Alabama Open-Meetings Bill Moves Forward

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(AP) Legislation to rewrite Alabama’s open meetings law is headed to the state Senate with a majority of the senators behind it.

The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee approved the bill yesterday on a voice vote without any opposition. The bill now goes to the Senate, where 18 of the 35 senators have signed on as co-sponsors.

The attorney general and associations representing newspapers, county commissions, city councils and school boards have worked for two years to prepare the legislation spelling out which meetings must be open and how much public notice must be given before meetings.

The bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Zeb Little, D-Cullman, said he is “very encouraged” by the support the bill has received and hopes it can come to a vote in the Senate by next week. If approved by the Senate, the bill would then go to the House for consideration.

The bill continues to undergo fine-tuning, with language taken out yesterday that said a person had to request to record a public meeting. Dennis Bailey, attorney for the Alabama Press Association, said the request couldn’t be denied so there was no need to use the word “request.”

Another change, made at the request of the Mobile County Commission, clarified that in counties with three-member commissions, a casual meeting between two commissioners wouldn’t fall under the open meetings law. With the change, the meeting would come under the law only if the commissioners discuss items they expect to come up for a vote later at a commission meeting.

One committee member, Sen. Tommy Ed Roberts, D-Hartselle, questioned why the bill exempts the Legislature and its committees from giving seven days’ notice of meetings like city councils and county commissions have to do. Bailey said most states’ open meetings laws exempt the Legislature.

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