Legislative Committee minutes, November 16, 2012

In Legislative News, Missouri Press News On
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The Missouri Press Association’s Legislative Committee met at 2 p.m. Nov. 16, in Columbia at the MPA Central Office.  Attending in person were Phil Conger, Bethany Republican-Clipper; Hank Waters, Columbia Daily Tribune; Jeff Grimes, Centralia Fireside Guard; Harry Gallagher and Heath Clarkston, Jefferson City; Kent Ford and Doug Crews, MPA.  Participating via telephone were Richard Gard (committee chair), Missouri Lawyers Media, St. Louis; Mark Maassen, Kansas City Star; Jean Maneke, Kansas City; and Buck Collier, New Haven Leader.

Gard welcomed the committee members, and said he appreciated the committee was meeting prior to the beginning of legislative pre-filing of bills (Dec. 1).

Crews gave a brief review of the 2012 legislative session.  He noted some successes, including killing HB 1623 with a Senate Substitute by Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-Glendale) that would have allowed public construction bid notices to be posted on government web sites, rather than in local newspapers.  With much effective lobbying by MPA members, the proposal was dropped.

A bill that passed and became effective Aug. 28, eliminated the annual recycled newsprint reports that were submitted by larger-circulation newspapers to the Department of Natural Resources.  The initial legislation passed in 1990.  Both DNR and MPA agreed the report showing the amount of newsprint used with recycled content percentages was antiquated and unnecessary.

A charter schools bill passed and was signed by the Governor that maintains the required publication in newspapers of charter schools’ financial statements.

One negative was HB 1647, supported by the National Rifle Association, that allows expungements by courts of certain felony and misdemeanor convictions.  The MPA was opposed to the expungement provisions, but was not successful in killing the bill.  The Governor signed the bill, and it became law Aug. 28.

Harry Gallagher and Heath Clarkston, MPA legislative consultants, discussed the make-up of the 2013 General Assembly and its leadership.

MISSOURI HOUSE LEADERSHIP

Speaker of the House:                         Tim Jones (R-Eureka)

Speaker Pro-Tem:                                Jason Smith (R-Salem)

Majority Floor Leader:                        John Diehl (R-Town and Country)

Assistant Majority Floor Leader:        Mike Cierpiot (R-Blue Springs)

Majority Whip:                                    Sandy Crawford (R-Buffalo)

Majority Caucus Secretary:                 Mike Bernskoetter (R-Wardsville)

Minority Floor Leader:                       Jake Hummel (D-St. Louis City)

Assistant Minority Floor Leader:        Gail McCann Beatty (D-Kansas City)

Minority Caucus Chair:                       Steve Webb (D-St. Louis)

Minority Caucus Vice Chair:              Chris Kelly (D-Columbia)

Minority Whip:                                   John Rizzo (D-Kansas City)

 

MISSOURI SENATE LEADERSHIP

President Pro-Tem:                             Tom Dempsey (R-St. Charles)

Majority Floor Leader:                        Ron Richard (R-Joplin)

Assistant Majority Floor Leader:        Mike Kehoe (R-Jefferson City)

Majority Caucus Chair:                       Eric Schmitt (R-Kirkwood)

Majority Caucus Assistant Chair:       Jay Wasson (R-Nixa)

Majority Caucus Whip:                       Brian Nieves (R-Washington)

Minority Floor Leader:                       Jolie Justus (D-Kansas City)

Assistant Minority Floor Leader:        Kiki Curls (D-Kansas City)

Minority Caucus Chair:                       Joe Keaveny (D-St. Louis City)

The 97th Missouri General Assembly will convene on January 9th.  The Republicans control the Missouri House of Representatives by a margin of 110-53 seats and the Senate by a margin of 24-10 seats.

Each year, the MPA compiles a list of legislative issues that could be on the horizon for the coming year.  The list for 2013 includes:

Internet Posting of Public Notices

            — MPA has dodged bullets the past few sessions when legislation was filed to allow public governmental bodies to post construction bid notices on their government web sites, instead of publishing the notices in a local newspaper.  MPA is working with allies to maintain the newspaper notices.  We expect legislation to be introduced with language favoring newspaper notice.  The language would increase the threshold to $25,000 for a construction project before bid notices are required.

URGENT CONCERN:  Missouri newspapers need to improve the treatment of all public notices, promote public notices to the public and to legislators.  We urge newspapers with web sites to publish their public notices on their web sites at no charge (to fend off possible threats from the legislature).  Plus, public notices in Missouri newspapers are posted on www.mopublicnotices.com .

