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Open Meetings bill goes to Governor

The Alabama House of Representatives passed SB21, a bill related to open meetings, on Tuesday. The bill was sent back to the Senate where agreed-upon changes were approved Wednesday. The bill now goes to the Governor for his signature.

The bill restores the Open Meetings Act to its original intent.  The 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. 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.

Alabama Press Association Executive Director Felicia Mason applauded the bill sponsor, Rep. Randy Davis of Daphne, for his efforts to move the bill through the House. “We appreciate Rep. Davis for his determination to move this bill through the process,” Mason said. She also recognized Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard and Senate President Pro-tem Del Marsh for their guidance and support.

Sen. Cam Ward of Alabaster was the sponsor of the Senate version. This is the second year Ward has worked with APA on this legislation. “This is an important step forward for open government in Alabama,” Mason said. “Our lawmakers have sent a clear message that they support the public’s right to know, and that is important to every Alabama citizen.”

Alabama’s first Open Meetings Law was one of the oldest in the country, passed in 1915. Most states did not pass legislation related to open meetings until after the scandal of Watergate in the 1970s. The law, however, was mostly a statement of principle and lacked specifics to guide government officials and the public in conducting business in the open.

The current law was passed in 2005, and was a collaborative effort between many groups to create a guideline for public meetings.