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Missouri Sunshine Law

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Missouri's Sunshine Law was introduced seven years after the Freedom of Information Act was passed in Congress in response to the Watergate scandal. In 1973, RSMO Chapter 610 was signed into the Missouri Constitution making the state one of the earliest advocates of the open records act. The law expressly states that meetings, records, votes, actions, and deliberations of public governmental bodies are to be open to the public.[1]

The law stipulated that specific instances when a meeting, record or vote may be closed should be narrowly defined and interpreted to promote government openness. Public meetings are designated to be held at convenient times, to be accessible to the public and held in facilities large enough to accommodate the expected audience.

The Missouri Meeting Notices Law legislates the methods by which meetings are conducted, either open or closed.

To learn more about how to make a public records request in this state, please see Missouri FOIA procedures.

Relevant legal cases

See also: Court cases with an impact on state FOIA and Missouri sunshine lawsuits

Here is a list of relevant lawsuits in Missouri (cases are listed alphabetically; to order them by year, please click the icon to the right of the "year" heading).


Lawsuit Year
Librach v. Cooper 1989
North Kansas City Hospital Board of Trustees v. St. Luke's Northland Hospital 1998
Remington v. City of Boonville 1985
Tuft v. City of St. Louis 1995


Proposed changes

2011

See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2011


We do not currently have any legislation for Missouri in 2011.


2010

See also: Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2010


We have no current bill pages for Missouri from 2010. This may be due to incomplete research.


2009

See also Proposed reforms in state sunshine laws, 2009

Louis Leonatti and Joe Maxwell in early 2009 issued a statement saying that Missouri's Sunshine Law was poorly written and needed to be fixed. Among the changes they suggested:

  • Require a judge to have “in camera” review of public documents before a public official can deny them to somebody who requests them.[2]

House Bill 62 "would let police departments close files in which an officer is found to have violated departmental policy but committed no criminal act, or when no violation is found. The proposal, by Rep. Scott Lipke, R-Jackson, specifies that a file showing that an officer committed a crime would remain open."[3][4] Debate on the bill centered around concerns that exempting accusations against police officers would simply protect those that abused their power.[5]

House Bill 316 was sponsored by Tim Jones (R-Eureka) in early 2009.[6] The bill sought to narrow the definition of the times a public meeting may be moved into closed session, require five days notice of public meetings (rather than the then-current 24 hours required notice), provide public records in electronic format if they are stored that way, and to open up the proceedings of the Missouri Ethics Commission.[7] Citizens were urging the legislature to pass this bill, while lobbying organizations representing local governmental officials objected to it. Gary Markenson, a lobbyist for the Missouri Municipal League and Todd Smith, a lobbyist for the Missouri Association of Counties, expressed concern that the bill "goes too far."[8] Governor Jay Nixon stated that he "hope[s] it [the bill] crosses my desk so I'll be able to sign it."[9]

1993

In the early 1990s the Sunshine Law began to undergo major revisions due to electronic media and the expansive role of government within the state. In 1993, H.B. No. 170 amended how votes were recorded in closed meeting. Whereas prior to the mandate the votes were "made public," it was now required for votes to be recorded by a roll call vote. In 1995 this moved into the judicial area of legislation where it was ruled. despite the case of Tuft v. City of St. Louis, which ruled the government can agree on settlements in return for silence, that settlement agreements made by public bodies are open records, even if no taxpayer funds are exchanged.

Another change included the revision of the definition of a "public record" to exclude:

"internal memorandum or letter received or prepared by or on behalf of a member of a public governmental body consisting of advice, opinions and recommendation in connection with the deliberative decision-making process of said body, unless such records are retained by the public governmental body or presented at a public meeting."[10]

Also, it was noted that given the trend of governmental units to sign contract with large information distribution entities for exclusive right to manipulate and distribute public records that it would be recognized that taxpayers pay for collection of this data and should not be forced, when seeking to access this taxpayer-owned data to profit a commercial company.

Missouri's transparency report card

A 2008 study, BGA - Alper Integrity Index, conducted by the Better Government Association and sponsored by Alper Services, ranked Missouri #22 in the nation with an overall percentage of 52.50%.[11]

A 2007 study, Graded state responsiveness to FOI requests, conducted by BGA and the NFOIC, gave Missouri 41 points out of a possible 100, a letter grade of "F" and a ranking of 34 out of the 50 states.[12]

A 2002 study, Freedom of Information in the USA, conducted by IRE and BGA, ranked Missouri's law as the 42nd worst in the country, giving it a letter grade of "D."[13]

Features of the law

Sunshine variations Compare States: Sunshine variations
Click on the heading to compare your state's law to other state's transparency laws.

Declared legal intention

See also: Declared legal intentions across the U.S.

