Sunshine Law

Monday, June 14, 2004

The (Independence, Mo.) Examiner

Gov. Bob Holden on Monday signed Sunshine Law improvements. The provisions, although modest, are overdue and badly needed. This is the law that governs Missouri's public meetings and public records, at the state and local levels. The changes:

Higher potential fines, up to $5,000, for violations of the law.

Limits on fees charged for copies of public records.

Making it clear, as if there was even a question, that meetings of public bodies held over the phone, over the Internet or by video conference are public meetings. Notice of such meetings must be given.

Making it clear that the public has the right to record -- with audiotape or videotape -- public meetings.

Making e-mails exchanged among a majority of most public boards open to the public.

This is all catch-up stuff. Missouri still lags behind other states in holding public officials accountable for the openness of their actions. As a series of state audits has shown in recent years, most state and local agencies lack even a basic understanding of the law, including its fundamental idea that the public's business is always presumed to be open, limited only by a handful of specific exceptions. Too many agencies still act as if it were the other way around -- and get away with it.

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