The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

March 18, 2014

Our View: Eliminate Sunshine loophole

Missouri’s commitment to openness in government is only as good as its laws. That’s why we support a bill in the Legislature that gets rid of one more loophole frequently used to keep public information out of the hands of the people.

The proposed Senate bill would drop the word “knowing” from the violation. Now, a purposeful violation of Missouri’s open-meetings and open-records law carries a $5,000 penalty, while a “knowing” violation carries a $1,000 penalty. The bill would reduce the minimum penalty to $100 but would no longer let public officials off the hook for not bothering to learn about the Sunshine Law.

Rarely do members of the public get a break for speeding if they claim not to know the speed limit. Why should city councils, school boards, county commissioners, and planning and zoning boards get a pass?

We agree with Jean Maneke, legal counsel for the Missouri Press Association and who testified this past week in favor of the bill on behalf of the association, of which The Joplin Globe is a member.

“There needs to be an emphasis by public officials on paying attention to the Sunshine Law,” Maneke told the Senate committee.

Sadly, many government agencies and other entities oppose the bill, including the Missouri National Guard, the Missouri Municipal League represented by the city attorney of Jefferson City, the St. Louis County Municipal League, rural fire districts, the Mehlville Fire Protection District, the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners, the Missouri Association of Counties, the Missouri School Boards Association and an organization representing Missouri public utilities.

So far, the Senate has taken no action on the bill. We would urge our lawmakers, when they return from spring break, to show they are committed to transparency and government that is open to the people.

Require public officials to know the law.

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