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03/03/95 JERRY L. BASSETT v. DEMETRIUS C. NEWTON

March 3, 1995

JERRY L. BASSETT, AS DIRECTOR OF THE LEGISLATIVE REFERENCE SERVICE OF THE STATE OF ALABAMA
v.
DEMETRIUS C. NEWTON, AS A MEMBER OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE STATE OF ALABAMA



Appeal from Montgomery Circuit Court. (CV-93-1539). Randall H. Thomas, Trial Judge.

As Corrected April 14, 1995. Released for Publication July 5, 1995.

Cook, Justice. Maddox, Shores, Kennedy, Ingram, and Butts, JJ., concur. Houston, J., concurs in the result.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cook

COOK, JUSTICE.

The director of the Legislative Reference Service (L.R.S.) appeals from a judgment of the Montgomery Circuit court enjoining the L.R.S. from refusing to furnish copies of proposed bills after notice of those bills has been published.

The question presented is whether the L.R.S. has the statutory authority to refuse to release details regarding a proposed bill after the sponsoring legislator has initiated public notice of it. L.R.S. Director Jerry Bassett argues that the release of information regarding a bill before its introduction before the Legislature would be improper. Representative Demetrius Newton contends that the detailed substance of a bill should be available to interested parties once the legislator gives public notice of the intent to introduce the bill.

On June 23, 1993, two legal notices were published in the Alabama Messenger newspaper regarding two bills that Senator Fred Horn intended to introduce in the next legislative session. The bills proposed an increase in the expense accounts for the mayor of the City of Birmingham and the members of the Birmingham City Council, subject to a referendum. The notices synopsized the bills without extensive detail.

On July 8, 1993, Representative Newton, who represents a portion of Birmingham, asked Bassett to supply him with copies of Senator Horn's bills. On July 9, 1993, Bassett refused Newton's request, claiming the L.R.S. has an attorney-client relationship with legislators and that release of the bill's details would violate the attorney-client privilege. Montgomery Circuit Court Judge Randall Thomas ruled that the L.R.S. could not refuse to supply a copy of a proposed bill to a member of the Legislature or to any affected citizen after public notice of the proposed bill had been published. We affirm.

The issue in this case touches, at least in part, the state's hierarchy of laws. Constitutional provisions control in any case of conflict with lesser laws, such as statutes, local ordinances, or administrative regulations. Accordingly, the Alabama constitution has priority over the state Code.

Article IV, Alabama Constitution 1901, §§ 106 and 110, as modified by Amendment 341 and Amendments 375 and 397 respectively, mandate that notice be published of an intent to pass a general law that applies to only one municipality. The policy of the notice requirement is to inform all persons affected by the law and to allow them to challenge the legislation; to prevent the deception of the citizens in the community who would be affected by the law; and to avert a fraud on the public as a result of the community's misunderstanding about the purpose of the legislation. Deputy Sheriffs Law Enforcement Ass'n v. Mobile County, 590 So. 2d 239, 241 (Ala. 1991).

The public notice need not give all the details of the bill, but it must state the substance of the bill, i.e., its material part and meaning as opposed to the mere purpose or subject. Phalen v. Birmingham Racing Comm'n, 481 So. 2d 1108, 1119 (Ala. 1985). While the particulars of a proposed bill need not be set out in the public notice, we have not anywhere held or suggested that the citizens who would be affected by a proposed bill could not ask for more detail. Indeed, the policy of the public notice requirement supports the idea that citizens should be able to get the specific information they may need in order to avoid any misunderstanding about the legislation. The information may help them determine whether they want to support or to challenge the proposed law.

The question when the citizens should be entitled to this information gets us closer to the issue here. Bassett argues that interested parties can not get additional information about the proposed law until the legislator introduces the bill in the Legislature. He relies on § 29-7-6(c), Ala. Code 1975:

"When responding to a request, the director and each officer and employee of the Legislative Reference Service shall maintain the attorney-client relationship with the person making the request. All requests for assistance and the contents thereof, including, but not limited to, the fact a request was made, any materials related to the request, and the work product related to the request, shall be confidential and privileged until ...


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