PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The General Assembly complied with the state Open Meetings law nearly 100 percent of the time last year, according to data released today by the Secretary of State's office.
House compliance rose from 94 percent in 2010 to a record 97 percent last year. Senate compliance increased from 90 percent to 99 percent over the same time period. The Senate's mark equaled the record it set in 1999 during the administration of former Secretary of State Jim Langevin, who introduced the first "Access" report in 1997.
"A critical measure of government's commitment to keeping the public informed about its activities is accountability," said Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis, who posted the full "Access 2011" report on his website.
The state's Open Meetings law requires most governmental bodies to post meeting notices and agendas at least 48 hours in advance. While the General Assembly is exempt from the law, the House and the Senate do issue meeting notices in accordance with their own rules. The Secretary of State's office monitored that activity in order to produce the "Access 2011" report.
Two categories of compliance were evaluated: Letter of the Law and Spirit of the Law. The former measures technical compliance with the state's Open Meetings law and the latter is an attempt to measure the intent of the legislature.
Overall, many of the General Assembly's most prominent committees, such as those that oversee the state budget and business regulation, gave the public at least 48 hours advance notice of their meetings at least 95 percent of the time in 2011.
House Finance went from 96 percent in 2010 to 95 percent last year, while its Senate counterpart improved from 93 percent in 2010 to 99 percent. Senate Corporations improved from 92 percent to 100 percent last year, while its House counterpart had perfect compliance for the second straight year.
As in previous years, nearly all the violations occurred during the last days of the session. Nineteen of the 20 total Open Meetings violations occurred during the two days before the General Assembly recessed on July 1. In 2010, there were 28 last-minute violations.
"The rapidly closing window for deliberation and the number of bills that must be addressed combine to limit the legislature's ability to provide 48 hours public notice during the last few days of every session," said Mollis.
Mollis posts links to the legislative meeting notices and agendas on his website and maintains a searchable database of meeting notices, agendas and minutes for most other state and municipal agencies, commissions, boards and departments.
Secretary of State Mollis is committed to making it easier for Rhode Islanders to vote, making it easier to do business in Rhode Island and making government more open and accessible. For more information about the programs and services the Secretary of State offers Rhode Islanders, visit sos.ri.gov.