Missouri lawmaker blasts decision to shut down state contracting website | Policy

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JEFFERSON CITY — A state lawmaker is criticizing Gov. Mike Parson’s administration for shutting down public access to a state contracting website.

Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Nixa, said he believes the governor’s administration office is misinterpreting a law that took effect Sunday and is designed to protect the identities of people who contribute to nonprofits. .

“I strongly believe that taxpayers should be able to see how their tax dollars are being used,” Taylor said in a statement released Wednesday.

The new law is designed to protect nonprofits from having to disclose their donors to government agencies and allow certain limited liability companies to contribute to political candidates.

The so-called Privacy Act, which Taylor sponsored, also shuts down any records or lists in the possession of a public agency containing the identities of supporters under Missouri’s Open Records Law and court rules.

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In approving the legislation, lawmakers said the law would protect the privacy of people wishing to donate to causes they support.

Taylor’s comments came two days after the administration announced that the law required them to remove contract award information from public access for privacy reasons.

“Effective August 28, 2022, public access to contract documents along with specific contractor contact information will be removed from the MissouriBUYS Contract Board unless the law changes,” the notice reads.

The change means taxpayers looking to figure out how their money is being spent will need to file Sunshine Law requests to get that information. But since all documents will need to be reviewed and then redacted, the office warns of lengthy delays.

Taylor said the response is overstated.

“The bill’s plain language does not interfere with our Sunshine Act with respect to state contracts. Given that this same language has not been misinterpreted in 13 other states where it is in effect, I am confident that privacy law in no way precludes the state government from be transparent in how it awards state contracts,” Taylor said.

Other groups that use the website to track state contracts are also taking note.

Steve Hobbs, executive director of the Missouri Association of Counties, said he hasn’t heard any concerns from county officials who may be using the site to determine whether they can use a state contract to secure county-level services.

But, Hobbs said he included a link in the association’s newsletter to an earlier Post-Dispatch story outlining the change.

The Office of Administration, meanwhile, stands by its decision, arguing that a violation of the law could result in financial penalties against the agency.

In a statement, OA spokesperson Chris Moreland suggested the new policy could change.

“The Office of Administration will continue to examine other ways to address the new law that will maintain state compliance and provide the public with timely contract information,” Moreland said in an email.

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