It’s national Sunshine Week, a time to celebrate the public’s right to know what it’s government is doing and why and a time to look ahead to what more needs to be done.

“Sunshine Week seeks to enlighten and empower people to play an active role in their government at all levels, and to give them access to information that makes their lives better and their communities stronger,” says a statement by the American Society of News Editors which created the national week in 2005. The major funder is the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

It is patterned after Sunshine Sunday, an event organized in 2002 by the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors when a group of Florida legislators tried to curb the public’s right to know by creating “scores” of exemption’s to the state’s public records law.

California has one of the oldest public records laws, signed by Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1968. The nonprofit Californians Aware, a partner of Voice of OC, supports citizen efforts to ensure government records remain open.

But in California and across the nation, city, county and state officials continually try to find ways around the law. The national nonprofit investigative news organization Pro Publica reported this week on the myriad exemptions federal officials invoke to keep the public from seeing records.

State Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), chair of the Senate Select Committee on California’s Public Records and Open Meeting Laws, is sponsoring a series of bills this year to expand public access to government records.

Here is a rundown:

  • SB 8 would update the California Public Records Act (CPRA) to include auxiliary organizations that perform government functions at the University of California and California State University.
  • SB 326 requires courts to provide same-day public access to court filings.
  • SB 602 requires law enforcement to acquire a warrant in order to receive records of online book purchases.
  • SCA 7 ensures public entities follow requirements to post agendas and to disclose any actions taken.
— TRACY WOOD

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