Secrecy of states on governors’ executive orders

posted at 7:01 pm on July 26, 2014 by Jazz Shaw

Sharyl Attkisson turned up an interesting subject this week which is worth a look no matter which state you live in. (Well, for those of you who live in the USA anyway.) Executive orders are much in the news lately, particularly given Speaker Boehner’s pending lawsuit, but those are orders at the federal level, signed by the President. These are all available online and are fully searchable. What about the executive orders signed by the governors in each of the fifty states?

Attkisson points us to a new study by The Sunlight Foundation which examines how well each state makes this information available to the public.

All of this is to suggest that although executive orders in many states are quite powerful, and while they’re generally issued more infrequently than bills are passed, they’re rarely subject to the same filing and publication requirements as other governing documents — proposed legislation, for example. Since executive orders are a matter of public record, all states must make them accessible to the public in some form — but, as we know, accessibility per the letter of the law and substantive openness are rarely one and the same.

The Sunlight Foundation used five criteria to measure how “open” these records are to the public.

Are executive orders available online?
Are orders uploaded in a timely fashion?
Is the data presented in a commonly owned format (e.g. HTML or PDF)?
Is the text machine-processable—can you search and find text, or are they unsearchable scans?
For what period of time are executive orders available? For the current year? Current term? Previous governor’s term? Since the beginning of time?

Follow the link to look at the list, but the top and bottom rated states may be of interest. Each state received a grade ranging from A (most transparent) to F (least transparent). Seven states received an A:

Alaska
Kentucky
Louisiana
Michigan
Minnesota
Texas
Washington

Five states received an F:

Colorado
Georgia
Hawaii
Mississippi
Nevada

I’ve stared at this list for a while and there seems to be no rhyme or reason. Of course, that may be because some of these laws have been on the books for a while and they don’t all get updated promptly. But it’s still tough to find some metric whereby you wind up lumping Michigan and Washington into the same group with Texas and Kentucky. The other side of the coin is no better. What do Hawaii and Mississippi have in common?

In any event, feel free to look up your own state and see how you did. Shockingly, New York came in with a B. And it’s true, I had very little trouble finding their data when I needed it. But in the 21st century, this information should be readily available to everyone in every state.


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Florida ” C ” ! Hey where’s my sunshine law ?

Lucano on July 26, 2014 at 7:19 PM

Texas – A knew it. :)

paulsur on July 26, 2014 at 7:26 PM

Well MS got a F figures I guess.

sorrowen on July 26, 2014 at 7:52 PM

Is this an issue?

wdkeller on July 26, 2014 at 7:56 PM

Hey, Ohio is a D. We had a Democrat governor followed now with a GOP one. And a senator from each party. We’re bipartisan in our corruption.

rbj on July 26, 2014 at 8:03 PM

All that Mafia money laundered through Vega$ and Reno makes Nevada’s “F” a certainty.

viking01 on July 26, 2014 at 8:13 PM

maine is c, could be better but its a decent start point I guess.

dmacleo on July 26, 2014 at 8:16 PM

huh…hawaii hiding documents…imagine that….

dmacleo on July 26, 2014 at 8:17 PM

West Virginia: C. Well, we gave the world Robert Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, so…

WestVirginiaRebel on July 26, 2014 at 8:28 PM

I’ve stared at this list for a while and there seems to be no rhyme or reason.

Executive orders are the most pernicious in states whose governors are given broad powers under their respective state constitutions. I suspect there’s a general correlation between strong-governor states and the lack of transparency concerning EOs.

For instance, in Texas gubernatorial powers are quite limited, a good thing, so it doesn’t surprise me that we rate high on the transparency scale.

TXUS on July 26, 2014 at 8:42 PM

TXUS on July 26, 2014 at 8:42 PM

.
The Texas state government is the only one in the land, operating like it should.

listens2glenn on July 26, 2014 at 9:17 PM

I’ve stared at this list for a while and there seems to be no rhyme or reason.

Executive orders are the most pernicious in states whose governors are given broad powers under their respective state constitutions. I suspect there’s a general correlation between strong-governor states and the lack of transparency concerning EOs.

For instance, in Texas gubernatorial powers are quite limited, a good thing, so it doesn’t surprise me that we rate high on the transparency scale.

TXUS on July 26, 2014 at 8:42 PM

That doesn’t fit Mississippi, though. The governor’s power is relatively weak. Many argue that the lieutenant governor is actually the most powerful office, because they have some additional power in the legislature.

Of course, it may have less to do with broad power and more to do with having never set up a system to make executive orders publicly accessible.

There Goes the Neighborhood on July 26, 2014 at 11:01 PM

Ok, did a little research. I don’t think you can read too much into this. The states with the worst scores have basically the same failings:

1) The executive orders are available as scanned PDFs, which makes them non-searchable
2) The executive orders are not permanently archived, but are available for the current administration only
3) There’s a backlog in some cases of putting the executive orders out there — in some cases by a month or more.

Room for improvement, certainly. But you can’t very well accuse a state government of trying to hide its executive orders if the ones for the current administration are available. If they were really trying to hide them, they would be hiding the current administration’s orders and leaving the previous ones out there.

It’s a shame, though, that they put them out as scanned documents that are not text-searchable. It would be relatively simple to fix that. And there’s really no reason to not keep a permanent archive of all executive orders in one place.

There Goes the Neighborhood on July 26, 2014 at 11:17 PM

California got a B, but the last executive order in the database is from May of 2012. Either Brown stopped issuing them or the grade California got isn’t deserved.

unclesmrgol on July 27, 2014 at 12:24 AM

Florida ” C ” ! Hey where’s my sunshine law ?

Lucano on July 26, 2014 at 7:19 PM

I got involved in union politics in Florida decades ago. First lesson that I learned was that laws, like the sunshine law, are just there to make the public feel like they have control. I got out of politics for that very reason. I played the game by the rules even if I did not agree with them because I represented my union and those in it or not, depended on me to get them the best contract possible. I found it a bit of an eye opener at how childish the game was played out and even more so how deceived the public is. I gave dog and pony shows to the press and TV sitting at my back, who reported it all to the public, keeping up the appearance of negotiation but it was already settled. I knew what I was getting, they knew what they were getting and we both knew what was going to stay on the table. Reality never matched what the public saw. The other thing I learned is that politicians are just people like everyone else but they are even less trustworthy in real life than what we see.

Franklyn on July 27, 2014 at 4:39 AM

This might explain one state:

“The State of Alaska is publishing information from the statewide accounting system on the web. This is part of a national trend for governments to develop websites that allow constituents to view financial information in searchable formats. Such websites are widely considered to improve transparency into the financial operations of government. Former Governor Palin supported this trend, and as a result, this website was created.” Alaska.gov

Viator on July 27, 2014 at 6:05 AM

I’ve stared at this list for a while and there seems to be no rhyme or reason.

Ain’t federalism wonderful?

Where you don’t have to live under the same set of laws and government in each State but each can do as they wish inside the restrictions of the Constitution… yup, that’s federalism and you don’t get either rhyme nor reason from it, either.

If you like your laboratories of liberty, then you won’t look for consistency, wouldya?

ajacksonian on July 27, 2014 at 7:08 AM

Is this an issue?
wdkeller on July 26, 2014 at 7:56 PM

Not until you run up against one you don’t know about.

Cliff by the Ford on July 27, 2014 at 7:37 AM

In Kentucky, our corruption is very transparent. Most of it is at the county level.

ConstantineXI on July 27, 2014 at 8:06 AM