On July 9, Governor Mike Parson vetoed House Bill 362, sponsored by Rep. Bruce DeGroot, R-Ellisville, a bill modifying the state’s Sunshine Law. The bill, as approved by the General Assembly in May, would close several records which are now open to the public. But the Governor’s veto letter gives other reasons for his veto.
HB 362 would create a new program administered by the State Auditor that would require agencies that oversee credit and lending programs on behalf of the state to compile information and supply such information to the Auditor. Then, the Auditor would be required to compile the data and submit a report to the General Assembly. The Governor in his veto letter says the Auditor “has sufficient authority under the Constitution” . . . “and existing statute to ensure state funds are properly accounted for, and to make reports to the General Assembly.” Also, the bill would require relevant state agencies to supply a report to the Auditor by Aug. 30, however, the effective date of the bill is Aug. 28, and the veto letter says the timeline is “impractical.”
The veto letter also is critical of a new program established in HB 362 under the Office of Child Advocate (OCA), which would empower the OCA to receive and investigate reports of safety concerns of employees, and of children served by the Children’s Division (CD) of the Department of Social Services. The veto letter says the provision would “expand the authority of the OCA to include further oversight of CD, including its employees” . . . “and unnecessarily undermines the existing administrative structure within CD.”
The veto letter also points out the bill would close a request for open records where the requestor fails to remit fees for provision of the records. However, a recent Missouri Supreme Court decision, Gross v. Parson, maintains that public governmental bodies are not authorized to condition provision of a date and time for inspection of open records on payment of a fee.
Other provisions of the vetoed bill include: (1) would close email addresses and telephone numbers submitted to a public governmental body by persons or entities for the sole purpose of receiving electronic or other communications limited to newsletters, notifications, advisories, and alerts; (2) would allow a public governmental body to close records of utility usage and bill records for customers of public utilities unless the customer requests them or authorizes their release; and (3) would allow a public governmental body to close records related to security and evacuation procedures, including software or surveillance companies that secure the building, for public governmental property.
Near the end of the veto letter, the Governor states, “I am supportive of the need to amendment Section 610.026 as well as the remaining provisions of the bill. I hope to work with the General Assembly next session to continue to improve the laws governing government transparency in public access to records without creating unnecessary and duplicative programs.”
In mid-September, the General Assembly will meet for its annual Veto Session when bills vetoed by the Governor could be overridden by legislators.