More transparency to FL government, not less

March 18, 2014 

Here's a novel idea: Require government agencies to train employees to answer to the public, as required by Florida law. Too few elected officials also understand and obey the requirements that we the people demand they follow.

The sense of political entitlement that elected officials and government employees hold that justifies their keeping public information from the public continues to amaze.

Public servants must fully understand and comply with the state's open records laws. A Senate bill -- SB 1648 -- prescribes just that, a deficiency in state law that must be corrected. Agencies should be required to train employees in transparency issues, as this measure mandates.

This is Sunshine Week across the nation, the annual campaign to focus attention on the importance of transparency in all levels of government and political campaigns. This is the time for citizens to browbeat their elected officials to pass legislation to increase openness -- and not approve exemptions, as the Florida Legislature has historically done year after year.

This is the week for Floridians to rally behind greater transparency, and SB 1648 and its House companion, HB 1151, do that -- by capping fees for records searches (long a deterrent to citizen inquiries) among other friendly measures to government watchdogs.

Florida's First Amendment Foundation, a media-bankrolled organization dedicated to observing government's compliance with the state's vaunted Government-in-the-Sunshine Laws, monitors the Legislature and spotlights the good and bad bills that arise every year.

And each session, lawmakers intend to add to the almost 1,000 exemptions to the 1976 Sunshine Amendment to Florida's Constitution. The First Amendment Foundations tracks legislation and this year placed 125 bills on its watch list -- highlighted seven as especially terrible.

That includes SB 1648 and HB 1151.

Nationally, public apathy about government secrecy in this post-Sept. 11 environment has appeared to have taken hold and diminished concerns not just about transparency in public services but in private matters. The phone and personal records collected by the National Security Agency's on everyday citizens is a prime example of government run amuck.

Journalists -- and every American -- are encountering problems obtaining formation from the government through the Freedom of Information Act. How are we as taxpayers and citizens able to hold government accountable when actions are not out in the public eye? We cannot judge what we cannot see.

To Florida's Legislature, expand Sunshine and quit blinding citizens by adding exemptions.

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