Open Government Guide
Missouri – The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Benjamin A. Lipman
Vice-President of Legal Affairs and General Counsel
Two statutes govern access to government meetings and records in Missouri: (1) a statute commonly known as the Sunshine Law, Mo.Rev.Stat. § 610.010-.035 (together with the separately named Arrest Records Law, Mo.Rev.Stat. §§ 610.100-.126), originally enacted in 1973; and (2) the Public Records Law, Mo.Rev.Stat. §§ 109.180-.190, originally enacted in 1961.
The Sunshine Law (together with the Arrest Records Law) governs access to government meetings, records and votes. It imposes a general rule requiring public access to meetings, records, votes, actions and deliberations of public governmental bodies. Mo.Rev.Stat. § 610.011. However, the Sunshine Law enumerates certain exceptions to the general rule. Mo.Rev.Stat. § 610.021. Under the Sunshine Law, public access to government meetings or records may be denied only to the extent specifically authorized by the Sunshine Law or other statutes. Generally, matters within an enumerated exception are not automatically closed. Even if a record or proceeding may be closed, it remains open until formally closed, and, although there are exceptions, typically, the government is not required to close records or meetings, even when it has the power to close them. The Sunshine Law was amended in 1994, however, to prohibit disclosure by an “executive agency” of records “closed by law” to the extent disclosure would allow identification of individual persons or entities, except in certain instances. See Mo.Rev.Stat. § 610.032. But see Mo.Rev.Stat. § 610.022.4 (“Nothing in sections 610.010 to 610.028 shall be construed as to require a public governmental body to hold a closed meeting, record or vote . . .”); Chasnoff v. Board of Police Commissioners, 334 S.W.3d 147, 151 (Mo.Ct.App. 2011) (“Nothing in section 610.021 mandates the closure of records”). An “executive agency” is defined to include state administrative agencies, boards of regents or of curators of public colleges and universities, and subdivisions or agents of such administrative agencies. See Mo.Rev.Stat. § 610.032.5; Mo.Rev.Stat. § 172.180. With the aid of computer-assisted research, we have attempted to include those statutes that specifically close records or proceedings. We cannot guarantee we identified all of them, and the legislature continues to add to the list of prohibited disclosures.
The Public Records Law is more limited than the Sunshine Law, and only applies to government records that are kept pursuant to statute or ordinance. Mo.Rev.Stat. § 109.180. Moreover, access under the Public Records Law is subject to reasonable regulations by the government agencies affected. Although the Sunshine Law is broader than the Public Records Law, and, generally, every record that could be obtained under the Public Records Law could also be obtained under the Sunshine Law, the Public Records Law remains significant. A statute may expressly exempt certain government records from the Sunshine Law, but fail to address the Public Records Law. Cf. Missouri Development Finance Board Act, Mo.Rev.Stat. § 100.296.