Miss. House passes bill originally designed to strengthen Open Meetings laws


 The Mississippi House on Thursday passed a bill originally designed to strengthen the Open Meetings laws, but the state Ethics Commission director said the bill has been watered down.

“If a board goes into an illegal secret meeting and does something sneaky, somebody needs to be able to undo that,” director Tom Hood said.

“That’s not possible under current law, and it’s not possible under the House version.”

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, said his committee made the bill stronger, not weaker.

“I believe in doing what’s reasonable and what’s right and in the public’s best interests,” he said.

“And I think that what we did was certainly that.”

When the bill passed the Senate last month, it would’ve required elected officials to use their own money to pay fines for illegally closing meetings.

Under current law, fines are paid by tax dollars — not by the individual violators.

The House committee voted early this week to increase the fines, but taxpayers would still pick up the tab.

During debate by the full House on Thursday, members voted 65-54 for an amendment restoring provisions that require individual violators to pay the fines.

“Taxpayers should not have to pay for someone’s willful violation of the law,” said Rep. Greg Snowden, R-Meridian.

When the bill cleared the Senate last month, it said any decision made in an illegally closed meeting could be nullified by a chancery judge or the Ethics Commission.

The House Judiciary A Committee removed that provision, and the bill passed the House that way.

The bill passed 97-22 and was held for the possibility more House debate in the next few days.

It would die if Blackmon chooses not to call it back up before a March 11 deadline.

Blackmon’s law firm represents the city of Canton.

He said in many smaller cities and communities, elected officials are paid little, and they might not have easy access to legal advice.

Blackmon said making those people pay a fine would be an unfair financial burden.



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