Missouri House votes for option to close some records

Posted on 15 January 2019 at 3:09pm
Story image: Missouri House votes for option to close some records

JEFFERSON CITY, (AP) — Missouri House lawmakers on Tuesday voted against protections for LGBT staffers and gave themselves the option to make some of their emails confidential, despite a voter-approved requirement for transparency.

House members changed their records policy as part of a broader package of internal House rules for the 2019 legislative session, which began last week. The new policy deals with lawmakers' documents on party strategy and correspondence with constituents.

Republican House Majority Leader Rob Vescovo originally proposed making those records confidential, but GOP Rep. Nick Schroer on Tuesday recommended giving individual lawmakers the discretion to close those records or leave them open, which the Republican-led House agreed to in a voice vote.

"Each individual member, as the custodian of their own records, should have this right," Schroer said, adding that lawmakers "should be able to determine what is confidential (and) what should remain confidential."

House lawmakers in a voice vote also defeated a proposed rule change aimed at protecting staffers from being fired for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

"Your religious views may say we're going to hell," said Democratic Kansas City Rep. Greg Razer, who is gay and pushed for the change. "But we also have the right to have a job, and that's what this amendment is about. As an employer, the House of Representative will say if you show up and do a good job, you get to keep your job."

Springfield Republican Rep. Curtis Trent raised concerns that adding those protections for LGBT House staffers could infringe on religious liberty, and said the issue shouldn't be decided in an internal rule change.

The new House records policy comes just months after Missouri voters overwhelmingly approved Constitutional Amendment 1 . Known as "Clean Missouri" by its supporters, the measure added lawmakers to a list of public officials who were already subject to the state open-records law, which grants the public access to government documents.

"It explicitly states that we have to follow the Sunshine Law. Whether we agree with that or not, that's what our Constitution reads," Kansas City Democratic Rep. Jon Carpenter said during Tuesday's debate. "We ought not create a House rule saying that we can choose not to follow it."

Clean Missouri campaign director Sean Nicholson said the Missouri Constitution "requires representatives to follow the generally applicable state laws governing public access to public records, including the Sunshine Law."

"If the House starts crafting special exemptions for itself, that violates the plain text of the reforms that voters just approved by a 2-to-1 margin," Nicholson said.

Democratic state Sen. Scott Sifton on Tuesday introduced a proposed constitutional amendment that would require a two-thirds vote in each chamber to change or repeal ballot initiatives during the first two years after voters decide them, making it harder for legislators to change measures decided by voters.

But even with that change, Sifton acknowledged there could be some "fuzzy instances" about whether legislators are overturning the people's will. For example, Tuesday's House rule change allowing lawmakers to close some records creates an exception to open-records requirements but does not directly repeal or amend the new constitutional amendment.