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Behind the Headlines: A Closer Look At Sunshine Law In Missouri And Illinois

Beth Hundsdorfer, St. Louis Public Radio's new investigative reporter, joined Friday's talk show.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh went behind the headlines to discuss what critics have called a “broadside attack” on Missouri Sunshine Law by state legislators.

Joining the discussion was St. Louis Public Radio’s new investigative reporter, Beth Hundsdorfer, who offered her insights into some of the processes and challenges involved in accessing public records in the bi-state region. Longtime political reporter Jo Mannies also participated in the conversation. Both women have made many records requests during their years in journalism, and Hundsdorfer noted that sometimes gaining access to those records requires a lot of time or resources.

“I have one [request] in Illinois that’s been pending for eight years,” she said, referring to a request she made to a community college while reporting for the Belleville News-Democrat.

“We were working on an investigative project,” Hundsdorfer explained, “[so] we just kind of moved around it and kind of changed the scope of our story.”

State legislators who are pushing to block the public’s knowledge of communication between legislators and their donors and special interest groups have argued that they’re trying to protect constituents’ privacy. But Hundsdorfer said it’s possible to “strike a balance.”

“There’s lots of times you can protect an email address or protect phone numbers … most people are reasonable in the expectation that you want your privacy protected,” she added. “But [they] also want the information.”

Mannies pointed out that related issues, such as former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens’ controversial use of an app called Confide to destroy text messages as soon as they were read, complicate efforts to maintain public access to public information.

“Those [texts among the Greitens administration] are gone … They were saying, ‘Well, we weren’t doing state business on them,’” Mannies said. “Well, we’ll never know.”

Hundsdorfer added that, as a journalist, encountering resistance to access immediately raises questions.

“It does trick your head ... because you ask yourself, ‘What are [they] trying to hide?’” she said. “It’s the public’s business that [they’re] doing here.”

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex HeuerEvie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.