The Fair Tax

— Analysts say the sales tax exemption on Newspaper Advertising is in jeopardy if The Fair Tax proposal is approved.  The sales tax exemption on products used to produce newspapers would be eliminated, too.

School Financial Statement

            — This may be the session for MPA to push for a more detailed school financial statement being published.  With many new dollars going to education, and education and charter school funding being questioned by some, legislators want to see more accountability from school districts.  MPA has drafted language for a more detailed school financial statement.

Non-Elections Elections

            Oppose the spread of Non-Election Elections to municipalities and counties.  Currently, special districts (school, ambulance, water, etc.) do not hold elections if the number of candidates filing for office equals the number of board positions open.  MPA has opposed this for the past three to four legislative sessions.

County and City Financial Statement

— In the 2005 and 2006 legislative sessions, there were serious efforts to cut the County Financial Statement.  They failed.  Legislators cited: costs to the county; cities and schools don’t have to publish such a lengthy statement.  While there has not been a serious threat in recent sessions, MPA must stay vigilant to this issue in times of tight budgets for public entities.  Some cities are making this an issue, too.

Getting to Know Newly Elected Officials

            — With the full effects of term limits kicking in and many new State Senators and State Representatives, Missouri Press Association and its members should make a concerted effort to meet public officials in Jefferson City and introduce them to our platform and our issues.

Issues, some ever-present, some on the horizon:

— Keep records open to the public in the County Collector and County Recorder of Deeds offices.

— Attempt to pass a Shield Law for reporters.

— “Injurious Falsehood” — a term that needs to be added in the state’s libel/slander statutes.

— State construction bid notices.

— Affects of HIPAA on reporting the news (strengthen state law so reporters can do their jobs covering accidents, ambulance and fire runs, etc.).

— Access to birth and death record information as a public record; high fees charged for birth and death certificates.

— Proposed expungement of criminal records; persons who commited long-ago crimes, even minor, say they can’t get a job today with a criminal record in their background.  MPA fights this issue.  We need allies.

— Telemarketing and unsolicited U.S. Mail and e-mail restrictions.

— Protect and defend Unclaimed Property notices published in the newspaper.

— Sales tax on newspaper subscriptions (clarification on tax applied to delivery charges).

— Protection of state university student journalists (some press associations are taking up this issue).

Missouri Press Association will work to strengthen the state’s Sunshine Law.  The Sunshine Law, providing for open meetings and open records of public governmental bodies, was first passed in 1973.  The law’s 40th anniversary is in 2013.

Here are some of the areas of the Sunshine Law MPA wishes to address:

Bill to strengthen the Sunshine Law

— Defines Public Meeting to include a gathering of newly-elected members of the body, who have not formally taken office, when they are gathered with current members of the body, discussing public business such that a quorum of the body would be present at said meeting.

— Defines Public Record to include any lease, sublease, rental agreement, or similar instrument entered into by any public governmental body, or any sublease of a publicly-owned facility entered into between any party and the entity which shall have the rights to manage said facility, or any other agreement for the rental, construction or renovation of said facility.

— “Reasonable Notice” of a meeting shall include making available copies of the notice to any “member of the public” or representative of the news media who requests notice of meetings of a particular public governmental body.

— No action or discussion at any meeting shall be undertaken on any item not appearing on the posted agenda, except that members of a public governmental body or its staff may briefly respond to statements made or questions posed by members of the public attending a public meeting.

— Notice of meetings of public governmental bodies (except for the General Assembly and its committees) would be required to be posted 48 hours in advance. (The current requirement is 24 hours in advance.)  Postings of meetings of the General Assembly and its committees would remain at 24 hours in advance.

— Minutes of open and closed meetings shall reflect a summary of the discussions occurring during any closed meeting, but nothing in the subsection shall require the disclosure of records or votes that are properly closed pursuant to section 610.021. No action may be taken by a public body without a vote, either by roll call or by voice vote, pursuant to statutory requirements.

— Settlement agreements must be publicly disclosed in an open meeting, orally or in writing, or both, and shall occur at the next scheduled open meeting of the public body.

— Where there are meetings, records and votes due to a “cause of action” as cited in 610.021 (1), the body must have received evidence that a lawsuit has been filed, although not yet served, or shall have actual correspondence from a party stating that litigation shall be filed under certain circumstances stated in said correspondence.

