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COVID-19: Where Things Stand as of June 1, 2020

June 2, 2020  by  Steve Gross
Category:  Open Public Meetings Act Utilities - Billing and Collection Public Records Act COVID-19

COVID-19: Where Things Stand as of June 1, 2020

As the state reopens, local government agencies continue to carefully balance public health and safety with the very real challenges posed by closed public and private buildings. Here at MRSC we see agencies making every effort to serve the public while also protecting it and their employees from the ongoing risk related to COVID-19.

What’s the Latest?

As of 11:00 AM Monday, June 1, 2020, here is what we know.

Proclamation 20-25 (Stay Home - Stay Healthy) has been amended and extended. Proclamation 20-25.4, issued May 31, provides guidance related to transitioning to Safe Start - Washington's Phased Reopening program. This program guidance was updated on May 29, and additional information can be found on the state’s Coronavirus Response page.

The governor also issued several proclamations on May 29. In response, the state's legislative leadership extended certain statutory waivers, and the proclamations acknowledge and incorporate these extensions.

Local government operations

Proclamation 20-28.4 extends waivers of parts of the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) until 11:59 PM, June 17. Local agencies are still prohibited from having in-person meetings if those meetings are subject to the OPMA. However, Governor Inslee removed the requirement that agency governing bodies only consider those matters during meetings that are “necessary and routine” or necessary to address the emergency.

What about meetings not covered under the OPMA? Since there is no statutory requirement for those meetings to be held in-person, agencies can continue to hold those remotely. The section on public hearings and public meetings on our COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions page offers tips for conducting a public hearing and taking public testimony. If an agency chooses to hold an in-person meeting, it must still comply with the governor's Safe Start restrictions.

The Public Records Act (PRA) waivers are extended until June 17. Remember that the waiver of the five-day response requirement does not apply to requests received electronically.

Proclamation 20-34.3 extends the due date by which agencies must file their annual financial reports under RCW 43.09.230 to June 17. So, if your agency hasn’t already filed them, you have more time.

We track issues that affect the day-to-day operations of local government agencies on the COVID-19 Operations and Personnel Issues page.

Evictions and utilities

Proclamation 20-19, which prohibits residential and commercial evictions as well as rent increases or threats to increase rent for residential tenants and for commercial tenants who have been negatively impacted by COVID-19, was amended by Proclamation 20-19.1 (issued April 16) and set to expire on June 4. (Editor's note: Proclamation 20-19.2, issued June 2, has extended these provisions though August 1, 2020.)

Proclamation 20-23.4 extends to July 28 the rule prohibiting utility service providers from (1) disconnecting residential service due to nonpayment, (2) refusing to reconnect residential customers who were disconnected due to nonpayment, and (3) charging late fees or reconnection fees.

Agencies should also note this new requirement: All public utilities providing energy, water, and telecommunications services are required to develop COVID-19 Customer Support Programs consistent with state guidance (Editor's note: Updated state guidance will soon be released by the Governor's office addressing payment plan options for residential customers who are in arrears due to COVID-19). These support programs must be reviewed and posted prominently by July 10, 2020. Additionally, the statutory waivers related to Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) rates are only extended until June 17.

As new guidance is issued by state agencies, we will add it to our COVID-19 Governor's Proclamations and State Guidance page.

For the latest information that we have available, please look at our page on Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resources for Local Governments.

If you have questions, please let us know at our Ask MRSC page.

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Steve Gross

Steve Gross joined MRSC as a Legal Consultant in January 2020.

Steve has worked in municipal law and government for over 20 years as an Assistant City Attorney for Lynnwood, Seattle, Tacoma, and Auburn, and as the City Attorney for Port Townsend and Auburn. He also has been a legal policy advisor for the Pierce County Council and has worked in contract administration.



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