JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Republican leaders in the Missouri House are standing by their decision to give representatives control over their own records when it comes to sharing information with the public.
Last week, the lower chamber voted to give individual lawmakers the discretion to close or leave open records relating to party strategy and correspondence with constituents. This rule change comes just months after voters approved a ballot measure making all records of members of the General Assembly open to the public.
The Sunshine Law — the open-records law that lawmakers now have to comply with following the passage of Amendment 1 — allows specific information to be redacted. The rule adopted by the Missouri House goes further and allows each individual representatives the authority to decide which correspondences to keep private.
Following the vote, Republicans faced criticism from Democrats and supports of Amendment 1, the so-called Clean Missouri Amendment. Clean Missouri campaign director Sean Nicholson said that if the House starts crafting special exemptions for itself, that violates the plain text of the voter-approved reforms.
But the party that holds a supermajority in both chambers is standing firm on the new rule.
“As an attorney, it’s easy for me to recognize the importance in preserving a confidential avenue of communication for those I represent, no matter whether that’s as their counselor or advocate in our Capitol. A shame others choose to bolster partisan attacks,” Rep. Nick Schroer, who proposed the rule as passed, wrote on Twitter.
Floor Majority Leader Rob Vescovo, who originally proposed making those records confidential, said he has had email exchanges with the people he represents that include private information he is certain they wouldn’t want in the public domain. Vescovo noted he has had a member of the law enforcement community share his address and other information that could endanger the lives of his family if it fell into the hands of criminals he helped to incarcerate.
“As we looked at out rules we thought it was important to add a provision that protects the sensitive information shared with members by their constituents,” said Vescovo. “The new rule simply ensures constituents can have an open line of communication with their state representative without fearing their personal information will end up in the public domain.”
Alisha Shurr is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine. She joined the Missouri Times in January 2018 after working as a copy editor for her hometown newspaper in Southern Oregon. Alisha is a graduate of Kansas State University. Contact Alisha at firstname.lastname@example.org.