In an outdoor ceremony at the MU School of Journalism on Monday, Gov. Bob Holden signed into law a revision of the 1973 Sunshine Law that’s intended to bring it up to speed with modern technology.
Senate Bill 1020 was the first of three bills Holden signed. He said the Journalism School was a fitting place to expand the right to public information. The bill, he said, “continues our state’s long tradition of open and accessible government to the public while updating our sunshine laws to more accurately reflect changing technology.”
Several representatives and state senators attended the ceremony, including state Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, who sponsored a similar bill this year.
“An open government is a good government,” Harris said.
Revisions to the previous law were necessary so that people in government could not use new technologies to avoid the law’s mandates, said state Rep. Jack Goodman, R-Mount Vernon.
The law states that conference calls and electronic transmissions, such as chat room or e-mail conversations, related to public business will now be characterized as open meetings, meaning records of them will be accessible to the public.
Holden said he was “particularly pleased to sign (the bill) at the world’s first and finest school of journalism.”
Doug Crews of the Missouri Press Association said the bill not only affects journalists, who will now gain easier access to records of public business, but also benefits the public.
“In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need a Sunshine Law,” Crews said. “But this bill sets the parameters needed.”
Under the bill’s provisions, notices of these meetings must be posted on the public body’s Web sites and electronic transmission must be copied to the custodian of records when the message is sent by a member of the governmental body to a majority of that body’s members.
The bill also calls for fines of $1,000 for public officials who knowingly violate the law and $5,000 for those who purposefully break it.
“We’ve finally created an enforceable Sunshine Law in the state of Missouri,” said Goodman, the House handler of the bill.
Also signed into law Monday morning were bills creating guidelines for the installation of manufactured homes and increasing the amount of notice trailer park owners must give residents when they plan to close.
-Missourian reporter David Darmitzel contributed to this report.