Originally published in the Columbia Missourian on February 4, 2019

JEFFERSON CITY — A proposal that one lawmaker worries will exempt most correspondence by elected officials from the Sunshine Law was preliminarily approved by the Missouri House of Representatives on Monday.

While debating a bill to restrict lobbyist gifts to government officials, Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, introduced an amendment to exempt “any correspondence, written or electronic, between a member of a public governmental body and a constituent pertaining to a constituent’s request for information” and exempt any document or record “received or prepared by or on behalf of a member of a public governmental body consisting of advice, opinions and recommendations in connection with the deliberative decision-making process of said body.” The amendment passed and will now be a part of House Bill 445.

Rep. Jon Carpenter, D-Kansas City, said this will exempt almost every correspondence by elected officials from the state open records law. He said the Sunshine Law currently protects private and sensitive information, pointing to a list of exceptions that already exist in the law.

Supporters of the amendment say it will protect constituents’ private information that can currently be accessed through the Sunshine Law. The amendment also has provisions to protect constituents’ social security numbers, phone numbers and addresses.

This amendment comes after the passage of Clean Missouri, which subjects legislators to the Sunshine Law.

An amendment introduced by Rep. Gina Mitten, D-St. Louis, to forbid elected officials and their staff to “download or use software designed to send encrypted messages by electronic means that automatically self-destruct” also passed.

House Bill 445 attempts to extend restrictions on gifts from lobbyists to local government officials. The bill was passed with amendments by a voice vote, meaning no record exists of who voted yes or no, and will be brought up again later this week.

House Minority Floor Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, expressed concern with the significant changes to the bill that will not be discussed in committee.

“There are revisions that people should have the chance to testify on,” she said.

Bill sponsor Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, said the bill’s lobbying limit takes a policy people say they want at the state level down to the local level.

The bill extends the lobbying provisions in Clean Missouri, which Missouri voters passed in November with 62 percent support.