Governmental Transparency, including open meetings, access to information, etc.
LWVAL Action Priority Level I (Highest) - Monitoring and action of highest priority. Major area for resource expenditures.
Click a bill to see sponsor(s), summary (including link to full text), League action and justification for that action, and progress of the bill through the legislative process.
Legend: = LWVAL's support for the legislation. = LWVAL's opposition to the legislation. = new bill activity; change from previous week's report such as new progress in the legislature and/or League action. Bill may be one newly added to the report. These updates are in green font.
LWVAL has taken a position on these bills:
HB 68 - Lobbying, executive branch, prohibited from contracting lobbyists
Sponsor(s): Representative Garrett
Summary/Synopsis: This legislation would prohibit an agency of the Executive Department of the state that receives appropriations from the General Fund or the Education Trust Fund from hiring a lobbyist.
League Action and Justification: Support -- A good-government measure.
Bill Progress in Legislature: Pending committee action in house of origin 02/02/2016: First Read and referred to the House Committee on Ethics and Campaign Finance (E&CF). 02/17/2016: 2nd Reading and placed on calendar; pending 3rd Read and Favorable from E&CF 02/23/2016: 3rd Reading Passed; Motion to Read a 3rd Time and Pass adopted by Roll Call
04/20/2016: 2nd Read and placed on the Calendar; pending 3rd Read and Favorable from FR&ED
SB279 - Ethics, informal opinion by State Ethics Commission provided, prohibition of elected public officials lobbying revised, thing of value definition revised, Sec. 36-25-4.4 added; Secs. 36-25-1, 36-25-13, 36-25-23, 36-25-27 am'd.
Sponsor(s): Senator Dial Summary/Synopsis: Currently, informal opinions of the Ethics Commission do not provide immunity. This bill would establish a procedure for written informal opinions that would provide immunity. It would also eliminate the prohibition against a former public official's representing a client before his or her former body for a period of 2 years. A public official is defined as one elected to a constitutional office, a member of the Alabama legislature, or a member of an elected state board or commission. The legislation makes it more difficult to prove that a "thing of value" was provided to a public official to influence his or her actions or inaction. It eliminates the annual caps on provision of food and beverages to state officials.
HB 461 - Open Meetings Act, excludes boards of trustees of institutions of higher education created by statute from serial meeting requirements, Sec. 36-25A-2 am'd.
Sponsor(s): Representatives Hall and Davis Summary/Synopsis: This bill amends the “Open Meetings Act” to place statutorily created institutions of higher education on the same legal footing as constitutionally created ones with respect to the serial meetings exemption. This means that a meeting or informal gathering at which some of the trustees of the institution discuss the search for candidates for leadership positions in the institution is not a prohibited “serial meeting” and does not have to be held in public. Currently the constitutionally established colleges and universities can have “private” serial meetings during a candidate search process but legislatively established colleges and universities must hold these meetings in public. In addition, it clarifies the wording of the concluding serial meeting exemption.
League Action and Justification: Oppose This action is based on the League position for transparency in government and its long time support for open meeting and an end to the use of the serial meeting process to avoid transparency. There are some concerns about the “slippery slope” established by allowing this kind of activity by trustees of either kind of publically funded educational institution. It would seem to perpetuate the “old boy/girl” network if powerful people can privately advocate for a candidate outside of the public arena. As a practical matter, this bill will not do much since the most powerful institutions of higher education in the state were already allowed these kinds of serial meetings. Bill Progress in Legislature: 03/22/2016: First Reading and referred to the House Committee on Ethics and Campaign Finance (E&CF).the House Committee on Ethics and Campaign Finance (E&CF)
04/07/2016: 2nd Read and placed on the calendar; pending 3rd Read and Favorable from E&CF
04/28/2016: Indefinitely Postponed.
LWVAL is monitoring these bills:
SB84/HB318 - School safety, records relating to, are exempt from disclosure to public pursuant to rights to inspect public records, Sec. 36-12-40 am'd.
SB84 Sponsor(s): Senators Livingston, Orr, Sanford, Scofield, Holtzclaw, and Melson HB318 Sponsor(s): Representative P Williams Summary/Synopsis: These bills would decrease public access to information about specific school security measures, such as the location of security cameras placed on campus and on buses, contracts for school security enhancements, staffing of school security personnel, etc.
League Action and Justification: Monitor in the interest of transparency in governmental actions. While it may be important to maintaining school safety to keep secret the location of school security cameras, other information such as the contract for security enhancements (which should be consistent with the bidding process) should not be shrouded in secrecy. The details will be important. NOTE: Follow SB84 and HB318 under Education.
SB386 - Student journalists at public institutions of higher education, freedom of speech and freedom of the press provided with certain exceptions
Sponsor(s): Senator Whatley
Summary/Synopsis: This bill would authorize public institutions of higher education in Alabama to adopt a written policy for freedom of speech and freedom of the press for student journalists in relation to university-sponsored media.
University-sponsored media is defined as any material that is prepared, written, published, or broadcast by a student journalist at an Alabama public institution of higher education (a 4-year university that offers a bachelor’s degree or higher advanced degree) and distributed or generally made available to members of the student body. This media does not include material that is intended for distribution or transmission solely in the classroom in which the material is produced.
Each institution of higher education under the authority of a separate board of trustees may adopt a written university policy regarding policies for freedom of speech for university-sponsored media, which shall include reasonable provisions. The board shall make the policy available to the students and their parents. The board of trustees or its administration acting on its behalf shall produce the policy document. [Emphasis added.]
“A student journalist may exercise freedom of speech and freedom of the press in university-sponsored media, to the fullest extent permitted by law.” Any such “expression of free speech shall not be deemed to be an expression of university policy, its employees, or officials, nor shall the university be liable in any civil or criminal action for any student journalist expression made or published through any university-sponsored media.”
The bill would prohibit the expression, publication or distribution of any of the following:
Libelous or slanderous material
Materials that constitute an unwarranted invasion of privacy
Materials that violate federal or state law
Disruption of the orderly operation of an institution of higher education