The Mississippi Legislature has approved a plan to put some much-needed teeth into the law requiring governmental entities to conduct their business in public.
The Senate approved this week and sent to Gov. Haley Barbour for signature a bill that puts the onus on public officials themselves and not the government entities to pay the fines for meeting in secret. Government entities paying the fine is the same as all of us as taxpayers taking money out of our pockets to cover the wrongdoing of officeholders.
Under current law, violations are $100, a penalty so small that fines seldom have been levied, according to Layne Bruce, executive director of the Mississippi Press Association.
The bill awaiting Barbour’s signature provides for a $500 fine for each individual member of the board or group violating the law for a first offense and $1,000 for a second offense. And the fines are levied by the State Ethics Commission, instead of requiring a citizen to go to court with a complaint.
We expect citizens in Union County will be keeping a closer watch on their local elected officials, and especially groups that appear to have little open and frank discussion before voting on issues.
The stronger law is a victory for the state press association, which lobbies the legislature on behalf of its member newspapers and the public for openness and transparency in government.
Bruce said the changes are “a good step forward” for Mississippi.