State#039;s new sunshine law is in effect

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 14, 2005

Alabama's new open meetings, or "Sunshine", law went into effect on Oct. 1 and state and local governing bodies will be held accountable at a higher level than in the past.

The law more clearly defines the "good name and character" clause, used by local government officials in the past as an excuse to shut the doors on the public and the media. The old law was vague and members of the press and public were forced to wait on court interpretations of the law to understand their rights.

A lack of open government is an offense to the doctrine upon which this country was founded. So-called "secret meetings" lead to rumors that cast doubts on the credibility of our elected officials and their decisions. We understand that in certain situations such as pending litigation or in protecting the identity of an undercover agent in law enforcement that an executive session may be needed. However, the practice of entering an executive session at the drop of a hat should be discouraged.

The new law also regulates specific requirements for notifying the public about both special and scheduled meetings, while also setting procedures which must be followed by governing bodies in conducting those meetings.

Attorney General Troy King, Sen. Zeb Little (D-Cullman) and Rep. Blaine Galliher (R-Gadsden), as well as the Alabama Press Association and Alabama Center for Open Government, should be applauded for pushing a needed reformation to Alabama's open meetings law.