Open Meetings Act protects your rights

Published 10:15am Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Alabama Open Meetings Act’s purpose is straightforward: to provide citizens with “greater access to your state and local government,” according to its website.

“This law guarantees that Alabama’s citizens have open access to agencies, boards, commissions, and other governmental bodies which conduct the people’s business,” the website states.

The intent of the law is clear and admirable. Since it was passed in 2005, however, the act has been watered down by three Alabama Supreme Court rulings.

Now, a bill aimed at strengthening the act is before the Alabama Legislature. The bill has the support of Gov. Robert Bentley and the Alabama Press Association. We are proud to say two Shelby County congressmen sponsored the bill: State Sen. Cam Ward and State Rep. Mike Hill.

The bill proposes three amendments to the current law:

1. It would forbid “serial meetings,” in which members of government entities meet in small groups without proper public notice in an effort to avoid establishing a quorum.

2. It would provide a basis for Alabama citizens to sue a government body for violations to the Open Meeting Act, something Ward said currently is “almost impossible.”

3. The new act also would forbid the Alabama Legislature from holding closed meetings without holding a public vote declaring secrecy is required for the situation at hand.

The bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary on Feb. 12, and will now move on to full Senate consideration. The corresponding state House of Representatives bill currently is pending action by the House Committee on Ethics and Finance.

Transparent government is essential to democracy, and this legislation will create a more robust Open Meetings Act, one that will better protect citizens’ right to participate fully in our government.

We urge the Alabama Senate and House to protect this right by passing this bill.

The editorial is the opinion of the Shelby County Reporter editorial board.

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