Harris calls for open records safeguards

By Chris Rizo | Jul 14, 2008

Jeff Harris

Margaret Donnelly

Chris Koster

COLUMBIA, Mo. (Legal Newline)-Democratic attorney general hopeful Jeff Harris is calling for an overhaul of Missouri's open government laws.

The Columbia Democrat said if elected he would, among other things, bar state officials from having private email accounts and would establish a legal presumption that documents are open records.

He said the attorney general's office should have the authority to determine whether or not records are subject to the Sunshine Law.

Harris also said he wants to increase the maximum fine for Sunshine Law violators from $1,000 to $5,000, and wants to establish a Sunshine Law Enforcement Unit to investigate complaints of public records violations.

"Whether they are on a town council or they are the governor of the state, public officials must understand that government records belong to the people, and not to them," Harris said in a statement.

Harris released his plan months after he and the governor's office tussled over state e-mail records.

After Harris said he praised state employees for blowing the whistle when Gov. Matt Blunt's office tried to erase e-mail records, Blunt's office challenged Harris to release every e-mail his office had sent or received.

The Republican governor's chief of staff, Trish Vincent, later narrowed the request to one day's worth of e-mails, which Harris provided.

Harris and fellow Democratic state Reps. Margaret Donnelly and Chris Koster are vying for the chance to go up against Republican AG candidate Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, in November.

For her part, Donnelly, D-Richmond Heights, has called for stricter penalties for Sunshine Law scofflaws.

Koster, D- Harrisonville, too has called for increased penalties. He also said he would seek penalties for destruction of public records as well as safeguards to prevent record destruction.

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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