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State Rep DeGroot's Bill to Protect Citizen Data Began With Wildwood Controversy Regarding Emails

No one likes email spam, and many people do not realize that their communication with state government or cities are subject to being made public by Missouri's freedom of information law.

State Representative, Bruce Degroot (R-101) wants to protect the private information of Missouri residents who have contacted their state and local governments. That's why he has pre-filed HB 362 for the 2021 legislative session. The bill would protect data given to the state or municipal governments by residents by amending Missouri's Sunshine Law.

DeGroot had attempted to pass similar legislation in 2020 when Wildwood Councilman Joe Garritano (Ward 8) and Wildwood Mayor, Jim Bowlin had asked him to file the bill in the aftermath of a controversy in where then Wildwood Council Member Niles Stephens (Ward 8) had allegedly used addresses of residents collected by city for sending unsolicited politically related communications.

In August of 2019, During a council discussion of the appropriateness of mining resident data, Stephens bristled reportedly stating that, "if anyone had any problem with any email I sent, they could file a complaint with the Missouri Ethics Commission." Stephens was found guilty of an unrelated ethics violation by the Missouri Ethics Committee in October. At the same meeting then Council Member Steve Taylor (Ward 4) made a motion for the city attorney to research protecting resident data from closure. The motion that was opposed by Council Member Crystal McCune (Ward 7), who ironically demanded from Taylor the names of residents who had expressed concern about the potential misuse of their data by a third party.

It was soon after that meeting that Mayor Bowlin and Councilman Joe Garritano sought help from DeGroot to protect resident data by amending the Sunshine law.

DeGroot announced that he was pre-filing the bill on a Wildwood based podcast THE BLUE hosted by Wildwood Matters. DeGroot told THE BLUE that he anticipates success for the bill this time around in part because it is being filed earlier in the session. He stated that he anticipates significant support from fellow legislators and the Missouri Municipal League which has expressed support of the bill.

DeGroot invited THE BLUE to Jefferson City to cover the bill's progress in an upcoming hearing.


note: This article was written by Steve Taylor a cohost of THE BLUE and former Wildwood council member.

THE BLUE is also available on Apple Podcasts.