Nixon signs bill to restore open-records exemption

By JORDAN SHAPIRO

Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Security plans for public buildings and schools are no longer subject to open-records request under legislation signed Friday by Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.

The measure, which takes effect immediately, restores and makes permanent two exemptions to the Missouri Sunshine Law that had expired at the end of 2012.

One exemption covered operational guidelines and policies developed by law enforcement, public safety, first response or public health authorities for preventing and responding to terrorism incidents. Another dealt with security systems and structural plans for property owned or leased by a government agency.

“Earlier this year I called on the General Assembly to reinstate these narrowly tailored provisions, which help keep sensitive security plans out of the hands of criminals and terrorists, while respecting the bedrock principles of transparency and accountability,” Nixon said in a written statement.

He had publicly asked lawmakers to reinstate the exemptions at a December news conference, saying sensitive documents do not belong in the public domain and noting that people do not give their house keys or alarm codes to burglars.

The Missouri School Boards’ Association praised Nixon’s decision and had said in March that it knew of at least five records requests made since the exemptions required.

“We felt like the expiration of those provisions posed a potential danger to our students, staff and public schools across the state,” said association spokesman Brent Ghan after Nixon signed the legislation.

Access to a local government’s financial records when it comes to security spending will still be allowed.

Attorney Jean Maneke, who represents the Missouri Press Association, said she would have preferred the exemptions to be reinstated only temporarily so that they could be revisited in the future. Maneke said she’s worried that some government agencies will interpret the exemptions too broadly.

Maneke and some other lawmakers were also hoping to use the expired exemptions as an opportunity to strengthen other parts of the Sunshine Law.

One proposal would have reduced fines for Sunshine Law violations from up to $1,000 to $100 but no longer require that governments must “knowingly” ignore the law for a violation to occur. The government would also have shouldered the burden of proving a meeting, record or vote should be closed to the public; that’s currently on the public.

The measure reinstating the exemptions passed the House and Senate this year without any opposition this year.

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Open Records is HB256

Online:

Legislature: http://www.moga.mo.gov

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