Sunshine Week encourages transparency

Sunshine Week is a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include news media, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and others interested in the public's right to know.

The History of Sunshine Week

The Florida Society of Newspaper Editors (FSNE) launched Sunshine Sunday in 2002 in response to efforts by some Florida legislators to create scores of new exemptions to the state's public records law. FSNE estimates that some 300 exemptions to open government laws were defeated in the legislative sessions that followed its three Sunshine Sundays, because of the increased public and legislative awareness that resulted from the Sunshine Sunday reports and commentary. Several states followed Florida's lead, and in June 2003, American Society of News Editors (ASNE) hosted a Freedom of Information Summit in Washington where the seeds for Sunshine Week were planted. With an inaugural grant from John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which has continued to support the effort, Sunshine Week was launched by the ASNE in March 2005. This non-partisan, non-profit initiative is celebrated in mid-March each year to coincide with James Madison's birthday on March 16. In 2011, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press joined ASNE as a national co-coordinator of Sunshine Week, enabling the organizations to join forces and resources to produce Toolkit materials for participants and keep the website and social media sites engaged.

Though created by journalists, Sunshine Week is about the public's right to know what its government is doing, and why. 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. Participants include news media, government officials at all levels, schools and universities, libraries and archives, individuals, non-profit and civic organizations, historians and anyone with an interest in open government.

Everyone can be a part of Sunshine Week. Our coalition of supporters is broad and deep. And individual participation can make all the difference. The only requirement is that you do something to engage in a discussion about the importance of open government. It could be a large public forum or a classroom discussion, an article or series of articles about access to important information, or an editorial.

The coverage, commentaries and activities promoting open government during Sunshine Week have led to tangible, meaningful changes to people's lives and the laws that govern them. The Sunshine Week initiative is increasing public awareness, it's coming up more often in policy conversations, and the efforts of participants are being cited as real forces for moving the public away from simply accepting excessive and unwarranted government secrecy.

People also are playing more of a role in the actions that affect their communities. They now are learning what kinds of information they have a right to see, where to get it, how to get it and what to do if someone tries to keep if from them. Learn more at www.sunshineweek.org.

The Sunshine Laws

The Colorado Legislature first passed its "Sunshine Law" in 1973, as an initiated Law of 1972. This act required disclosure of private interests by public officials; regulated lobbying; and, for the first time in Colorado, required open meetings of all meetings of two or more members of any board, committee, commission, or other policy making or rule making body of any state agency or authority or of the legislature in accordance with the provisions laid out in this bill.

The law was revised in 1977 with the passage of House Bill No. 1018, concerning public meetings and most notably provided legislation for meetings held in executive sessions. It was then revised again in 1985 with the passage of House Bill No. 1097, concerning the State Board of Parole meetings. During the 1996 session of the Colorado Legislature, House Bill 1314 - "a bill for an act concerning the open meetings provisions of the Colorado Sunshine Act of 1972", was passed.

Colorado Open

Records Act

Until the Colorado Open Records Act was formalized in 1969, the ability of a citizen to gain access to public records was at the discretion of the custodian of the records. Public records include all writings that are made, maintained, kept or held by entities that are subject to the Colorado Open Records Act for use in the exercise of functions required or authorized by law or administrative rule or involving the receipt or expenditure of public funds. Keep in mind, this could mean that a record that is in the custody of an agency subject to the Colorado Open Records Act would not itself, be subject to the Colorado Open Records Act if it was not made, maintained or kept for a governmental function or for an official reason.

Any person can request records and they are not required to state a purpose nor is the custodian of the records allowed to ask said person to provide a reason. Criminal justice record cannot be used for solicitation of business for monetary gain, but that is the only restriction on obtaining public records. Colorado Law stipulates a three day deadline for a response.