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Committee passes bill for UM under sunshine

March 10, 1999
By: Jennifer Lutz
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 892

JEFFERSON CITY - Those hearing the bill to put University of Missouri System under the Sunshine Law voted to go ahead with the measure.

But it is questionable whether it will actually reach the House floor this session.

"This bill is probably dead," said co-sponsor Marsha Campbell, D-Kansas City. "I'm happy it passed out of committee, but because it is so far down on the calender, it is probably a moot point."

The calendar that Campbell talks about is a list of bills pending before the House that are brought up in the order in which they were placed on the calendar. Every year, more bills get placed on that calendar than the House has time to consider.

The legislation specifically would include MU in the Open Meetings Law. It would make all public records accessible to anyone who wants the information and let the public attend meetings of University bodies.

"There are some situations when a board might want to do audits or research without being in the spotlight," said Rep. Todd Akin, R-St. Louis County, the only committee member to vote against the bill.

"For example if they wanted to find out if a person for a promotion was credible, they might want to investigate it without it becoming a big deal."

Because the bill did not unanimously pass, it was unable to be placed on a special list of bills that gets priority consideration by the House.

"It is great that the bill passed, but this is probably the farthest it will go," said bill sponsor Rep. Tim Van Zandt, D-Kansas City. "Unless something amazing happens it won't get to the floor."

The UM System has argued only certain records fall under the open meeting's law, and that audits are not public information. Supporters of the bill say all public records should be open. The Kansas City Star currently is suing the University for access to internal audits.

"The one main concern with this bill is the listing of the University of Missouri," said Jim Snider, the University System's lobbyist. "What might a court say 20 years from now? It is hard to say what the intent of the issue is."

Snider said if the bill happens to pass both the House and the Senate in the future, the UM system will not challenge the legislation to the Missouri Supreme Court.

"We are obviously covered under the Open Meeting's Law," Snider said. "The problem is what a court will say in 2020 about the legal implications."

Campbell said she will either try to attach the bill to a different piece of legislation or try again next session.

"Sure I'm going to try again next year," Van Zandt said. "You never stop when you have a good idea."