News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
THURSDAY, JANUARY 27, 2005
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EDITORIAL

State ready for new open meetings law

One of the problems with the current open meetings law in Alabama is that courts haven't had the stomach to enforce criminal penalties for violations.

This left news organizations having to hire lawyers and petition courts to make public officials abide by the law.

The Alabama Press Association is pushing legislation that makes violations civil instead of criminal. These changes should motivate courts to enforce the law.

Judges not wanting to send a fellow politician to jail might be more willing to slap one with a citation for a violation that is obvious, as many are today.

Even then, the proposed law would give courts the discretion to level no fine or ones of up to $1,000.

A law that spells out the business that governments may or may not conduct in executive session should aid public officials in abiding by the law.

The bill is not perfect, but for the first time it has the support of groups that kept new legislation from passing. The Alabama Association of School Boards, the League of Municipalities and the Association of County Commissions now support the bill.

Local legislators met here this week with press association members to discuss the merits of the bill. Hopefully, the bill that state Sen. Jeb Little, D-Cullman, plans to pre-file can be introduced in the regular session next month without acquiring amendments that could endanger its passage.

While we'd like to see fines stiffened for clear and repeated violations, simply having judges convict public officials of hiding business from the public will be a great deterrent to this abuse of trust, even without the weight of heavy penalties.

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