No, not spring, although we’ll take all we can get there too.
This is Sunshine Week, an opportunity to talk about and promote the Missouri Sunshine Law.
At its heart is the proposition that your government belongs to you. Its representatives at all levels should be accountable to you. Records and documents that government officials create belong to you. Meetings that public officials hold to discuss public business and spend public money — your business, and your money — must remain open to you.
And at its heart is the belief in the truth that sunshine is the best disinfectant.
This year brings with it another reason to celebrate: The Missouri Open Meetings and Open Records Law, known as the Sunshine Law, is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
But anyone who tries to use the Sunshine Law too often runs up against opposition. Government agencies sometimes try to close meetings. They often refuse to release to you documents and records that are already yours. They find other nefarious ways to undermine your rights. Lawmakers pass exemptions claiming that they are protecting the public, when they protecting themselves. The advent of emails, texts and other digital communications has created challenges that didn’t exist 50 years ago, including meetings over the internet and more. One of the most egregious abuses in recent years is the use of self-destruct apps, like Confide, by public officials, including a former governor. These apps destroy a record soon after it is created and keep it from being forwarded or copied, allowing the people who work for you to claim they have no record.
Earlier this year, Phill Brooks, the dean of Statehouse journalists in Jefferson City, proposed reforms that we heartily endorse.
• Put the Sunshine Law into the Missouri Constitution. “That would protect it from legislative tampering without voter approval. In addition, a constitutional amendment would cover the Legislature itself.”
• Remove enforcement of Sunshine Law violations from the state attorney general to address conflicts of interest and political protection.
One alternative he suggested for enforcement is the Missouri Ethics Commission. Another would be to create a bipartisan board with subpoena powers to monitor Sunshine Law compliance.
Jean Maneke, an attorney for the Missouri Press Association and an expert on the Sunshine Law, told us this week that “a number of bills have been filed in the Missouri Legislature that would narrow the scope of access the public has to public records. Rather than give the public more access to public records and/or meetings, language in these bills limits the public’s access.
“For example, legislators are seeking to overcome the constitutional amendment that Missouri voters passed in 2018 making state legislators’ records subject to the Sunshine Law. Also, legislators want to undo a Missouri Supreme Court decision of 2021 holding that the costs of redacting closed records from open records should be borne by the public governmental body and not the citizen seeking copies of records. Both of these mean less sunshine, not more sunshine.”
The Sunshine Law, despite its holes, remains one of the best tools we have to keep the public informed and hold government officials accountable.
We believe it is needed now more than ever.
Sorry, there are no recent results for popular commented articles.