Tuesday, September 30, 2008

County: Let the Sunshine in

County: Let the Sunshine in

Commission hears plea for records to be made more open

Publication Date: 09/30/08

The St. Johns County Commission today considers a resolution asking Gov. Charlie Crist to support a constitutional amendment requiring state legislators to operate under the Sunshine Law.

County Attorney Patrick McCormack said he was asked by commissioners two weeks ago to formulate a resolution "to create a level negotiating table," he said.

"The Legislature doesn't follow the same Sunshine rules as local governments," he said. "They are not as stringent."

The Sunshine Law, first enacted in 1967, is designed to guarantee that the public has access to the public records of local, municipal and state governmental bodies in Florida.

The resolution, said Crist in June, created the nine-member Commission on Open Government Reform to "review, evaluate and issue recommendations" regarding Florida's public records and open meeting laws.

"Florida's Sunshine Laws are among the strongest in the nation and give every citizen access to information necessary for participating in the democratic process," Crist said at the time. "This commission will help ensure that all levels of government are accessible to the people."

There's still a long way to go.

A 2002 study, Freedom of Information in the USA, conducted by Investigative Reporters & Editors and the Better Government Association, ranked Florida's law as 19th best in the country, giving it a letter grade of C minus.

Then, a 2007 study by the Better Government Association and the National Freedom of Information Commission, gave Florida 53 points out of a possible 100, a letter grade of F and a ranking of 19 out of the 50 states.

McCormack said that if legislators had to operate under the Sunshine Law, "It would allow them to appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of the Sunshine Law and also create a more open government."

He gave the County Commission the credit for initiating this.

"St. Johns County will have a better opportunity to see legislative ideas when they are first created," he said.

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