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Mo. bill restores open-records exemptions

Mo. bill restores open-records exemptions

May 17th, 2013 in News

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Security plans for public buildings would be shielded from requests made under the state's open records law under legislation sent to Gov. Jay Nixon on Friday.

Nixon had called for renewing the Sunshine Law's security exemptions during December news conferences with numerous law enforcement officials. He said sensitive documents do not belong in the public domain, noting that people do not give their house keys or alarm codes to burglars.

The bill, approved without any "no" votes by the House and Senate on Friday, would permanently reinstate two security-related Sunshine Law exemptions that expired at the end of 2012.

One 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. It included information submitted by private entities for governmental agencies to develop plans for protecting infrastructure.

"It is critical that we keep those security records closed," said Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, who handled the legislation in the Senate. "We will keep those security records confidential for the safety of our students."

The Missouri School Boards Association said it knows of five records requests made so far for security-related records previously covered by the exemptions. Access to a local government's financial records when it comes to security spending would still be allowed.

Some lawmakers saw reinstating the expired exemptions as an opportunity to strengthen the existing open-records law.

Provisions in a different version of the bill approved by the Senate were neither adopted by the House nor included in the measure sent to the governor Friday. Those would have required government bodies to post public meeting notices 48 hours in advance. Currently, government entities need to provide only 24-hours' notice.

That bill also would have reduced fines for Sunshine Law violations from up to $1,000 to $100 but no longer require that violations be committed with knowledge the law was not being followed. The government would also shoulder the burden of proving a meeting, record or vote should be closed to the public - a burden that currently is on the public.

Organizations representing cities and counties raised concerns about those provisions. They argued mandating additional notice before meetings could pose administrative challenges and raised questions about fines for unintended Sunshine Law violations.

The measure sent to Nixon would also make clear that flight logs of state-owned airplanes are also subject to open-records requests.

Open records is HB256