ST. LOUIS, Mo. – It’s a law requiring public agencies to be open and accountable, but why will it take a year for the state’s top attorney to fulfill a request filed under the Missouri Sunshine Law?

In 1973, the United States ended its involvement in the Vietnam War, Nixon was President, and the Supreme Court took up Roe v. Wade for the first time. In Missouri, lawmakers passed an open-records law known as the Sunshine Law.

“Fifty years ago, Missourians realized the Sunshine Law was the best way to guarantee that kind of transparency and accountability,” Dave Roland, director of litigation for the Freedom Center of Missouri, said.

Roland said the state’s open-record law, which allows citizens to request documents from public agencies, still has problems today.

He questions why it may take a year for the Missouri Attorney General’s Office to fulfill a Sunshine request.

“The responses they have been providing, I believe, are inadequate in a matter of law,” Roland said.

On March 23, Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey launched an online form that he claimed would allow people to submit complaints that have experienced harm from gender transition interventions or witnessed troubling practices at transition clinics in Missouri.

State officials eventually took the form down because people were apparently spamming it.

Under Missouri’s Sunshine Law, on April 26, the FOX Files requested a copy of complaints that had been submitted through the online portal. Three weeks later, the AG’s office replied that if any records are available, they should be released on or about Aug. 21.

On Aug. 8, the Attorney General’s Office sent a new letter stating the earliest the records may be available is March 21, 2024.

“The Attorney General’s Office has an important role to play in enforcing the Sunshine Law,” Roland said. “It should be a priority for his office to make sure, at a bare minimum, his office is complying with requests in a timely manner.”

State Senator Andrew Koenig (R-District 15), a member of the same Republican Party as the attorney general, does not think Bailey’s response is acceptable.

“That seems unreasonable. I don’t know why it would take a year for you to access that,” Koenig said.

Koenig proposed some modifications to the Sunshine Law in the last session that would limit some details from being released in some situations. He thinks there’s some tidying up that could be done to the timeframe given to agencies for turning over requested records.

“They have to respond with a Sunshine request within three days, which is good, but they don’t actually have to get the information out,” Koenig said. “Sometimes they need a longer time to gather, and sometimes the law is a little ambiguous on that timetable afterwards.”

Bailey’s Director of Communications, Madeline Sieren, said their office has 416 open Sunshine Law requests, and 201 of those have been submitted since Bailey took office in January.

“We inherited 224 from the previous administration, of which 215 remain,” Sieren said.

Sieren said all requests are processed in the order that they are received.

“Because of the volume of requests that this office receives, we have named not only a full-time custodian of records but also dedicated one attorney for full-time legal review and support,” Sieren said. “We have also posted job openings in order to bring on two more full-time employees dedicated to Sunshine Law.”

Koenig said if staffing is an issue, Bailey should go to the legislature and request additional hires.

Roland said something needs to change quickly, for citizens to play their proper role in a self-governing society.

“They have to be able to understand what their government officials are doing,” Roland said.

Sieren said the Attorney General’s Office has reviewed tens of thousands of pages of documents already.