Originally published by the Joplin Globe on February 7, 2019
Missouri residents voted to apply the Sunshine Law to the legislative process by passing Amendment 1 to the Missouri Constitution in November. A bill in the Missouri House that seeks to eclipse that sunshine must be defeated.
Representatives have already changed the House rules to exempt themselves from revealing “constituent case files” and records related to “caucus strategy.” Using House rules to defeat a constitutional amendment — by a voice vote so no individual legislator can be held to account — may not survive challenge by advocates of open government.
So now the devotees of darkness have moved to amend the Sunshine Law itself. Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, pinned this offending amendment to a bill related to lobbyist gift bans. The amended bill is headed to a vote. The change would conceal records “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.”
So pretty much any information the members of any governmental body want to keep hidden would be cloaked in secrecy, defeating the purpose of not just Amendment 1, but the Sunshine Law itself. A step into the open would become a retreat to shadow.
This editorial board supported Amendment 1 because it would make lawmakers subject to open records requirements. Changing the Sunshine Law to exempt lawmakers defeats the will of the electorate that approved Amendment 1 by a 2 to 1 margin.
Why are some legislators determined to obscure their actions? They cite privacy concerns and say deals are better made without the withering glare of public attention. Really? Limited redactions for privacy concerns are not the issue. The phrase “dark money” comes to mind. Many who give might face questions they are unwilling to answer if matters were revealed. Politicians don’t want influences known because they fear the money will shrivel in the light like the creeping rot it is. Sly bargains, dirty deals and sneaky tricks thrive in the shadows. To reveal them is to defeat them.
Can government be called responsive or lawmakers responsible if the will of the people is clearly known but turned aside? How can government be held accountable when constituents are kept in the dark? If the General Assembly tries to return to secretiveness, voters must hold them accountable. Votes on these matters should be by roll call. And if the votes aren’t recorded, all legislators should be held to account.
This newspaper will remind voters of the outcome of these votes in the next election, as should news outlets throughout the state.
This kind of sunblock is bad for us all.