JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A liberal non-profit advocacy group filed a lawsuit in Cole County court today claiming that members of the Missouri Senate were violating their free speech rights as well as state open records laws by prohibiting the group from filming public hearings.
ProgressMO filed a suit naming Senators Mike Parson, Mike Kehoe and David Sater in their capacities as chairmen of various committees, claiming the prohibition of recording open meetings law violates Missouri’s Sunshine Law.
Senators have removed ProgressMO or prohibited them from filming frequently in past legislative sessions, typically citing Senate Rule 96, which states:
“Persons with cameras, flash cameras, lights, or other paraphernalia may be allowed to use such devices at committee meetings with the permission of the Chairman as long as they do not prove disruptive to the decorum of the committee.”
On several occasions, senators have indicated that members of the Missouri Capitol Press Association are permitted to film hearings if they give 24 hour notice, but that other parties must make use of the senate’s in-house communications operation to obtain audio or video of any particular hearing. ProgressMO says the distinction between press and other groups is an unfair and illegal one, and that the Senate has failed in the past to provide complete recordings of meetings.
The Senate has long maintained that state law permits public bodies to establish their own rules and regulations for their meetings that includes policies related to reasonable filming and recording. Senate staff believe Rule 96 and it’s subsequent enforcement is will within the bounds of the law.
The Senate majority caucus indicated they would not be commenting on the lawsuit, saying it was policy not to comment on active and pending legal matters.
The Senate does not have its own legal counsel, and in any lawsuits brought against the body, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster’s office will defend the state and its officials.
Collin Reischman was the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.