A Proposal to Sunshine Missouri Government
The Status Quo
Missouri’s Sunshine Law has been a great boon to citizens engaged in the basic democratic process of understanding what their government is doing. Yet, Missouri’s Sunshine Law still acts under the presumptions that information is not released without a request and that citizens must often bear a cost for the access to that information. Citizens additionally face the dilemma of not knowing with specificity the extent of government records available, impeding their ability to find the records they need. Hence, the costs of monitoring government under the Sunshine Law effectively price most citizens out of access to basic information about the conduct of government.
In other words, Missouri government entities have a legal duty to maintain and archive records of their activities, but not to provide open public access.
The solution: Publish all records online
Rather than making it costly for citizens to search for and acquire public records, the law should mandate all public records be posted to an online archive, in as close to real time as possible. Since public records are already archived by statute, this law would only need to mandate the electronic publication of archive material.
This proposal would end fundamental barriers to citizen access of government records. Citizens would no longer be in the dark about the existence of any specific government record, and would have complete information about the entire corpus of government records. Additionally, ending fee-only access to government records would remove a cost incentive for citizens to rationally ignore the political process; on some margin we can expect this proposal to energize grass-roots political education and activism.
This legislation should be enacted through a ballot initiative campaign to amend the Missouri Constitution.
Please contact me at Eapen.Thampy@gmail.com if you would like to discuss the prospects for enacting some version of this proposal in the 2016 election cycle.