SCS/SB 843 - This act modifies provisions relating to Missouri's open records law, commonly known as the Sunshine Law.
The act creates a definition of "ministerial" as the term is used in the Sunshine Law.
Currently, public bodies must provide notice of meetings to members of the news media who request such notices. This act requires the public body to also provide notice to any member of the public who requests it. Minutes of meetings must reflect the list of subjects discussed in a closed meeting, but shall not require the disclosure of properly closed records.
The act modifies provisions regarding bases for closing a meeting or record. Public disclosure in an open meeting is required for certain legal matters upon final disposition. Such disclosure shall be done orally or in writing and must occur at the next scheduled open meeting of the body, or at the resumption of a recessed open meeting. The act repeals a basis for closing records relating to the state militia or National Guard and adds a provision allowing for the closure of deliberations and votes by the Missouri Petroleum Storage Tank Insurance Fund board concerning the denial of claims for reimbursement and applications to participate in the Fund, provided that the disposition of the matter is disclosed.
If a public body closes a meeting, only members of the body, their attorney and staff assistants, as well as any person necessary to provide information, shall be permitted in the meeting.
The custodian of records for a public body is encouraged to create and maintain an index of all public records maintained by the body. Currently, if a record contains both exempt and non-exempt material, the public body must separate the material. This act provides that the public body must carry out such separation at its own expense. Fees for research time in responding to a Sunshine Law request shall only include the time spent in locating the subject records and not the time spent reviewing the records to determine if such records are open or closed.
In actions against a public body for violations of the Sunshine Law, current law requires the person bringing the action to demonstrate that the body is subject to the Sunshine Law and held a closed meeting. Then the burden is on the body to demonstrate compliance with the Law. This act removes this language and provides that there is a presumption that a meeting, record, or vote is open to the public. The burden is on the body to prove that such meeting, record, or vote may be closed. Currently, a knowing violation of the Sunshine Law subjects the body or member to a civil penalty of up to $1,000. This act removes the "knowing" element and lessens the fine to $100. For such violations, the court shall, rather than may, order the payment of costs and attorneys fees to the party establishing the violation. In determining reasonable attorney fees, the court must take into account the size of the jurisdiction, annual operating budget and other sources of revenue. Attorney fees shall be not be considered reasonable to the extent that such fees are incurred after certain settlement offers are made by the public body to the person claiming a violation of the Sunshine Law.
Current law allows a public body to seek a formal opinion of an attorney when the body is in doubt over the legality of closing a meeting, record, or vote. This act provides that the body may only delay the release of the record for no more than forty-five days while waiting for the opinion.
This act is similar to SB 139 (2013), SB 122 (2013), HB 600 (2013) and SB 764 (2012).