The Gadfly is a series of letters offering commentary on local issues and published in the Warrensburg Gazette.
Our state legislature does pass some good laws; two will take effect on August 28th. Both of these put restrictions on government, one making sure government regulators consider the consequences of their actions, and the other promotes public access by making government actions more accessible (the Sunshine Law).
Improvement to the Sunshine Law is significant. The revision makes it clear that meetings held via teleconferences and even internet chatrooms will be subject to public notice. Internet correspondence (email) involving a majority of any board will be a public record. Minutes must be kept and roll call votes will be required for closed sessions of boards. The types of boards and committees covered also are clarified; now our colleges and universities will have no excuse for not complying. Advisory committees, such as Warrensburg’s Tourism Advisory Committee for the Chamber and (it seems to me) the Sheriff’s advisory committee for the jail project will also be covered.
Also significantly, the abuse of charging outrageous fees for providing records will be stopped. The copy fees, which were not limited, will be capped at 10 cents per page plus the average hourly rate for clerical staff making the copies. Search fees will be limited to the actual cost of the search and records will normally be provided in the form requested; that means records can be contained on disc instead of in a pile of paper.
Penalties for violation were also increased. The fine for “knowingly” violating the law has been increased to $1000 and for “purposely” violating it to $5,000. I’m not sure what the difference is, and it’s unfortunate that there is no penalty for negligently violating the law. However, since public bodies routinely have training in the requirement of the Sunshine Law, I don’t see how any violation can be made other than “knowingly.”
In any case, I intend to use the law more for researching local issues and I encourage others to do the same. Details can be found on the internet at the Attorney General website, www.ago.mo.gov/sunshinelaw/update.htm.
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