wanted to let you know about the report on open government laws that the Citizen Advocacy Center, a policy research partner of the Midwest Democracy Network, launched today in celebration of Sunshine Week. I thought you might find it of interest this week!
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, March 18, 2009
Contact: Terry Pastika, Citizen Advocacy Center, 630-833-4080
Charlie Boesel, Joyce Foundation, 312-795-3816
Emily Blum, Valerie Denney Communications, 312-408-2580 ext. 13
New study finds five Midwestern states have dim sunshine laws
CHICAGO, March 18 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — While every state in the nation has laws that require public access to government records and meetings, in five Midwestern states that were recently analyzed, documents are often kept secret and doors can remain tightly closed.
According to a study released Wednesday by the Citizen Advocacy Center (Center) in celebration of Sunshine Week (March 15-21), open government laws in Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota have systemic barriers that chill public participation and access to government, which weakens our democratic system designed to be by, for and of the people.
The Center analyzed each state’s Freedom of Information and Open Meetings Acts and found striking similarities between all states, including:
- Open government laws are sporadically enforced, which means public bodies are more likely to be unresponsive to records requests and employ exemptions to keep meetings closed.
- No state surveyed has a government office with statutory authority specifically created to oversee and enforce sunshine laws.
- State employees are not adequately trained to carry out open government policies and may be unintentionally violating the laws.
- Citizens may be able to attend meetings, but there are very few opportunities to participate.
“For our democracy to thrive and grow, we must have open government laws that are both strong and effective,” said Terry Pastika, Executive Director and Community Lawyer for the Citizen Advocacy Center. “Without forceful sunshine laws, the public can not fully participate in the democratic process, knowledgably discuss issues of public concern, make informed judgments about the actions of elected officials, or monitor government to make sure it’s acting in their interest.”
For the study, the Center reviewed each state’s laws as well as more than 1,000 legal cases, attorney general opinions, and professional publications to produce a comprehensive report on each state’s strengths and weaknesses. The Center also provided specific reform recommendations that good government advocates can use to advance changes within each state. Reforms range from changing how fees should be levied to implementing training programs for public officials.
The study, conducted by the Center and funded by The Joyce Foundation, is distributed by the Midwest Democracy Network, an alliance of political reform advocates who are working to strengthen democracy and build the capacity of the public to participate and affect government decision-making.