Originally published by the Call Newspapers on February 1, 2019
The Missouri Legislature designs and governs Sunshine Law for every public official in the state.
But ironically, the Legislature has historically exempted itself from that very law that it tells other government officials to follow.
Emails to the governor, a school superintendent, a county executive or a city dogcatcher are public record. And voters believed that Jefferson City legislators should have to follow their own rules and voted for that change as part of the Clean Missouri amendment to the Missouri Constitution in November.
So we’re not sure if it’s sad or appropriate that the legislators of the 100th General Assembly saw fit to limit public access to their own records as their first act in office.
It’s sad because this move goes against all the hallmarks of good government like openness and transparency, but it’s also appropriate in a way. Since legislators have always violated their own Sunshine Law, why stop? By now, this hypocrisy is a Jefferson City tradition.
The irony among our local Republican legislators who voted for this is that many of them oppose a statewide vote for Better Together’s plan for a city-county merger into a new megacity of St. Louis.
They say voters should be able to speak their minds and that their will should be followed when it comes to their government.
So why is the case of Clean Missouri and the Sunshine Law any different? But in this case, legislators statewide are ignoring the will of the people statewide. Voters from across Missouri overwhelmingly said they want better ethics in government, including legislators having to abide by the Sunshine Law.
The very reason that efforts like Clean Missouri go for constitutional amendments instead of just statewide referendums is because Missouri legislators have a terrible track record of ignoring the will of the voters. They first did it with concealed carry.
Most recently and egregiously, they ignored the “puppy mill bill” that was passed by voters to try to keep Missouri from continually taking a place atop the rankings of the worst states for puppy mills. The problem that Missouri voters tried to solve a decade ago is still a problem, thanks to legislators, with a puppy mill bust happening in St. Charles just last week.
And so it goes with the Sunshine Law. Will this also still be an issue a decade from now? We hope not.