Missouri House moves to strengthen open records law

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri House gave initial approval Tuesday to a bill that would beef up the state’s open records law.

The proposal would essentially give the attorney general’s office subpoena power when investigating open records violations. Attorney General Josh Hawley has publicly supported the bill, and previously said his inability to subpoena witnesses tied his hands earlier this year when investigating Gov. Eric Greitens’ office use of a message-destroying app.

“Transparency in our government is a vital part of our democracy,” Hawley said in a statement last month, “and my Office must have the necessary tools to ensure that those who attempt to thwart records-retention and Sunshine policies can be thoroughly investigated.”

While Missouri has strict laws mandating that a government’s actions and records be available to the public, typically the only way to hold violators accountable is to take them to court. Even then, a guilty agency might not be penalized.

If the bill becomes law, people or agencies that “knowingly” violated the state’s Sunshine law could be fined up to $10,000, in addition to potentially having to cover attorneys’ fees. Accidental violators could be fined up to $1,000, plus fees. Read more…