Celebrating Sunshine Week: Ensuring Permanent Access to Government Meetings

It’s time to celebrate Sunshine Week – an annual event that promotes open government across the United States.[0] The initiative, launched in 2005 by the American Society of News Editors (now News Leaders Association), runs from March 12-18.[1] During this time, events are held to raise awareness of open government and the benefits it can bring to communities.

The pandemic has highlighted the importance of open government, with many New England states issuing executive orders to allow municipalities to meet online.[2] This arrangement has been found to provide “a lot easier” access for those with family obligations, elder care, or child care issues.

As the related executive orders expired, states resorted to a patchwork of livestreams, short-term remote meeting requirements, and in some cases reverted back to pre-COVID policies and in-person meetings only.[3] It is clear that remote access to government meetings has provided equity and engagement in our democracy that many members of our communities would not otherwise enjoy.[2]

In light of this, it is essential that open meeting laws be changed to incorporate the following: a hard deadline for all government bodies to comply with hybrid access; funding earmarked for the purpose of hybrid meetings; and financial support for those needing assistance.[3] Massachusetts lawmakers have recently recognized this reality with legislation that could serve as a model for other states.[3]

Justin Silverman, executive director of the New England First Amendment Coalition, has noted that “no one should be able to pull curtains of secrecy around decisions which can be revealed without injury to the public interest.”[4] Without permanent changes to open meeting laws, those with young children, health issues, disabilities, work commitments, or other circumstances that prevent in-person attendance at these meetings are at risk of again being shut out of the democratic process.[2]

We must take action now to ensure access to government meetings long after the pandemic has run its course. Let’s ensure that no one has to miss out on Sunshine Week 2023.

0. “COLUMN: Open Records, Meeting Act important to government transparency” Enid News & Eagle, 10 Mar. 2023, https://www.enidnews.com/opinion/column-open-records-meeting-act-important-to-government-transparency/article_9b4aa3a8-be89-11ed-901a-b3da91267e10.html

1. “Happy Sunshine Week! | Editorials | latrobebulletinnews.com” latrobebulletinnews.com, 13 Mar. 2023, https://www.latrobebulletinnews.com/opinion/editorials/happy-sunshine-week/article_49a48260-4f4d-57d1-9fc3-6430ca8e53e4.html

2. “Sunshine Week Prompts A Call To Enhance Civic Engagement” The Newtown Bee, 9 Mar. 2023, https://www.newtownbee.com/03092023/sunshine-week-prompts-a-call-to-enhance-civic-engagement/

3. “Guest columnist Justin Silverman: Honor Sunshine Week by requiring hybrid access to government meetings” GazetteNET, 12 Mar. 2023, https://www.gazettenet.com/Guest-columnist-Justin-Silverman-50193288

4. “Column by Bill Bowman: Still searching for sunshine in ‘open society'” New Castle News, 13 Mar. 2023, https://www.ncnewsonline.com/opinion/columns/column-by-bill-bowman-still-searching-for-sunshine-in-open-society/article_d4f65856-bec8-11ed-ae3d-b332ed66aac1.html

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