The law summarizes its purpose, stating that, "It is the public policy of this state that meetings, records, votes, actions, and deliberations of public governmental bodies be open to the public unless otherwise provided by law. Sections 610.010 to 610.200 shall be liberally construed and their exceptions strictly construed to promote this public policy."[14]

What records are covered?

See also: Defining public records

Records are defined by Missouri law as "any record, whether written or electronically stored, retained by or of any public governmental body including any report, survey, memorandum, or other document or study prepared for the public governmental body by a consultant or other professional service paid for in whole or in part by public funds, including records created or maintained by private contractors under an agreement with a public governmental body or on behalf of a public governmental body."[15]

Exemptions

Specific exceptions include but are not limited to:

  • Legal information concerning current litigation and any information that would fall under attorney client privilege where the governmental body acts as a party to the litigation[16]
  • Information on sale or purchase of real estate by departments
  • The discussion of personal information concerning state employees excluding concrete decisions made about the hiring and firing and discipline of those employees
  • Militia and National Guard information
  • Medical files
  • Academic information of students
  • Examination materials
  • Welfare information
  • Employer/employee negotiation preparatory information
  • Security information, including the security of individuals infrastructure and electronics and telecommunication
  • Non-approved competitive bidding information and sealed bids
  • Employee information excluding "names, positions, salaries and lengths of service of officers"
  • Names of donors
  • "Credit card numbers, personal identification numbers, digital certificates, physical and virtual keys, access codes or authorization codes that are used to protect the security of electronic transactions between a public governmental body and a person or entity doing business with a public governmental body"[17]

However, records that contain both exempt and non-exempt material must be separated and non-exempt material must be released.[18]

Deliberative process exemption

Missouri possesses a codified deliberative process exemption, stating that, "The term “public record” shall not include any internal memorandum or letter received or prepared by or on behalf of a member of a public governmental body consisting of advice, opinions and recommendations in connection with the deliberative decision-making process of said body, unless such records are retained by the public governmental body or presented at a public meeting."[19]

Electronic media

E-mails are subject to open record requests if an e-mail is sent to two or more recipients concerning public business. Any such message is required to be copied to the custodian of records, or the member's public office computer.

The budget

Introduced in Missouri by Gov. Matt Blunt's Executive Order 07-24 in 2007.[20] This effectively opened the budget to the public in an easy to understand format. Specifically, the order required:

  • State agencies to procure goods and services and disburse funds to eligible recipients.
  • Creating an internet site for the public to freely search and access information about government spending, grants, and contracts.
  • The Commissioner of Administration to establish the Missouri Accountability Portal as a free, internet-based tool allowing citizens to demand fiscal discipline and responsibility.
  • The Missouri Accountability Portal to be an easy-to-search database of financial transactions related to the purchase of goods and services and the distribution of funds for state programs.
  • The Missouri Accountability Portal to be updated each state business day and maintained as the primary source of information about the activity of Missouri’s government.

The Missouri Accountability Portal (MAP) is one of the most comprehensive open records site available by state and is being held up for example by other states.[21]

What agencies are covered?

See also: Defining public body

Agencies include all branches of government at both the state and local levels, including entities created to serve advisory capacities. This also includes "quasi-public governmental bodies," which are those that regularly enter into contracts with governmental bodies or perform public functions.[22]

It is important to note that all governing bodies are required by statute to name a custodian of records.[23]

Legislature

See also: Legislatures and transparency

The Missouri state legislature falls under the definition of public body found at Missouri Revised Statutes 610.010.4 and is thus subject to the Sunshine Law.

Privatized governmental agencies

See also: Private agency, public dollars and Private agency, public dollars-Missouri

In Missouri, private agencies that receive public dollars or perform a public function are considered public bodies and subject to the state sunshine laws.

Public universities

See also: Universities and open records

The definition of public body explicitly includes universities, stating, "or any other governing body of any institution of higher education, including a community college, which is supported in whole or in part from state funds, including but not limited to the administrative entity known as 'The Curators of the University of Missouri'."[24] However, testing and exam material and donor information is explicitly exempted under Missouri Sunshine Law 610.021.

Who may request records?

See also: List of who can make public record requests by state

Anyone may request public documents in Missouri.[25]

Must a purpose be stated?

See also: States requiring a statement of purpose

There is no law requiring a statement of purpose.

How can records be used?

See also: Record use restrictions

There is nothing in the Missouri Sunshine Law that restricts the use of records.

Time allowed for response

See also: Request response times by state

Missouri law allows for three business days for the return of records requests. However, it does permit extending this time frame, but only with written notice by the custodian of the records.[26]

Fees for records

Copy costs

See also: How much do public records cost?

