APRIL 21, 2006
Access to public records is diminishing nationwide because officials in many states refuse to comply with existing laws while legislators create new ones that will eliminate such access. This is especially true in Florida, nationally renowned for its Sunshine law. In fact, the power granted to Florida taxpayers to monitor their government officials is written into the state constitution to assure citizens of their right to control their government and tax dollars.
But, as is the case in many states, the law is often violated by secretive government officials who seldom face consequences for refusing to comply. An audit of compliance with Florida’s public records laws recently conducted by the First Amendment Foundation reveals a dismal result. Of the state’s 67 counties, only 58% of the agencies complied with the law.
Additionally, Florida legislators have proposed a variety of laws to diminish further the public’s access to state records. Examples include legislation to close access to identifying information contained in concealed-weapons permits, closing access to adverse-incident reports filed by a nursing home with the Agency for Health Care Administration and denying the right to inspect records held by a government economic development agency concerning its business operations in Florida.
Many other states are struggling with similar issues. Repeated violations in Tennessee inspired the attorney general to release an opinion saying courts can make government agencies that violate open-record laws pay for all legal costs. A recent editorial in The Independent Weekly blasted Louisiana’s diminishing access to public records, saying that when it comes to sensitive documents in state government, some elected officials are still trying to keep citizens in the dark.
For details about each state’s public records laws, go to Tapping Officials’ Secrets. The organization offers information on every state’s open records and open meetings laws with each state’s section arranged according to a standard outline, making it easy to compare laws in various states.
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