Originally authored by Hand Waters for the Columbia Daily Tribune on February 10, 2019
For as long as I can remember, we minions of the media have constantly worried about preserving the essence of public disclosure of government documents and activities. Ironically, we worry if proposals are offered to strengthen open meeting and records laws, public custodians of such information will seek to make laws more restrictive, not less.
With the recent passage by voters of Amendment 1, the so-called Clean Missouri initiative, such a moment is upon us now.
The least noticed provision of the amendment is the requirement all legislative records and proceedings must be open to the public. One would think that already is the law, yet lawmakers seek to use the opportunity discuss the issue to thwart rather than protect openness. Bills introduced by Republicans would carve out exemptions, reversing the plain meaning of existing law and the amendment’s language.
If the issue is left to a simple majority decision in the legislature, the GOP majority will succeed. As always in the past, disclosure requirements must be maintained by pressure outside the special interests of incumbent public officials. The press will dependably be in favor of disclosure, but the real beneficiaries are public citizens who literally can’t perform our civic duty without knowing what government is up to.
Other provisions of Amendment 1 will receive more attention, but nothing is more important than the simple requirement that legislative records and proceedings be open to the public. Let your lawmakers know openness must be preserved.