As Missouri Sunshine Law Turns 40, Changes Proposed

For the 40th anniversary of the Missouri Sunshine Law, Sen. Kurt Schaefer is pushing a bill to limit closed meeting discussions by public officials and make it easier to prove when violations have taken place.

Schaefer, R-Columbia, has sponsored some of the proposed changes to the state’s open-records law for each of the past two years and expects more action this year as lawmakers also address anti-terrorism exemptions that expired at the end of 2012…

Under Schaefer’s proposal, which has not been scheduled for a hearing, public bodies would be required to include summaries of closed-meeting discussions in the minutes of those meetings. In addition, closed meetings to discuss litigation or potential litigation could only take place after a lawsuit has been filed or after a credible threat of a lawsuit over a specific action has been received.

To make enforcement easier, government agencies or boards that violate the Sunshine Law would be hit with a mandatory fine of $100 rather than a discretionary fine of as much as $1,000. When a knowing violation is proved, the proposal awards attorney fees to the party bringing the enforcement lawsuit. Under current law, a judge is allowed to award attorney costs but not required to do so.

Enforcement now, Schaefer said, “is a fairly complicated process that I don’t know that government entities really fear.”

Madison Officials To Examine Their Multitasking After State Journal Nabs ‘Em

Thanks to this story, which revealed that Madison City Council members are emailing or texting colleagues, lobbyists, staff and others during public meetings, led to this welcome piece of news:

Madison City Council members intend to examine rules for emailing and texting during public meetings, and others are calling for a statewide review of such communications and their impact on open government.

The response comes in the wake of a State Journal investigation last week that revealed an unseen flow of electronic communications between council members, staff, lobbyists and others — including real-time conversations on matters before the council — during meetings.

The city should consider new rules through the council’s organizational committee, which already is shaping a council job description and code of ethics, or a special work group, members said.

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In Chesterfield, Missouri, Driving So Drunk You Pee Your Pants = Illegal Parking Citation

A Patch columnist spins a tale sure to make the hair stand up on the back of your neck:

I filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office about Chesterfield refusing to release a 2011 arrest report, incident and accident reports of ex-sports announcer Dan McLaughlin, as required by state law. McLaughlin was arrested DWI in Chesterfield, twice.

I hired a lawyer to represent me and possibly file suit in circuit court to force the Chesterfield police department to obey the state’s Sunshine Law. (This law upholds the public’s right to participate in the public’s business, and see its documents—without cost or hassle.)

I didn’t hire just any attorney, but one who for 30 years was a city attorney for a number of county municipalities. He also just retired after serving a quarter of a century as the city judge in Kirkwood.

Chesterfield is taking a somewhat odd stand here. I have requested similar reports of accidents and DWI arrests from neighboring Town and Country police for an online newsletter I write, and was immediately given the reports. I have spoken to two people at the state Attorney General’s Office and they have agreed that under the law, Chesterfield owes me some reports.

The real money graf:

I eventually got a copy of the court documents and quickly realized why the judge or the prosecutor probably didn’t want anyone to see the file.

On the night of his arrest in 2010, McLaughlin was falling down drunk, had slurred speech, offered a bribe to the officer to drive him home, refused to take a breath test and then refused to sign the citation.

On the DWI charge he was given a 2-year suspended imposition of sentence (SIS) with no conditions, such as doing community service, attending a driver improvement school, or attending a DWI Victim’s Impact Panel. McLaughlin was required to do nothing and got a probation that would keep his driving record clear of any hint of a DWI guilty plea.

The charge of Failure to Drive in a Lane (weaving) was reduced to ILLEGAL PARKING and he was fined $350 and $26.50 in court costs.




A Nice Editorial On The Toothless Missouri Sunshine Law…

The Post-Dispatch has been a consistent voice on the need for reform in Missouri:

Missouri’s law, however, is too weak to put fear in the minds of those public officials afraid to do their business in the light of day, whether it be shouting from the rooftops or whispering in quiet city council chambers.

Brentwood hardly is alone. We brought attention on this page last month to the dilemma at Missouri Employers Mutual, a state-created workers compensation company whose board members are appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon and yet won’t give the public the most basic of public information.

The company qualifies for certain federal subsidies specifically by acting like a public board and giving the governor nominal control. But it refuses to follow the very law that gives citizens the kind of oversight that should be the trade-off for its public profit.

Part of the problem lies with Mr. Nixon, who, in 16 years as Missouri attorney general, mostly paid lip service to the importance of the Sunshine Law. Mr. Nixon’s successor as attorney general, Chris Koster, hasn’t been much better. Neither Democrat was, or has been, very willing to take government bodies to court to enforce the law. The same is true of local prosecutors.


Pennsylvania Moves to Toughen Its Open Meetings Law

Sunshine of my life is you...

A bill to toughen Pennsylvania’s primary open meetings law for governments is on its way to the House after Senate passage.

The state Senate voted 48-to-2 on Tuesday to increase penalties for first-time intentional violations of the Sunshine Law to a fine of up to $1,000.

Second-time offenders could be hit with a $2,000 fine, and taxpayers can’t be made to pay the fines.

This is the third time the state Senate’s passed such a bill. The other two died of inaction in the House at the end of session.

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