Sunshine laws require government agencies to make certain meetings open to the public and make certain documents open to public disclosure. According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, all 50 states and the federal government have sunshine laws. The federal government's version is called the Freedom of Information Act.
Sunshine laws, also known as open-meeting laws or public-records laws, support government transparency and accountability, allowing citizens to know what goes on when government officials transact public business, notes the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. These laws typically require government agencies to provide advance notice of meetings to the public and publish agendas in advance. Agencies are usually required to make a transcript of all meetings, even those meetings that can be legally closed to the public.
The sunshine laws of most states allow anyone to make a public-records request in writing for a copy of any document produced by a government agency, unless the record is exempt, notes the Markkula Center. Types of documents that are typically excluded from open-records requests include juvenile criminal records, classified information, individual health records, investigative work product of law enforcement officers and certain personnel information of government employees. Most states adopt an open-records policy that explains which documents are exempt from public disclosure.