Gregory, Evans proposing to enhance Sunshine Law

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“Call the Tune” by Mike Anthony
Executive Editor
news1@callnewspapers.com

Mike Anthony

Changes to improve the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Act, also called the Sunshine Law, are long overdue.

It’s no secret that we believe Missouri’s Sunshine Law is one of the weakest in the nation.

Rep. David Gregory, R-Sunset Hills, and Rep. Jean Evans, R-Manchester, have sponsored identical bills seeking to strengthen the Sunshine Law and its enforcement.

As proposed, the bills sponsored by Gregory and Evans would enhance requirements for the retention of public records under Chapter 109 of state statutes regulating public and business records, and fines for violating the statute would be increased up to $10,000.

Under the bills, fines for violating the Sunshine Law also would be increased and would range from $500 to $10,000 instead of the current $1,000 cap on such fines. Quite frankly, the law as it exists today doesn’t have much teeth to combat violations, like the abuses we occasionally observe.

The two bills also would create a transparency division within the attorney general’s office, a proposal suggested by Attorney General Josh Hawley, who has applauded Gregory and Evans for introducing their bills.

The bills sponsored by Gregory and Evans are a definite step in the right direction, but additional changes are needed to the Sunshine Law.

We believe our state legislators should adopt some of the provisions contained in the Illinois Meetings Act, particularly the Illinois Verbatim Record Law that requires governing bodies to make and maintain either audio or video recordings of all closed sessions.

In addition, we believe Missouri’s Sunshine Law also could be greatly enhanced by eliminating closed-session votes by members of a governmental body.

We believe all votes should be taken in open session.

We certainly don’t disagree with the need for members of a governmental body to discuss specific issues as narrowly defined by the Sunshine Law in a closed session.

But we believe citizens should be able to see firsthand the motions made and votes cast by their elected officials in open session.

As we’ve said, the bills introduced by Gregory and Evans would result in significant and needed changes, but we urge our state legislators to go even further and make our Sunshine Law one of the strongest in the nation.