Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Study of FOI Laws a Cry for Reform Nationally, and in Missouri

Missouri's Sunshine Law gets a rating of "F" in a recent study done by the Better Government Association, which worked with the National Freedom of Information Coalition on a study of freedom of information laws in all 50 states.

Granted, Missouri is not alone at the bottom of the study. But still, the study is a cry for reform in FOI laws nationwide.

The full study can be found here:

Nebraska and New Jersey ranked at the top of the list.

Missouri ranked high in the study for responding within the statutory time.

However, Missouri began to fall short in this study when the area of appeal the denial of access was considered. Missouri offers no choice on the appeals process except to take a public body to court for refusing to provide public records.

States that rated high in this study provide citizens with an opportunity to appeal a denial of access to public records via an administrative process instead of the courts.

Missouri also lost points in the study because of the speed in which complaints are reviewed. Some states require an access case to be heard within 10 days.

Another area of concern for Missouri in the study is that payment of attorney fees and costs are not mandated for plaintiffs in records cases.

And in the final category of sanctions, Missouri scored low because our Sunshine Law only provides for civil sanctions. Some states may access criminal penalties, higher fees and even employment termination for denial of access to public records.

Some of the answers to these concerns have been posted on this blog in past weeks. Many in the local media establishment think changes are coming to the Missouri Sunshine Law this year. One positive change would be the creation of a public records counsel and making it possible for access concerns to move more quickly.


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