Legislative leaders in Mississippi have reversed course, now saying that the Legislature cannot keep its contracts from public view — despite a committee’s earlier vote to keep them secret.
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood advised legislative leaders that the law does not allow such secrecy.
Legislative leaders on Monday said their lawyers had recently concluded the same thing, The Clarion-Ledger reported.
The House Management Committee last week approved a policy making clear that all contracts for the Legislature are secret. The adopted rule stated that lawmakers can look at them, but they cannot copy them or show them to the public.
A contract at the center of the dispute is with EdBuild, a 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.
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.
House Speaker Pro Tem Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, said last week’s vote simply restated longstanding House policy that contracts are confidential. However, his Democratic predecessor, J.P. Compretta of Bay St. Louis, said he couldn’t remember ever refusing copies of a House contract to anyone.
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.
Speaker Pro Tempore Rep. Greg Snowden and President Pro Tempore Sen. Terry Burton said the legislature’s legal staff concluded the contract should be made public.
“Over the last four days as House and Senate leadership continued to study the issue, Legislative legal staff concluded the contract should be posted to the Transparency Mississippi website,” they said in a joint statement. “The contract has been released to the Department of Finance and Administration to be posted on the Transparency Mississippi website.”
Hood is a Democrat. The House and Senate are both controlled by Republicans.
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