Sunlight Weekly Roundup: South Carolina state government charging fee for government records “spits right in the face of transparency”

  • Thanks to South Carolina’s Freedom of Information law, retrieving public information from the  state’s government is only free for lawmakers, all other must pay a fee. Senator Phil Leventis recently requested documents from the state’s Department of Education to oversee the activities of Superintendent of Education Mick Zais. He was told that gathering the necessary information would cost the Education Department $497,712.31. Leventis argues, “It spits right in the face of transparency,” and that he didn’t request that many materials. For more information, check out Gina Smith’s post on The State Blog.
  • Several bills remain in limbo in New York’s state legislature , including a proposed open-government bill.  The measure would require New York state and local agencies to make all documents discussed at public meetings available on the appropriate agency’s website before these meetings occur. If an agency doesn’t have that capability, physical copies must be available at the meeting. If the bill does not reach the governor’s desk within the next two weeks it will face the possibility of automatic elimination in the new year. The bill’s sponsor, Amy Paulin, maintains, “The main purpose of the bill is to promote citizen involvement in local government.” For the whole story, read Michael Keller’s post on New York World.
  • California Attorney General released their annual report on fundraising as a PDF, rather than an Excel spreadsheet, which makes it difficult for cizens to search for local fundraising numbers. Subsequently State Sen. Leland Yee  said that he will soon introduce legislation requiring that digital public records be available in “user-friendly and searchable by commonly used software.” According to Brian Joesph from the The OC Register, “Under Yee’s bill, such electronic documents would need to be produced in an open source file, word processing document, spreadsheet, or other format in which keywords or names could be easily searched using commonly used software, which is often the format internally used by the public agency.” Yee maintains, “Producing a 2,000 page electronic document that cannot be searched or sorted is inadequate and almost useless. For too long, many government agencies –- either by choice or inertia -– have been living in the Stone Age when it comes to producing public documents. This bill will not only bring public agencies into the 21st Century, but will ensure greater transparency and accountability.” For the whole story, check out Brian Joseph’s  post on the OC Register.
  • Massachusetts state government has unveiled a new “open checkbook” website to increase citizen access to information regarding how much and where most state tax dollars are spent, according to state officials. The website puts a larger portion of the state’s finances online, including payroll information, retiree pension checks and vendor payments. The site cost the state $1.8 million website was a collaboration of the state treasurer’s office, the secretary of administration and finance, the state comptroller, and the director of the recovery and reinvestment office. Treasurer Steve Grossman, who pledged during his campaign for more transparency in government, maintains, “Make no mistake about it. This is the taxpayers’ money we are spending. They have a right to know how we are spending it and hold us accountable.”  For Colleen Quinn’s take, read her post on Daily News.