By Mal Leary, President MFOIC
It’s appropriate on this first day of spring that Maine joins with groups across the country celebrating Sunshine in Government Week.
The Maine Freedom of Information Coalition was founded eight years ago by individuals and groups concerned about openness in government, or the lack of openness. Groups as diverse as the Natural Resources Council of Maine, the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, The Maine Press Association, The Maine Broadcasters Association and the Maine Civil Liberties Union all came together with one goal: to advocate for open government in our state.
The coalition conducted a statewide public records audit in 2002, and the results were an eye opener to lawmakers. Compliance with the state public records law ranged from good, to dismal.
As a direct result of that audit, lawmakers unanimously voted to establish a legislative study commission on public access that made many suggestions to the legislature and some very important changes were made to Maine law.
That panel found over 600 exceptions to the public records law, scattered through out Maine laws, many so archaic that they left lawmakers and advocates alike wondering how they ever made their way into law.
As a result of that study group’s work, Maine now has a process in place that requires any legislation proposing an exception to the law be separately reviewed by the legislature’s Judiciary Committee using a clear set of public interest standards. It also sets up a schedule to review all of those exceptions that are still in place.
It is first in the nation legislation that is being considered as a model by other open government advocates across the country.
The study group also recommended, and the legislature created, a permanent advisory committee on public records and open meetings issues, also a unique approach to safeguarding the public’s right to know.
It is for their work as the co-chairs of that first study group, and their steadfast support of open government legislation through their legislative careers, that the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition is pleased to present the inaugural MFOIC sunshine awards to Sen. Peggy Rotundo of Lewiston and Rep. Ted Koffman of Bar Harbor.