This Independence Day marks 47 years since the landmark Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was signed into federal law — yet Americans are still distrustful of government. A 2013 Pew Research Center poll showed that only 26 percent of Americans surveyed say they can trust government in Washington “almost always or most of the time.”
That is among the lowest ratings in the half-century since pollsters have been asking the question.
FOIA established our right to access government records and to know what our government is doing — both its successes and failures.
Exercising our right to know gives the public power. It allows us to contribute to our government and hold government accountable. From food and transportation safety to the use and disposal of chemicals, FOIA has helped the public ensure the health of our democracy and our well-being.
FOIA and related state and local laws are only as good as we demand that they be. For decades, members of the League of Women Voters have acted as government watchdogs at the federal, state and local levels — observing government meetings, conducting document audits and empowering citizens.
But more work needs to be done.
The key to a healthy, open and trusted government is an informed public. Celebrate the anniversary of the FOIA by exercising your right to know. Contact your municipal or county clerk and discover what information they make available, ask your local officials to post more information on-line or file a formal public records request — the FOIA and Florida Sunshine laws make it relatively easy.
If it is public business, make it your business.
Maribel Balbin, president, League of Women Voters, Miami-Dade County, Miami