Missouri’s government at work

By: 
Dennis Warden

L

ast Tuesday I came to work early wearing a grey suit, white shirt and a red tie. This is not my normal attire for any working day, including Tuesdays. My routine was altered on Monday afternoon at 3 o’clock when I received a phone call from the executive director of the Missouri Press Association, Mark Maassen. 

He was looking for a newspaper publisher to give a testimony against Senate Bill 580 at 10 a.m. on Tuesday before a committee. Tuesday is most weekly newspapers’ deadline day. The Senate apparently didn’t know that when they scheduled this hearing.

This year the Missouri legislature will be in session through May 18. Like many organizations, the Missouri Press Association employees lobbyists to protect our interests.

Lobbyists have gotten a bad reputation. You may not be aware of it but I would bet there are lobbyists at the state and/or national level working for your interests. 

If you work in a union, there are lobbyists for you. If you are retired there are lobbyists pushing an agenda friendly to you. If you are a teacher, work at a bank, a truck driver or in manufacturing…you get the idea.

No matter what you do there is a lobbyist trying to affect government in your favor.

If our state legislature would not introduce and try to pass any new legislation there would be no need for the lobbying industry. That is not going to happen.

Very seldom, if ever, does a lawmaker introduce a bill that everyone agrees with and passes through both chambers without delay. 

Senate Bill 580 was introduced by Senator Douglas Libla. The bill allows legally-required notices to be published on a website established and maintained by the Secretary of State.

Legal notices are found published in weekly and daily newspapers throughout the state. They have been around since the early days of the United States. Legal notices are one of the few regular and official communication channels that exist between levels of government and its citizens.

Legal notices that are found in most newspapers each week include foreclosure notices. If a creditor cannot reach the home owner, this serves as a notice that legal action is about to take place against them.

In many newspapers last week, county government printed their annual financial statement. That was a legal notice showing us how our tax money was spent.

There are many problems with Senate Bill 580 not the least of which is its reliance on reaching citizens through a web site. We get calls weekly from readers who did not receive their paper in a timely matter due to slow delivery of the post office. Because of this problem we have our publications available on the internet for free for all subscribers.

So the first question we ask is do they have internet access. You would be surprised. More often than not they don’t. 

I am also reminded of a story I read about an article that ran in the New York Times last August on climate change. The article was covering research by government scientists. In the article, the writer emphasized that it was important to get this data to the public because they were sure that the Trump administration would try to hide it.

The surprise was the data and information had been on a government web site for the last eight months — since January. No one talked about it until it was printed in a newspaper.

Another point is that information on web sites can be altered. Once something is printed on paper it is permanent. 

Last Tuesday, dressed in my grey suit, I went to Jefferson City to give my testimony against Senate Bill 580 before the Senate Local Government and Elections Committee.

It was interesting. Senator Libla went before the committee and presented his bill and why he thought it was needed. Then the committee chairman asked if there was anyone present to show support for the bill. There was none.

Next he asked for testimony against the bill. First up was our lawyer for the Press Association. Next it was my turn. I had approximately three minutes. Then it was Maassen’s turn.

Chances are this bill will not go any further this year. But, be aware, there are those in government who want to take away your right to know by hiding notices on a web site.

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