Support changes to state#039;s Sunshine Law

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 14, 2004

There are not many things scarier than when government bodies close their doors to the public.

The 2004 session of the Alabama Legislature is currently considering a bill being pushed by the Alabama Press Association. The Sunshine Laws of our state are some of the oldest in the nation, and have often been duplicated in other states.

They are designed to keep public business before the public and to shed a little sunshine or light on actions by governing bodies.

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The Sunshine Law directly affects how much the public is entitled to know about what its government is doing, so it is important to keep track of any changes to these laws that may either strengthen or weaken them.

One of the most important of the new bills is one yet to be named that is intended to increase the amount of information available to the public when a governing body decides to go into executive session.

As it stands now, governing bodies from the state Legislature all the way down to the local school board or city council may call for an executive session for a number of fairly vague reasons. They can say they need to discuss legal or personnel issues without going into much detail about what kinds of legal or personnel issues they plan to discuss. Furthermore, once the doors are closed in executive session, these meetings are not recorded – tape recorders are turned off and note-taking stops.

Even when the reason for going into executive session is valid, isn’t it possible that after the doors close the discussion may veer into areas that should have remained public?

It also calls for these private meetings to be recorded.

This bill is designed to protect both sides of the issue, both those governing and those being governed.

We at the Advocate support this legislation fully and encourage our local representatives to step forward and push this legislation through.

This is not legislation for the media only, please do not make that mistake.

This law is meant to protect citizens, tax paying citizens, from governing bodies doing anything in private that they can’t, and rightfully should, do in the open.

If we want more accountability in government then we encourage everyone to call their state lawmakers and tell them you support the new Sunshine Law legislation.