Mississippi’s access laws were designed as a sword for citizens seeking truth, but can become into a shield in the hands of reluctant public officials.
No better illustration of this than last week’s fracas between the citizen group that seeks to ratchet up public school funding and leaders in the Capitol who like things just as they are, thank you.
The situation started with Aug. 10 letters from Michael Rejebian of the “42 For Better Schools” group, which is campaigning for votes in November in favor of a citizen initiative to change Mississippi’s constitution.
One letter was to Tate Reeves, lieutenant governor. Reeves is a statewide elected official. His job includes presiding during Senate sessions, but he’s not a senator.
The other was to Phillip Gunn, speaker of the House. In Mississippi, House members chose their speaker by internal voting, so Gunn is a lawmaker. But the speaker’s office is also freestanding; the speaker is separately compensated.
In the letters, Rejebian asks for access, as provided by state law, to correspondence and any and all types related to Initiative 42 or to Initiative 42A, the alternative that the House and Senate voted to place on statewide ballots to compete with the version arising via citizen petition.
To follow the spirit of the law, Reeves and Gunn could have responded, “OK, here you go,” and made the information public.
Instead, they turned the law into a shield by saying, “We don’t have to.”