|Governor supports improving access to public meetings|
|Written by News Desk|
|Sunday, 16 February 2014 20:51|
By BOB MARTIN, Publisher
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley has said he will propose changes to the Alabama Open Meetings law that will strengthen the law, according to recent news from the governor's office. Bentley held a news conference recently at the State Capitol with legislators who will be sponsoring the bill. They are Rep. Mike Hill, R-Columbiana and Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster.
The Alabama Press Association is supporting the governor's proposal. Felicia Mason, executive director of the Association, said the association was involved in helping draft the bill and supported the changes it would make. Mason said rulings by state courts have caused three concerns about the Open Meetings law, which the Legislature passed in 2005. She says Bentley's proposed legislation will address those concerns.
One ruling came in an AEA-backed lawsuit that claimed Republicans on a conference committee violated the Open Meetings Act when they made changes to the bill that became the Alabama Accountability Act. In that case, the state Supreme Court ruled last year that the Legislature's authority to establish its own rules, granted by the state Constitution, trumps any claim of an Open Meetings violation. Mason said in a recent statement that the Open Meetings law was always intended to cover the Legislature.
"They never intended for themselves not to be included," Mason said. She noted in a recent interview that the Constitution says "the doors of the Legislature shall be open." What clearer language could they have used. Another court ruling dealt with the Open Meetings law's prohibition against serial meetings, Mason said. Those take place, she said, when members of a government body hold a series of meetings in groups smaller than a quorum to reach a decision that requires approval of the full body. "The law is intended to prohibit serial meetings, but the specific wording in the law needs to be fixed because of the court ruling," she said.
Common sense dictates you can't meet in small groups and make decisions. "That was the intent all along," Mason said. The third issue concerns who has standing to file a complaint claiming a violation of the Open Meetings Act. Mason said the intent of the law is that any Alabamian can do so. "None of language the press group has proposed is a change," Mason said. "It's more of a strengthening and shoring up what the law was intended to be all along." She said the governor's office called the association in last fall and asked it to help in drafting the proposed legislation.
I believe legislators should provide the citizens of our state access to all matters of public concern. I trust that they have the same goal.
State has highest infant mortality in the nation
Dr. Marsha D. Raulerson, pediatrician and past president of the Alabama Medical Association wrote this past week that she is "shocked that Alabama now has the highest infant mortality in the nation. "In 2012 519 babies died before their first birthday. That's nearly nine babies for every 1,000 births," she writes in a column on al.com. "The national average is six. We know the factors that drive the high death rate for our babies. If our elected officials have the will to turn this around we could do it now," she stresses.
Her proposal to state lawmakers would be increasing the tobacco tax to at least the national average of $1.53 per pack. Our rate of 42.5 cents is the 47th lowest in the nation, she asserts. "Last month the American Cancer society reported that states with higher tobacco tax rates discovered that increasing the cost is the most effective way to prevent our children from starting tobacco use and helping adults quit. Fewer young mothers will smoke, and the ones who do have a greater incentive to quit," she says.
Smoking, Dr. Raulerson says is the most common cause for low birth weight. She also asserts that smoking around a newborn and bringing it in on clothing is associated with an increase in Sudden Infant Death; and that babies of smokers are more likely to develop pneumonia. "The latest Surgeon General's report released this month ties in-utero tobacco exposure to birth defects, so what's stopping our lawmakers from getting this done," she says.
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