Vote for Government in the Sunshine

Doug CrewsExecutive Director Missouri Press Association

Take a look out your front door.

Is the sun shining at your city hall? Is it shining at your county courthouse and at your public fire district headquarters?

How bright is the sun shining at the school board’s headquarters, at your public water district office and in your public hospital board’s meeting room?

March 10-16 is set aside for National Sunshine Week in Missouri and across the US.

This week-long observance is a time for citizens and taxpayers to focus on state and local government operations and how those operations are visible to the citizens and taxpayers they serve.

Since 1973, the State of Missouri has had a Sunshine Law in its statutes. Forty years ago, the Missouri Legislature passed Senate Bill 1, and then-Governor Christopher S. Bond signed it into law.

The Sunshine Law, located in Chapter 610 of Missouri’s revised statutes, sets out the rules for public governmental bodies — such as city councils, county commissions and boards of education — to follow in providing access to their public meetings and public records.

A key passage in Missouri’s law says, “It is the public policy of this state that meetings, records, votes, actions, and deliberations of public governmental bodies be open to the public unless otherwise provided by law.” And, sections of the Sunshine Law “shall be liberally construed and their exceptions strictly construed to promote this public policy.”

This year in Jefferson City, bills are moving through the General Assembly to amend the Sunshine Law with changes that will strengthen the law for citizens. The Missouri Press Association is supporting these bills and has testified in favor of current versions. Testimony supporting the bills has been given by the Missouri School Boards Association, also.

Dissenting testimony has come primarily from the Missouri Municipal League, the St. Louis County Municipal League and the Missouri Association of Counties.

The bills would make more than a dozen changes to the current Sunshine Law, among them: