In Rhode Island, "Sunshine Week" looking dark

This is "Sunshine Week," an annual event meant to focus attention on the importance of transparency in government. In Rhode Island, the sun has not yet peeked out from behind the clouds.

The week's biggest story, to date, is Governor Chafee's refusal to make public a report on Medicaid waste and fraud. Chafee, who promised transparency during the gubernatorial campaign, argues that going public would jeopardize a state investigation born of the report. But the Rhode Island chapter of the ACLU and good government group Common Cause, in a joint statement, say the refusal is a "clear violation" of the state's open records law.

A story that hasn't received quite so much attention: a report card from the Sunlight Foundation, released yesterday, which gives the General Assembly an "F" for its web site.

The foundation grades each state's legislative web site on six criteria: completeness, timeliness, ease of electronic access, machine readability (can programmers easily set their computers to scrape data from the site?), use of commonly owned standards (does the site make bills available in HTML or PDF form so everyone can access them?), and permanence (does the site preserve information from past legislative sessions?).

Rhode Island was one of just six states - along with Alabama, Colorado, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Nebraska - to get an "F."

Last year, the General Assembly improved on one of the most restrictive open records laws in the nation. But changing the law and changing the culture are separate concerns. There is, clearly, much work to be done.

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