Sunshine Week, in case you missed it, has come and gone. Mainly it was disappointing, with not much sunshine and with storm clouds on the horizon.
For the record, March 10-16 represented the time set aside to promote discussions about open government, transparency, and freedom of information.
The American Society of Newspaper Editors coordinates the effort with support from Bloomberg LP and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
It’s usually an exercise in which media folks bang their heads against walls, other citizens wonder what all the fuss is about (if, indeed, they notice), and lawmakers and public officials see no reason to modify statutes or behavior.
For one thing, there’s this business about open records. The Kansas Senate Committee on Federal and State Affairs last week held a hearing but took no action on SB 10, intended to make it easier and less expensive to get information under the Kansas Open Records Act. Ordinary people have been stiffed hundreds of dollars to get pertinent information such as their children’s school records — not for some deep dive into arcane data banks. The bill would cap the cost per sheet for copies and set out hourly charges related to responding to open records requests. Those charges are used to deter requests, closing records with a doorstop of dollars. Municipalities protest, but that seems hollow because this is the public’s information they’re collecting and holding, or withholding, as the case might be.
There’s also the issue of open meetings. The state senate’s Republicans, permissibly to be sure, Wednesday closeted themselves away from the public to debate tax issues. The GOP has 32 members in the Senate, compared to just eight Democrats. The Republican majority locked out the media and obviously conducted a debate on public policy and key fiscal issues without giving the public any opportunity to discern what’s what or who’s on first. One Republican offered the incredible excuse that the party, meeting away from the capitol, didn’t want to tip its hand to its Democratic foes. As if that possibly could have made any difference.
The Kansas Press Association is marketing a T-shirt with the advice, “KOMA for dummies.” The simple message: “Notify the public, meet in public, discuss in public, vote in public.” Sound advice.
The open records measure may be held over for the 2014 session. In the meantime, expect more egregious examples of why the change in the law is proposed. Also expect the usual yearly dose of violations of the open meetings act.
Stormy weather. Even a waterproof T-shirt may not do the trick. Sunshine Week will return in 2014.