JEFFERSON CITY - The plan to toughen the state's Sunshine Law was made a bit tougher by a House committee Wednesday -- which also added a major loophole for government-owned hospitals.
The committee removed a Senate-passed provision that would require proof of intent before a public official could be convicted of violating the law.
The bill would make a public official guilty regardless whether the official intended to violate the law or even knew of the requirements.
"There needs to be some intent to defeat the public's right to know," said Rep. Mike Gibbons, R-St. Louis County. Gibbons was one of three to vote against the House Committee Amendment. Fourteen members voted in favor.
Gary Markenson, executive director for the Missouri Municipal League also said there needs to be some proof a person meant to defy the law. He said even if members of a government agency make a mistake, they will be required to pay a fine.
"Any accidental error, you're found guilty," Markenson said. "Now the question is how much are you going to pay? You have to prove yourself innocent."
However, Rep. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville, said this proposal makes reasonable changes to the current law.
"I don't worry about having to prove they knowingly violated the law," she said.
Ridgeway said she wants to protect smaller governmental bodies that may not know about the Open Meetings Law.
"Our volunteers on smaller political subdivisions provide a tremendously valuable service to the quality of life in rural Missouri," she said. "There needs to be some indication that they knew about the law."
There must be proof the official knowingly violated the law to be held responsible for paying court costs and attorney's fees for the other side.
"There is a potential $2,500 fine for accidentally violating a very complex law," Markenson said.
The House Committee Amendment also added a provision for public hospitals to close records when it pertains to long-term strategic plans, managed care contracts or doctor's salaries.
"There needs to be some protection from competitive raping of public hospital's physician contracts," Ridgeway said.
Because public hospitals must keep its salary records open, private hospitals have the ability to lure doctors to other hospitals.