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franklin county times

New open meetings statute provides penalties

By Staff
Jonathan Willis FCT Staff Writer
Gov. Bob Riley and the Alabama legislature have taken measures that will protect the state's open meeting laws, including the enforcement of stiff penalties against public officials who fail to follow the new statutes.
The new law spells out what meetings must be open to the public and sets new, stiffer penalties for those who violate it.
The Senate voted 32-0 to give final approval of the bill, which was passed in the House by a 98-0 vote. Riley has since signed the measure into law.
The bill states the circumstances under which public boards are allowed to hold closed door meetings and specifies how much notice must be given before a public meeting.
The new law also makes it clear that committees and subcommittees of public boards are expected to hold public meetings.
The bill also gives citizens the right to sue public officials who hold closed door meetings and makes those officials subject to court-ordered fines. Alabama's current law has criminal penalties, but no one has ever been prosecuted, according to media reports.
The current law, which has been in effect since 1915, was short on specifics regarding meeting laws. However, the new law will clearly state when meetings must be open, when they can be closed and how the public must be notified of the meetings.
The Alabama attorney general's office and the Alabama Press Association began the push for tougher action when a 2003 ruling by the state Supreme Court stated that the open meetings law did not apply to committee meetings of the Auburn University board of trustees unless a quorum of the full board was present.

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