The state Senate is the target of a lawsuit over access to its committee hearings.
Liberal advocacy group Progress Missouri has filed a lawsuit against the state senate saying some senators who chair committees – it names Mike Kehoe, David Sater, and Mike Parson – have denied it permission to video record committee hearings.
Director Sean Nicholson says his group has been trying to work with the Senate on the issue for a couple of years.
“The sunshine law says that any member of the public has the right to record video or audio of public hearings of public bodies,” said Nicholson. “The Senate committees are some of those public bodies just like your city council or school board.”
Sater, a senator from Cassville, says he’s following the Senate’s rules, “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.”
Nicholson says Progress Missouri hasn’t been the only entity told not to record in Senate committees.
“Senator Parson, a couple of weeks ago, said no video or still photos of any kind was allowed. There was a blanket denial for members of the press, members of the public, everyone. He threatened to kick people out of the hearing if they pulled out their I-phone just to take a snapshot of what was happening. We’ve seen press reports of KRCG cameras getting kicked out or not being allowed to take video,” said Nicholson.
Some senators say the chamber’s communications staff makes video and audio available to media outlets, but Nicholson says that doesn’t always happen.
“The Senate should be providing video and live streams of everything as a service, but they aren’t and they don’t have the staff or the technology to do that,” Nicholson argues.
In order to defend its position, the Senate must prove in court its rules are not a violation of the state’s open records and meetings law. Due to the open litigation, the Senate has declined comment but cites its rules giving committee chairmen power to allow or reject cameras.
The office of Attorney General Chris Koster says it will provide counsel to the Senate and “vigorously defend the legislature in this matter.”