Alabama Utility Commission To Consider Ban on Recording Meetings

 ========= Old Image Removed =========Array
(
    [_wp_attached_file] => Array
        (
            [0] => 2020/05/IMG_7267.jpg
        )

    [_wp_attachment_metadata] => Array
        (
            [0] => a:5:{s:5:"width";i:4032;s:6:"height";i:2268;s:4:"file";s:20:"2020/05/IMG_7267.jpg";s:5:"sizes";a:10:{s:9:"thumbnail";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:20:"IMG_7267-140x140.jpg";s:5:"width";i:140;s:6:"height";i:140;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:6:"medium";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:20:"IMG_7267-336x189.jpg";s:5:"width";i:336;s:6:"height";i:189;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:12:"medium_large";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:20:"IMG_7267-768x432.jpg";s:5:"width";i:768;s:6:"height";i:432;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:5:"large";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:20:"IMG_7267-771x434.jpg";s:5:"width";i:771;s:6:"height";i:434;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:9:"wbhm-icon";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:18:"IMG_7267-80x80.jpg";s:5:"width";i:80;s:6:"height";i:80;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:13:"wbhm-featured";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:20:"IMG_7267-600x338.jpg";s:5:"width";i:600;s:6:"height";i:338;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:20:"wbhm-featured-square";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:20:"IMG_7267-300x300.jpg";s:5:"width";i:300;s:6:"height";i:300;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:18:"wbhm-featured-home";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:20:"IMG_7267-553x311.jpg";s:5:"width";i:553;s:6:"height";i:311;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:22:"wbhm-featured-carousel";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:20:"IMG_7267-470x265.jpg";s:5:"width";i:470;s:6:"height";i:265;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}s:14:"post-thumbnail";a:4:{s:4:"file";s:20:"IMG_7267-125x125.jpg";s:5:"width";i:125;s:6:"height";i:125;s:9:"mime-type";s:10:"image/jpeg";}}s:10:"image_meta";a:12:{s:8:"aperture";s:3:"2.4";s:6:"credit";s:0:"";s:6:"camera";s:13:"iPhone XS Max";s:7:"caption";s:0:"";s:17:"created_timestamp";s:10:"1574327135";s:9:"copyright";s:0:"";s:12:"focal_length";s:1:"6";s:3:"iso";s:3:"400";s:13:"shutter_speed";s:17:"0.016666666666667";s:5:"title";s:0:"";s:11:"orientation";s:1:"1";s:8:"keywords";a:0:{}}}
        )

    [_media_credit] => Array
        (
            [0] => Laura Casey
        )

    [_navis_media_credit_org] => Array
        (
            [0] => 
        )

    [_navis_media_can_distribute] => Array
        (
            [0] => 
        )

)
1622251722 
1589373693

When Laura Casey attended a highly-anticipated hearing of the Alabama Public Service Commission (PSC) in November, she wanted to record it for people who couldn’t be there.

“My understanding was that the Open Meetings Act, which is the law of the state of Alabama, allows people to record their public officials in action,” said Casey, who is the Democratic candidate for commission president this year.

But PSC officials ordered her to stop recording and ejected her from the room. Casey filed a lawsuit accusing the commission of violating the state’s Open Meetings Act. In the suit, the PSC said formal hearings are not meetings, so the commission is not required to let people record them. A Montgomery circuit court judge agreed, ruling that because commissioners did not “deliberate” during the hearing, it doesn’t qualify as a “meeting.”

Now the PSC is formalizing that stance and adding additional restrictions with its proposed Media Coverage Plan. Under the new rules, people can not live stream or even update social media during formal hearings. News organizations must request permission to record or photograph at least five days in advance, and all parties involved in the hearing must allow it. Any party can also ask to stop the recording at any time during the hearing.

Frank LoMonte, media law professor at the University of Florida and director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, said the restrictions are similar to those of judicial bodies and trial courts.

“That would be a very unusual and extreme policy for any type of an executive branch agency,” LoMonte said.

He said the Public Service Commission, which regulates state utilities, is governed by Alabama’s Open Meetings Act, whether it is conducting a meeting or a hearing.

“The state Open Meetings Act is very clear that the right to attend the meeting includes the right to non-disruptively make a recording of it,” LoMonte said.

The Alabama Broadcasters Association, Alabama Press Association and AL.com are in agreement. In comments submitted to the PSC, the groups said the commission does not have the legal authority to prohibit recordings or require consent from all parties in a hearing.

“This veto power places unprecedented authority in the hands of a select few persons and is clearly meant to suppress public scrutiny based on a single vote,” the groups wrote.

The PSC adopted the Media Coverage Plan on an interim basis in March, days before hearings began regarding Alabama Power’s proposed $1.1 billion expansion. The commission wrote that it decided to temporarily adopt the plan “after due consideration of the current state of technology and the potential impact that recording and broadcasting can have on formal hearings.” It said the new rules will help “preserve the integrity” of formal hearings.

Laura Casey, who is appealing the trial court’s decision rejecting her lawsuit against the PSC, said the plan further limits transparency of the state’s regulatory agency.

“They are effectively shutting down the Public Service Commission to the public,” Casey said.

The commission will accept comments on the media plan through Friday and will later vote on permanently adopting the rules at a monthly meeting.

PSC officials declined to be interviewed for this story.

 

Birmingham’s poet laureate writes her homecoming

Birmingham’s inaugural poet laureate, Salaam Green, finds her home in the sensory details, the most important being poetry. But finding that home was a process.

Birmingham-Southern baseball team vies for an NCAA title as the school prepares to close

When Coach Jan Weisberg called the Birmingham-Southern College baseball team to an impromptu meeting on March 27, players were confused. They gathered together in the locker room and found out the news – BSC would close on May 31.

EPA formally denies Alabama’s plan for coal ash waste

The federal agency says the state’s plan was not as protective as federal standards, allowing toxic waste to remain in unlined pits that may contaminate groundwater. Alabama officials say they will appeal.

Here’s what you said were the hidden gems in Walker County

There are things we notice about where we live that others might miss. That might be a hidden gem or other surprise. We set out to discover a few of them in Walker County at our recent News and Brews community pop-up.

After years of increases, Jefferson County sees a decline in overdose fatalities

Following years of record-breaking increases, Jefferson County is finally seeing a decline in overdose fatalities. We talk to local officials to better understand the reasons for the drop, and if it’s a sign of a longer-term trend.

Alabama district attorney says ‘justice demands’ new trial for death row inmate

Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr filed a brief expressing his support for Toforest Johnson’s bid to receive a new trial. Carr has supported a new trial since 2020, but the latest filing detailed the findings of a post-conviction review of the case.

More Front Page Coverage