The Open Meetings Law was enacted in 1976 to ensure accountability and public debate on issues that affect communities. When an individual or community group believes a municipality or school board has violated the Open Meetings Law, their remedy is legal action. The expense of litigation often has a chilling effect on those who seek to hold their elected officials accountable. This bill greatly expands the ability of the court to award costs and attorney's fees to a petitioner when it is determined that a vote was taken or substantial deliberations relating to a vote were taken in violation of the Open Meetings Law.
“We have had the Open Meetings Law on the books for over thirty years to allow the members of the community to offer public comment on matters before governmental bodies,” said Senator Saland. “When a public entity, such as a town board or school board denies the public admission to meetings, often the only recourse is for an individual or group to file a lawsuit, using their own funds. This bill will greatly expand the awarding of costs and attorney’s fees to petitioners when their cases are successfully litigated. In a democratic society, citizens should not have to spend their own money to ensure governmental entities obey the law,” Saland added.
The law takes effect immediately.