Progress Missouri Files Sunshine Law Complaint After Missouri Citizens Are Denied Access to Public Committee Hearings

Today, Progress Missouri filed a Sunshine Law complaint with the Missouri Attorney General’s office seeking clarification of the law and assistance in opening public meetings to Missouri citizens. The complaint alleges that some members of the Missouri Senate are violating the provisions and spirit of the Missouri Sunshine Law by denying citizens access to capture video of public committee hearings. Twice already this session, members of the Progress Missouri team have been denied access to capture video of public committee hearings, an activity explicitly allowed for by the Sunshine Law. This has happened in previous sessions as well.

“Why are these guys afraid Missourians might see what they’re doing and how they’re voting?” asked Sean Soendker Nicholson, Progress Missouri’s Executive Director, after filing the complaint. “Regardless of their motivations, the Sunshine Law protects the rights of the public and press to document what their government is doing. It’s time for Senators to start following the law.”

On January 28, Senator Brian Nieves claimed portions of a public hearing of the Senate General Laws Committee could not be recorded by video because of an unspecified "senate policy." Video cameras were ordered to cease recording when the committee began an otherwise public executive session. Press reports from the same hearing indicate that a KOMU video camera was ordered to be removed from the hearing by Senator Nieves.

On January 16, Senator Will Kraus’s office denied Progress Missouri’s request to film a public hearing. No reason was given.

In neither instance were concerns raised about disrupting or interfering with business of the committees. Instead, the denials of access were arbitrary, and troubling.

The Sunshine Law states that "a public body shall allow for the recording by audiotape, videotape, or other electronic means of any open meeting." Furthermore, the Sunshine Law advises public officials that its provisions "shall be liberally construed and their exceptions strictly construed to promote this public policy."

Progress Missouri and other members of the public seek the ability to collect video of the General Assembly's public meetings without arbitrary and unnecessary restrictions.

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COMPLAINT LANGUAGE

Attorney General Koster,

I believe that some members of the Missouri Senate are violating the provisions and spirit of the Missouri Sunshine Law, and am seeking clarification of the law and assistance in opening public meetings to Missouri's citizens.

Twice already this session, members of the Progress Missouri team were denied access to capture video of public committee hearings, an activity explicitly allowed for by the Sunshine Law. This has happened in previous sessions as well.

On January 16, 2014, the Chief of Staff for Senator Will Kraus denied Amandy Latty permission to film a public hearing via email (see below) before the hearing began. No reason was given.

On January 28, 2014, Senator Brian Nieves claimed portions of a public hearing of the Senate General Laws Committee could not be recorded by video because of an unspecified "senate policy." Video cameras were ordered to cease recording when the committee began an otherwise public executive session. Video of Sen. Nieves ordering citizens to turn off cameras in the public meeting may be found at http://youtu.be/3J407evFjAc.

News coverage about Nieves' actions in the January 28 public hearing may be found at http://www.columbiatribune.com/news/nieves-bans-videotaping-of-session/a.... This story reports the following: "The chairman of the Senate General Laws Committee banned video coverage of the final debate and vote of his committee approving a bill that seeks to declare Missouri exempt from some federal gun laws. Earlier, a reporter for an NBC-affiliated television station had his camera removed by a Senate staffer from the committee on the a second day of hearings on the bill." Related video may be found at http://youtu.be/c2YrEIJelu4.

These denials of access to public hearings in the Missouri Senate are troubling.

The Sunshine Law states that "a public body shall allow for the recording by audiotape, videotape, or other electronic means of any open meeting."

Furthermore, the Sunshine Law advises public officials that its provisions "shall be liberally construed and their exceptions strictly construed to promote this public policy."

Progress Missouri and other members of the public seek the ability to collect video of the General Assembly's public meetings without arbitrary and unnecessary restrictions.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Sean Soendker Nicholson
Executive Director, Progress Missouri
[email protected]

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From: Mark Siettmann <[email protected]>
Date: January 16, 2014 at 8:04:30 AM CST
To: Latty, Amanda
Subject: RE: Notification of Intent to Record

Amanda,

It is at the discretion of the Chairman whether or not to allow video recording of committee meetings.

It is traditional to ask permission, not assume it.

At this time permission is denied. Feel free to find me in the hearing room if you would like to discuss this.

Mark

Mark T Siettmann
Chief of Staff
Office of Senator Will Kraus, 8th District

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