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Let the Sun Shine In, Sunshine Week 2017

Let the Sun Shine In, Sunshine Week 2017

By Greta Weiner

The sun is shining as I write this article.  Befitting for a New Mexico spring day.  And befitting for this week, National Sunshine Week (March 12 – 18).  Sunshine Week isn’t about the sun shining down, but instead, about shining a light on truth.  Let the sun shine in.

One person well versed in New Mexico’s Sunshine Laws is Peter St. Cyr the Executive Director of  New Mexico Foundation for Open Government. (NMFOG).   Prior to becoming the Executive Director, St. Cyr as a freelance journalist,  petitioned for many of our state records to be open and available to the public.  In 2010 he and NMFOG fought and won to have Governor Richardson share the petitions for pardon and clemency.  In 2015 and 2016 he and NMFOG fought for the right to see the applications for medical cannibas producers licenses.

Why is transparency important?  

Well for one thing, it helps combat cronyism in our government.  It helps to discover conflict of interest in our elected officials.  And it helps ensure diversity in public offices.  For these reasons, St. Cyr petitioned the New Mexico Department of Health for the applications for those wanting medical cannabis growers licenses. The applications had been deemed confidential for reasons of discretion and were not available to the public.    What St. Cyr found was disappointing and news worthy.  The majority of licenses went to white men.  A New Mexico Health Department staffer had applied and won a license.  

We have two sunshine laws in our state that are similar to the federal Freedom of Information Act.  One is the Inspecition of Public Records Act and the other is Open Meetings Act.  These two pieces of legislation are there to protect we the people.  In the current political climate you hear those words “We the People” bandied about quite a bit.  WE are the people they are talking about.  Elected officials represent us, and work for us.  St. Cyr states,  “Citizens have the right to look behind the curtain and secrecy should be a rare exception.”.  St. Cyr also likes to quote the Supreme Court case Houchins v. KQED, Inc.,:  “without some protection for the acquisition of information about the operation of public institutions . . . the process of self-governance contemplated by the Framers would be stripped of its substance.” 

In other words, this country was built on the concept that the government serves the people.  By having the same information provided to the public that sits before our legislature, we can make informed decisions.  By having open meetings, we can weigh during public deliberations.  Letting the sun shine in during the legislative process makes for a better informed public, keeps public officials honest, and helps us all fight corruption.

 

NMFOG is one of the organizations that helps us do that.  Their mission is to educate, legislate and litigate on our behalf.  Currently they are attending our legislature and analyzing all the bills.  So far they found 30 bills that tried to block access to the public.  Having them around helps boost the transparency levels in our state.

When it comes to Freedom of Information and Sunshine Laws, the journalists and organizations like NMFOG will always have a winning hand.  These laws redundantly protect The First Ammendment of the Constitution.  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

To learn more about Executive Director Peter St. Cyr and NMFOG, please visit their website:
www.nmfog.org

And if you want the organization to continue to protect your right to open government, you might consider becoming a member or making a donation.

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Greta Weiner  has a journalism degree from the University of Missouri – Columbia – and uses it to be a content creator for several businesses and blogs, and to be an activist.  You can learn more about her activism at www.theinclusivelife.com.