Editorial: An opener for Alabama — Governor is right to pursue a stronger Open Meetings law
by The Anniston Star Editorial Board
Jan 15, 2014 | 1806 views |  0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Gov. Robert Bentley (AP photo)
Gov. Robert Bentley (AP photo)
The quest for open government and political transparency isn’t a Republican thing or a Democratic thing. It’s a democratic thing. Alabamians should applaud any effort to fight those in the state who’d prefer a government veiled in secrecy.

Those same Alabamians, of course, are well aware that some politicians at both the state and local level are prone to such a cloak-and-dagger approach.

They close meetings that shouldn’t be. They consider themselves and their committees immune to the state’s Open Meetings law, either by misunderstanding the law or blatant rules-breaking. They convene meetings without a quorum, outside of chambers, to circumvent the law.

In other words, they keep the people in the dark.

Today we applaud the efforts of Gov. Robert Bentley, who will announce proposed changes to the Open Meetings law during a press conference in Montgomery. Two Republican lawmakers, Rep. Mike Hill of Columbiana and Sen. Cam Ward of Alabaster, will join him. However strong our views are in opposition to a great many of Bentley’s policies — and they are numerous — we agree with the governor that the state’s Open Meetings law needs improvement.

(It’s interesting to note that Bentley’s only GOP opposition thus far for the 2014 primary, Stacy George of Morgan County, has told reporters that he will propose that violators of the Open Meetings law face felony charges.)

An Open Meetings law devoid of loopholes and with clearly defined guidelines makes it more difficult for those who would skirt the law. By that, we mean lawmakers in Montgomery, city councils throughout the state and any public board or committee that falls under the law.

Alabamians shouldn’t consider this the sole fight of media itching for more access to more politicians. This is about voters not knowing what their politicians are doing, a cancer in our form of government.

Sadly, today’s announcement is just that — an announcement signalling the governor’s intentions. The real issue is whether the GOP-controlled Legislature will give Bentley’s proposal anything more than a polite shrug.

In the end, it’s not the governor’s decision whether to strengthen the state’s Open Meetings law. It’s the members of the Alabama Senate and House — 35 in the upper chamber, 105 in the lower — who will ultimately decide.

In the coming months of the 2014 session, if those lawmakers decide an improved Open Meetings law isn’t a priority, they’ve taken the path of least resistance, a path of non-action.

If so, Alabama loses.
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