Optimism Remains for 2022, Despite Anti-Transparency Forces
Last month, the Show-Me Institute introduced our latest blueprint for Missouri—an annually produced short list of high-priority, high-impact reforms that would make Missouri better. As our call introducing 2022’s blueprint made clear, we were generally optimistic about the prospects of improvements in most policy areas, ranging from taxation to schools. Our initial assessment of the legislature suggested that the 2022 legislative year could be as good as 2021’s.
We continue to have optimism that, among other things, greater transparency will come to education, unnecessary occupational licensing burdens will continue to lose favor, and health care reform in Missouri will continue to hew in a free-market direction.
But warning signs are starting to show up now that we’ve entered the new year. Stories like this one from The Missouri Independent suggest that rather than promoting transparency, Governor Mike Parson may instead be using state resources to protect state and local governments from the Sunshine Law:
Amending Missouri’s open records law to permit government agencies to withhold more information from the public — and charge more for any records that are turned over — is among Gov. Mike Parson’s priorities for the 2022 legislative session.
The changes, which were outlined in a presentation to Parson’s cabinet that was obtained by The Independent through an open records request, include a proposal to allow government agencies to charge fees for the time attorneys spend reviewing records requested by the public….
The slide on proposed Sunshine Law changes dubbed the proposals as “Good Government” reforms and described the changes as ones that would “benefit political subdivisions, the legislature and state government.”
You know who these changes would not benefit? Taxpayers. And that’s the point.
We talked just last year about how attorney fees are used to boost the cost of Sunshine Law fees, pricing people out of records they’re owed. Reintroducing such a barrier indicates the governor is misreading the times. Springfield officials—Springfield is one of the worst regions in the state for transparency—have also called for Sunshine Law limitations, and that tells you just about all you need to know about the sort of quarters this initiative may be coming from and why it’s being pushed.
In fact, if a solution is “needed” for state and local government to avoid attorney fees, that solution would be radical transparency: ensure practically everything that taxpayers are asking for is already public and online as a matter of government practice. This should include spending, curricula, and administrative correspondence. What’s not a solution is passing on extravagant fees to taxpayers—the people who pay to have these records created and who are owed access to them.
The Missouri House and Senate should not go along with this anti-transparency initiative. That at least one legislator has already put the governor’s anti-transparency priorities into his own legislation is enormously disappointing. Legislators should not let themselves be used simply because the governor asked to use them.
I continue to have high hopes for 2022, but I have concerns now that I didn’t have last year. State representatives and senators need to remind themselves that they represent their taxpayers—not the governor, not their superintendent, not their mayor. And anti-transparency initiatives like the one articulated by the governor’s office are antithetical to the interests of those taxpayers.