Missouri legislation could include major problems for public notices

by: January 16, 2017


Two bills filed in the Missouri Senate and one in the House of Representatives would affect public notices printed in newspapers, if the legislation is passed by the General Assembly and signed by incoming Governor Eric Greitens. State legislators have gathered in Jefferson City, beginning January 4, for their 2017 legislative session.

Senate Bill 47, sponsored by Sen. Doug Libla (R-Poplar Bluff), would allow the Secretary of State’s office to establish a statewide web site where public notices would be posted, rather than in local newspapers.

Senate Bill 159, sponsored by Sen. Bob Dixon (R-Springfield), would allow foreclosure notices to be posted on web sites, rather than in local newspapers.

House Bill 428, sponsored by Rep. Robert Cornejo (R-St. Charles), is similar to SB 159.

Each bill is troubling for newspapers and for the public. The traditional practice, recognized by the courts, of printing public notices in Missouri newspapers allows for an independent third party (the newspaper, not a government or private web site) to distribute those notices that may affect a person’s property and well-being.

Missouri Press Association staff members have begun working to stop these bills, and more information will be sent to MPA members in coming weeks.

Newspaper publishers who may visit with their State Senators or State Representatives should review with them the bills: SB 47, SB 159 and HB 428.

Any feedback you receive from legislators should be shared with Mark Maassen of MPA – mmaassen@socket.net – and Doug Crews – dcrews@socket.net .

As of January 13, Missouri Senators had filed 297 bills and 14 constitutional amendments, and Missouri House members had filed 618 bills and 27 constitutional amendments.

Bills that MPA has reviewed that could affect newspapers and information to the public include:

SB 30, sponsored by Sen. David Sater (R-Cassville) – PUBLIC NOTICE CREATED -- This act allows a county commission or similar authority to combine two or more road districts upon request by a petition signed by a majority of the commissioners in each of the road districts seeking to be combined. The county commission shall hold a public hearing after publishing notice for a period of four weeks in a newspaper of general circulation in the county. The county may issue an order to consolidate the districts if it finds, after the public hearing, that the consolidation is in the public good. The act further designates the procedure for appointing commissioners to the new consolidated district and transferring of assets, liabilities, and tax levies. The provisions for consolidation do not apply to road districts located in two counties.

SB 35, sponsored by Sen. Mike Cunningham (R-Marshfield) – NOTICE OF LAND PURCHASES -- Under this act, when the Commissioner of Administration seeks to purchase land on behalf of any state department, the department is required to take certain actions, including providing public notice on its website and to elected officials, and holding public hearings in affected counties. MPA hopes to work with Sen. Cunningham to include public notice in printed newspapers in his legislation.

SB 47, sponsored by Sen. Doug Libla (R-Poplar Bluff) – ELIMINATING NOTICE IN NEWSPAPERS -- This act provides that in lieu of publication in a newspaper, a person can publish a legally required notice or advertisement on a website to be established and maintained by the Secretary of State. MPA opposes.

SB 73, sponsored by Sen. Rob Schaaf (R-St. Joseph) – FOLLOWING THE MONEY -- This act creates the "Dark Money Disclosure Act". Under this act, certain expenditures and covered transfers made by continuing committees, political action committees, and certain persons are required to be disclosed. Specifically, expenditures or covered transfers exceeding $2,000 per election cycle are required to be reported, along with information surrounding the circumstances of the expenditure or transfer, no later than 14 days after the expenditure or covered transfer was made. Expenditures or covered transfers made within 30 days of an election shall be reported no later than 48 hours after the expenditure or covered transfer was made.

SB 85, sponsored by Sen. Will Kraus (R-Lee’s Summit) – LICENSE PLATE READER RECORDS -- This act restricts the storage of data collected through automated license plate reader systems by government entities to 30 days after capture. Entities in possession of the data must purge all records and backup copies of the data at the end of the 30 day period unless the data is subject to a preservation request for an active criminal investigation or court proceeding, is kept pursuant to a one year limited published law enforcement organization policy restricting data to detectives or system auditors after the initial 30 days, or pursuant to a warrant. Under this act, the sharing of captured plate data with federal government entities is restricted. The use of any data or evidence derived from automated license plate reader systems preserved in violation of this section cannot be received into evidence in any proceeding. This act also creates a class E felony for misuse of license plate reader information collected by a government entity. Government entities seeking to install automated license plate reader systems must apply for approval from the Department of Public Safety. This act requires the department to promulgate a rule establishing a standard for the installation of the systems by August 28, 2018.

SB 122, sponsored by Sen. Brian Munzlinger (R-Clarence) – MISSOURI ACCOUNTABILITY PORTAL -- This act requires every department and division of the state, including the General Assembly and the offices of statewide elected officials and each executive branch appointee, to make information available on the Missouri Accountability Portal web site to the public relating to all contracts entered into greater than $2,500 for the provision of legal services by private law firms.

