A second chance to strengthen Open Meetings Act

FROM STAFF REPORTS

Last year, a bill to strengthen the Open Meetings Act failed to pass in the 2014 legislative session.

This year, legislators get another chance to vote for openness and transparency in government. State Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, sponsored the bill again, and it passed the Senate 30-0 on March 18. Ward hopes that introducing the bill earlier this year will allow enough time for both bodies to pass it.

“By moving it so fast so early this year, we are hoping we will have more time to get it passed,” Ward.

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.

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.

“We are really hoping to crack down on those serial meetings and make government more open to everyone,” Ward said.

2. It would provide a basis for Alabama citizens to sue a government body for violations to the Open Meetings Act.

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.

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

We urge our representatives to protect this right by passing this bill.