The current state of siege on the Sunshine Law seems to never stop.
We wish we had better news to deliver during this week, Sunshine Week, a national initiative designed to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.
Two of the biggest success stories for the Missouri Sunshine Law in decades happened last year with efforts to add teeth to the law by giving the attorney general subpoena powers, accompanied by then-Attorney General Josh Hawley’s seeming crackdown on Sunshine Law violations by suing local officials deemed to have violated the law, including County Executive Steve Stenger.
While the jury’s still out on whether Stenger violated the Sunshine Law, we applauded a Missouri attorney general who seemed to step up for the Sunshine Law and take the battle for the people’s interest where it sometimes needs to be fought, in the courts. We believe the Sunshine Law should be enforced just as strictly as any other state law.
But wow, how things have changed. Hawley moved up to a U.S. Senate seat, but questions about his own devotion to the Sunshine Law linger.
He might be dragged into a court soon himself to answer for his own Sunshine Law compliance after he was served with a subpoena after a CPAC speech. As we went to press, national Democrats are suing the Missouri attorney general’s office because Hawley allegedly did not provide public records in response to a Sunshine Law request — the very thing Hawley sued Stenger over.
You can’t make this stuff up. Who enforces the Sunshine Law against the guy who’s supposed to enforce the Sunshine Law?
But locally, there’s also been a turnaround in Sunshine Law developments. Rep. David Gregory, R-Sunset Hills, became a bona fide Sunshine Law rock star last year when he proposed giving the attorney general subpoena powers. But this year, he voted along with fellow Republicans for a bill that could essentially gut the Sunshine Law due to a vaguely worded clause that applied what was intended as an exception for legislators to every single government body in Missouri. Luckily the bill seems like it’s sputtering at the Senate level, but this was too close a call for anyone interested in open government.
What will things look like on the Sunshine Law scene a year from now? Let’s hope for more 2018 and less 2019.