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Missouri Supreme Court weighs whether Senate can limit the recording of hearings

The Missouri Supreme Court will decide whether or not the Missouri Senate can restrict who can record public legislative committee hearings.

Progress Missouri, a liberal advocacy group, filed a lawsuit last year after three Senate committee chairmen denied it the ability to film a public hearing. The lawsuit says this violates the state’s Sunshine Law and infringes on the group’s freedom of speech and association.

The Senate has argued that the Missouri Constitution gives the legislature the right to develop rules governing its own proceedings and that constitutional provision supersedes the Sunshine Law.

Supreme Court judges seemed skeptical of Progress Missouri’s argument Wednesday, with several judges pointing out that Senate staff record committee hearings and provide that recording to anyone who requests a copy.

Judge Richard Teitelman noted that the court establishes rules for recording of its proceedings, such as only allowing one television camera in the courtroom at a time.

Missouri’s Sunshine Law allows public bodies to establish guidelines on recording to minimize disruption, but the lawsuit says Progress Missouri’s filming wouldn’t have been disruptive. Senate rules state that cameras may be allowed with the permission of the committee chairman “as long as they do not prove disruptive to the decorum of the committee.”

Christopher Grant, the attorney representing Progress Missouri, said some senators’ policy allowing only members of a Capitol media association to film hearings violates freedom of association by essentially requiring Progress Missouri to join the group.

“Progress Missouri cannot join that private organization because it does not wish to cease its advocacy activities,” Grant said.

Deputy solicitor general Jeremiah Morgan told the court that the Senate is allowed to create guidelines such as limiting who can record committee hearings. Similar rules, he said, are in place for Congress.

Jason Hancock: 573-634-3565, @J_Hancock

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