Missouri Freedom of Information Act
What is the Missouri Freedom of Information Act?
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a federal act passed by Congress to provide any person with access to any identifiable, existing records of federal agencies and departments without having to demonstrate a need or reason. Since the FOIA was passed in 1966, states in the United States have enacted their own adaptation of the FOIA to govern the disclosure of public records in their jurisdictions. Missouri's FOIA law is known as the Missouri Sunshine Law, which was established seven years following the passage of the federal FOIA. In 1973, the Missouri Constitution was amended to include Chapter 610 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri (RSMo), making the state one of the pioneers of the open records legislation. The legislation expressly specified that public governmental bodies' meetings, records, votes, acts, and debates must be available to the public.
The Missouri Sunshine Law demonstrates the Missouri government's commitment to openness in government as stated in Section 610.011 of RSMo. The Sunshine Law outlines specific instances when a record, meeting, or vote may be close while emphasizing that such exceptions to public disclosure must be strictly interpreted in order to promote the public policy of openness. Per the Sunshine Law, public meetings, including those conducted over the Internet, by telephone, or other electronic means, must be held at reasonably convenient times and be open to the public. Also, public meetings must be held in facilities large enough to accommodate projected attendance by the public and accessible to disabled persons.
What is Covered Under the Missouri Freedom of Information Act?
The Missouri Sunshine Law covers all public governmental bodies' public records, including all arms of local and state government and quasi-public governmental bodies, which are corporations or persons who primarily enter into agreements with public governmental bodies, accept public funds, or perform public functions. The Sunshine Law also applies to subcommittees appointed to provide recommendations to public bodies.
Missouri defines a public governmental body to include, among others, the executive and legislative branches of government, the judicial branch when operating in an administrative capacity, political subdivisions of the state, commissions and committees appointed by the governor, and deliberative bodies when under the direction of three or more elected or appointed members with quasi-judicial or rule-making authority. A public governmental body also includes Curators of the University of Missouri and any other governing body of an institution of higher learning supported in part or whole from state funds.
As defined under the Sunshine Law, a public record refers to any record, whether written or electronically stored, maintained by or of any public governmental body, including any report, memo, survey, or other document prepared for the governmental body. The record may be prepared by a consultant or other professional service paid for in part or whole by public funds. It may include records maintained or created by private contractors under an agreement with or on behalf of a public governmental body.
Per RSMo 610.010(4), records of a public governmental body relating to multistate or regional entities (such as planning authorities) are also subject to the Sunshine Law to the degree that the public governmental body retains such records.
What Records are Exempt from the Freedom of Information Act in Missouri?
Pursuant to RSMo 610.021, except to the degree to which disclosure is required by law, a public governmental body is permitted to prohibit access to meetings, votes, and records, to the degree to which they relate to the following:
- Legal proceedings, causes of action, or litigation involving a public governmental body, and any privileged or confidential communications between a public governmental body, its representatives, or its counsel.
- Leasing, acquisition, or sale of real estate by a public governmental body if public awareness of the transaction might jeopardize the legal considerations for the transaction.
- Hiring, disciplining, promoting, or firing of certain employees by a public governmental body when the employees' personal information is recorded or discussed.
- The Missouri militia or national guard or any part of these two bodies.
- Medical, psychiatric, psychological, or alcoholic or drug dependence diagnosis or treatment in nonjudicial mental or physical health proceedings involving identified persons.
- Individuals' scholastic probation, expulsion, or graduation, including records of individual test or examination results.
- Testing and examination materials, either prior to the administration of the test or examination or after.
- Welfare records of identifiable persons.
- Preparation, including any conversations or work products, on behalf of a governmental body or its representatives for the purpose of bargaining with labor groups.
- Software programs for the processing of electronic data and their documentation
- Specifications for competitive bidding until they are approved or published
- Sealed bids and associated records until the bids are opened; sealed proposals and related documents to a negotiated contract until they are executed, or all proposals are rejected.
- Personnel records, performance evaluations, or other documents belonging to identifiable persons
- Legally protected documents.
- Meetings and public records pertaining to scientific and technological breakthroughs in which the owner has a proprietary interest.
- Records pertaining to municipal hotlines created with the purpose of reporting abuse and malfeasance.
- Communications between a public governmental entity and its auditor that are confidential or privileged, including all auditor work output.
- Operational policies, guidelines, and specific response plans created, adopted, or maintained by a public agency responsible for law enforcement, first response, public safety, or public health for the purpose of responding to or averting any critical incident that is or appears to be terrorist in nature and poses a threat to an individual or public safety or health.
- Proposed or existing security systems and structural plans of real property leased or owned by public governmental bodies.
- The part of a record that specifies real estate security systems, access codes, or permission codes.
- Records that identify the configuration or the functioning of a computer, computer system, computer network, or telecommunications network of a public governmental entity whose disclosure may result in unauthorized access or disruption of services.
