Tax payers will continue to pay up after Open Meetings Bill dies

JACKSON, MS

Open Meeting Laws in Mississippi currently state that elected official should hold public meetings as opposed to meetings behind closed doors.

If they hold an “unofficial” meeting, and are caught, they are subject to a $100 dollar fine. However, this fine does not have to be paid by the elected official, but rather by the tax payer.

That’s why members of the Mississippi Senate drafted a bill called, “Meetings Accountability Act” (Senate Bill 2373), that would put the burden of payment on an elected official who gets caught for an unauthorized meeting, rather than the tax payer.

First Amendment Attorney, Leonard Van Slyke says incidences like this happen more often than people realize. 

“Public bodies go into executive session for the wrong reason, or have informal meetings among themselves without noticing them to the public.” Van Slyke continued to say, “Unfortunately the penalties aren’t very great and the ones that are there are paid by the tax payer rather than the culprits.”

After the bill passed the Senate, it was sent over to the House for review. Judiciary A Chairman, Ed Blackmon was to oversee the bill, but another committee member brought it up on the House floor.

The vote passed, and Blackmon held it on a motion to reconsider. The bill died in the Legislature after it was not brought up again.

Senator David Blount was a co-author on the bill. In an interview on Friday he voiced that he was disappointed it didn’t pass.

“This particular bill though, really would have made things a lot better. It would have protected the publics interest, and I’m sorry to see that it died this year.”

Meanwhile, Blount says they will bring it up during the 2011 Legislative Session.

WLOX- ch 13

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