Monday, February 12, 2007

How to use the Sunshine Law

The Missouri open meetings and records law says that most meetings and records must be open, with a few exceptions that are to be "strictly construed." The most common are for personnel matters, legal advice and for discussions of real estate transactions when public knowledge might affect the costs.

Citizens may ask to inspect or obtain copies of records. It's best to put the request in writing, being as specific as possible about the records you are seeking. Under the law, a government official must respond to your request within 72 hours.

Public meetings must be advertised at least 24 hours in advance, with a tentative agenda of the meeting.

You can find more specific information about how the Sunshine Law works and how you can use it at several Internet sites. Among them: The state attorney general's site has the most complete information specific to Missouri's law. The site includes the full text of the law, a Q&A, judicial and attorney general opinions about the law, and sample forms for requesting documents. The information on the site also is available in a pamphlet distributed through attorney general's offices around the state. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press site includes "Tapping Officials Secrets," a state-by-state, searchable guide to sunshine laws in all 50 states. Also at this site: "How to Use the Federal FOI Act" and "The First Amendment Handbook." The Society of Professional Journalists publishes "Open Doors," a guide on how to use federal and state freedom of information. The text is available online or in a printed pamphlet. This site, a project of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida, offers in-depth analysis of state FOI laws and provides comparisons between states. The Freedom of Information Center at the University of Missouri is packed with research on state and federal Sunshine Laws. It also includes sample letters for making an FOI request


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