New law for public meeting notifications

There are admittedly more laws enacted in Mississippi every year than most people, including those in public office, can keep up with.

Still, those who serve in local government in the Jackson area need to get up to speed with House Bill 1116, which took effect Saturday.

Here’s what the law says:

All public bodies — municipal boards, county boards, school boards, publicly owned hospital boards, etc. — must notify, either by fax or email, anyone who asks to be put on the notification list for when meetings of the body are called outside of its normal schedule. Such notice has to be sent to the requesters at least an hour before the special called meeting is held.

Although it may be mostly media members who ask to get on the notification list, anyone interested in personally following the deliberations of local government can ask to be included by filing a request in writing.

House Bill 1116 is a good law. It is designed to keep public bodies from circumventing the intent of the Open Meetings Act by calling special meetings that they hope no one will attend but the public officials themselves.

Before now, the only notice requirement for called meetings was to post it in the building where the public body normally meets. Unless a reporter or other member of the public happened to walk by during the often short time between the posting of the notice and the meeting, the meeting operated, for all intents and purposes, as if it were a closed-door session.

The whole purpose of the state Open Meetings Act is to ensure the public’s right — either on its own or through its surrogates in the media — to keep up with what its government is doing. The new notice requirement on called meetings simply reinforces the principle that good government is open government.