What Are Sunshine Laws?
Sunshine laws are regulations requiring transparency and disclosure in government or business. Sunshine laws make meetings, records, votes, deliberations, and other official actions available for public observation, participation, and/or inspection. Sunshine laws also require government meetings to be held with sufficient advance notice and at times and places that are convenient and accessible to the public, with exceptions for emergency meetings.
- Sunshine laws stipulate that certain business operations or government activities provide open transparency and disclosure to the public or upon inquiry.
- The purpose of these laws is to promote ethical standards, prevent fraud and corruption, and by doing so engender greater public trust.
- Examples of sunshine laws include mandatory corporate reporting to the SEC and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
Understanding Sunshine Laws
Sunshine laws are in place to ensure certain activities are conducted in an open and ethical nature. This allows members of the public to bear witness to certain activities or to request access to records pertaining to certain topics. They are designed to limit corruption within the affected organizations and increase public trust through willing transparency.
In some cases, an event or document that would normally be accessible through sunshine laws is closed to public access (such as a legally protected matter currently under investigation), but sunshine laws are supposed to minimize these exceptions. Sunshine laws also differentiate entities that are subject to the laws from those that are not. For example, any entity with the authority to create binding laws would be subject to the law, but an advisory committee that lacked such authority might not be subject to sunshine laws, even if it dealt with matters related to government.
Sunshine laws require a minimum amount of transparency as certain entities participate in business dealings or government agencies participate in regulatory processes. Sunshine laws can be enacted at the state or federal level. Sunshine laws are most commonly associated with decision making in economics or finance, but they can expand into other areas.
The Freedom of Information Act as a Sunshine Law
Within the United States, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) protects a citizen's right to request certain information from the federal government, as do other sunshine laws. Not all information must be disclosed through the FOIA, such as that pertaining to issues of national security or certain aspects of law enforcement. Additionally, it provides protections regarding trade secrets in the commercial and financial markets, and communications considered privileged by nature, or any information protected by additional federal laws.
Certain activities are considered exceptions to sunshine laws regardless of the implications. This most commonly applies to those associated with active legal proceedings, including certain disciplinary actions pertaining to government employees that would involve issues of personal privacy.
Sunshine Laws in the Medical Field
In the medical field, sunshine laws require certain manufacturers, such as pharmaceutical companies, to disclose what items have been provided to an institution or physician, along with the associated value of the items, as part of a standard reporting procedure. This is an effort to improve the transparency surrounding the financial ramifications of such transactions, making the information accessible and trackable.