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Lawmakers rush to undo ‘Clean Missouri’ open records reform. That’s unconstitutional

Get the facts The Clean Missouri Initiative

Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved the Clean Missouri initiative in November 2018. The measure creates new rules for lawmakers in Jefferson City, including limits on contributions from lobbyists.
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Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved the Clean Missouri initiative in November 2018. The measure creates new rules for lawmakers in Jefferson City, including limits on contributions from lobbyists.

Way back in November, 62 percent of Missouri voters said yes, they do think that state lawmakers — ostensibly working on behalf of the public, after all — should be transparent.

They voted two-to-one that yes, the official records of state lawmakers should be wide open to the scrutiny of their employers, and that’s all of us.

But in Jefferson City, it’s often “opposite day.” So the Republican-controlled Missouri House put overturning the “Clean Missouri” ethics reforms on open records at the very top of their do-list.

And determined as they were, they got it done, too.

Just after getting back to town for a new legislative session, the House passed a rule — subject to the approval of no one — that says lawmakers can opt out of compliance at will and keep their records closed if they want to. Oh, and they do want to, because why should Missouri’s Sunshine Law apply to them?

It’s almost as if the vote taken 60 days ago no longer applies. Or that what voters really meant was, “Fork over those records — or not.”

Living up to a direct order from the people did not sound like fun at all, so they said House members could withhold anything touching on partisan strategy — and unfortunately, that could be anything — or communication with constituents, again very broadly defined.

Their concern, they said, is only protecting constituent privacy. But since that’s already covered in the Sunshine Law itself, why is that necessary? At least their dishonesty is transparent.

We’re guessing that some of these same lawmakers were appalled by Hillary Clinton’s apparent attempts to get around Freedom of Information Act requests and to decide on her own which of her emails should be subject to public records requests. This is not as different as they’d like to think.

Republican House Majority Leader Rob Vescovo first proposed that correspondence with constituents and anything touching on party strategy be routinely kept confidential.

But then GOP Rep. Nick Schroer said no, let each lawmaker decide. “Each individual member, as the custodian of their own records, should have this right,” he said, and “should be able to determine what is confidential.” Which completely guts the intent of the just-passed constitutional amendment’s new open records requirement.

The rule passed on a voice vote, so individual lawmakers didn’t even have to stand up and be counted. They must still be held accountable, though.

This indifference to voters is nothing new; in the past, Missouri lawmakers have flouted the will of the people on everything from animal protection to concealed weapons.

Hollowing out a constitutional amendment is unconstitutional on its face, and courts can’t allow this arrogant action to stand.

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