Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Move to Limit Public Records Draws Fire

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Move to Limit Public Records Draws Fire

Article excerpt

MARY CASEY IS IN the state records business. Her company, Missouri Record-Search, collects public information from state offices here and distributes it to clients all over Missouri.

She answers an inquiry from a business about a prospective employee or another from an insurance company tracking someone who's filed a false injury claim.

"It keeps me very busy," she says.

But a bill moving quickly through the Missouri Legislature would dry up some of Casey's sources and make others more expensive. Sponsored by Reps. Christopher Kelly, D-Columbia, and Larry Thomason, D-Kennett, it would establish a new "commercial interest" class of public-records customers - those who use public information for financial gain.

Those falling into the "commercial interest" class would have to pay a higher fee for access to public records.

In addition to the higher fee, Kelly and Thomason want to add a change that would ban the dissemination of personal information - height, weight, address and Social Security number - from state drivers' license records.

"I'm hoping it doesn't get passed," said Casey, a former private investigator. "I'm not even thinking about how it will affect my company.

"I always worry about this kind of thing being passed and records being closed to the public. What happens is that when some things are closed, a lot of the criminals hide behind them."

Kelly and Thomason said the bill is designed to regulate how commercial interests get information and increase its price - not to thwart access to public records. They say they are targeting companies like those that buy lists of boat owners from the state Revenue Department. The lists are used for marketing.

Another component of the bill allows the state to grant a monopoly to the highest bidder to sell and distribute a computerized edition of the state statutes.

"There are a bunch of people taking advantage of the taxpayers," said Kelly. "They want to take a copy of the statutes and sell it to other people. …

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