Originally posted in The Columbia Missourian on February 26th, 2019.
Thus far, 2019 hasn’t been a great legislative year for open records and transparency in government.
Perhaps the biggest threat to the Sunshine Law is a proposed change that would make communication between public officials and their constituents private. House Bill 445 is a reaction to the Clean Missouri constitutional amendment, passed by voters last November.
Part of that bill, which is intended to hold local government to the same standards as the state, includes an amendment that closes access to any correspondence between a government official and a constituent.
“I just want to be sure that my constituents feel comfortable in contacting me and that I can keep their information private,” Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch, R-Hallsville, recently told the Columbia Missourian.
The sweeping amendment, however, undermines transparency and potentially limits a wide range of public information about your government.
Those voting for the bill included Republican Brenda Shields, who represents the 11th House District in St. Joseph. Rep. Bill Falkner, R-St. Joseph, voted against the measure. Rep. Sheila Solon, R-St. Joseph, was absent for the vote.
Most newspapers and media companies are uncomfortable with narrowing or restricting the Missouri Sunshine Law. We’re no different. We believe our state’s open records law holds public officials accountable.
Another key reason we’re concerned about this bill is that the people of Missouri have spoken. Voters overwhelmingly passed the Clean Missouri Amendment. It appears those who live in our state want more accountability and transparency in government, whether the legislature agrees or not.
Another attack on open records comes from bills in both the House and Senate on publishing public notices. Currently, city, county and state governments are required to publish certain information in newspapers. For instance, Buchanan County Clerk Mary Baack-Garvey is required to post a complete sample ballot in advance of every election.
One proposed bill would allow Baack-Garvey to simply put up a notice on the county clerk’s website.
There are some troublesome issues with this. First, not every citizen has a computer, smartphone or tablet. Second, not every Missourian has access to the internet, especially in rural counties and communities where that service might be limited.
Currently all the proposals that would allow electronic publication of required notices are languishing in committees. Should they surface, Falkner recently told the News-Press that he would vote against such measures.
Let’s urge Shields, Solon and the rest of our Northwest Missouri representatives do the same.
Copyright St. Joseph News-Press. Reprinted with permission.