Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander praised journalists for holding government accountable and making sure citizens have access to public records.
“As secretary of state I think one of my duties is to make your state government as accessible and transparent as possible,” Kander said.
Kander made the remarks during a speech Thursday at the Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Washington.
He said he appreciates the work photojournalists do in “recording things that Missourians have done.”
Since he had a captive audience of journalists, he said he wanted to discuss government openness and the Sunshine Law.
When he was in the Legislature before he was secretary of state he said he was “very surprised at the lack of preservation of materials.”
He said some journalists may not know that a new legal interpretation of the Sunshine Law is that it applies to the executive and judicial branches of state government but not the legislative branch.
One of his duties as secretary of state is to be the chief record keeper, Kander noted. If a document is not accessible to the press, then it does not have to be preserved, Kander added.
“Not only is it lost to those of you who are trying to inform the public now in the present about the debate, but it ends up being lost to history as well,” Kander said. “I think that’s a problem.”
He said he would like journalists to push for change in public record laws.
“In addition to being journalists, you’re also taxpayers,” Kander said. “The documents that they’re creating are yours, and you should have the opportunity to see them. I think it makes for cleaner and more accessible government.”
Under one legal interpretation of the Sunshine Law, emails and memos that legislators send each other are not public records if they belong to one legislator and not the Legislature as a whole, Kander added.
Kander also addressed a new program that his office created called The Missouri Channel, which records proceedings in the Legislature.
“It sometimes seems as though our state Legislature is not that interested in having people take notes, not that interested in having the history of what they have done remembered,” Kander said.
In the past, the legislative debates have not been recorded, he noted. Much of the work in the Legislature “happens after midnight,” Kander said. This means much of the discussion takes place when no one is listening, making it difficult as a citizen and journalist to follow important issues, he noted.
“Missouri Channel’s mission is to record all of the audio debate that happens in the House and the Senate.”
It started in February about a month after he took office, and it can be accessed at www.themissourichannel.com.
“I’m really proud to say that nearly every moment of debate this year in the House and in the Senate was recorded,” Kander related.
Journalists have gotten quotes from legislators by listening to The Missouri Channel, Kander pointed out.
He also said he feels as though The Missouri Channel has raised the decorum of the Legislature by providing more oversight.
In fact, he said one state representative apologized to another member of the House from a different party after hearing himself on The Missouri Channel. The legislator who apologized said after hearing himself he thought that he may have been out of line.