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What You Should Know about Missouri’s Sunshine Law

Mid-March always brings spring to the state and also Sunshine Week to the country.  It’s a perfect ending to a cold winter!  The history of Missouri’s Sunshine law is actually an interesting story paralleling the strong interest in this country in openness in government.

Federal discussions about a Freedom of Information Act began in the 1950s and the original FOIA law was signed on the federal level on July 4, 1966.  If you remember, that was during the era of the Vietnam War.  Shortly thereafter, states began talking about enacting their own state transparency laws because the Freedom of Information Act applied only to the federal government.  Missouri, as it happens, was at the front of that bandwagon, creating its own law in  1973.

It has changed many times since that initial law, and while the most recent large overhaul was in 2004, hardly a legislative session goes by without minor tampering to its provisions.  A current copy of the law can be found on the Missouri Attorney General’s website, along with many other helpful materials.

Probably the most important aspect of the law for those who seek to use it is that if you want access to a record of a public governmental body, you must make the request of the Custodian of Records.  If you don’t make the request to the proper person, the governmental body has no duty to respond.  So ask the entity, before you make your request, who acts as their custodian.

You need not tell them why you want the record and your request need not be in writing.  But sometimes it is helpful to put it in writing so you can prove when you made it.  It is also helpful, sometimes, to be willing to discuss with the custodian what you are seeking because you will pay for the search time and sometimes a helpful custodian can save you a significant amount of search time.

Finally, remember that you have a right to “inspect” the records without having to pay for copies.  Take your cell phone along when you “inspect,” and with a helpful app (examples are “JotNot Pro,” “TinyScan,” and “Scannable”), you can save yourself the cost of copies!

The Attorney General’s office has personnel available to help with sunshine problems and you should not hesitate to call them.  Transparency in government makes for good government for all of us!

Jean Maneke-2015Jean Maneke has represented Missouri Press Association and, in that capacity, has worked extensively with the Missouri Open Meetings/Open Records law for more than 25 years.  She is in private practice in Kansas City, Mo., at The Maneke Law Group, L.C.

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