States have enacted Sunshine Laws to ensure governmental integrity and accountability. Sunshine Laws require governmental bodies (commissions, boards, advisory committees, and agencies) to hold meetings, deliberations, and votes open to the public, unless otherwise provided by law. Sunshine Laws also guarantee public access to the records of governmental bodies, unless otherwise provided by law.
Public Meeting Notice
Generally, notice of public meetings must be posted at least 24 hours before the meeting is scheduled to take place. The notice must include the date, time, and location of the meeting, a tentative agenda, and a disclosure of whether the meeting is open or closed.
The records of a governmental body must be open to the public for inspection and copying, unless a specific law provides otherwise. The governmental body can charge a reasonable fee for searching and copying public records. It has discretion to reduce or waive the costs.
Closed Meetings and Records
By law, states permit certain types of meetings and records to be closed. For example, the Missouri Sunshine Law provides that an individual's personnel records are closed, and the records of certain real estate transactions do not need to be disclosed if disclosure might affect the price of the transaction. For a governmental agency to meet in closed session, it must cite the specific statute allowing it to do so. During the closed session, the agency may not consider matters beyond the matter that can be discussed in closed session.
Enforcement of Sunshine Laws
Generally, private citizens, as well as the state attorney general or county prosecutor, can file a lawsuit to enforce Sunshine Laws. The court can impose a civil fine if it determines that a governmental body has violated the provisions of the Sunshine Laws.
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