Lawmakers reverse course on transparency

Published 7:22 am Wednesday, November 23, 2016

After some much-needed pressure from newspapers across the state — and on the advice of the Attorney General Jim Hood — legislative leaders are backing away from the their plan to keep contracts from the public.

Hood advised lawmakers that state law does not allow them to keep contracts secret. The House Management Committee last week approved a policy making all contracts for the Legislature secret. The rule stated that lawmakers can look at them, but they cannot copy them or show them to the public, The Associated Press reported.

This, obviously, was not in keeping with the spirit or letter of the state’s laws.

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The contract at the center of the dispute is with EdBuild, a New Jersey company that’s consulting on a possible rewriting of Mississippi’s school funding formula. The state is paying $125,000 of the cost, while undisclosed private donors are paying another $125,000, AP reported.

The Mississippi House Management Committee last week voted that representatives can look at contracts made by the body, but said the documents, other than their cost, must otherwise be kept secret from the public, according to AP.

In his Monday letter to legislative leaders, Hood said the 2008 Mississippi Accountability and Transparency Act passed by the Legislature “requires the EdBuild contract to be placed on the Transparency website within 14 days of execution.”

The act created the state Transparency website, which posts contracts and spending information for state agencies for public view. The Accountability and Transparency Act trumps any House or Senate rules, Hood wrote.

“Therefore, the Edbuild Contract should already have been published on the Transparency website,” Hood wrote in a letter to Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, House Speaker Philip Gunn and the chairmen of the House Management Committee and Senate Rules Committee.

We’re thankful Hood weighed in on the matter. The Legislature has talked a good game when it comes to transparency but it’s obviously just lip service. Mississippi deserves — and state law requires — an open government.