- Credit card numbers, PINs, digital certificates, physical and virtual keys, access codes, and authorization codes used to safeguard the security of electronic transactions between a public governmental body and a person or organization doing business with that body.
- Records provided to a public institution of higher education by a corporation, person, or other business entity relating to a proposal to license intellectual property or conduct sponsored research. These records may also contain sales projections or other business plan information whose disclosure could jeopardize a business's competitiveness.
How Do I File a Missouri Freedom of Information Act Request?
After identifying the public record you wish to obtain, the next step is to contact the record custodian at the agency responsible for maintaining the record. It would help if you also familiarize yourself with the request policy of the agency before initiating contact. Pursuant to RSMo 610.023, every public agency in Missouri is required to nominate a record custodian and publish written policies detailing the procedures for requesting public records maintained by the agency. Typically, no statement of purpose is necessary to make a request, and no restrictions are placed on the use of records, except in some instances, which are usually limited to legitimate research purposes. You need not be a Missouri resident before requesting public records in the state.
You may begin a public record request through an informal telephone inquiry if it is permitted in accordance with the request policy of the record custodian. You can find the telephone number of the custodian or section of the agency in charge of public records by visiting the agency's website. Many agencies also allow requesters to fill Sunshine Law request forms online, while others have downloadable request forms on their websites for requesters to complete and mail to the applicable mailing addresses.
However, many public record requesters make requests in writing. To make a request in writing, include as much information as possible to help the agency find the record promptly. It is also recommended that you include your contact details, such as email address, mailing address, name, and telephone number. This contact information is necessary for when the record custodian needs to contact you for more information on your request.
To make a public record request to the Missouri Department of Transportation, complete the public record request online form or submit a written request to the Secretary of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission by mailing the formal request to P.O. Box 270, Jefferson City, Missouri 65102 or by fax at (573) 522-2698. Payment for the public record may be made electronically or by checks. For payments made by checks, make them payable to "Department of Revenue-Credit State Road Fund" and mailed to:
Financial Services Division – Accounts Receivable
Missouri Department of Transportation
P.O. Box 270
Jefferson City, MO 65102
Payments made electronically may be done through a credit card, debit card, or E-check by calling (573) 526-4280 and speaking with a financial services representative.
To submit an open record request to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, you may use the Public Records Center system to make a request online or submit a written request by mail to:
Missouri Department of Natural Resources
Attn: Custodian of Record
P.O. Box 176
Jefferson City, MO 65102
The Department of Natural Resources recommends that requesters include the following in their written requests:
- Your name (and, if applicable, the name of your organization) and contact information, including your mailing address, phone number, and email address
- Whether you intend to inspect the records in person or request print or electronic copies
- The amount you are prepared to pay for production expenses, or whether you want an estimate for production costs above a certain amount.
- Identifying information about your request, such as the facility's name, the company's location, and the permit number.
- A list or description of the exact information you are looking for
What is the Cost of a Freedom of Information Act Request in Missouri?
The Missouri Sunshine Law permits record custodians to charge fees for inspecting or copying public records, including duplication costs and charges for the cost of labor and research involved in duplication. Per RSMo 610.026, fees for copying public records may not exceed $0.10 per page for a paper copy up to 9 x 14 inches, with an hourly fee for duplication not exceeding the average hourly pay rate for clerical staff of the agency. The Sunshine Law permits requesters to request an estimate for duplication cost before producing copies of the requested record.
The Sunshine Law allows an agency to grant a waiver or a reduction in the fees for producing copies of requested records if the agency considers a full or partial fee waiver to be in the public interest. A waiver usually occurs if the disclosure of the record is deemed likely to significantly contribute to public understanding of the public governmental body's operations or activities and is not primarily in the requester's commercial interest. Typical public record requests fees are available on the Department of Transportation and the Department of Natural Resources public record request pages.
How Long Does it Take to Respond to a Freedom of Information Act Request in Missouri?
Per RSMo 610.023, each request for access to a public record must be processed promptly but no later than three business days after the receipt of the request. If a public body receives a request for records in a particular format, it must supply the records in that format if it is accessible. If access to the record is not immediately granted, the custodian is required to provide a detailed explanation of the reason for the additional delay, as well as the place, earliest time, and date when the record will be available for inspection. For justifiable cause, this time for document production may be extended beyond three days. A justifiable cause may be a large volume of requests at the agency's office or a need to contact another agency before the release of a record can be approved.
The Missouri Sunshine Law permits requesters to file a suit in court following the denial of access to a public record. However, under RSMo 619.027.1, the suit must be filed in the county where the agency has its principal place of business. Per RSMo 610.027.5, suits for the enforcement of the provisions of the Sunshine Law may be filed within one year from which the violation is ascertainable but no more than two years following the violation.