North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

March 15, 2013

Our Views: Lawmaking should be done in the open, even with a noble cause

North Jefferson News

AN NJN EDITORIAL — [Editor's note: Shortly after this editorial appeared in our March 13 print edition, the Alabama Supreme Court vacated a lower court's restraining order against the Alabama Accountability Act. Gov. Robert Bentley has since signed the bill into law.]

We may have counted out the Alabama Education Association too soon. The teachers’ union got Montgomery judge Charles Price to issue a temporary injunction on the Alabama Accountability Act, which began as the so-called school flexibility bill in the state legislature.

The AEA contends that Republican lawmakers, who now hold a super-majority in both chambers of the legislature, violated the state’s open meetings law when they made major alterations to the bill in committee.

The bill was originally designed to give local school districts some leeway in scheduling and other matters, but ended up giving state income tax credits to parents of children in “failing schools.”

The law may have plenty of merit, and the lawsuit may be just the latest legal roadblock effort by an AEA that is struggling to distance itself as a functioning arm of the Alabama Democratic Party. But they do have a point in that this revised bill appears to have been put together largely in secret.

That’s never a good thing for the public.

We’ve harped on this tenet before. On more than one occasion, city councils in our area have passed controversial measures with little or no public input — or waited until the deeds were done and public comment had no effect. Almost every local town has done it at one time or another.

The same sunshine principle should apply to lawmakers on Goat Hill. We’ve long since passed the days of deals cut in smoke-filled rooms, or at least we should have. We know enough to realize that a lot of deal-making in Montgomery goes on outside the purview of public in general and the media in particular. But when it comes to the formal process of making laws, everything should be as open as possible.

A good rule of thumb is this: If it’s good enough to govern the public, then it’s good enough to be deliberated in public.

The GOP’s war cry for this legislative session is, “We Dare Defend Our Rights.” If that be so, then the public has the right to see how the majority purports to defend them.