Recently State Auditor Tom Scweich conducted an audit of the Missouri General Assembly. The auditor gave the Missouri General Assembly an overall rating of “good.” The audit did contain some constructive criticisms of the General Assembly.
Recently State Auditor Tom Schweich conducted an audit of the Missouri General Assembly. The auditor gave the Missouri General Assembly an overall rating of “good.” The audit did contain some constructive criticisms of the General Assembly.
The constructive criticism that caught my attention deals with the Sunshine Law. It is currently the position of the management of the Missouri House and Senate that the Sunshine Law applies to the General Assembly as a whole but not to individual representatives and senators. The state auditor disagrees with this position.
On page seven of the audit, the auditor writes “It is a double standard for the legislature to impose additional requirements on other public governmental bodies while enjoying a blanket exemption from the Sunshine Law. The legislature should take this opportunity to bring individual members under the umbrella of the law.”
Following Auditor Schweich’s recommendation, I have legislation with 15 co-sponsors that would remove this double standard. My bill is House Bill, which would clear up any legal ambiguity by clearly stating that the Sunshine Law applies to individual members legislators. Some legal observers believe the Sunshine Law currently applies to individual members of the General Assembly. My legislation would clear this matter up once and for all.
I was incredulous when I first read the audit. From 2005 to 2013, I served as chairman of a voluntary commission with the city of Independence. City staff indicated to me that their interpretation of the Sunshine Law was that because the commission was a “quasi-governmental body,” the Sunshine Law applied to any and all emails that I would send from my personal email to other members of the commission.
Because I was a volunteer, I received no salary or benefits, had no official staff, and had no decision-making authority. In my new position as a state representative, I receive a salary and benefits, I have an assistant and I make votes on legislation every day. Yet in my new position I am not subject to the Sunshine Law, according to those who manage the General Assembly. It is the position of my party to comply with Sunshine Law requests.
Since I arrived in Jefferson City in January I have heard the word “transparency” a great deal. In fact if you go to the official website of the Missouri House (www.house.mo.gov) it states that “in the 97th General Assembly we will be committed to increasing accountability and improving transparency.” My legislation would do these things.
My legislation is not about playing “gotcha” politics. If you were to review many of the emails received by and sent to members of the Missouri General Assembly, the public would find most of them to be boring, routine and uneventful. Some would need to be exempted due to confidentiality and other legal reasons.
Page 2 of 2 - Some of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle do not like my legislation. Some fear that if HB 919 were to become law, that some would use access to emails, etc., for political gamesmanship. Open and transparent government is worth the risk of a little inconvenience. Missourians deserve nothing less.
John Mayfield is a Democrat from Independence.