The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

February 12, 2014

Open Meetings Act revisions clear first hurdle in Legislature

MONTGOMERY —

A bill to strengthen Alabama's Open Meetings Act passed its first test in the Legislature today.

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a slightly revised version of the bill on a unanimous vote. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

The bill's sponsor, Republican Sen. Cam Ward of Alabaster, said the Legislature enacted a good Open Meeting Act in 2005, but three recent rulings by the Alabama Supreme Court "ripped it up and threw it out the window."

In response to those rulings, his bill provides that legislative meetings are open to the public, that private citizens can sue for government boards not having open meetings, and that board members can't use private meetings in small groups to avoid the whole board making decisions in open meetings.

The Judiciary Committee modified the last provision to make sure it is not violation for board members to exchange information so long as they don't deliberate and try to influence how a person will vote while talking in small groups. Another revision specifies that gatherings to fill a position, such as a university president, are not serial meetings until the field is narrowed to three candidates or less.

The bill is backed by the Alabama Press Association and the governor.

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