Originally published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on February 5, 2019
What is Missouri state Rep. Nick Schroer’s problem with the concept of keeping public information open to the public? Last month, the O’Fallon Republican sponsored House rules restricting release of public records, thumbing a nose at November’s “Clean Missouri” measure meant to open them. Now he wants to change the state’s Sunshine Law to further restrict what the public can know.
The enemies of open government in Missouri have made clear they have no regard for either the principle of transparency or the overwhelming will of the people. Sunshine advocates should challenge the new House rules in court, and the full House should soundly defeat Schroer’s latest anti-sunshine measure.
On Nov. 6, more than 60 percent of Missouri voters approved Amendment 1 — “Clean Missouri” — which changed the state constitution to make the Sunshine Law apply to legislators, who previously had exempted themselves.
Last month’s new House rules, which Schroer sponsored, effectively said: Not so fast. House members re-exempted themselves from the voters’ new constitutional mandate. Members approved the rules on a voice vote, providing no record of who voted which way. House rules require no Senate or gubernatorial approval.
How convenient for Rep. Schroer that his gambit to block sunshine in the House was achieved under the cloak of darkness. Clean Missouri’s promoters should waste no time putting this measure before a judge.
Schroer’s latest attempt to draw the shades came Monday, when he attached an amendment to pending legislation. As the Post-Dispatch’s Jack Suntrup reports, Schroer this time wants to change not just the House rules but the Sunshine Law itself, to broaden Missouri elected officials’ ability to block public access to a wide array of information.
If he gets his way, the public could be denied information regarding “advice, opinions and recommendations in connection with the deliberative decision-making process of said body” — a sweeping standard that could effectively hide from view just about anything short of a floor vote.
In typical fashion, the foes of transparency are misusing a few generally reasonable propositions, like the necessity of shielding Social Security numbers and other legitimately private information, as an excuse to reduce access to data that should be public.
If Schroer and his allies believe the Sunshine Law’s existing privacy exemptions weren’t properly extended with Clean Missouri, they could propose legislation specifying just those limited exemptions. But that’s not what they’re doing here. As Rep. Jon Carpenter, D-Kansas City, put it, “We’re not going to have to turn over virtually anything” under Schroer’s plan.
The final bill with Schroer’s sun-blocking amendment on it — House Bill 445— could get a House vote this week. This time, everyone who votes for darkness will have that vote recorded. Missourians who just three months ago voted for sunshine will be watching.