— “Individually identifiable personnel records” exemption (610.021 (13)) shall not apply to “records of former employment, including dates and locations of service and all records relating to performance evaluations for all employees of public school districts.”

— Exemptions 610.021 (18) and (19) are extended to sunset December 31, 2016.  The exemptions would cover specific public safety response plans.  Information released by public governmental bodies to potential bidders for purposes of soliciting bids for public projects would not be closed.  Information closed by exemption 19 would be limited to specific systems and plans in use or under consideration for use in real property presently occupied by a public governmental body.

— In exemption 610.021 (22), the name of the individual, corporation, or other business entity and the amount of any public funding provided to such individual, corporation, or other business entity by the public institution of higher education shall be deemed as records open for public inspection.

— Only members of a public governmental body, their attorney and staff assistants, and any other person necessary to provide information needed by or requested by the public governmental body in regard to the matter being discussed shall be permitted in a closed meeting.

— Each custodian of a public governmental body shall create and maintain an index of all public records maintained by its public governmental body.

— If records are requested in a certain format, the public body shall provide the records in the requested format, if such format is “readily reproducible in that format. Data-processing programs used by public governmental bodies shall allow for copying of data in a format that is easily accessed and manipulated by programs commonly available to the public, provided that this requirement shall not be construed to compel a hospital operated by the board of curators of the University of Missouri or under chapter 96, 205, or 206 to violate its licensing agreement for the use of proprietary data processing systems for financial or patient medical record information.”

— If a public record contains material which is not exempt from disclosure as well as material which is exempt from disclosure, the public governmental body shall, “at its expense,” separate the exempt and nonexempt material and make the nonexempt material available for examination and copying.

— “Mobile communication device” is defined as cellular phone or other mobile electronic device able to send e-mail or other electronic data transmission.

— “Research time” for fulfilling records requests is defined as “only the time reasonably spent in locating the subject records for purposes of responding to the request, and in no event shall it include time spent in reviewing the records to determine whether such records are closed or open records or whether portions of such records are exempt from disclosure and subject to separation as set forth in section 610.024.”

— In regard to fees for providing access to public records, “in no event shall such fees include charges for time spent in reviewing the records to determine whether such records are closed or open records or whether portions of such records are exempt from disclosure and subject to separation as set forth in section 610.024.”

— In any legal proceeding, there shall be a presumption that a meeting, record, or vote is open to the public. The burden shall be on a public governmental body or a member of a public governmental body to prove that such meeting, record, or vote may be closed to the public.

— A body or member of the body found violating the Sunshine Law shall be subject to a civil penalty of $100. If the court finds that there is a violation of the Sunshine Law, the court “shall” order the payment by the body or member of all costs and reasonable attorney fees to any party successfully establishing a violation.

— The fine for a purposeful violation of the Sunshine Law shall be a civil penalty in an amount up to $5,000.  (This is no change from current law.)

— A public governmental body may only delay release of a record for a reasonable time while waiting for an opinion from an attorney pursuant to 610.027 (6).  A “reasonable time” shall be defined as a period no longer than 30 days from the date that the request for a formal opinion is made.

— A public governmental body “that maintains its records in an electronic format shall make information available in a format easily accessed and managed by programs commonly available to the public.”

— “Incident report,” would be defined as a record of a law enforcement agency as created by that agency, but including at least the following minimum elements: the date, time, specific location, name and home address of the victim and immediate facts and circumstances surrounding the initial report of a crime or incident, including any logs or reported crimes, accidents and complaints maintained by that agency. The home address of a victim of domestic violence, forcible rape, sexual assault or stalking will be redacted from the incident report prior to release by the law enforcement agency.

— Any member of the news media operating within the State of Missouri shall, upon written request, obtain a complete unaltered and unedited incident report.

— The court shall find that the party seeking disclosure of an investigative report of any law enforcement agency shall have its reasonable and necessary costs and attorneys fees paid if it finds that the decision of the law enforcement agency not to open the investigative report was substantially unjustified under all relevant circumstances.

Members who have suggested improvements to the Sunshine Law are urged to contact Doug Crews or Jean Maneke.

MPA representatives are currently discussing the Sunshine Law proposals with legislators, seeking bill sponsors, and hoping for early legislative committee hearings in the 2013 session.

The MPA Legislative Committee meeting adjourned at 3:10 p.m.

Minutes submitted by Doug Crews, MPA

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