News Roundup: Sunshine Week and the Sunshine State

This Sunshine Week, American Oversight celebrated victories for government transparency, warned about threats to public records access — and sued the Florida Department of Education for the release of records related to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ongoing attacks on public education.

Our lawsuit comes at a time of increasing alarm and urgency over DeSantis’ attempts to politicize and reshape his state’s education system. In the last year, his administration has spearheaded several measures that have placed harsh limits on classroom instruction of American history, including regarding racial justice, and prohibited teaching children about issues impacting the LGBTQ community.

  • At issue in our lawsuit are eight public records requests we submitted as far back as May of last year, which have been met with delay.
  • We’re seeking Department of Education officials’ and State Board of Education members’ communications with DeSantis’ office and external groups about topics like critical race theory, as well as guidance, reports, assessments and other internal documents related to the rejection of the AP African American Studies course.
  • “The DeSantis administration’s efforts to stifle classroom discussion and rewrite history are a grave threat to the education and well-being of hundreds of thousands of students, teachers, and parents in Florida,” said Heather Sawyer, our executive director. Listen to her interview with Tampa public radio station WUSF.

DeSantis has also posed a grave threat to transparency in the Sunshine State and its well-respected open government laws. He has claimed that “executive privilege” — something not mentioned in state law or Florida’s constitution — shields him from having to release public records, and last month, in a highly controversial opinion, a Tallahassee judge agreed.

DeSantis isn’t alone: Top elected officials in several states have made efforts to obscure a wide range of government activities. For Sunshine Week, we outlined some of the gravest threats to transparency from the past year, which also include state lawmakers exempting themselves from open records laws as well as the issue of officials using ephemeral messaging apps and personal accounts to conduct official business

  • We also highlighted major victories we’ve been a part of, such as improving federal records retention policies, spurring better training for FOIA staff at the CDC, and our involvement in other legal wins that protect the public’s right to know.
  • Sunshine Week is also American Oversight’s sixth anniversary. We marked the occasion by celebrating six of our biggest wins for government transparency — read about them here.
  • On Twitter, we explained what the Freedom of Information Act is and why it’s such a powerful tool. You can also learn about the past, present, and future of FOIA here.

On the Records

The 2023 Foilies

The annual Foilies are out! This year’s awards, which “name and shame” agencies and officials that have been obstacles to government transparency, highlight two sets of records requests from American Oversight. 

Other Stories We’re Following

Jan. 6 Investigations
  • Pence says Trump was ‘wrong’ about Jan. 6 and that history will hold him accountable (NPR)
  • House Republicans launch their version of Jan. 6 committee, probing ‘misconduct’ by original panel (CBS News)
  • Fulton County investigators have another recording of a Trump phone call pressuring a Georgia official (CNN)
Election Denial and Threats to Democracy
  • FBI says it has no records related to Trump’s claim he ‘sent’ agents to stop voter fraud in Florida during 2018 election (NBC News)
  • Election-denying donors pour millions into key Wisconsin supreme court race (Guardian)
  • States cave to conspiracy theories and leave voter data cooperative, ERIC (Brennan Center)
  • Some election officials refused to certify results. Few were held accountable (ProPublica)
  • Bill to protect ‘Big Lie’ lawyers from punishment advances with GOP support (Arizona Mirror)
  • Trump-commissioned report undercut his claims of dead and double voters (Washington Post)
Voting Rights
  • North Carolina’s top court hears redistricting case with national implications (Reuters)
  • Trump and GOP attempt to reverse course on mail-in voting ahead of 2024 (CNN)
  • Texas Senate passes bill to make illegal voting a felony again (Texas Tribune)
  • New Mexico voting rights bill heads to governor for signature (CNN)
  • Florida faces federal lawsuit over signature rules for new voters (New York Times)
In the States
  • DeSantis, 18 states to push back against Biden ESG agenda (The Hill)
  • Kentucky lawmakers pass ban on youth gender-affirming care (Associated Press)
  • Florida becomes eighth state to ban transgender care for minors (NBC News)
  • Border militia bill reveals Texas GOP’s scheme to expand state enforcement powers (Texas Observer)
  • Under fire, DeSantis and Ladapo keep trashing Covid-19 vaccine (Orlando Sentinel)
Attacks on Education
  • Texas announces takeover of Houston schools, stirring anger (Associated Press)
  • GOP lawmakers plan to ban more college majors in FL like ethnic studies, ‘radical’ feminist theory (Florida Phoenix
  • Florida scoured math textbooks for ‘prohibited topics.’ Next up: Social studies. (New York Times)
  • DeSantis’ anti-woke law remains blocked in Florida colleges (Politico)
  • Youngkin defends transgender policies, history standards in CNN town hall (Washington Post)  
  • Books on race, sexuality among most targeted across N.C. schools (WUNC)
  • Ohio bill limits, and mandates, what is taught in college in name of free speech (Ohio Capital Journal)
Abortion Rights
  • Three Texas women are sued for wrongful death after allegedly helping friend obtain abortion medication (Texas Tribune)
  • The Texas-sized loophole that brought the abortion pill to the brink of doom (Slate)
  • S.C. Republicans propose bill that could subject women who have abortions to the death penalty (NBC News)
  • The sole US supplier of a major abortion pill said it would not distribute the drug in 31 states (Vox)
  • Lawyers spar before judge over rescinding of federal approval of abortion pill (New York Times)
  • North Dakota Supreme Court blocks abortion ban; says Constitution protects procedure (New York Times)
National News
  • A new Supreme Court case could be the most important transgender rights decision ever (Vox)
  • Biden administration approves controversial Willow oil drilling project in Alaska (PBS NewsHour)
  • FBI, Pentagon helped research facial recognition for street cameras, drones (Washington Post)
Trump Accountability
  • Stormy Daniels meets with prosecutors as Trump inquiry nears end (New York Times)
  • There’s a new chief judge in DC who could help determine the fate of Donald Trump (CNN)
  • Federal investigators examined Trump Media for possible money laundering, sources say (Guardian)
  • The Trump aide who helps the former president navigate legal peril (New York Times)
  • House Republicans quietly halt inquiry into Trump’s finances (New York Times)