Gov. Haley Barbour signed a bill Thursday that stops taxpayers from covering fines for officials who break open meetings laws and also sets tougher penalties for those offenses.
Senate Bill 2289, which becomes law July 1, increases the maximum fine for officials holding illegal closed meetings from the current $100 to a maximum of $500 for the first offense and up to $1,000 for the second offense. Mississippi was the only state that imposed the fine on taxpayers and the new law ends the practice by making officials pay the fine out of their own pocket, rather than their agency’s budget.
Proponents of the bill said having taxpayers cover the fines did little to deter officials from breaking the law, and violations were common. Last year, the Ethics Commission, which rules on open meetings violations, reported nine cases of officials violating open-meetings laws.