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I believe most people have heard of ‘Sunshine Laws’ and understand their importance to our communities, states, and the nation as a whole.

The Greenville Standard joins with the News Leaders Association for the annual celebration of access to public information which is held this week.

National Sunshine Week has been celebrated every March since 2005, thanks to the hard work of the American Society of News Editors. Participants include print, broadcast and online news media, civics groups, non-profits, schools and libraries.

Sunshine Week occurs each year in mid-March, coinciding with James Madison’s birthday and National Freedom of Information Day on the 16th.

During Sunshine Week, hundreds of media organizations, civic groups, libraries, nonprofits, schools and other participants engage public discussion on the importance of open government through news and feature articles and opinion columns; special web pages and blogs; infographics; editorial cartoons; public service advertising; public seminars and forums.

The purpose of the week is to highlight the fact that “government functions best when it operates in the open. In many states, however, legislatures exempt themselves from public-records laws, claiming “legislative immunity.”

Freedom of information laws allow access by the general public to data held by national governments and, where applicable, by state and local governments.

The emergence of freedom of information legislation was a response to increasing dissatisfaction with the secrecy surrounding government policy development and decision making.

In recent years, Access to Information Act has also been used. They establish a “right-to-know” legal process by which requests may be made for government-held information, to be received freely or at minimal cost, barring standard exceptions.

In many countries, there are constitutional guarantees for the right of access to information, but these are usually unused if specific support legislation does not exist.

If you are part of a civic group, you can organize local forums, sponsor essay contests or press elected officials to pass proclamations on the importance of open access.

If you are an educator, you can use Sunshine Week to teach your students about how government transparency improves our lives and makes our communities stronger.

If you are an elected official, you can pass a resolution supporting openness, introduce legislation improving public access or encourage training of government employees to ensure compliance with existing laws mandating open records and meetings.

If you are a private citizen, you can write a letter to the editor or spread the word to friends through social media.

There are many ways to celebrate, but attending meetings of your local council or commissioners or school board is a great first step.

It lets people know you have an interest and hopefully will serve as a reminder that they are being listened to and watched.

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