The First Amendment Foundation believes that government openness and transparency is critical to citizen trust and involvement in our democratic society – without Government in the Sunshine, civic engagement cannot bloom. Through ongoing monitoring of the state’s public records and open meetings laws, and the education of government officials and the citizens they serve about those laws, the Foundation promotes the public’s constitutional right to oversee and to participate in the governance process.
• Sunshine Monitoring: The Foundation monitors the Legislature, state agencies, the courts, and, when possible, local governments, for actions and issues related to open government, alerting its members through periodic reports of all open government activity.
• FOI Hotline: The First Amendment Foundation runs the FOI Hotline, where callers to our toll-free number (800-337-3518) can get information and assistance with their questions about the application of the Sunshine Law and the Public Records Law. Currently, the FOI Hotline is averaging about 200 calls a month, with almost half coming from the general public. The Foundation also responds to emailed questions about open government. Contact us by email.
• Sunshine Seminars: The Foundation holds a series of Sunshine Seminars around the state, inviting the participation of government officials, journalists, and members of the general public. In addition, the Foundation will provide individual seminars on request, with tailor-made presentations to meet the needs of the participants.
• Interactive DVD: The Foundation also helps teachers provide open government training to Florida students. The Foundation makes available for free a professionally-produced interactive DVD designed for middle and high school students, as well as teacher training materials. The video also can be used as an effective training tool for government employees, reporters, and citizen activists.
• Hot Topic Symposiums: The Foundation also periodically conducts symposiums on open government issues of current concern. The first symposium, held in November 2006 at the Poynter Institute, covered HIPPA and its impact on open government. Other symposium topics have included Privacy in the Information Age, Cameras in the Courtroom, Sunshine Litigation, and a Sunshine Summit on Records and Meetings Access Problems.
• Government-in-the-Sunshine Manual: The Manual is a comprehensive guide to Florida’s Open Meetings and Public Records Laws, and is published by the First Amendment Foundation each year in cooperation with the Attorney General’s Office. The Sunshine Manual provides public officials, citizen activists, and journalists with up-to-date information, including recent case law and attorney general opinions. The Foundation also offers an electronic (Kindle) version of the manual available for purchase at amazon.com. The e-manual includes a searchable database of the manual, as well as a searchable database of exemptions from access requirements.
• Florida Public Records Handbook: The Handbook is a useful tool for anyone seeking access to Florida public records. It contains copies of the most commonly used public records, information on where to obtain the record, and helpful suggestions on the types of information available from different public records. Compiled by Joe Adams, an editor at the Florida Times-Union and edited by Barbara Petersen, president of the Foundation, many journalists and community activists have found the Handbook extremely helpful in using public records. Not currently available.
• The White Paper, A Narrative History of Open Government in Florida: Florida has a long, rich history of providing public access to the records and meetings of its government. This publication provides a detailed narrative history of Florida’s open government laws in an interesting and easy-to-read format.
• Reporter’s Notebook: The multi-purpose Reporter’s Notebook, similar to ones used by reporters, contains the most pertinent Public Records and Sunshine Law information on the inside covers, leaving the inside pages available to take notes. The Reporter’s Notebook also provides a list of open government resources for immediate assistance with an access issue.
• Pocket Guide: The Pocket Guide is a small booklet designed to fit in a notebook or back pocket for handy access. It includes a review of the most frequently asked questions about open government laws. It also contains a list of open government resources when immediate help with an access issue is necessary.
• Legislative Report: Prior to the start of each legislative session, the First Amendment Foundation prepares an extensive analysis and review of all open government bills for its members. The Foundation then tracks the legislation throughout session, providing members with a weekly report on legislative activity each Friday. The Foundation prepares a final legislative report when session is concluded.
The First Amendment Foundation is active in open government litigation throughout the state, either by joining important open government cases or filing briefs as a friend of the court.
Current and Future Projects:
• Mini-Seminars and Manuals: Designed for newsrooms, these one-hour topical seminars give reporters an opportunity to discuss issues relating to open government and gain more information about their beats. The topics include: courts; cops; education; non-profits; local governments; and electronic records and e-mail. Mini-manuals on each topic are being developed.
• Statewide Compliance Audits: A periodic test of compliance with open government laws by state agencies and local governments. Results are released during the annual Sunshine Week.