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The Missouri House of Representatives narrowly defeated an amendment on Tuesday that would have added clarification to Missouri’s open records law.
The amendment, offered by Rep. Jake Zimmerman, D-Olivette, was defeated by a 81-79 margin that was largely a party line vote. Nine Republicans joined the vote; all but two Democrats voted in favor of the amendment. The amendment would have clarified the definition of a public official to include all state elected officials and private individuals records when working in a public capacity.
Four other amendments were approved by a voice vote.
Zimmerman said after the vote that he was disappointed in the results of the vote but was encouraged by the closeness.
“I’m enthusiastic that we got as many people as we did that think the Sunshine Law apply to all of us,” Zimmerman said. “I think the people who voted no on this will realize that they’re on the wrong side of common sense and public opinion.
“Anyone who voted no runs the risk that we are sending the message, ‘that we are above the law’ I don’t think we are above the law,” he added.
Rep. Bob Nance voted no on the proposed amendment and did not present a clear picture as to why he voted no. Nance said he was unaware of the scope of the amendment and said he would discuss it with Zimmerman.
Amendments that did pass included requiring all elected officials to take a Sunshine Law information course, and open some records into internal police investigations.
Zimmerman said he is pleased there is a Sunshine Law on the floor this year that actually accomplishes something. Zimmerman is an attorney and has represented journalists in the past over open records issues.
Zimmerman said a case he was involved with in Illinois opened his eyes to how much stronger the Missouri law needs to be.
A major component of the bill would open the records of the Missouri Ethics Commission and would give the public more tools to hold elected officials accountable.
“I’m in favor of anything that is more than just finger wagging,” Zimmerman said.
The bill would also require minutes to meetings to more accurately reflect what happened in a public meeting. The bill would require a more narrow reasoning for using litigation as reason for moving into closed session and the bill would require five days notice on public meetings concerning fees, tax increases, eminent domain, zoning issues, capitol improvement districts, transportation development districts and tax increment financing.