NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — This is Sunshine Week in Tennessee, a celebration of efforts to keep government business transparent. Sunshine Week is observed annually by news organizations and open government advocates.
The statutes that regulate public and media access to government information are often referred to as Sunshine Laws. Tennessee’s sunshine law was adopted in 1974 in reaction to the Water Gate scandal.
Prior to the bill’s passage, most state and local government meetings were closed to the public and residents did not have access to information gathered by government agencies.
Frank Gibson of the Tennessee Press Association says the most recent survey of state open government regulations ranked Tennessee’s sunshine law as among the weakest in the country. Gibson notes, for instance, Tennessee’s law has no enforcement mechanism.
"The public has to do it. If they’re denied records, or if they are kicked out of a meeting or something like that their only recourse is to…they have to hire a lawyer and pay their own lawyer and sue. Even if they win they don’t get their legal fees back.”
Gibson compared sunshine laws to insurance policies, saying most people ignore open government issues until a problem arises.