The Missouri House is off to a bad start.
In its first full week of session, it wasted no time in flouting voters’ will for transparency.
In November, voters overwhelmingly approved Clean Missouri, a constitutional amendment aimed at redistricting, ethics reform and transparency.
One of its provisions requires lawmakers to follow the state’s Sunshine Law, just like other public bodies must. It clarifies legislative records, including electronic records such as email, are generally open records.
We shouldn’t even need a clarification on common sense: Government works for us and with our money. We have a right to know what its officials and employees are doing.
But the House, as reported on Wednesday, changed a rule to allow its members to keep anything private that they consider “confidential.”
Specifically, the rule change is intended to protect “caucus strategy” records and “constituent case files.”
The problem is the Sunshine Law already allows certain records to remain confidential, including matters for potential litigation, real estate purchases and hiring/firing of personnel.
“We want transparency. We want the public to know what we’re doing,” Rep. Dave Griffith said. “We want the press to know what we’re doing.”
But the House rule says just the opposite. It essentially allows its members to keep anything private they want. The Missouri House of Representatives is swapping accountability for a “trust us” pledge.
Both Griffith and Rudy Veit, Jefferson City’s two new House members, supported exempting themselves from the law and the Constitution.
Griffith said all legislators are going to err on the side of caution when looking out for constituents’ privacy concerns.
We, on the other hand, would prefer for the Sunshine Law’s exceptions to be “strictly interpreted” — which is exactly what the law says.
The Missouri House apparently thinks it’s not subject to voters’ will or the Missouri Constitution. Unfortunately, it likely will take a legal battle to attempt to undo the damage the House just did to open government.
Central Missouri Newspapers