“It is so important that an entity that is supported by taxpayer dollars always be open to the press, and it should always be open to the public,” Bentley said at a press conference Thursday.
The new bill would also make it illegal for public entities to meet in groups of less than a quorum to avoid the requirements of the Open Meeting Act.
Currently, only groups that establish a quorum of members are required to announce their meeting and allow the public and media access.
Councils, commissions and other agencies across the state avoid that requirement by meeting with various groupings of members at different times to discuss the same issue.
Then, when the group is convened in these “serial meetings,” these consecutive small-group meetings are currently being used to skirt the legal requirements of transparency.
The proposed changes also extend to the use of electronic media to circumvent the Open Meeting requirements.
The changes also include the requirement that both houses of the legislature and their committees meet in public, unless a specific vote requires secrecy.
The new bill, if passed, would allow any citizen to sue a public entity that breaks the Open Meeting Act and would award damages to the plaintiff if they won the suit.
“Transparency promotes government accountability, and as elected officials, we are held accountable for our decisions by the people we serve,” Bentley said in a press release. “It is important that our state’s open meetings law allows the public to see and be involved in government decisions. The goal of this new legislation is to further strengthen Alabama’s Open Meetings Law.”