- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 26, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri’s open records laws would not cover some farming data under a measure that the Missouri Senate passed Tuesday.

The legislation, which passed with a bipartisan majority of 25-6, would require state agencies to keep confidential the information farmers submit for voluntary agricultural programs, such as registration data for animal disease tracking programs. Anyone who improperly releases that information could be sued.

Supporters said strengthening privacy protections would encourage more farmers to participate in such programs, while critics of the bill said eroding the state’s sunshine laws would set a bad precedent for government transparency.

The measure now heads back to the House, which passed a broader set of disclosure exemptions earlier this year, including all data collected on animal health or environmental protections. The Senate narrowed the scope of the bill to exempt only voluntary programs from public records laws. Officials could still release information to show whether a disease outbreak has affected specific animals, as well as statistical data that doesn’t identify individuals.

“We don’t have as much heartburn as we did to begin with,” said Doug Crews, former executive director of the Missouri Press Association.

Removing voluntary government programs, which include grants and loans, from public records laws would make it easier for large, well-connected agribusinesses to get favorable treatment over smaller farms, said Tim Gibbons, a spokesman with the Missouri Rural Crisis Center.

Farmers might consider some information, such as how many cattle someone owns, proprietary information while some government officials may not, said Ashley McDonald, the Missouri Farm Bureau’s director of state legislative affairs.

Sen. Brian Munzlinger, the Williamstown Republican who handled the bill in the Senate, said divulging the too much information about farms presents a security risk as well.

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