JACKSON — Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves’ email and other correspondence are not public records that are subject to disclosure, the Mississippi Senate Rules Committee said Monday. Leaders of a group promoting a school funding amendment disagreed.
Patsy Brumfield of the 42 For Better Schools Campaign said the group sent certified letters on Aug. 11 to Reeves and Speaker Philip Gunn, requesting all email or other correspondence from the two Republican officials about Initiative 42 and an alternative, Initiative 42-A.
Gunn said state law gives the Legislature the power to regulate public access to its records. He said the request for his correspondence was sent to the House Management Committee, which meets Sept. 15.
Initiative 42 is a citizen-led effort to force lawmakers to fully fund an education budget formula that has been largely ignored since it was put into law in 1997. People could sue if schools are shortchanged.
The Republican-led Legislature put 42-A on the same ballot, saying it would require funding of “effective” schools but wouldn’t allow a lawsuit. Critics see the alternative as a proposal designed to confuse voters and kill Initiative 42.
Both proposals will be on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.
Legislative leaders have said repeatedly in the past several months that Initiative 42 would give one judge control over the state budget.
Michael Rejebian, a political researcher who often works for Democrats, filed the public records request on behalf of 42 for Better Schools.
“The politicians at the state Capitol set laws for everyone to follow except themselves,” Rejebian said Monday in a news release. “Their refusal to release this information raises even more questions about their relationship with privately funded, special interest lobbyists who are fighting against Initiative 42.”
Senate President Pro Tempore Giles Ward, R-Louisville, is chairman of the Rules Committee presides over the Senate when Reeves is not available. Ward said in a letter to Rejebian on Monday that a Senate public records rule was set in 2002 and is still in effect.
“The only records subject to release under this policy are expense reimbursement records and NO OTHER RECORDS ARE SUBJECT TO RELEASE,” Ward wrote, using all capital letters for emphasis.
The Mississippi Legislature has long exempted itself from many provisions of the Open Meetings and Public Records laws.
In 1990, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that the lieutenant governor is a member of both the executive branch and the legislative branch. The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by a state senator who challenged the lieutenant governor’s role as a member of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. Justices allowed the lieutenant governor to remain on the committee.