Originally published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on February 4, 2019

The Missouri House on Monday voted to weaken the state’s Sunshine Law, a Watergate-era measure routinely used by citizens to access information that could otherwise be kept secret by public officials.

During debate on a bill related to lobbyist gift bans, Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, proposed an amendment that would add exemptions to the law.

Lawmakers in the GOP-controlled House attached Schroer’s amendment to the bill on a voice vote, meaning none of their individual stances were recorded.

Schroer’s amendment exempts records “received or prepared by or on behalf of a member of a public governmental body” that consist of “advice, opinions and recommendations in connection with the deliberative decision-making process of said body.”

Schroer also wants to exempt “constituent case files,” which include “any correspondence, written or electronic, between a member of a public governmental body and a constituent pertaining to a constituent’s request for information or assistance.”

Rep. Jon Carpenter, D-Kansas City, said he opposed Schroer’s amendment, even though he supported one provision that exempts Social Security numbers, personal cell phone numbers and home addresses from disclosure.

“We’re not going to have to turn over virtually anything,” Carpenter said in arguing against changing the Sunshine Law.

He said the change would apply to all local and state government officials, not just members of the Legislature.

Schroer and allies said they were fighting to keep records relating to their constituents private.

“It has nothing to do with us,” said Rep. Ron Hicks, R-Dardenne Prairie.

Lawmakers also attached an amendment sponsored by Rep. Gina Mitten, D-Richmond Heights, that would forbid elected officials from downloading or using software that automatically deletes electronic messages.

Former Gov. Eric Greitens and his staff used Confide, a smartphone app that automatically deletes text messages, in likely violation of the Sunshine Law.

The underlying legislation still must receive final approval in the House before the Senate considers it.

Schroer last month sponsored changes to Missouri House rules that contain similar restrictions. He did so in response to the voter-approved Amendment 1, which subjects legislators to the Sunshine Law.

The legislation is House Bill 445.