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Good day sunshine

swlogo-198x300This week (March 16-22) is Sunshine Week, an initiative to promote a discussion of open government and freedom of information.

Celebration of Sunshine Week got its start in the Sunshine State in 2002. The American Society of Newspaper Editors made it a national project in 2005; the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press became a national co-sponsor three years ago.

Recognizing and respecting the need for freedom of information in a free society never has been more important. Reporters without Borders, an international freedom of information group, each year compiles a “World Press Freedom Index” that ranks countries based on their levels of information freedom and government conflicts related to it.

In the just-released 2014 index, the United States rates 46th, behind such paragons of openness as Romania, South Africa and El Salvador, among others.

The U.S. ranking dropped 14 places from the 2013 index, due in part to the Justice Department seizure of Associated Press phone records and its continued pursuit of whistleblowers using the Espionage Act.

Closer to home, the Virginia Freedom of Information Act will get a much-needed review in the next year and a half.

Del. Jim LeMunyon, R-Chantilly, introduced House Joint Resolution 96, calling on the Freedom of Information to Advisory Council to review the FOIA and to make recommendations on how to make it better.

According to Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, the last time the Act was reviewed was 1999.

Since then, it has been a chunk of Swiss cheese, with exemptions passed by the General Assembly every year for this and that, becoming a patchwork without a lot of thought behind it.

Rhyne said there are now 172 exemptions (127 for records, 45 for meetings), and that’s not even counting the criminal records section of the law.

Simply put, “The act is bloated and filled with outdated and unnecessary exemptions that should be culled, narrowed and tightened,” Rhyne said.

HJR 96 passed the House 91-1 and was agreed to by the Senate on a voice vote. The council is charged with examining “the organizational structure of FOIA and [making] recommendations to improve the readability and clarity” of the law. Its report is due Dec. 1, 2016.

Here, here.

For more information on Sunshine Week and how it is being celebrated, take a look at these websites:

  • rcfp.org, home site of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
  • spj.org, home site of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Let the sun shine.

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