How well does your state legislature give its citizens access to its information? This Sunshine Week, as we reflect on the public’s right to know and the importance of open government, this should be a central question.
There are good reasons for this. Legislation springs up – seemingly out of nowhere. Think about the American Legislative Exchange Council’s secret lobbying in favor of “Stand Your Ground” legislation to at least 15 states. These lobbyists were backed by corporate special interests – a fact the public was left in the dark about. Additionally, there was little way to easily track how this law was passed in Florida and also around the country. That’s just one example of the kind of copycat legislation peddled to state legislatures.
With an increasingly gridlocked U.S. Congress, we can expect policy debates on a variety of important topics to be taken up in our state capitols. It’s critically important to be able to effectively monitor these public policy debates and those who seek to influence them. And in a democracy, citizens have the right to know how their elected officials at all levels consider legislation so they can be held accountable.