By Johnny Kampis | Missouri Watchdog
BELLERIVE – Gov. Jay Nixon called on Missouri lawmakers Friday to renew an exemption in the state’s open records law that prevents the release of safety and security procedures at facilities such as hospitals and power plants.
“These security plans are important and it’s important to keep them secret,” he said during a press conference in the student center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “You don’t hand the keys to your house or the security code to the burglar.”
The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last month has sparked discussion about school safety, but security protocols for such government buildings as public schools are open records in Missouri. That’s because the Sunshine Law exemption that closes those records expired Dec. 31. See sections 18 and 19 of the law that allows for certain government meetings and records to be sealed.
Flanked by dozens of uniformed police officers and public school officials, Nixon called the provisions a “proven and balanced approach” to keeping sensitive documents out of the hands of terrorists while also respecting “the bedrock principles of transparency and accountability.”
“This needs to be re-upped quickly so the window can be closed as quickly as possible,” Nixon said.
The governor said he believes he has a broad coalition of legislators to extend the exemption, which was created after 9/11 when he was attorney general and renewed five years ago.
The Missouri General Assembly reconvenes on Wednesday after a seven-month break.
Jim Roberton, editor of the Columbia Tribune and a board member of the Missouri Sunshine Coalition, said it would be “a tough battle” to keep those records open.
“We’re always in favor of openness, but it’s hard to make a good argument against closing the security plans,” he told Missouri Watchdog.
Robertson said the Tribune is requesting some of those security procedures from local agencies while the exemption is expired so the newspaper will know what’s going on in a crisis situation and “to hold public safety officials accountable for their own plans.”
The Tribune doesn’t plan to publish any of those plans.
“I expect some resistance in them turning them over, but they have to according to the law,” Robertson said.
Marlice House, a student at UMSL, told Watchdog she wouldn’t want criminals to know those safety procedures for fear they could use them to their advantage.
“People shouldn’t be able to look it up,” she said.