Secrecy of states on governors' executive orders

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:



Five states received an F:


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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