Legal Hotline: Sunshine Caucus

  • Sep 21, 2017

Melissa Melewsky, Media Law Counsel

Q: The democratic members of our school board regularly hold private “caucus” meetings before each school board meeting to discuss agenda items.  These members constitute a quorum (6 out of 9 board members), and they rely on section 712 (permitting caucus meetings) of the Sunshine Act as an exception to the public meeting rule. Is that OK?

A: No. The Sunshine Act contains a “caucus” exception, but this exception only applies to caucuses of the General Assembly.   

The Sunshine Act defines “caucus” in section 703 as: 

A gathering of members of a political party or coalition which is held for purposes of planning political strategy and holding discussions designed to prepare the members for taking official action in the General Assembly.

By definition, under the Sunshine Act, a “caucus” is only a body of the General Assembly.

Furthermore, section 712 outlines how the Sunshine Act applies to the General Assembly. This provision makes the law inapplicable to caucuses or ethics committees created by the House or Senate. Section 712 states:

Notwithstanding any other provision, for the purpose of this chapter, meetings of the General Assembly which are covered are as follows: all meetings of committees where bills are considered, all hearings where testimony is taken and all sessions of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Not included in the intent of this chapter are caucuses or meetings of any ethics committee created pursuant to the Rules of the Senate or the House of Representatives.

The Sunshine Act does not discuss caucuses outside of sections 703 and 712, both of which limit caucuses to the General Assembly. In the absence of a specific exemption to the law, the general rule of the Sunshine Act applies and requires a public meeting any time a quorum of an agency deliberates agency business. 

You can read the Sunshine Act here - http://panewsmedia.org/legal/openmeetings/sunshineact

As always, this is not intended to, nor should it be construed as, legal advice. Please call the PNA Legal Hotline at (717) 703-3080 with questions.

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