This week, March 15-21, is Sunshine Week, a nationwide celebration of government transparency and access to public information. It’s a perfect time to not only celebrate progress but make improvements.
Since I was elected, I have been on a mission to increase transparency and accountability and end the assaults on taxpayers that happen in “broad daylight” and “in the dark.” There’s no doubt we have much more work to do. That begins with state Senate passage of an important Sunshine Act reform that will help keep the public informed ahead of time about decisions that may be made at their local government meetings.
Do a simple Google search for “Sunshine Act in PA” and you’ll find several news stories about local governments that have deliberated on decisions that have a big impact on taxpayers without much or any public notice.
But why? Isn’t that illegal? The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act requires state and local agencies to deliberate and take official action on agency business in an open and public meeting. However, while agencies are required to give notice when a meeting will be held, they are not required to include the purpose of a meeting. Therein lies the problem – and a loophole.
My legislation, House Bill 1069
, would amend the Sunshine Act to require a public agency to post public meeting agendas at least 24 hours prior to the start of a meeting. The bill requires the agenda to be posted at the location of the meeting, on the agency’s website and copies be made available to those in attendance.
House Bill 1069 would also prohibit an agency from taking official action on items not on the meeting agenda unless added by a majority vote. This would ensure those who vote to add an action item to the agenda at the last moment would be held accountable to the public.
This bill is a commonsense and critical piece of the puzzle when it comes to increasing transparency and ensuring government officials think twice about letting important business fly under the taxpayer’s radar. In today’s fast-paced world, it is important that we give our constituents the tools they need to participate in government in a meaningful way.
It’s time to eradicate backroom deals and unannounced decisions in government. They can have a big impact on our lives, and we deserve to know about them. House Bill 1069 was passed by the House. The Senate is next. It is essential that we get it across the finish line and there is no better time than now.
Representative Aaron Bernstine
10th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Rick Leiner
717.260.6437 (office), 717.497.8478 (cell)