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New open meetings bill sent to governor

JACKSON (AP) — A bill has been sent to the governor that would require public officials, not the government, to pay fines for violating the state’s open meetings law.

The Senate gave final passage to the bill Monday. The bill now goes to the governor.

Under the current law, the entity, such as the municipality or the county government, is responsible for paying the penalty.

The bill, as now passed by the House and Senate, would make it a $500 fine per individual for the first offense and a $1,000 fine for the second offense.

For instance, a member of a board who is found to have voted in favor of illegally closing a meeting would face a $500 fine.

“This is a really good day for those who want transparency” in government, said Senate Ethics Committee Chairman Merle Flowers, R-Southaven.

Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant also praised the legislation.

“We wanted to send a good, strong message that government is open,” he said.

The bill also clarifies that the penalty for violating the open records law is $100 per incident.

Plus, the public official also could be responsible for reasonable attorneys fees.

The Ethics Commission would rule on open records and meetings complaints, though either side could appeal to the chancery court.

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The bill is Senate Bill 2289.

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