At the start of Sunshine Week, the outlook in Missouri is cloudy, if not dark and gloomy.
This week is Sunshine Week, and we in the media are supposed to boost awareness of our state's Sunshine Law. It forces government to do its business out in the open, not behind closed doors. It dictates what government records and meetings are open, and when they can legitimately be closed.
We're also supposed to remind Missourians about the benefits that the law affords to citizens in Missouri. And it does.
It ensures that you can walk into a city council or school board meeting and watch the proceedings. It allows you to go to the police station, pay a small fee, and get an accident report. And it means that we in the press can access government records that explain what government is doing with your hard-earned taxpayer dollars. And it's not just us in the press who can access records. It's anyone. You may have to pay a fee for the processing of the information, but it's public information that you have a right to. No questions asked -- you don't have to give a reason to anyone for requesting the information.
The problem is, government officials don't always prefer to operate in the open. Missouri's Sunshine Law, needs to be strengthened, but state lawmakers have several proposals at the Capitol to do just the opposite.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that sponsors of some Sunshine Law bills argue that many of the measures are needed to better establish a balance between privacy and government accountability.
At least one proposal would keep secret written communication between state lawmakers and their constituents, and information on proposed legislation or the legislative process kept by lawmakers or staff.
The Post-Dispatch quoted Amos Bridges, president of the Missouri Sunshine Coalition, as saying overly broad language sometimes limits things that should be public. For instance, information about Missourians who have signed up for open calls for government project proposals.
It's in the public's interest to know whether those opportunities are being offered fairly to everyone, not just as political paybacks.
Other proposals would chip away at the Sunshine Law by removing "transitory" documents such as drafts or materials "not related to decision-making."
We urge lawmakers to only to bar the public from government information when absolutely necessary. And we urge the public to opposes measures that do stifle government transparency.