August 28, 2014

Sunshine law proposal turns into forum on purchase of new plane by Highway Patrol

Debate in the House over legislation to extend exemptions to the state’s open records law on Tuesday turned into a discussion of the recent purchase of a new plane by the Highway Patrol, and the use of the patrol’s air fleet.

Representative Caleb Jones sponsored the original proposal, to extend certain exemptions to the state Sunshine Law.

Representative Caleb Jones sponsored the original proposal, to extend certain exemptions to the state Sunshine Law.  (Photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communciations)

The proposal, HBs 256, 33 and 305 would extend exemptions to what is commonly called the “Sunshine Law” for plans and policies for response to terror incidents or other emergencies by law enforcement, public safety officials, first responders and public health officials.

That includes school evacuation plans, which the sponsor, Representative Caleb Jones (R-California) was particularly concerned about.

“There have been seven requests for evacuation plans in schools here in Missouri. I think that should concern everybody in here, that people are trying to find the evacuation plans in schools here in Missouri potentially to do harm to them.”

An amendment offered by Representative Denny Hoskins (R-Warrensburg) was adopted that would make flights and requests for flights on state Highway Patrol planes public record. That amendment was changed to make that information available only after flights have occurred. It passed with 16 Democrat “yes” votes.

Representative Jeff Roorda (D-Barnhart) objected to the change.

He asked Jones, “Does it concern you at all that we’re taking the opportunity for a bipartisan piece of legislation that extends a very important sunset on school security and security in other public buildings and we’re turning it into a ‘pull the governor’s pants down’ bill?”

See our earlier story on the House Budget Committee discussion of the plane purchase.

Representative Mark Parkinson (R-St. Charles) offered an amendment that would have allowed use of highway patrol aircraft only by the Department of Public Safety. Representative Chris Kelly (D-Columbia) said that would have interfered with the work of several state agencies who use patrol planes.

“Look, I understand wanting to harass the governor about the plane. The governor abuses the plane, every governor in my 7 or 8 governors abuses the plane … every governor in the future will abuse the plane, but why screw up the entire government?”

Representative Kevin Engler (R-Farmington) didn’t want to take away the power of the governor to use a state plane.

“The only time that a governor, any governor, whether it was Bond, Ashcroft, Blunt, Carnahan that comes to Farmington, they use the airport there because they fly in with the state patrol rather than take the drive in … I would prefer to have the governor in town every once in a while.”

Parkinson withdrew the amendment, saying there wasn’t support for his proposal in the chamber.

“A lot of members in this body don’t have the stomach … to hold the executive on the second floor in this building accountable for his abuse of the budget process.”

Other amendments to the bill were to make public any footage from cameras outside the governor’s office in the capitol building and to exempt records that identify security systems or their access codes.

The legislation needs another favorable vote to advance to the Senate.