Florida is among the majority of states that are failing miserably when it comes to enacting laws that enable regular citizens to fight corruption by attending public meetings, reviewing government documents and raising questions without fear of retribution, according to a national study released by the Better Government Association, a Chicago-based non-partisan watchdog organization.
The Integrity Index, a comprehensive report issued by the Better Government Association (BGA) and sponsored by Alper Services LLC, analyzes laws from all 50 states in four key categories: Open Meetings, Freedom of Information, Whistleblower Protection and Conflict of Interest.
Florida ranks 38th on the Integrity Index and in the bottom ten in both whistleblower protection and open meetings laws.
“The Integrity Index measures the level of commitment each state has made—or, more often, hasn’t made—to the enactment of laws that helps citizens access their government and its documents, and hold elected officials accountable, which is the framework of integrity and the first step in combating political corruption,” said Andy Shaw, President and CEO of the BGA. “Our findings show that current laws in most states are woefully inadequate, locking citizens out or forcing them to jump through unnecessary hoops as they attempt to exercise their fundamental democratic right to keep an eye on government.”
In measuring ethics laws and government conduct in all 50 states, the Integrity Index determined the overall national average is an unacceptable 55 percent, with all states receiving scores categorized as mediocre or poor and not a single state cracking 70 percent. The low marks suggest the states are vastly underperforming at enacting tough transparency, accessibility and accountability laws, and much more needs to be done to inspire public trust and confidence.
The report notes that several of the states receiving high marks—particularly Rhode Island, New Jersey, Illinois and Louisiana—aren’t commonly viewed as paragons of good government. Those states likely rank higher today because years of corruption and embarrassing scandals led to the adoption of stricter safeguards and more comprehensive sunshine laws. The BGA report also cautions not to assume that just because tougher laws are on the books, public officials are following them or states are enforcing them.
By contrast, many of the states with the weakest overall laws have not experienced widespread abuse and have steered clear of high-visibility scandals, so they may have not been prompted to enact stricter ethics measures and wide-sweeping reforms.
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For more information about the Integrity Index and to find out where your state ranked in each category, visit www.bettergov.org.
About the Better Government Association:
The BGA works for integrity, transparency and accountability in government by exposing corruption and inefficiency; identifying and advocating effective public policy; and engaging and mobilizing the electorate to achieve authentic and responsible reform.