There are sure bets in Jefferson City when certain bills are introduced, special interest groups line up in opposition. One of these issues is Sunshine Law reforms. Any legislation in the public interest to strengthen the Sunshine Law is opposed by groups that lobby for public entities.
Among the groups that usually oppose bills strengthening the law are the Missouri Association of Counties, the Missouri Municipal League and the Missouri School Boards Association. They offer flimsy excuses of why a tougher law would be detrimental to their members, including that because of violations it would be tougher to get candidates to run for offices and board positions.
There is a bill in the General Assembly that would remove the word “knowingly” from the law. Currently, public officials in Missouri can be fined for “knowingly” violating the state’s open meeting-open records law. The pending bill would take the word “knowingly” out of the Sunshine Law for any violation.
The bill is supported by the Missouri Press Association whose executive director, Doug Crews, said proving that a Sunshine Law violation was done “knowingly” is nearly an impossible standard to meet. The goal is to bring attention to the law so public officials abide by it and provide accountability to taxpayers, Crews added.
The present law states that if government bodies “knowingly” violate the Sunshine Law they can be fined up to $1,000. The proposed law would change the fine to $100, which certainly is reasonable. Crews said it would give courts a simple, straightforward fine to charge violators.
The changes to the law are modest and are moving forward in the House and Senate. We have so many taxing entities now, with more than 50 in Franklin County, with little or no oversight, it can be said that there are Sunshine Law violations occurring right under our noses. The media can’t cover all of these entities. The media doesn’t have the resources to have reporters at all of the meetings. If members of these public boards know the law and the violations, they are more apt to abide by the law. The proposed changes would do that.
The Sunshine Law changes are in the public interest.