AG backs cyber open meetings measure

Thursday, November 27, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- Missouri's top law enforcer on Tuesday backed a measure that would broaden the state's open meetings law to cover electronic records or gatherings involving public bodies, calling the upgrade long overdue in the age of cyberspace.

The Sunshine Law revision also would bar secret votes via telephone or computer, closing "cybernooks" where members of city councils or school boards could huddle "behind the privacy of their home computer screens" or in Internet chat rooms, Attorney General Jay Nixon said.

The Sunshine Upgrade Act would "remain in step with how the government works in this age," when a filing cabinet's worth of documents can be burned onto a couple of compact discs, Nixon said.

Legislation has "lagged behind technology in this area, but that doesn't mean the public needs to lag behind in getting information," Nixon said. "We want to have a law that has the same rules and regulations, whether it is done in person, by phone or on the computer."

THE PLAN

Attorney General Jay Nixon said the revised Sunshine Law would:

Require that e-mail correspondence between a majority of the members of a public body be made available to the public.

Bar voting on public business by using telephone or e-mail "trees," bypassing a public meeting.

Require that if a public body has a "virtual meeting" over the Internet, the body post a notice of that meeting on its Web site -- and a physical notice at its office.

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