Bill to strengthen Open Meetings Act passes Senate

Published 3:40 pm Friday, February 28, 2014


MONTGOMERY – Senate Bill 191, sponsored by Senator Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, passed the state senate Feb. 27, by a vote of 26-1, according to a press release from the Alabama Press Association

The bill strengthens provisions of the Open Meetings Act. The corresponding state House of Representatives bill, House Bill 244, was sponsored by Rep. Mike Hill, R-Columbiana, and currently is pending action by the House Committee on Ethics and Finance.

“We have to make sure that government is open and honest, and a large part of that is being available and accountable to the news media,” Ward said. “The fourth estate does a public service by shining a light on the inner workings of governments. We don’t need any elected or appointed body in the state trying to circumvent their access.”

Ward previously said the Open Meetings Act had been “effectively gutted” by a trio of Alabama Supreme Court cases.

The release stated that the court held that legislative bodies could avoid public meetings by forming subcommittees that deliberate the proposed matters in committee, but wait until the entire body meets again to vote on them. They also held that a citizen did not have the right to sue a commission or legislative body if they would not receive the civil fines.

“We are dedicated to ensuring the public’s right to know, and have direct access to, the way our elected officials conduct the people’s business,” Ward said. “This is a step in the right direction to restoring the intent of the Open Meetings Act, and guaranteeing the constitutionality of those provisions.”

The legislation now moves to the house for debate and approval, and then to the Governor’s desk for his signature.