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A legal decision from Missouri’s Attorney General throws doubt on Gov. Mike Parson’s claim that the First Amendment allows him to withhold certain records from the public.

Parson has been refusing to hand over some identifying information of people doing business before or lobbying state government since the spring of 2017.

He did it on the grounds that doing so would discourage citizens from exercising their right to express their opinion before state government.

A legal opinion released by the office of Attorney General Eric Schmitt last week suggested the governor should no longer rely on that defense.

According to the letter, the governor’s office has redacted phone numbers, email addresses and mailing addresses.

“We are not aware of any Missouri judicial opinion that has considered the First Amendments’s application under the Sunshine Law,” the opinion, written by Deputy Attorney General Justin D. Smith, reads in part. “Although they have not encountered First Amendment objections, Missouri courts have repeatedly ordered the disclosure of personal contact information in response to Sunshine law requests.”

The opinion had been requested by state Auditor Nicole Galloway, who welcomed the finding.

“The Attorney General’s letter confirms Parson was wrong to withhold information from the public. Nonpartisan advocates for government transparency and legal experts all agree the governor’s actions were unlawful,” Galloway said.

Galloway is a democrat. Schmitt and Parson are both republicans.

Governor announces shake-up of state government

Different pieces of the state Department of Economic Development have been stripped away and distributed across state government under a reorganization spearheaded by Gov. Mike Parson.

The Department of Higher Education — renamed the Department of Higher Education and Workforce Development — gets the Division of Workforce Development and the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center. The Department of Natural Resources gets the Division of Energy. The Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions, and Professional Registration — renamed the Department of Commerce and Insurance — gets the Office of Public Counsel and the Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities. The Missouri Arts Council is moving to the Office of the Lieutenant Governor.

“During my State of the State Address in January, I committed to the General Assembly that our administration would fundamentally restructure state government. We are pleased to say today that we have accomplished that goal,” Parson said. “To move our state in the right direction, we had to roll up our sleeves and get to work, and that’s what this day represents. Today, we celebrate this historic moment for our state, our government, and most importantly, our citizens.”

Federal dollars for 40 North Missouri bridges

MoDOT will receive a $20.7 million grant to replace bridges in north Missouri.

The money will fund 40 bridges in MoDOT’s Fixing Access to Rural Missouri program.

“The State of Missouri suffers from a large number of structurally deficient bridges, many of which are in my district. Replacing these structures consumes a large amount of transportation funding, taking away from other important projects. Securing additional funding for rural roads and bridges has always been a top priority of mine because it is so critical to the communities in my district,” Rep. Sam Graves, who represents Pike County and most of north Missouri in the U.S. House.

Northeast Missouri counties where bridges will be replaced includes Adair County (five bridges), Lewis County (3), Macon (2), Schuyler (5), Scotland (3), Shelby (1) and Warren (1).

Repubican doctor challenge Parson for governor’s mansion

A Republican state representative is emphasizing his background as a physician in his newly launched bid for the governorship.

Rep. Jim Neely (R-Camerson) will presumably face Gov. Mike Parson in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Parson is expected to announce his own run shortly — he was elevated to office when Gov. Eric Greitens resigned.

Send questions and comments to athorp@pikecountynews.com.

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