Hawley Proposes Penalty for Violating Records Retention Law

Jan 28, 2018

Attorney General Josh Hawley says his office needs more power to enforce the state's open records laws.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo / St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley is urging lawmakers to make three major changes to how the state enforces its public records laws:

·  First, he’s proposing to create a new division within his office that would have independence when investigating state violators of the Sunshine Law, Missouri’s open records law.

·   Hawley is asking lawmakers for the power to issues subpoenas when investigating public records law cases.

·   And he’s asking the legislature to create a penalty for violating the records retention law, Chapter 109 of Missouri Revised Statues

“The records retention law tells agencies and governmental bodies what they need to retain, which then may be later requested for Sunshine review.  Currently, the records retention law has no enforcement provisions in it at all, and no penalties,” Hawley told reporters in Jefferson City.

Dr. Jonathan Groves is the president of the Sunshine Coalition, a volunteer non-profit organization 

Dr. Jonathan Groves is a journalism professor at Drury University and president of The Sunshine Coalition, a volunteer group dedicated to government transparency.
Credit Drury University

dedicated to government transparency.   He says these measures would especially be helpful to ordinary citizens trying to access records.

“I think when you’re a news organization or a large institution, you have a few more resources at your disposal to put up a Sunshine Law fight.  But if you’re an individual who’s just trying to get information from an organization, then you don’t have the legal or financial resources to put up a fight. You’re kind of stuck,” Groves said.

All Missouri citizens have the right to file a Sunshine Law request—or to file a complaint that a request has not been honored.

Groves is also calling for more training of public officials on how to respond to Sunshine Law requests.

Attorney General Josh Hawley did not propose any changes to the Sunshine Law in terms of text messages or electronic apps used for government business.

Hawley is conducting an inquiry into the office of Governor Greitens for its alleged use of a texting app called Confide, which destroys texts without a trace once they’ve been read. According to the Attorney General, that inquiry is ongoing.