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Sunday, February 25, 2024
Feb. 25, 2024

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Local View: We need more government transparency, not less


Given the choice, would you want more government transparency or less?

That conversation is happening right now, with alarming implications for our state.

On Feb. 28, members of the state Public Records Exceptions and Accountability Committee announced they were thinking of disbanding, frustrated by the Legislature’s reluctance to consider their recommendations fostering open government.

Created in 2007, the committee is charged with reviewing exemptions to the state transparency law and recommending where changes may be necessary. In other words, they decide which publicly funded documents — calendars, emails, texts and memos — can be shared with the public.

And so, as we pause this week to reflect on our transparency laws during national Sunshine Week, the irony should not be lost on us that the state’s own Sunshine Committee is ready to call it quits.

Held March 12-18, Sunshine Week promotes open government and the value of shining a light — or “sunshine” — on government. The observance coincides with National Freedom of Information Day on March 16, the birthdate of President James Madison, whose passion for open government and the freedom of information laid the foundation for the liberties we enjoy today.

It’s never good to have less government transparency, especially when the public’s trust in government is at an all-time low according to research by Gallup and the Edelman Trust Barometer.

Increasingly, more and more people say they don’t trust government and other institutions. This distrust breeds polarization, the consequences of which present themselves in many forms: voter apathy, political anxiety and a weakening of our shared social fabric. Combined, these factors make it increasingly difficult to solve some of our biggest challenges, furthering the divides and stifling real progress.

Further compounding our civic depression: there are fewer reporters available to cover the Legislature itself. Tighter newsroom budgets have resulted in fewer resources to cover the statehouse, and that’s not a good trend for defenders of open government.

What we need now is more transparency in government, not less.

For nearly 30 years, TVW has worked to improve civic literacy and provide unfiltered, nonpartisan, gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Washington Legislature, the State Supreme Court, the Office of the Governor, elections, civic debates, countless meetings of state agencies and commissions and public policy events.

As a nonpartisan TV and streaming network, TVW lets the people observe meetings, legislative hearings and other public proceedings and decide for themselves. This was never more apparent than during the COVID-19 pandemic, when TVW was the only way to access the Legislature or other state activities. It remains the public’s front row seat to watch state government in action, anywhere, at any time.

In addition to showing people their government in action, TVW also invests in educational programs to help people better understand how government actually works. Our “Teach with TVW” civics classes, crafted with the assistance of social studies teachers, give students a chance to track real legislation, debate the merits of the bill and follow its progress. This is perhaps one of the best ways for arming people with the knowledge necessary to engage with their own government.

Sunshine laws are a vital component of the democratic process. James Madison knew it when gave us one of our greatest freedoms: the freedom of information. We would all be well served to protect it, before that right gradually slips away.

Renee Radcliff Sinclair, a former state representative, is the president and CEO of TVW.