Alabama House Bill 203 would update terminology within Alabama's Open Meetings Act to create more transparency within local and state government. It was introduced into the 2021 Alabama Legislative session by Representative Timothy Wadsworth (R).
Each state has rules that create and maintain transparency in government. These rules are often referred to as sunshine laws, and they may differ in each state to some degree. Ensuring that the public has access to government meetings, such as city council meetings, is one scope of these laws. It prevents government bodies from conducting public business behind closed doors.
HB 203 would update the meaning of "deliberation," which in turn would update what the Open Meetings Act considers a "meeting." Under the act as it is currently written, deliberation refers to the discussion of information. Merriam Webster's first entry for "deliberation" reads: "the act of thinking about or discussing something and deciding carefully." Currently, a gathering of a government body does not have to be made public if no discussion is taking place. HB 203 would broaden the term "deliberation" to include the "thinking about" part of the dictionary definition. So even if there is no discussion, if members of a government body are receiving information that will be used to determine a vote at a later date, that gathering will be termed a "meeting" and the public must have access to it.
One instance that helped give rise to this bill was a public hearing conducted by the Alabama Public Service Commission in 2019 related to fees about solar energy. The public was allowed to attend, but more than one attendee was made to leave because they were recording the hearing. The commission was taken to court for denying the public their right to record, but the Alabama Supreme Court ruled in favor of the commission. The public does have a right to record public meetings, but as the Open Meetings Act is currently written, this hearing was not considered a "meeting" because the commission didn't discuss anything. And if it is not a "meeting," it doesn't have to be made public. Read more about the hearing and the lawsuit here.
Read the full text of HB 203
Visit Alabama's Open Meetings Site