Gov. Mike Parson recently signed several pieces of legislation that are of interest to Missouri Press Association’s member newspapers. The below information is a compilation of reports from MPA’s lobbying partner, Lathrop GPM.
If you have any questions or want more information, please contact MPA Executive Director Mark Maassen at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at (573) 449-4167, ext. 308.
CONDENSED COUNTY FINANCIAL STATEMENT BILL SIGNED BY GOVERNOR
On Wednesday, June 29, Governor Mike Parson signed five bills into law, including House Bill 1606 (McGaugh, R-Carrollton), which requires condensed county financial statements to be published in Missouri newspapers.
The condensed county financial statement must be published annually, on or before June 30, in local newspapers in all counties of the first, second, third, or fourth classification. The bill language includes publication of the name and current gross annual salary of each elected or appointed county official. The county clerk or other county officer preparing the financial statement shall provide an electronic copy of the data used to create the financial statement without charge to any newspaper requesting the data. The bill’s language had been negotiated with legislators and supported by the Missouri Press Association and its membership during the past three years.
The published, condensed statement will contain at least the following of each county: (1) A summary of the receipts of each fund of the county for the year; (2) A summary of the disbursements and transfers of each fund of the county for the year; (3) A statement of the cash balance at the beginning and at the end of the year for each fund of the county; (4) A summary of delinquent taxes and other due bills for each fund of the county; (5) A summary of warrants of each fund of the county outstanding at the end of the year; (6) A statement of bonded indebtedness, if any, at the beginning and at the end of the year for each fund of the county; (7) A statement of the tax levies of each fund of the county for the year; and (8) The name, office, and current gross annual salary of each elected or appointed county official.
Another provision of HB 1606 allows a county collector to hold an auction of property because of delinquent property taxes through electronic media (online, internet) at the same time as the auction is held in-person. The bill does not affect the required publication in newspapers of delinquent property auctions.
Other bills signed on June 29 include Senate Bill 745 (Cierpiot, R-Lee’s Summit) and Senate Bill 820 (Burlison, R-Battlefield). Both are utility bills, and they add individually identifiable customer usage and billing records of residential customers of a municipally owned utility to the list of records that may be closed under the Sunshine Law, unless the records are requested by the customer or authorized for release by the customer. A municipally owned utility shall make available to the public a commercial customer’s name, billing address, location of service, and dates of service provided for any commercial service account.
The Governor also signed House Bill 1878 (Simmons, R-Washington), an elections bill that requires all registered voters in Missouri to provide a photo ID to vote and repeals the use of mail-in ballots while allowing certain absentee ballots.
Also, HB 1878 makes several other modifications to state elections statutes:
- Clarifies when voter rolls can be audited by the Secretary of State;
- Allows no excuse absentee voting in-person at the local election authority starting two weeks prior to the election;
- Prohibits the use of ballot drop boxes for absentee ballots;
- Makes the paper ballot the official ballot and prohibits the use of electronic vote counting machines after Jan. 1, 2024;
- Prevents local election authorities from accepting private donations, with limited exceptions;
- Requires all electronic voting machines to be “air gapped” or not directly connected to the internet; and
- Adds several other provisions related to elections.
Also signed on June 29 was House Bill 1552 (Richey, R-Excelsior Springs), a bill modifying provisions relating to charter schools funding and requirements for virtual education.
INTERNET ACCESS SPOTLIGHTED JUNE 29 IN JEFFERSON CITY
Two actions on June 29 in Jefferson City will affect public internet access to the state capitol and public internet access to court records.
Senate Bill 820 (Burlison, R-Battlefield) was signed into law by Governor Mike Parson. Included in the bill dealing with utilities are improvements to high-speed public internet in the Missouri capitol building by 2024.
And in an unrelated move, the Missouri Supreme Court announced on June 29 it has approved rule changes paving the way for access to public court records from personal electronic devices.
INTERNET ACCESS IN CAPITOL, STATE
During the legislative session, as many as 1,000 devices are connected to the House of Representatives’ Wi-Fi network, according to Trevor Fox, House communications director. The improvements in SB 820 hopefully will ease at-capacity bandwidth on existing networks in the capitol building.
According to the legislation, the new public Wi-Fi network needs to be of “adequate bandwidth and connectivity to accommodate the number of users in the Capitol building and on Capitol grounds.”
SB 820 also contains provisions intended to further broadband in Missouri. The legislation seeks to strengthen broadband reliability throughout the state by adding it to the list of endeavors that can be funded through the state’s broadband grant program. The threshold for what the state considers “underserved” is also updated under the new law.
The new law charges the Missouri Department of Economic Development, which houses the state Broadband Office, with creating a new program to increase high-speed internet access in unserved and underserved parts of the state.
In announcing the public court records’ changes, Chief Justice Paul Wilson said in a news release, “With the assistance of Missouri’s Court Automation Committee, a statutory entity comprised of members from all three branches of government, the judiciary has been working toward this goal for a number of years. These orders will ensure court documents that are currently open to the public will be truly accessible to the public.
“These improvements will fundamentally change the way individuals access public court documents, while balancing the need to protect confidential information and ensure the overall security and reliability of our underlying case management system,” he said.
The expanded access will be available through Case.net. Since its inception in the 1990s, Case.net has provided remote access to some public information about cases. After electronic filing began in 2011, registered e-filing users had remote access to case documents, while the public could use designated Case.net computer terminals in courthouses statewide to view public case documents.
The expanded access to public case documents will be available only for documents filed on or after July 1, 2023. Documents filed before that date will continue to be available at the public access terminals in every state courthouse.
The waiting period until July 1, 2023, gives the court the opportunity to work with The Missouri Bar to educate attorneys, court staff, parties or anyone else offering documents for filing in any Missouri state court to keep unnecessary confidential information out of otherwise public documents and, when confidential information must be included, to redact that information to protect it from disclosure. According to court officials, the redaction requirement is not new. Anyone filing documents in a Missouri court already has an obligation to redact confidential information as required by law.