Last week (March 13-19, 2022) was Sunshine Week, a national initiative to educate the public about the importance of open government and the dangers of excessive and unnecessary secrecy. This episode of Radio Active Magazine begins with excerpts from a “Sunshine Week” presentation 2022-03-15 on Missouri Sunshine Law by Casey Lawrence, Director of Sunshine Law Compliance and Records Management for the Missouri Attorney General’s Office. Then Jean Maneke discusses other aspects of Missouri Sunshine law with Radio Active Magazine regular Spencer Graves.
Missouri Sunshine Law is the Missouri counterpart to the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). FIOA does NOT apply to state and local governmental bodies. Instead, state and local governmental bodies in Missouri must comply with Missouri Sunshine Law, which is similar in many ways.
Anyone can make a Sunshine Law or FOIA request for information. State and local governmental bodies in Missouri must designate someone to receive Sunshine law requests and respond within three days of receipt. However, if that person is on vacation or some other extended leave, that three-day clock may not start until the person designated to respond to such requests returns.
Missouri Sunshine law also describes open meeting requirements. This includes the requirement that notice be given of all public meetings at least 24 hours in advance, not counting weekends and holidays. Thus, the notice of a public meeting scheduled for 6 PM on the Tuesday after Memorial Day must be posted by 6 PM the previous Friday. With virtual meetings, these notices must be distributed online. With in person meetings, the notices must be posted on a bulletin board or other prominent place easily accessible to the public. All notices are required to state the purpose for the meeting, location, etc. An 80-page booklet describing “Missouri Sunshine Law: open meetings and records law” is available from the Missouri Attorney General’s website. A video of Ms. Lawrence’s presentation is available from the YouTube channel of the League of Women Voters of Kansas City, Jackson, Clay and Platte Counties, Missouri.
Ms. Maneke also discusses recent changes and pending legislation that seems likely to pass as well as court decisions affecting Sunshine requirements. For example, governmental bodies are allowed to charge for complying with freedom of information requests. However, charges must be reasonable, and there are procedures for requesting waivers and reductions in the charge.