Bill would open up open meetings law

City councils, county commissions, school boards and other government agencies would have to notify the public 48 hours before a meeting — instead of the current 24 hours — under state Sen. Kurt Schaefer’s bill proposing several changes to Missouri’s Open Meetings/Open Records law.

But Drew Hilpert, Jefferson City government’s attorney, was among the local government officials who questioned some of the proposals.

Schaefer’s bill would make a number of changes to the “Sunshine” law that strives to make government meetings and records more open and available to taxpayers.

Among his suggestions are adding a government agency’s leases, subleases and rental agreements to the list of “public records” that are open to the public’s review, as well as agreements for the rental, construction or renovation of a facility.

His bill also would add some new limits to closing a meeting for legal matters, requiring evidence that a lawsuit has been filed or that a specific notice that a suit is going to be filed has been given, before a meeting can be closed to discuss that issue.

“One of the biggest changes is, right now if there is a violation of the Sunshine law,” Schaefer said, “the burden is on the citizen to go in and establish that there has been a violation.

“This shifts that burden and creates a presumption that meetings are open, and the governmental entity has the burden to establish that the meeting or record was closed (correctly).”

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