Attorney General candidate Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, announced his plan today to strengthen Missouri's Sunshine Law. The plan includes bigger fines for violators, stopping the use of private e-mail accounts to avoid the law, and establishing the precedent that documents are open to the public.
The plan is described in this news release from the Harris campaign:
Establish a Sunshine Law Enforcement Unit. Jeff Harris will create a special Sunshine Law Enforcement Unit in the Attorney General’s Office to aggressively pursue complaints of actions by state officials and local governments to close public meetings or withhold public records. The unit would also work to educate citizens of their rights under the Sunshine Law. The unit would be modeled after similar offices in other states.
Five Point Strategy to Protect Public Records. Jeff Harris has a five-point plan to beef up the Sunshine Law and to put a stop to efforts by some government officials to evade the law.
* Stop Governmental Employees from Using Private Accounts. Harris will put a stop to efforts by state employees form using private email accounts and Blackberries from circumventing the Sunshine Law. All emails concerning public business would have to be retained by the custodian of records.
* Legal Presumption of Openness. Harris will create a legal presumption that documents are open to the public, with the Attorney General’s office determining if records are not subject to the Sunshine Law.
* Fines for Negligent Violators. Harris will pursue legislation to allow for fines to be assessed for negligent violations of the Sunshine Law. Ignorance of the law should not excuse misdeeds by government officials.
* Increased Maximum Fine for Violators. Harris will also seek to increase the maximum fine from $1,000 to $5,000 for violating the Sunshine Law. In determining the amount of a fine, the court would be required to take into account whether an official negligently, knowingly or purposely violated the law.
* Require a Fiscal Note on Sunshine Law Impact. Harris will seek legislation to require a fiscal note summary that accompanies any legislation to state whether or not the proposed legislation will impact the Sunshine Law.
The Harris campaign also issued a new video, which accompanies this post, describing his battles with Gov. Matt Blunt over e-mail records.