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Missouri House approves plan aimed at boosting government transparency

Missouri House approves plan aimed at boosting government transparency

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Missouri's 100th session convenes

State Rep. John Wiemann, R-O’Fallon, is congratulated as he makes his way to the dais on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, after being nominated as speaker pro tem in the Missouri House of Representatives on the first day of the legislature’s 100th session. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY — Residents of Missouri counties, cities and towns could require local leaders to publish more financial information about government spending under a proposal endorsed by the House on Thursday.

The legislation sponsored by House Speaker Pro Tem John Wiemann, R-O’Fallon, is designed to boost transparency in local government. It would allow municipalities to post the information voluntarily, but also would give residents the ability to petition for the creation of a local database if local leaders are reluctant to participate.

The proposal advanced to the Senate on a 149-2 vote. The measure mirrors a similar bill that won House approval last year, but was not taken up in the Senate during the pandemic-shortened 2020 session.

The proposal would establish the Missouri Local Government Expenditure Database, to be maintained by the Missouri Office of Administration. It would go into effect in 2023 and would include information about a municipality’s or county’s expenditures and the vendors to whom payments were made.

The database must be accessible by the public without charge and have multiple ways to search and filter the information, Wiemann said.

Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-Olivette, said the database would give citizens a “one-stop shop” for information about how tax dollars are being spent.

“I believe it is truly a good nonpartisan bill that allows for greater transparency,” McCreery said.

In an analysis of the legislation, large and small cities said there would be costs involved if they are required to build a database.

Kansas City, for example, said it already publishes its budget information on its website. But in order to provide the information to the state, it would require some reprogramming.

Columbia officials estimated it would cost $40,000 to collect and supply the information. Osceola and Corder both said the proposal would add a significant amount of work to their city offices.

O’Fallon estimated the cost at $3,000 to $5,000, as well as additional staff work to remove any confidential information from the records.

The legislation is House Bill 271.

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