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Alabama Legislature increases transparency, bolsters Open Meetings Law

Alabama Senate Chamber (File photo)
Alabama Senate Chamber (File photo)

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Alabama House on Wednesday passed SB21, sponsored by Senator Cam Ward (R-Alabaster), ensuring the public has access to government and board meetings. The legislation passed the House 91-4 after it unanimously passed the Senate on March 18, and now awaits Governor Bentley’s signature.

“Government should be open, transparent, accountable, and its business done before the people,” said Sen. Ward in a press release after the bill earned final passage.

Ward sponsored the bill to strengthen the original Open Meetings Act passed in 2005, but altered by the Alabama Supreme court in 2013. The court’s revisions included a loophole that permits members of a board to hold secret meetings at which individuals would agree upon a vote behind close doors, then take action without any type of public discourse on the issue.

“Senator Ward has worked tirelessly on this legislation because it will make state and local government more accountable to the people of Alabama,” said Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper).

Proponents of Ward’s reform say the bill helps to strengthen government accountability by making sure the citizens have a chance to know about and attend meetings with issues they may be concerned about.

Meetings with discussions or negotiations that involve sensitive personnel issues or economic development matters are not included in the bill. In particular, the state’s universities are exempt when making hiring decisions on university presidents, vice presidents, provosts, department heads, or athletic coaches.

“Government entities should not make decisions behind closed doors that affect Alabamians,” remarked Reed, “and now citizens can rest assured that the people’s business will be handled in the light of public oversight.”

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