Like many open government advocates in the state, the Missouri Sunshine Coalition entered the 2013 session of the General Assembly with high hopes for improvements to the Sunshine Law.
A measure passed in the House, but efforts stalled in the Senate.
Making the sting even worse, was that another measure reauthorizing a public safety exemption passed the General Assembly and earned a signature from Gov. Jay Nixon.
Among other things, the proposed improvements would have:
- Amended the definition of a “public record” to include any lease, sublease, or similar rental instrument entered into by a public body, or any other agreement for the rental, construction, or renovation of a facility.
- Upped the notice requirement for a public meeting from 24 hours to 48 hours
- Removed the word “knowing” from civil penalty portion of the law and reduced the fine to $100 (from the current maximum of $1,000)
- Removed the ability of a public body to seek the formal opinion of the Attorney General or an attorney for the public body when it is in doubt about the legality of closing a meeting.
- Modified language that allows public bodies to close meetings because of potential litigation, requiring that a body must have received evidence that a lawsuit has been filed or shall have correspondence indicating a lawsuit shall be filed.
As someone who has spent a good chunk of my career reporting in Missouri, that last change would’ve been huge. It has long been my impression that the broad interpretation of this language created a huge loophole that public bodies often used to shield their discussions from the public.
We remain thankful that public officials marked the 40th anniversary of the Missouri Sunshine Law.
It ofen takes several tries to work legislation all the way through the process in the General Assembly. Hopefully, we will be back again next year.