Governor signs Open Meetings Act into law

Published 2:33 pm Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Gov. Robert Bentley held a bill signing for the Open Meetings Act on June 30.

The bill was passed during the 2015 Legislative Session, and amends the state’s Open Meetings Act of 2005.

The bill prohibits boards and committees from holding a series of meetings of a few members behind closed doors.

It also tightens the state law requiring county commissions, city councils and other governing bodies to meet in public.

The Alabama Senate voted 30-0 to pass the bill on March 18, but because the House made some changes to the bill, it had to go back to the Senate for final approval.

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

“I think whenever you can have more transparency, it is healthy for government,” Ward said in early June. “One of the primary intents of the bill is to put an end to serial meetings.”

The bill restores the Open Meetings Act to its “original intent,” according to the Alabama Press Association.

The Press Association said the legislation became necessary after three Alabama Supreme Court rulings over the past two years severely crippled the existing law.

“Transparency promotes government accountability, and as elected officials, we are held to a higher standard for our decisions,” Gov. Robert Bentley said in a statement. “It is important that our state’s open meetings law allows the public to see and be involved in government decisions. I supported this bill last year, and I am proud to see the Alabama Legislature pass this important piece of legislation this year.”

The legislation added three new amendments to the current 2005 Open Meetings Law:

•It expressly state that meetings in small groups without proper notice to discuss issues that will come before the full body is not permitted. There are times when government business requires closed-door meetings, and the current law provides for those situations.

•Clarifies that Alabama citizens have a right to bring an action against a governmental body if they believe the body has violated the law, and any penalties assessed are payable to the plaintiff.

•The legislation reflects that the Alabama Constitution requires the Alabama Legislature to meet with its doors open to the public unless a vote is taken in public that secrecy is required in certain circumstances.

“Government should be open, transparent, accountable, and its business done before the people,” Ward said in a statement. “We have now strengthened the original intent of the Open Meetings law by forbidding members of a government board from holding secret meetings to collude on issues that should be discussed in the open. The people’s business should be done in the light of public oversight.”

Davis said in a statement that the Open Meetings Act ensures that meetings of public officials are accessible and everyday citizens can engage in the process.

“I’m proud to have sponsored this important bill that is truly for the people of Alabama,” Davis said in a statement.