SB 135, sponsored by Sen. KiKi Curls (D-Kansas City) – FORECLOSURE NOTICES ELIMINATED -- This act repeals provisions of law which provide that a sale made by a mortgagee, secured party, or personal representative with power of sale pursuant to a mortgage or security agreement is valid and binding upon the mortgagor and debtor, and that such sale shall foreclose all right and equity of redemption of the property sold. The bill deletes all requirements for public notices in newspapers affecting foreclosured property and trustee sales. The act provides that beginning August 28, 2017, all foreclosure proceedings shall be handled judicially. MPA opposes.

SB 140, sponsored by Sen. David Sater (R-Cassville) – RANKED-CHOICE VOTING -- Under this act, all candidates for local office shall be elected through the method of ranked-choice voting, a method by which voters rank candidates for a particular office based on his or her preference for that candidate. In determining the winner of an election using ranked-choice voting, election judges are required to count votes in rounds. In each round, the candidate which receives the least amount of votes is eliminated and a new round shall begin with only continuing candidates. Voters who chose an eliminated candidate as their highest-ranked candidate will have their next highest-ranked candidate count as their vote in the following round. Once there is a round with only two continuing candidates, the candidate that receives the most votes is the winner. If at any time during the counting of votes any candidate receives more than 50% of the votes, that candidate is declared the winner. The provisions of this act take effect January 1, 2018 and only apply to primary elections.

SB 147, sponsored by Sen. Gary Romine (R-Farmington) – LOTTERY -- This act reduces the required time period before a member of an organization can participate in operation of a bingo game from two years to six months, and reduces the required membership period of a person working under the direction of such a member from one year to six months. This act also removes a provision currently in effect authorizing organizations to expend up to 10% of bingo receipts for advertising. The provisions of this act are contingent upon the passage of a constitutional amendment (Senate Joint Resolution 9, sponsored by Sen. Romine) that provides for the same change to the required membership period proposed in this act. MPA worked last session with Rep. Kevin Engler on similar legislation that also would have allowed bingo operators to advertise. Advertising of bingo games is now restricted in the Missouri Constitution.

SB 159, sponsored by Sen. Bob Dixon (R-Springfield) – FORECLOSURE NOTICES ON THE WEB -- Under current law, notice of the sale of real estate made pursuant to a mortgage or deed of trust is required to be made with at least 20 days' notice through a newspaper. This act provides that notice of sale may also be made through electronic publication, at the discretion of the trustee. The act further sets forth restrictions and requirements for the posting of the notice on the internet: “The entity providing such web based notices shall not restrict access to the site by way of a registration or log in requirement. Nothing in this section shall be construed to authorize the giving of any shorter notice than that required by the mortgage or deed of trust. Any entity providing notice shall be a Missouri corporation or Missouri limited liability company formed under chapters 347 to 356 and in good standing with the Missouri secretary of state. Such entity shall maintain an errors and omissions policy of insurance in an amount not less than one million dollars and general liability insurance in an amount not less than one million dollars. Such entity shall have its principle office located in Missouri. The fee charged for posting such notice shall not exceed the regular local classified advertising rate of newspapers authorized to carry legal publications in that county. The entity providing notice shall maintain a historical record for each posting for a period of five years from the day the notice was posted. The entity posting notices shall list notices grouped by the county in which the property is located. Where the property to be sold is located in more than one county, the notices shall be posted under each county in which a part of the property is located. The entity providing notice shall issue an affidavit at the conclusion of posting. The affidavit shall state the dates the notice was posted, that the entity is in compliance with the requirements of this section, and shall have a copy of such notice attached to the affidavit.” MPA opposes.

SB 224, sponsored by Sen. Dave Schatz (R-Sullivan) – ADVERTISING OF ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES -- This act permits retailers of intoxicating liquor to offer any coupon, premium, prize, rebate, sales price, loyalty program, or discount to consumers as an inducement to purchase alcoholic or non-alcoholic merchandise. It also permits the purchase, publication, and display of advertisements that list the amount of the rebate or discount and the retail price after the rebate or discount.

HB 37, sponsored by Rep. Galen Higdon (R-St. Joseph) -- POLICE LINES OR BARRICADES -- This bill allows the chief law enforcement officer of any locality to secure areas by establishing police lines or barricades, as necessary, in any emergency situation where life, limb, or property may be endangered and may cause people to collect in public areas. The scene shall be clearly identified and may not be secured longer than is reasonably necessary to accomplish the purposes specified in the bill. If material or equipment indicating a police line or barrier is not available, a verbal warning by identifiable law enforcement officials must be given to any person attempting to cross the police line or barricade. The offense of unlawfully crossing or remaining within a police line or barricade is a class A misdemeanor.

