Defying the will of voters and undermining the Missouri Constitution is a bad way for lawmakers in Jefferson City to launch this session.
On Tuesday, Missouri House members gave themselves the option of keeping some emails confidential as they discussed and voted on House rules. Specifically protected are “constituent case files” and records related to “caucus strategy.”
But it was barely two months ago that Missouri voters specifically imposed transparency on lawmakers with Amendment 1 to the Missouri Constitution, and it hasn’t even been a week since those same lawmakers promised to defend that constitution, not ignore it.
State Rep. Gina Mitten, D-Richmond Heights, told lawmakers this week: “So here’s the deal, folks ... basically (on Jan. 9) everybody in this room raised our hands and we swore to uphold the constitution. And whether the folks in this room like it or not, our constitution was amended in November.”
Amendment 1 was approved by a margin of nearly 2-1, and it contained a number of clean government and ethics provisions, including one requiring legislators and legislative records to be subject to Missouri’s Sunshine Law. It did not give lawmakers authority to decide unilaterally what should and shouldn’t be released.
We understand and respect the needs of constituents for privacy when talking about personal matters such as benefits, and some personal information is already protected and can’t be released. It was these same constituents who said they wanted these records opened, and they said it unambiguously.
And let’s be candid — what could end up being kept from the public under the heading of “constituent case files” and “caucus strategy” is correspondence between lawmakers and their big money donors.
Mark Pedroli, an attorney who has led the campaign to expose the use by government of self-destruct apps and other technologies that wipe out government records, tweeted that Republicans “are using their ‘constituents’ as human shields to knowingly and purposefully defy the constitution. They don’t want you to see their emails/texts with their donors, maybe even dark money donors demanding favors. ... ‘Protecting constituents’ is a charade.”
“Amendment 1 is the Supreme law of the land, supreme to any rule or law passed by the legislature,” he wrote.
We think so, too.
This was originally published by The Joplin Globe. Reprinted with permission.