Pennsylvania law includes a statute that requires state government agency deliberation to occur in full view of the public. In other words, any time an agency is making an official decision, the Sunshine Act may apply. There are exceptions to the Sunshine Act, but the law generally affirms the public’s right to observe government agencies make official decisions.
Why make government agencies deliberate in public? In the introduction, the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act says “secrecy in public affairs undermines the faith of the public in government and the public’s effectiveness in fulfilling its role in a democratic society.” In fact, the federal version of the Sunshine Laws was passed in 1976 a few years after the Watergate scandal.
Exemptions to the Sunshine Laws
There are 10 exemptions to the Government in the Sunshine Act:
- Information required via Executive Order to be kept secret for national defense or foreign policy
- Information that only relates to internal rules and practices of an agency
- Information required to be secret via statute
- Information containing trade secrets
- Information that accuses someone with a crime or “formally censures” them
- Information that invades a person’s personal privacy
- Information that would interfere with a law enforcement investigation
- Information related to reports prepared by financial regulatory institutions
- Information that would endanger the stability of a financial institution or lead to financial speculation
- Information related to a subpoena or participation in a civil action by the agency
To Whom Does the Sunshine Act Apply?
Any government agency led by a group of multiple officials who need to deliberate on their decisions. That includes (in our state) any agency in the Pennsylvania Executive Branch, the General Assembly, and city agencies as well—including township boards and school boards. It also covers any government organization that is established by law and performs a government function.
Who enforces the Sunshine Act? In theory, the courts do. Any citizen can sue an agency that it feels violated the Sunshine Act, but typically it is news media that often calls for enforcement of the Sunshine Act.
The Sunshine Act is ultimately about accountability. With a former district attorney for the Consumer Protection Bureau leading our firm, accountability is not only important for people’s faith in institutions, but it’s vital for their safety above all. We’re safer when we know who makes decisions and why. That’s what personal injury law is about—applying the principle behind the Sunshine Law to corporations that commit wrongs against others.