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    Tuesday, July 23, 2024

    Congratulating Connecticut champions of open government

    State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, was honored by the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023, at The Hartford Club in Hartford. (Photo by Mary Quinn)

    Today, we salute State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, a local news junkie and a champion for open government, and other lawmakers and journalists fighting the good fight to ensure government is performing properly on behalf of “We the People.”

    Osten gets her news in print, starting each morning by reading The Day, perusing five other Connecticut publications for items of interest and looking at the Wall Street Journal and New York Times.

    Osten described her news consumption habits Wednesday when we chatted at The Hartford Club, where she was honored by the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information. I’m a proud rookie member of the CCFOI’s board of directors and encourage you to learn more about our work to promote the public’s access to government at our website at CCFOI.com.

    Osten, co-chairperson of the Appropriations Committee, received the CCFOI’s Bice Clemow award for ensuring a funding increase of about $200,000 in the state budget for two additional staff members for the Freedom of Information Commission, which was experiencing a backlog of cases.

    CCFOI’s legislative co-chairperson Michelle Jacklin presented Osten the award, which is given annually to public officials.

    “She has long been an advocate of transparency and accountability and even mentioned her ‘desire for open government’ in her political bio,” Jacklin said.

    The award is named for Clemow, a Connecticut journalist who died in 2000 and was a driving force behind the creation of the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

    Defending the Freedom of Information Act is necessary and ongoing work for journalists, attorneys and members of the public.

    This year, the CCFOI was able to celebrate advancing the FOIA into the 21st century, said CCFOI President Mike Savino, with the passage of a bill that ensures state agencies are transparent about how they use artificial intelligence.

    Attorney Kelsey Eberly, working with Yale University’s Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic, received the Champion of Open Government award for working with CCFOI to ensure the new law “provided real transparency around the ways the government uses automated decision making to conduct the public’s business,” according to Savino.

    State Sen. James Maroney, D-Milford, also received a Clemow award. As co-chairperson of the General Law Committee, he played a critical role in drafting the legislation.

    Also recognized by the CCFOI were Hearst Connecticut Media journalists Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, Joshua Eaton and Brian Lockhart, who exposed a backlog of at least 2,000 outstanding requests for public information in Bridgeport. The Bridgeport situation led to a new law that increases the maximum fine to $5,000 for government agencies who violate the FOIA.

    Paula Pearlman, managing director and general counsel of the state Freedom of Information Commission, known for poring over legislative proposals and watching hearings on CTN on her “off time,” received the Champion of Open Government award for “uncovering potential exemptions that are otherwise quietly written into legislation.”

    “Her invaluable expertise has helped CCFOI block several bad proposals that would have eroded the public’s right to know,” according to Savino.

    Congratulations to all, and let’s continue to fight the good fight for the public’s right to know.

    This is the opinion of Karen Florin, managing editor. Reach her at k.florin@theday.com or (860) 701-4217.

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