Editorial: Effort to strengthen Missouri’s open records and meetings laws deserves Legislature’s action

Violating Missouri’s public records and Sunshine Laws could become more expensive, and even bring criminal penalties, if legislation introduced in the Missouri House last week passes.

We hope it does, but the odds against passage appear to be long. Bills introduced this late in the legislative session have a hard time getting committee votes and full consideration in both legislative chambers. Local governments are wary of stronger open records and meetings laws and are a strong lobbying force in Jefferson City. And debate over Gov. Eric Greitens’ legal troubles could roil the remaining 11 weeks in the Legislature’s session.

On the other hand, there’s potential political gain if the Legislature’s Republican leaders decide to make this good-government legislation a priority. Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley, whose office was involved in crafting the legislation, is running for the U.S. Senate. The attorney general’s office would acquire more power to investigate violations and offer guidance to local officials confused about compliance.

The Sunshine Law was passed in 1973 as Watergate was demonstrating what can happen when government operates in secret. Its intent couldn’t be more clear: “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.”

Furthermore, the law is to be “liberally construed and exceptions strictly construed.” Read more…