 Governor DeSantis requested an advisory opinion from the Florida Attorney General asking whether, and to what extent, local government bodies may utilize teleconferencing and/or other technological means to convene meetings and conduct official business, while still providing public access to those meetings. Attorney General Moody opined that “under existing law that, if a quorum is required to conduct official business, local government bodies may only conduct meetings by teleconferencing or other technological means if either (1) a statute permits a quorum to be present by means other than in person, or (2) the in-person requirement for constituting a quorum is lawfully suspended during the state of emergency.” See Ops. Att’y Gen. Fla. 2020-03. In addition, if such meetings are conducted by teleconferencing or other technological means, public access must be afforded — which permits the public to attend the meeting.
In light of Attorney Moody’s opinion, Governor DeSantis issued Executive Order 20-69 which suspends all Florida Statutes requiring a physically present quorum to conduct government business, or otherwise requires a local governing body to meet in a specific place. The Executive Order allows local governments to utilize teleconferencing and other media technology to conduct business while the State remains in a state of emergency. Notably, the Executive Order does not waive the Sunshine Law, so all public meetings must remain open to the public whether in a physical or technological format.