An attorney filed a lawsuit Wednesday claiming the Missouri House acted unconstitutionally by blocking public access to some lawmaker records.
Sunshine and Government Accountability Project founder Mark Pedroli sued over a new internal House rule that allows lawmakers to shield constituent records and party strategy from the public, The Kansas City Star reported.
Missouri lawmakers had previously exempted themselves from open records laws that other state and local elected officials face. But voters in 2018 passed a constitutional amendment that, among other changes, subjected state lawmakers to the Sunshine Law.
That prompted House members in January to adopt the new rule making some of their records confidential.
In his lawsuit, Pedroli wrote that the rule is an “act of unrepentant, unconstitutional adventurism and an open defiance of the rule of law.”
“This House Rule 127 presumes incorrectly that a House Rule can place House members above the law, the Constitution and the people,” the lawsuit states.
House Chief Clerk Dana Rademan Miller said in an email that the chamber has the constitutional authority to create its own internal rules.
Pedroli’s lawsuit centers on a public records request he submitted for several lawmakers’ emails. He said he was investigating claims that “fake emails” signed with constituent names were sent seeking to influence Missouri lawmakers to pass legislation making it harder to file lawsuits against out-of-state companies.
Residents contacted by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch told the newspaper that they had not sent the letters, leading Pedroli to request the emails and letters to lawmakers in an attempt to figure out who really sent them.
Pedroli said some lawmakers complied with his request but others would only give him the correspondence with blacked out email and postal addresses, citing the new House rule.
“The email addresses and postal addresses were contained in the email and critical information to anyone investigating the authenticity of the communications,” Pedroli wrote in his lawsuit. “These redactions obstructed the investigation into the identity theft of constituents in Missouri.”
Miller said the House complied with the Sunshine Law, “which allows certain exceptions to disclosure.”