Montgomery (WTVY)-- Government agencies in Alabama have little accountability when it comes to releasing public records.
State Senator Cam Ward speaks to reporters on February 26, 2020.
A state lawmaker wanting more accountability feels like he's banging his head against that proverbial brick wall.
On Tuesday, Senator Cam Ward stood in a statehouse meeting room where he waited for a legislative committee to consider his Open Records bill.
He listened to discussion on other bills, perhaps important, but none demanding government be more responsible to taxpayers.
Finally, it became Ward's turn to speak. He strolled to the podium, ready to present his case to the Senate Government Affairs Committee.
His plan got derailed.
Senator Jimmy Holley, the committee chairman, shut Ward down after less than 30 seconds into his presentation, opting to move onto other bills further down on the agenda. He cited time issues.
Then he called Ward back to the podium, giving him just a few more seconds before stifling him again.
By the committee adjourned every bill—more than a dozen of them---had been considered. All received a favorable report--except Ward's Open Records bill.
“We got railroaded. Call it what you want to call it but we got railroaded,” Ward said afterwards.
He believes those who oppose his measure worked behind the scenes to quash the effort. “If you're against my legislation I'm okay with that, but to say somehow that we shouldn't have a public debate about whether we should have public access to records I question that,” he told WTVY.
Alabama's open records law are weak, maybe the worst in the nation. There are neither firm regulations nor penalties for failing to comply with open records requests.
His bill would give government agencies 14 days to either comply or supply a sufficient reason why they can't comply.
Charges for providing documents must be reasonable. Often, public agencies put a high price tag—sometimes thousands of dollars---to turn the records.
Ward believes his bill is among the most significant in this year's legislative session. “I would say there is nothing more important that more access to public records and more sunshine in your government. What's more important than that?”
He plans to return next week when his bill returns before the Government Affair Committee. It is to be first on the agenda.
Ward, understandably, is skeptical.