HB 76, sponsored by Rep. Joe Don McGaugh (R-Carrollton) -- DISCLOSURE OF NEWS SOURCES -- This bill prohibits any covered person, as defined in the bill, from being required to disclose, in any federal or state proceeding, the source of any published or unpublished, broadcast or non-broadcast information obtained in the gathering, receiving, or processing of information for any covered person. An order granting the disclosure of the information must only be issued if the court finds in a written order or in recorded proceedings that the information sought does not involve matters or details necessary in any proceeding and that all other available sources of information have been exhausted, and disclosure of the information is essential to the protection of the public interest involved in the proceedings. If the court orders that the information be disclosed, it must also order the covered person to disclose the information. The privilege to not disclose the information remains in effect during any appeal process. This bill is similar to HB 1832 (2016).

HB 114, sponsored by Rep. Joe Don McGaugh (R-Carrollton) -- PERISHABLE FOOD ITEM --  This bill specifies a person is liable to the producer of a perishable food product for damages and any other appropriate relief if the person disseminates in any manner information relating to the perishable food product to the public that the person knows is false and the information states or implies that the perishable food product is not safe for consumption by the public. In determining if information is false, the trier of fact must consider whether the information was based on reasonable and reliable scientific inquiry, facts, or data. This bill is the same as HB 1830 (2016).

HB 117, sponsored by Rep. Rory Rowland (D-Independence) -- FINANCIAL INTEREST STATEMENT RECORDS --  This bill allows the Executive Director of the Missouri Ethics Commission to make financial interest statement records available to the general public in a searchable format by posting them to the Internet together with a search engine feature. The records will remain public documents available by request and subject to applicable fees.

HB 169, sponsored by Rep. Paul Curtman (R-Union) -- AUDIT REPORT REVIEW BY GENERAL ASSEMBLY --  This bill requires the committee on government oversight and accountability or another committee designated by legislative rule to review reports issued by the office of the State Auditor within one year and provide recommendations to the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

HB 220, sponsored by Rep. Mike Moon (R-Ash Grove) – CLOSING RESIDENCE ADDRESS FOR DRIVERS LICENSE -- This bill allows certain individuals who are or were parole officers, law enforcement officers, judicial employees or a member of their immediate family to use an alternative address on his or her driver's license. The alternative address is the street address of the courthouse in the county of the person's residence. The applicant must provide to the Department of Revenue proof that the applicant is qualified for a residence address exemption and provide an actual residence address for department records and mailing purposes. The person must notify the department no later than 30 days after the license holder ceases to qualify for an exemption and must apply for a duplicate license that displays the person's actual current residence address.

HB 246, sponsored by Rep. Lyle Rowland (R-Cedarcreek) -- LOTTERY WINNER PRIVACY --  This bill prohibits the lottery commission and state employees from publishing the name, address, or other identifying information of a lottery winner without the lottery winner's permission.

HB 258, sponsored by Rep. Donna Pfautsch (R-Harrisonville) -- PUBLIC FUNDS ON STATE PORTAL --  This bill requires every department and division of the state, including the General Assembly and the offices of statewide elected officials, to make available to the public, through the Missouri Accountability Portal web site, information about all contracts entered into with private law firms for the provision of legal services at a cost of more than $2,500, including the dollar amount of each contract and a summary of the legal services provided by the firm.

HB 263, sponsored by Rep. Chrissy Sommer (R-St. Charles) – SCHOOL INFORMATION ON WEB SITE – This bill requires by September 1, 2018, each public school district or charter school shall develop, maintain, and make publicly available, at a minimum, a searchable budget and a detail of actual income, expenditures, and disbursements database for the current calendar or fiscal year on its district or school website

HB 266, sponsored by Rep. Rick Brattin (R-Harrisonville) – UNIVERSITIES TO POST INFORMATION – This bill requires, notwithstanding any other provision of law, that no public institution of higher education in this state shall award tenure to any person who is hired by such institution for the first time on or after January 1, 2018. The provisions of this section shall not apply to employees hired prior to January 1, 2018. Also, the coordinating board shall promulgate rules and regulations to ensure that each approved public higher education institution shall post on its website the names of all faculty, including adjunct, part-time, and full-time faculty, who are given full or partial teaching assignments along with web links or other means of providing information about their academic credentials and, where feasible, instructor ratings by students. In addition, public institutions of higher education shall post course schedules on their websites that include the name of the instructor assigned to each course and, if applicable, each section of a course, as well as identifying those instructors who are teaching assistants, provided thatthe institution maymodify and update the identity of instructors as courses and sections are added or cancelled. All public institutions of higher education shall post on their public websites alongside their degree offerings or publish in their course catalogs alongside their degree offerings all of the following information for each degree program offered:  (1) Estimated cost of the degree based on the hours required to complete the degree program, the books likely required to complete the degree program, and the on-campus housing costs for the number of academic years likely required to complete the degree program; (2) Types of employment opportunities generally expected to be available for students who earn the degree; (3) The current job market for people who have earned the degree. Such description of the current job market shall include estimates of the numbers of jobs available in the industries in which people who have earned the degree typically work; (4) The number and percentage of students who earned the degree employed within one year of graduation for the most recent graduating class for which data are available and, for the students so employed, their average income; and (5) The number and percentage of students who earned the degree employed within one year of graduation in a field closely related to the degree program for the most recent graduating class for which data are available.

