HB 1440 mandates Sunshine Law training for officials

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo – Rep. Jeff Roorda wants everyone to know when to let the sun shine in.

The Missouri Sunshine Law, revised in 2004, sets specific guidelines in terms of open meetings and records allowing the public access to certain actions of elected or appointed bodies.

Despite the law, James Khlar of the Attorney Generals office says their office gets between 400 and 500 calls per year concerning the Sunshine Law, with half of those calls being complaints about violations.

However, Khlar said many of those violations are due to ignorance of the law by those that violate it.

“We’ll get a call, we call back the board attorney and that attorney will say, ‘I appreciate that information,’ for small public bodies they don’t have an attorney at every meeting,” he said.

House Bill 1440, sponsored by Roorda would mandate Sunshine Law training for all members of elected or appointed bodies within 90 days of their appointment to reduce the number of unintentional violations.

“The first response is always ‘oh, we thought we were following the Sunshine Law,” Roorda said, “All the way from the library board to the highest government body,”

In its current form the bill, if passed, could mean removal from office for those that don’t fulfill their training obligations, however revisions may be submitted, lightening the penalty.

“I don’t want someone to get thrown out of office because some po-dunk town didn’t get the memo, but it needs to have some teeth in it,” said Rep. Curt Dougherty (D-Independence)

Re-writes could include a monetary penalty.

Under the new law training on the Sunshine Law would be available from the Attorney General’s office in person, online, by CD and by other methods if necessary.

“I don’t think were talking about them [officials] having to jump in the car and drive to Jeff City, the language allows for that,” he said.

Though Roorda sees education on the Sunshine Law as a priority, other organizations have also dedicated their time to making information available.

“Our association distributes hundred of copies a year,” said Doug Cruise of the Missouri Press Association, “Slowly but surely the ground is being plowed.”

If passed, Roorda hopes the law will clear up issues with public boards violating the law without their knowledge and allow the public to better understand the difference to know when it is being violated deliberately.

“Having the Sunshine Law is paramount to our government,” said Rep. Mike Sutherland (R-Warrenton), “With out an open and accessible government . . . we turn into something other than a democracy.”