Gov. Mike Parson should heed the legal opinion from the state attorney general, a fellow Republican, who agreed the First Amendment isn't justification for refusing to release certain public records.
In early May, Auditor Nicole Galloway's office requested a legal opinion on the issue from state Attorney General Eric Schmitt. Galloway believes governmental agencies should not be allowed to hide the information in question.
The auditor sought a legal opinion because attorneys for Parson have cited First Amendment freedom of speech as a reason to hide information from private residents with which the office has been in contact.
His office has said disclosure of such information could dissuade individuals from contacting their government.
Galloway, a Democrat, is running for governor in 2020, so she's obviously looking for ways to exploit Parson's flaws.
In this case she's right, and the attorney general's office agreed.
Deputy Attorney General Justin Smith wrote in the Aug. 29 letter to Parson and Galloway that the governor should not "rely on the First Amendment for blanket redactions of personal contact information," noting Missouri's Sunshine Law "declares our state's commitment to openness in government," the Kansas City Star reported.
The Sunshine Law dictates governmental records and meetings of public government bodies be open to the public. It has certain exceptions, such as pending legal action, real estate purchases and personnel issues. It also has protections for personal information such as Social Security numbers.
The Star reported the governor's spokeswoman also argues the attorney general's letter underscores "a lack of clarity in the law."
That's true, and the law is overdue for updates that could clarify this and other situations, including technology issues regarding electronic data.
We hope the Legislature takes a look at that during the next session. We also hope the governor's office doesn't wait for the law to be clearer before the office agrees to follow it.