HB 308, sponsored by Rep. Mike Kelley (R-Lamar) – INCIDENT REPORTS – This bill allows for limited immunity for statements made by citizens while reporting use of force, and could result in closure of law enforcement incident reports. MPA has begun discussions with Rep. Kelley, the bill’s sponsor.

HB 315, sponsored by Rep. Charlie Davis (R-Webb City) – SOCIAL MEDIA SELFIES -- Repeals a provision prohibiting voters from allowing their ballots to be seen in polling booths.

HB 319, sponsored by Rep. Jim Neely (R-Cameron) – AUDIO RECORDINGS OF COURT ACTIONS – Requires courts in Missouri to phase in equipment that allows audio from trials or other court proceedings to be retained for a minimum of one year.

HB 335, sponsored by Rep. Chrissy Sommer (R-St. Charles) – PUBLIC NOTICES – Changes the law regarding public notice requirements for certain hearings conducted by city councils; notices would be posted on city government web sites.

HB 348, sponsored by Rep. Wanda Brown (R-Lincoln) – BINGO – Changes procedures in the operation of bingo games. MPA hopes to work with Rep. Brown to allow advertising of bingo to be less restrictive.

HB 353, sponsored by Rep. J. Eggleston (R-Maysville) – NON-ELECTION ELECTIONS – Allows non-election elections to be conducted in towns and cities of 2,000 population and below. Currently, towns and cities of 1,000 population and below are allowed to conduct such elections.

HB 358, sponsored by Rep. Kurt Bahr (R-St. Charles) – VIDEO RECORDINGS – Requires State Board of Education meetings to be recorded by video and posted on the web site of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. 

HB 424, sponsored by Rep. Robert Cornejo (R-St. Charles) – SUNSHINE LAW – Makes minor changes to the Missouri Sunshine Law. Supported by MPA.

HB 428, sponsored by Rep. Robert Cornejo (R-St. Charles) – FORECLOSURE NOTICES – Similar to SB 159. Modifies provisions relating to the publication of notice of the sale of real estate. Allows notices to be posted on a web site. MPA opposes.

HB 441, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Corlew (R-Kansas City) – STUDENT JOURNALISTS’ RIGHTS – Establishes the Cronkite New Voices Act for student journalists.

HB 490, sponsored by Rep. Karla May (D-St. Louis) – EXPUNGEMENTS – Changes the laws regarding arrearages and the expungement of certain records related to criminal nonsupport.

HB 491, sponsored by Rep. Karla May (D-St. Louis) – EXPUNGEMENTS – Creates provisions providing for the automatic expungement of certain records of a person when the charge or charges against the person were dismissed because of identity theft or mistaken identity

HB 504, sponsored by Rep. Brandon Ellington (D-Kansas City) – POLICE BODY CAMERAS – Requires a uniformed law enforcement officer to wear a video camera while on duty to record any interaction between the law enforcement officer and a member of the public.

HB 530, sponsored by Rep. Gail McCann Beatty (D-Kansas City) – CONFIDENTIALITY AGREEMENTS – Prohibits confidentiality agreements preventing persons who collect on a judgment or claim paid out by the State Legal Expense Fund to discuss the judgment or claim

HB 553, sponsored by Rep. Robert Ross (R-Yukon) – LAND SALES – Requires the Department of Natural Resources to sell certain lands acquired through environmental settlement funds. MPA hopes to work with Rep. Ross on the requirement of a public notice prior to the sale.

HB 566, sponsored by Rep. Alan Green (D-Florissant) – BID NOTICES – Changes the laws regarding purchases to be made by competitive bids.  

HB 577, sponsored by Rep. John McCaherty (R-High Ridge) – Specifies requirements for a school library media services program, including policy for removing books and challenging their removal from school libraries.

HB 583, sponsored by Rep. Steve Cookson (R-Poplar Bluff) – Caps school superintendent salaries and requires publication of school employee salaries in local newspapers.

HB 613, sponsored by Rep. Brandon Ellington (D-Kansas City) – EXPUNGEMENTS  – Allows expungement of criminal records after four years by meeting certain requirements.

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