sunshine laws

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Sunshine laws are regulations requiring public disclosure of government agency meetings and records. Sunshine laws require specific businesses and government agencies to maintain transparency and disclose their activities to the public. The primary objective of these laws is to prevent fraud, corruption, inequality, and to maintain high ethical standards within such businesses and agencies.  

Federal sunshine laws were created by the Government in Sunshine Act (also known as the Sunshine Act), passed in 1976, the purpose of which was to promote accountability among agencies in the federal government. Nonetheless, the Sunshine Act also includes ten exceptions, and the act also permits agencies to close particular meetings on an individual basis because of the potential adverse impact that disclosure may have. Such nondisclosures may be permitted where premature disclosure would likely significantly frustrate the implementation of proposed agency action. Meetings may also be closed where another statute requires that they be closed or when the meeting deals with an agency's participation in a civil action

The Freedom of Information Act is a classic example of a sunshine law. While most of these laws deal with economics or finance, they do extend to other areas as well. The medical sector is also required to comply with sunshine laws, where major corporate players in pharmaceutical companies, and manufacturers are required to disclose certain information which is a part of their regular reporting and operating procedure.   

Sunshine laws have been determined to be inapplicable to certain agencies. For example, the District of Columbia had refused to extend disclosure under sunshine laws to meetings of the (ceased entity) National Economic Commission, explaining that the meetings' discussion of economic assumptions, budget options, and fiscal policy would create market speculation that would defeat the purpose of the agency's proposed policies. 

In addition to federal agencies, states also have their own sunshine laws that govern state agencies. The reach of states' sunshine laws varies. Florida, for example, boasts particularly broad sunshine laws. The Florida Supreme Court has stated that all government authorities in Florida are subject to the requirements of the state's sunshine laws unless specifically exempted. Furthermore, the state's sunshine laws define agency broadly, and an agency includes any municipal corporation, political subdivision, and authority of any county. 

[Last updated in March of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]