Last week was full of sunshine, minus the weatherman. This past week was nationally recognized as Sunshine Week.
According to sunshineweek.org, Sunshine Week is a national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Led by the American Society of News Editors, Sunshine Week is about the public’s right to know what its government is doing, and why.
Over 200 newspapers from coast to coast, including The Washington Post, participate in Sunshine week. But this support was not easily gained. Sunshine Week is an initiative started in 2007 that stemmed from Sunshine Sunday, an initiative launched in 2002 that was only done in Florida.
The American Society of News Editors would dedicate a day to produce a newspaper with stories,editorials and cartoons, about open government.
Nearly 90 percent of newspapers staffs in Florida agreed to participate.
The day chosen was President James Madison’s birthday, March 16, who also believed in open government.
With the help of volunteers the First Amendment Foundation (FAF), a private, non-profi t organization dedicated to promoting the public’s constitutional right to oversee its government through Florida’s Sunshine and Public Records Law, went to all 67 counties in the state of Florida and requested public records.
The results of this audit showed that 47 percent of local governments in Florida complied with the Florida public record laws, a failing rate. Since then, three audits have been conducted, two on local government with the best compliance of 49 percent and the last one on state agencies with a 50 percent compliance.
Barbara Petersen, President of FAF, has been involved with this issue since 1991. One of her biggest concerns is making sure that ordinary citizens know the importance of making sure open government laws are protected.