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Panel OKs changes to open meetings law

February 28, 1996
By: Cristina Gomez
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The House Judiciary and Ethics Committee approved changes Tuesday on the Open Meetings and Records Law that will require more meetings of U.M. Board of Curators to be open.

Now, only committees under the curators' appointment are covered by the state's open meetings law.

Rep. Tim Harlan, D-Columbia, said if a committee is appointed by the president, the chancellor or any other executive officer of the U.M. system, the chairman of the committee can decide whether the meeting will be open.

"It's not a decision that should be up to the chair," said Harlan, sponsor of the bill.

The bill has been passed with a new amendment presented by Rep. Mark Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff. It specifies the meetings would have to be "for the purpose of recommendory policy or policy revisions to the governing body of said institution."

The House committee approval of the bill is another page in a saga that started in 1978 when the University denied a Columbia Daily Tribune reporter access to an informal dinner of the board of curators and administrative records.

The Tribune filed a lawsuit that the Boone County Circuit Court Judge John Cave ruled in favor of the newspaper in 1982.

The University appealed the decision and the appellate court reversed the first decision. The Supreme Court of Missouri upheld the appeals court decision in 1983.

The Missouri Press Association expressed its support for Harlan's proposed change.

"All those (meetings) deal with spending tax dollars," said press association representative Jean Maneke, who testified in favor of Harlan's changes in a committee hearing.

Also appearing before the committee hearing was Hank Waters, publisher of the Columbia Tribune. No officials from MU testified the hearing.

"What the university needs is some clear guidelines as to which meetings would be considered open," U.M. lobbyist Jim Snider said of the inicial changes.

Harlan said UM never came to him with any proposal for guidelines.

Snider said that the way the bill was written would make every meeting open "whether it be students, faculty or whatever." Making a meeting open means that it has to be posted 24 hours in advance.

"Let's assume there are 500 meetings a day. How are we going to post that?" said Snider.

Snider said yesterday he still hadn't looked at Richardson's new amendments.

"It is minor change in the language of the bill," said Maneke. "It is not that disruptive because doesn't affect that many committees."

If the bill's changes are approved, subjects such as budgets and curricula and staff health plans would be open.