If you want to know more about what your government is doing in advance of the governing body actually doing it, then House Bill 1069 is something you should get behind.

Sponsored by State Rep. Aaron Bernstine, a Republican from western Pennsylvania, House Bill 1069 would require a public agency to post public meeting agendas no later than 24 hours prior to the start of a meeting on the agency’s website. The bill would also prohibit the body from taking official action on items not on the public meeting agenda unless it was added by a majority vote.

Additionally, agencies would be required to post the agenda at the location of the meeting and copies be made available to those in attendance.

The bill would amend the state’s Sunshine Act, which requires agencies to conduct official business in open and that the public “can attend, participate, and comment before an agency takes that official action.”

“I believe that we understand the intent and importance of the Sunshine Act in maintaining and enhancing the transparency of government decision-making and to allow Pennsylvanians to participate in their government,” said Bernstine. “Unfortunately, there are instances in which this important law is not used as intended. When our citizens know what will be discussed at a meeting ahead of time, they can better participate in a government in a meaningful way.”

Most local elected officials or those on governing bodies understand this transparent concept. Some don’t, but those instances have been rare in the Valley.

These suggested changes to the Sunshine Act are well-meaning. They also come with a caveat.

Not lost in Bernstine’s quote above is the word “participate.”

These changes can only make a difference if the people they are aimed at informing actually use the information to their benefit and become active, engaged and, if required, vocal participants in public forums.

Daily Item reporters attend too many meetings where members of the public can be counted on one hand. Having agenda items front and center in advance will be helpful, but if the overwhelming majority of constituents ignore the memo, has anything really changed?

“In today’s hectic, fast-paced world, it is important that we give our constituents the tools they need to participate in government in a meaningful way,” Bernstine said.

It is just as important that we all choose to participate.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher and top newsroom executives. Today’s was written by Managing Editor Bill Bowman.

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