Open Meetings bill clears Senate

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 28, 2014

The Alabama Senate Thursday passed a bill that restores provisions of the Open Meetings Act that had been weakened by recent court rulings.

The transparency legislation, a top priority of Gov. Robert Bentley, clears up and redefines aspects of The Open Meetings Act that were struck down by the Alabama Supreme Court. It was approved 26-1.

“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,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Cam 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.”

“The Alabama Press Association would like to thank the sponsor, Sen. Ward of Alabaster, and President Pro-Tempore Sen. Del Marsh of Anniston, for their leadership in getting this through the Senate,” said APA Executive Director Felicia Mason.

“We also want to thank the groups that worked with us to reach an agreement on language that protects public access to the governmental process as well as outlines a practical method for the meeting process.”

Mason said the groups working on the bills included the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, the Alabama League of Municipalities, the Alabama Association of School Boards, and others who were all instrumental in passing the original bill back in 2005.

“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.”

Dennis Bailey said, “As the general counsel for the Press Association, I want to express my appreciation to Senators Marsh and Ward for their hard work in bringing the matter to the floor and securing passage of SB191.  Their work has taken government transparency a step forward by correcting loopholes in the Open Meetings Act created by rulings of the Alabama Supreme Court we believe misinterpreted the intent of the unanimously passed 2005 Open Meetings Act. Hopefully it will meet a favorable reception in the House.”

The bill now moves to the House. Mason said the House passed the original bill unanimously in 2005, and she hopes for the same result this time. “This is an important issue for all Alabama citizens,” she said. “It offers the public and governmental bodies a clear process for openness.”