Missouri law allows for charging of fees that include the cost of duplication, which is not to exceed $0.10 per page. Partial or whole waivers may be granted if the records are deemed to be in the public interest.[27]

Search fees

See also: Sunshine laws and search fees

Missouri law allows for charging of fees that include the cost of research and labor involved in duplication.[28]

Penalties

If a court finds that a government body violated the Sunshine Law, a court may declare void any action taken in violation of the law. If the law was knowingly violated, the violator may be:

  • Subjected to a fine up to $1,000
  • Required to pay reasonable costs of the attorney fees.

If found guilty:

  • Subject faces a civil fine of up to $5,000
  • Will pay all court costs and reasonable attorney fees.

Role of the Attorney General

See also: Role of the Attorney General

While the State Attorney General frequently issues non-binding opinions in support of enforcing the state's Sunshine Law, the statewide governmental official rarely initiates litigation; if he or she does, it is merely to file a brief as amicus curiae.

However, under 610.027 of the Missouri Sunshine Law, "any Missouri taxpayer, citizen or aggrieved person, the Attorney General, or the county prosecutor may bring a court action to enforce the Sunshine Law. The lawsuit must be filed in the circuit court in the county where the public governmental body has its principal place of business. A lawsuit must be filed within one year from when the violation is ascertainable, and in no event shall it be brought later than two years after the violation occurred." So, while there is no precedent set by previous office holders enabling the state Attorney General to enforce the measure, the law does authorize him or her to pursue such action should he or she wish to do so.

Open meetings

It is required by the Sunshine Law that government entities provide a reasonable written notice at least 24 hours in advance before a public body meets. This notice must be posted predominately in the principal office of the entity or at the agreed meeting place. Any meetings held by conference call, internet or other electrical means are to posted to the principal website.

Other requirements include:

  • Time of the meeting
  • Date of the meeting
  • Place of the meeting
  • Tentative agenda of an open meeting
  • Whether the meeting will be open or closed
  • If it must occur within a 24 hour period, the reasons must be recorded in the meeting minutes.

Notable requests

2008

In 2008, Attorney General Jay Nixon (who subsequently became the state's governor) appointed a special investigative team to investigate whether Gov. Matt Blunt or his staffers had violated various provisions of the state's sunshine law.

Cole County Circuit Court Judge Richard Callahan was in charge of approving the settlement reached between the parties to the dispute. Judge Callahan questioned whether the attorney general's office had the authority to appoint independent investigators. Callahan called the investigators (former state patrolmen Mel Fisher and Rick Wilhoit) a "rogue investigative team."

Henry Herschel, who was Matt Blunt's senior adviser at the time the e-mail controversy started, advised the governor on September 10 and again on September 14, that e-mails were not public record and that the governor’s office did not have a records retention policy. Later, on November 11, Herschel corrected his position.[2]

See also

External links

References

  1. Jean Maneke, Esq., Missouri BAR, The Sun Shines a Little Brighter:Changes to Chapter 610, 1999
  2. 2.0 2.1 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "Judge Callahan shows disdain for Jay Nixon, Chet Pleban," January 6, 2009
  3. Text of HB 62
  4. Mo. lawmakers propose closing some police records, Associated Press, January 28, 2009
  5. Sealing of police records disputed, News Leader, January 29, 2009
  6. Text of HB316
  7. New legislation would expand Missouri open records law, Associated Press, January 21, 2009
  8. Citizens across Missouri call for stronger Sunshine Law, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 11, 2009
  9. Missouri officials back stronger Sunshine Law, Kansas City Star, February 19, 2009
  10. Jean Maneke, Esq., Missouri BAR, The Sun Shines a Little Brighter:Changes to Chapter 610, 1999
  11. 2008 BGA-Alper Integrity Index
  12. States Failing FOI Responsiveness, National Freedom of Information Coalition, October 2007
  13. Freedom of Information in the USA, 2002
  14. Missouri Sunshine Law 610.011.1
  15. Missouri Sunshine Law 610.010.6
  16. Missouri Sunshine Law 610.021.1
  17. Missouri Sunshine Law 610.021
  18. Missouri Sunshine Law 610.024.1
  19. Missouri Sunshine Law 610.010.6
  20. Executive Order 07-24 language
  21. Chicago Daily Herald, Citizens need this portal to accountability, April 7, 2008
  22. Missouri Sunshine Law 610.010.4
  23. Missouri Sunshine Law 610.023.1
  24. Missouri Sunshine Law 610.010.4.a
  25. Missouri Sunshine Law 610.011
  26. Missouri Sunshine Law 610.023.3
  27. Missouri Sunshine Law 610.026.1.1
  28. Missouri Sunshine Law 610.026.1.1