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.
“One of the most cherished rights we have is the ability to offer public debate on matters before governmental entities,” said Senator Saland. “We have had the Open Meetings Law on the books for over thirty years to protect this right. But when municipalities or school boards deny the public access to meetings, in violation of the law, the only enforcement mechanism 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 force governmental entities to obey the law,” Saland added.
The bill will now be sent to the Governor for his consideration.