Title

Sunshine In the Show-Me State: Open Records and Open Meetings Legislation and Litigation In Missouri

Date of Award

1993

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Mass Communication and Journalism

First Advisor

Gene Wiggins

Advisor Department

Mass Communication and Journalism

Abstract

This comprehensive study evaluates the status of the public's right under Missouri law to inspect government records and attend government meetings. After a review of the state's common law and constitutional provisions, the research focuses on two access statutes of general application, the Open Records Act of 1961 and the Sunshine Law of 1973. The legislative history of each law and of subsequent amendments to the Sunshine Law (the Open Records Act has never been amended) is developed, and connections between these legislative enactments and the existing political and social environment are examined. Legal interpretations of each law by the courts and the Attorney General are analyzed. The state of compliance with and enforcement of the Sunshine Law, derived from a survey of prosecuting attorneys and editors, is assessed. Journalists played major roles in the passage of both the Open Records Act and the Sunshine Law. Both statutes primarily affect the executive branch of government. Because of Missouri's liberal common law tradition, the Open Records Act seems to have had little positive impact on the public's right to inspect government records. In contrast, the Sunshine Law has been continually strengthened and now appears to fulfill most of the criteria that scholars suggest are necessary far a good open records law. Its provisions for open meetings, however, while considerably stronger now than when the law was initially enacted, do not yet embrace all the components that, according to observers, should be part of an excellent open meetings law. Interpretations of the two laws by both the judiciary and the Attorney General have been mixed, and sufficient precedents exist for an opinion to reflect just about any position a writer might wish to adopt with regard to open government. Enforcement of the statutes seems to have been lax, but compliance appears to be better than might be expected. A substantial majority of both prosecuting attorneys and editors responding to the survey speculated that public governmental bodies abide by the Sunshine Law's access provisions at least 70% of the time.