‘More Government in the Sunshine’ Bill Introduced

State Rep. Tim Jones (R-Eureka) introduced on Feb. 18, House Bill 2210 to amend and make improvements to Missouri’s Open Meetings and Open Records Law.  The Missouri Press Association is supporting the bipartisan bill, and thanks Rep. Jones and the 14 co-sponsors.

Co-sponsoring the bill are Republican State Reps. Steve Tilley (Perryville), Mike Thomson (Maryville), Ellen Brandom (Sikeston), Ed Robb (Columbia), David Pearce (Warrensburg), Chuck Portwood (Ballwin), Bob Nance (Excelsior Springs) and Stanley Cox (Sedalia), and Democrat State Reps. Paul LeVota (Independence), John Burnett (Kansas City), Jeff Roorda (Barnhart), Jake Zimmerman (Olivette) and Rachel Storch (St. Louis).

The proposed changes in HB 2210 include:
Records of the Missouri Ethics Commission would be open, except investigative reports by the commission staff will be closed records until a decision is made as to the complaint under investigation.  If the commission dismisses the complaint, such investigative reports shall continue to be closed.  All meetings of the commission shall be open, except when the commission deliberates a complaint before the commission.

The definition of a public governmental body would be expanded to include any entity that receives at least 51 percent of its annual budget either directly from tax revenue from the public or from public governmental bodies or from the federal government.

The definition of a quasi-public governmental body would be expanded to include private entities that manage a publicly-owned facility or service.

The definition of a “public meeting” would be expanded to include any gathering of newly-elected members of the body who have not formally taken office, with or without current members of the body, discussing public business such that a quorum of the body is present at such meetings.

The definition of “public records” would be expanded to include any lease, sublease, rental agreement or similar document entered into by any public governmental body and any private entity hired to manage a publicly-owned facility or service.

The term “cause of action” would be defined as evidence that a lawsuit has been filed, although not yet served, or correspondence from a party to the public governmental body stating that litigation shall be filed unless certain demands are met.

The bill would limit who can attend a closed meeting:  only members of a public governmental body and their attorney and staff assistants, and any person necessary to provide information needed by the public governmental body in regard to the matter being discussed, would be permitted in a closed meeting.

The bill would provide that records should be easily accessible to the public.  Computer programs used to manipulate data collected by public governmental bodies shall be such that all data contained in the program may be easily accessed and manipulated by programs commonly available to the public.

The bill would address the burden of proof in litigation on access to criminal records:  a court shall find that the person seeking disclosure of an investigative report shall have his/her reasonable costs and attorney fees paid if the court finds the decision of law enforcement not to open the investigative report was substantially unjustified under all relevant circumstances.

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3 Comments on “‘More Government in the Sunshine’ Bill Introduced”

  1. Robert SImms Says:

    “Computer programs used to manipulate data collected by public governmental bodies shall be such that all data contained in the program may be easily accessed and manipulated by programs commonly available to the public.”

    I’m not sure what this means. As a Director of I.T. for a city, I have concerns over what consequences this statement has for me and my department. You can’t run a city (or even a medium or large business) using only Microsoft Office. We use a large set of applications running on an IBM midrange computer. These applications use nearly 10,000 tables in a relational database. What commonly available program should I switch to? Now let’s talk about GIS (geographical Information Systems). We use the ESRI applications. I believe those start at about $1200 for the basic ArcView. Is that considered commonly available to the public?

    I have no problem with open records. We process Sunshine requests everyday. What I have issues with is someone being able to use a piece of legislation to hamper my job and the work of the City.

    Can someone in the press tell me what their interpretation of this part of the bill is?

  2. mopressservice Says:

    The language in the bill is still in the process of being fine-tuned and so what this comment refers to is not the actually language that likely will come out of committee.

    The gist is that public bodies are turning to private software developers who are selling these bodies proprietary software they have created to perform tasks. It is, of course, in the best interest of these entities to use software that formats the data in a format such that many commonly-used programs cannot use that data, because they then can continue to bill large sums to manipulate the data when changes are needed or when others seek to use the data in other ways. Indeed, should the public body acquire in-house IT expertise and seek to build programs of its own to manipuate that data, they will find they cannot unless they pay the former provider to “unlock” the data into a format that is more commonly usable. And certainly the public cannot copy the electronic data and manipulate it in any way on its own to reach conclusions that can be obtained by “crunching the numbers.”

    The idea is that programs created for public bodies should not restrict the public’s access to data. But that is exactly what has happened in the way these software programs are being created.

  3. Robert SImms Says:

    I honestly don’t know what software you may be talking about. Most software used may be proprietary in that their code is secret, but the way data is stored is relatively universal. Most use a relational database like (MS SQL, Oracle, IBM DB2, MySQL, etc.) That data can be exported to nearly any conceivable format. The problem is that in a relational database system, records do not exist in the way people think. Each field in a “record” may reside in a different table. To create the “record” the program or programmer will have to pull the proper information together. Why do we need to do this? Because it is more efficient. I can share information between applications and only have to update it once rather than updating several databases containing the same data.

    But again, what does “easily accessed and manipulated by programs commonly available to the public.” mean? I hope you understand that I’m truly trying to figure this out, because replacing the software that we run (if it doesn’t meet this nebulous standard) could cost millions in terms of software, hardware and staff time.

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