FOIA Five-Year Anniversary

By House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf

Today, the House passed a resolution recognizing this week as national Sunshine Week and today as the five-year anniversary of our chamber passing FOIA. The bill became law in June 2009, and we have been operating under those rules since then. Five years ago today, the House passed long-overdue legislation placing the General Assembly under the state’s Freedom of Information Act as a public body. By doing this, we opened our meetings, committees, budget-writing process and records to the press and public.

Back in 2009, the General Assembly had tried for several years to pass a FOIA bill unsuccessfully. Our Speaker at the time, Bob Gilligan, made it a top priority when he was elected speaker, and he reserved House Bill 1 for our FOIA bill. There was a lot of discussion leading up to the vote, with some legislators concerned about the impact this bill would have.

In the five years since we passed FOIA, we have completely opened our budget process to the press and public – and we still produce a balanced budget on time. We opened our records and our finances to the press and public – and everything still functions fine. Looking back now, I’m glad that Speaker Gilligan pushed us to get this done. I can’t imagine operating under a system without giving people access to our records and proceedings.

The press has a mantra that “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” That is part of the reason the American Society of News Editors and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press celebrate Sunshine Week each year. They emphasize the importance of open government and encourage citizens to take an active role in their government. They are right to do so, and I welcome the level of scrutiny that this brings to the General Assembly. We function better as a result, and by giving the public more access, we remove the shadow of questions and speculation that can sometimes surround government proceedings.