Government in the Sunshine Act

The Government in the Sunshine Act is a U.S. law passed in 1976 that affects the operations of the federal government, Congress, federal commissions, and other legally constituted federal bodies. It is one of a number of Freedom of Information Acts, intended to create greater transparency in government.

The Sunshine Act provides, with ten specified exemptions, that ‘every portion of every meeting of an agency shall be open to public observation.’ 5 U.S.C. 552b(b) It imposes procedural requirements to ensure, inter alia [among other things], that advance notice is given to the public before agency meetings take place. It also imposes procedural requirements an agency must follow before determining that one of the ten exemptions from the openness requirement applies. However, neither the openness requirement, nor the related procedural requirements, are triggered unless the governmental entity at issue is an ‘agency,’ and unless the gathering in question is a ‘meeting’ of the agency.

The Sunshine Act enumerates ten specific exemptions for categories of information that need not be disclosed, including:

  • information relating to national defense,
  • related solely to internal personnel rules and practices,
  • related to accusing a person of a crime,
  • related to information where disclosure would constitute a breach of privacy,
  • related to investigatory records where the information would harm the proceedings,
  • related to information which would lead to financial speculation or endanger the stability of any financial institution, and
  • related to the agency’s participation in legal proceedings.

State sunshine laws are the laws in each state that govern public access to governmental records. These laws are sometimes known as open records laws or public records laws, and are also collectively referred to as FOIA laws, after the federal Freedom of Information Act.

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