Legislators extend exceptions to Sunshine Law

Monday, May 19, 2008 | 5:35 p.m. CDT; updated 5:40 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Plans for government security systems, state buildings and terrorist attack responses will continue to be closed records in Missouri.

Lawmakers last week passed a bill extending through 2012, creating an exception for such information under Missouri’s Sunshine Law. Information about state spending and contracts for security systems or for implementing terrorist-response policies will remain an open record.

The Sunshine Law exceptions were created in 2002 and 2004 and would have expired at the end of this year.

Sponsoring Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, said Monday that the information shielded by the law is limited.

“This seems sensible to me that we would sequester our response plans to terrorism since they’re only effective if people don’t know what they are,” Roorda said.

Government entities that want to close information through the exemption must state in writing that disclosing the records would make it more difficult to protect residents and that keeping the data secret outweighs public interest in disclosure.

Doug Crews, executive director for the Missouri Press Association, said the group didn’t oppose extending the exception and had helped lawmakers draft the wording for the exceptions.

Crews noted that the public still can track how state money is being spent, even if it can’t see the details of those security plans.

“Ideally, I’d like to see no exemptions to the Sunshine Law,” he said. “Unfortunately in this day and age, for those two exemptions, it would be very tough to remove them from the books.”

The bill extending the expiration date now awaits Gov. Matt Blunt’s signature.

The legislation also extends the term for the Joint Committee on Terrorism, Bioterrorism, and Homeland Security.

Roorda also had filed legislation to require public officials to get training on the state Sunshine Law, but that did not pass. The attorney general’s office already provides training on how to comply with open-records and open-meetings laws.

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