Free speech should never be suppressed by those in power.

School boards across the state of Georgia have been trying to squelch public input at board of education meetings.

It is a dangerous trend, an affront to democracy and a slap in the face of the people of Georgia.

A group of state lawmakers is working to put a stop to local boards stamping down public commenting by imposing stringent restrictions.

State Rep. Marin Momtahan, along with his colleagues in the House, Trey Kelley, Matt Hatchett, Dewayne Hill, Rick Jasperse and Ginny Ehrhart, sponsored House Bill 464 that was unanimously approved by the House education committee.

While the education committee green lighted the measure this week, it did not make it to the floor in the House of Representatives by the Crossover Day deadline.

The measure, however, remains alive until the next legislative session. The forward-thinking legislation would require every school board to have an open public commenting period at every regularly scheduled meeting and prevent the boards from requiring people to preregister in order to address their local school officials.

Boards of education represent the public, not the school system.

They are accountable to the public.

They are not working for the superintendent of schools or the central office.

They are legislators, policymakers, and their job is to set public policy and approve an annual budget.

They are not there to do public relations on behalf of the school system.

Their role in the community is essentially the same as city council or county commission, it’s just that their jurisdiction is the school system they were elected to govern.

Board members often say they impose such rules to make sure meetings do not get out of control. Largely, they are trying to fix a problem that rarely exists. They must remember they are conducting the public’s business and they are public servants.

The public should be able to react to policies being considered by their school board.

If the bill is approved, school boards can no longer require people to give advance notice they want to speak or require a person to provide a written statement about what they want to say.

In a government that is supposed to be of, by and for the people, a public redress of grievances is fundamental.

Those who do not want to hear from the public or who want to control what the public can and cannot say have no business running for office in a representative form of government.

House Bill 464 is good law.

It is also a good start.

The measure just does not go far enough.

Similar rules should be handed down to city councils, county commissions and all elected and appointed bodies doing the public’s business.

Support for House Bill 464 must not fade. It is the right thing to do for the people of Georgia.

CNHI Deputy National Editor Jim Zachary is CNHI’s regional editor for its Georgia, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida newspapers, editor of the Valdosta Daily Times and vice-president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation. He can be emailed at jzachary@cnhi.com.