Missouri Puts the F in F.O.I.

Anyone who has ever filed a Sunshine request for public records in the state of Missouri will attest that the process isn’t exactly user friendly. Want a police report in which a suspect was arrested but not charged? Not a chance. Need records detailing which establishments in the city have had the police called most frequently? That will be $5 per page, and you’ll have to wait a minimum of three to five days.

With such hassles commonplace, it comes as little surprise that Missouri was recently given a failing grade in a nationwide study of freedom-of-information compliance. The assessment came from watchdog groups the Better Government Association and the National Freedom of Information Coalition, the latter a nonprofit based at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

States were awarded points based on five categories: response time, appeals, expedited review, sanctions and fees. Missouri scored 6.5 out of a possible 16 points, bad enough to tie for twelfth-worst overall. For a complete breakdown of the study’s criteria, click here.

Virtually all of Missouri’s points came from the response time category, in which the state earned all four possible points. On the other hand, the state’s review process got a zero.

The Show Me State was hardly alone in its ineptitude, 38 states were given failing grades and none was awarded an A. Nebraska and New Jersey were the two highest-scoring states, earning 14 points each, good enough for a B. Alabama and South Dakota were the worst overall, each laying goose eggs across the board.

“Take a look at the numbers for your state, and then for other states, and you'll come to one inescapable conclusion: state FOI laws are in desperate need of reform,” NFOIC director Charles Davis wrote in analyzing the results. “From the moment a citizen walks into the state agency to make a records request to the final denial of access by a state court, each step in the process is, in most states, a stacked deck in favor of governmental secrecy. The BGA report might simply confirm what you already knew about FOI in your state, but it should serve as a catalyst for change.”

If you’d like to see some improvement in the way our state handles Sunshine requests, try sending an e-mail to Governor Matt Blunt.

Just hope he doesn’t delete it.

-Keegan Hamilton