House approves bill to strengthen Open Meetings Act

Published 5:13 pm Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Alabama House voted on June 2 to pass a bill aimed at strengthening the state's Open Meetings Act. (File)

The Alabama House voted on June 2 to pass a bill aimed at strengthening the state’s Open Meetings Act. (File)

By NEAL WAGNER / Managing Editor

MONTGOMERY – A bill to strengthen the state’s Open Meetings Act is headed back to the state Senate for final approval after it passed the Alabama House of Representatives on June 2.

The House voted 91-4 to pass the bill, which would restore the Open Meetings Act “to its original intent” if it is signed into law, according to the Alabama Press Association.

The Alabama Senate voted 30-0 to pass the bill on March 18, but because the House made some changes to the bill, it must go back to the Senate for final approval. If the Senate gives its final approval, the bill will move to Gov. Robert Bentley for his signature.

The Senate bill was sponsored by Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, and the House bill was sponsored by Rep. Randy Davis, R-Daphne.

“This is an important step forward for open government in Alabama,” Alabama Press Association Executive Director Felicia Mason wrote in a statement. “Our lawmakers have sent a clear message that they support the public’s right to know, and that is important to every Alabama citizen.”

During last year’s session, the bill passed the state Senate, but remained in committee in the House of Representatives until the final days of the session.

According to the Press Association, Ward’s legislation became necessary after three Alabama Supreme Court rulings over the past two years severely crippled the existing law.

“Most damaging was the decision that essentially allowed for secret meetings as long as a quorum was not present,” read a previous APA statement. “In some cases, the public is only witness to a vote because all of the deliberation is done in small, serial meetings prior to a public meeting.”

Ward said one of the primary intents of the bill is to put an end to serial meetings.