House votes to restore Open Meetings Act to original intent

Published 8:23 pm Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Alabama House of Representatives voted Tuesday to pass legislation that would restore the Alabama Open Meetings Act to its original intent.

The bill, which amends sections of the act to stop boards and committees from meeting in small groups behind closed doors, passed by a vote of 91-4.

“As government officials we need to be transparent in all we do,” said Representative Darrio Melton. “We are writing policies and laws that are going to impact the general public, so the public should be aware of what is going on, and they should have a say so and be able to voice their concerns.”

Melton said he thinks the bill makes the process of government more transparent for the people it affects.

“I just think transparency is needed. To have meetings and the press and public is not privy to be a part of those meetings, I think that is not transparency in government,” Melton said.

“[It] will hopefully give our citizens and our press … an opportunity to keep the public aware of what is actually going on because so often many people are not aware of what is going on until after the fact that it is happening, and we’re trying to prevent that from happening.”

The Senate passed the bill in March, but Sen. Hank Sanders did not support changing the current act.

“I’m not against open meetings. In fact, I’ve been a strong supporter of open meetings,” Sanders said. “We keep changing things to make them more complicated. Alabama has a strong open meetings law now.”

Sanders said the changes to the act will discourage communication between board and committee members.

“I think that when two board members meet, neither one of them can go and talk to another one without raising suspicion,” Sanders said.

“I didn’t think that it was a good thing to do. We should be encouraging communication among various kinds of board members, not discouraging it.”

Sanders said the amendments complicated the act rather than simplifying it.

“I think that if one board member wants to talk to one board member and then wants to talk to another board member, then that ought to be done without creating a problem,” Sanders said.

Sanders was absent for the Senate’s vote in March but voted no Wednesday against accepting changes made by the House.The act also further defines deliberation, governmental bodies and meetings where ideas or information is exchanged between members of a board or committee, among other issues.