The Temporary Gentleman from Cole

There’s a rule in the House that members do not refer to each other by name on the House floor. Instead, you refer to a fellow member as either the “Lady” or “Gentleman” from the county of their district or their district number. It seems kind of silly when you first start. After all, in the real world, it’s impolite to refuse to call someone by their name.

There’s a reason for this. In an ego-stuffed forum, the no-name rule against reminds us that government service should never be about the individual. Every time I rose to speak on the House floor, I was reminded by the Speaker that I did so not as an individual, but as the “Gentleman from Cole” – the temporary voice for 38,000 constituents.

I have learned a lot in these eight years.

1.       Politicians Aren’t All Bad

It’s easy for comedians and self-proclaimed outsiders to trash  politicians. To brand the legislature as corrupt, selfish, arrogant, and short-sighted is sometimes true but usually not. In these past eight years, I have met public servants of both parties and across the ideological spectrum in the House who, though I have disagreements on certain issues, have shown uncommon integrity and intelligence. There are more than I can list in a short column, but those who pop to top are former Speaker Todd Richardson, State Senator Lauren Arthur, House Majority Floor Leader Rob Vescovo, Rep. Bruce Franks, and the six original fellow members of the House Special Investigative Committee on Government Oversight: Reps. Don Phillips, Gina Mitten, Kevin Austin, Shawn Rhoads, Jeanie Lauer, and Tommie Pierson.

2.       Term Limits are Terrible for Missouri

Don’t get me wrong: for selfish reasons, I am glad term limits exist. I briefly considered not running for re-election in 2016, but inertia and a sense of duty to finish out the eight years of term limits prevailed. In their absence of term limits, I may have continued serving in the House for years on end.

But term limits have not caused legislators to be more in touch or responsive to their constituents. Instead, I think the opposite may be true. The unintended consequence has become that many new legislators are planning their next move and jockeying against each other nearly as soon as they arrive for a leadership position, higher office, or committee assignment.

It takes three to four years before a newly elected representative who pays close attention to figure out how things really work and gain subject matter expertise. Some members never figure it out, and just around the time that some do and start to think independently, it’s time to leave. Lobbyists and executive branch agencies fill the vacuum of knowledge. Intended to curb special interests, term limits accomplish the opposite. Many lawmakers routinely abdicate the responsibility of legislation (i.e. their job) to lobbyists.

Lobbyists routinely conceive, draft, vet, and negotiate legislation all the way to the end. By my last two years, I became so fed up with these everyday occurrences that I came up with a short catch-phrase to remind lawmakers who is in charge. “We decide! Not the people in the hallways.” I wondered whether this was a longstanding practice, so I asked historian Bob Priddy. His answer: no. Before term limits, lawmakers understood what the bills did and would negotiate them on their own. The first time he heard a legislator refer to “asking the people in the hallway” about an amendment was post-term limits. It was a sign of bad things to come: a reversal of who’s really in charge most days in the Capitol.

3.       Facts Matter in the Real World, But Not Too Often in Your State Capitol

In my third year, I started referring to the House floor as a fact-free zone – a place where either and both sides could get up and literally make things up as they go along with no factual backing, and expect that partisans on each side would simply shake their heads in agreement and push the corresponding vote, whether green or red.

Fact is: neither party has a monopoly on truth or morality. From my desk in the back of the House chamber, I had a front row seat to watching our country and state grow more tribal by the year.   Two things happened this year that really crystalized it.

The first is relatively trivial. Democratic Rep. Sarah Unsicker offered an amendment that would have established a committee to study Missouri’s maternal mortality rate. This is something that should be relatively non-controversial kickstarted. Instead, it kicked-started an acrimonious hour-long debate, and the amendment failed on a nearly party line vote of 49 to 78. (I voted yes solely on the principal that I despised the tone of the debate against it.) I asked thoughtful colleagues on both sides of the aisle, “What the heck just happened?” They had no good answer. Both were put off by it, and one said it was why they “hated this place.”

The second example was more important. The House Special Investigative Committee on Oversight dominated my Spring. If you asked some Republicans, the committee was a witch-hunt. If you asked some Democrats, it was intended to be a whitewash. In fact, the committee members agreed at the start that we would check   partisanship and ideology at the door. Our purpose was to establish the facts – and let the House decide what to do next. That is what we did. In the process we learned that, even at the state level, lies spread faster than facts, disinformation distorts reality, and that some politicians, political consultants, and lawyers would tear down the institutions that make our democracy strong for a short-term gain.

4.       The Soul of Our Country is At Risk

After these eight long years, my principles have not shifted; the climate, however, is now toxic and tribal. In the Trump era, the national Republican Party has become dangerously close to a cult – with followers willing to throw aside policies, foreign and domestic, that had defined the party for decades, ignore reams of outright lies from the leader, and stand quietly aside as basic human decency is tossed away as a fundamental principle of presidential leadership.

I believe legislators have a higher duty than simply winning elections. There are political values for which one should be willing to lose: the freedoms in our Bill of Rights; the belief in absolute truths; the idea that the rule of law is more powerful than any individual who happens to be in charge at that moment. We now live in a society where these basic principles are under attack for the first time in living memory.  What happens next is hard to predict, but it is nearly guaranteed to be a rough two years. The democratic institutions that have made our country what Ronald Reagan called the last best hope of man on earth will be tested. For these reasons, I leave office more worried about the future of our country than I ever thought I could be. And yet, our country has faced far tougher challenges than this – and come out stronger each time. That is why I remain ever hopeful that America will remain and regain its status as the City on the Hill: with shared ideals of freedom and without the false beliefs that those with whom we disagree on ordinary political issues are stupid or immoral. I remain hopeful that, somehow, some way, as it has every time before, the American people will see our way through the current mess and be stronger because of it.

Thank you for your support these last eight years. It has been a great honor and privilege to serve you.

Lighthouse Prep Academy Commencement Address

I was honored yesterday afternoon to give the commencement address to the Lighthouse Prep Academy Class of 2018. Lighthouse Prep is a great little private Christian school in Jefferson City that is doing great work. 100 percent of its graduates are going on to college, the military, or, in one case, a gap year before college.

Here’s the text of the speech, as prepared:

Good afternoon. It was is great to see all of you again. The last time I saw you was impromptu and I spoke perhaps a little bit too long. As you sit here today, your parents are all very proud of you. It is incredibly impressive that your class has a 100 percent success rate in that every person here is going on to college or military service.

But I have news for you. Life is only just beginning. When you go off to college or the military, Mom and Dad won’t be there every day to make sure you do the little things – or the big things – to make you successful. If your life is going to be a success, it’s going to be up to you. Not anyone else.

And so, this afternoon, I want to speak with you about two big ideas: the first is something called GRIT. The second is moral fortitude. Both of these are types of character. And if you have each of these, I guarantee you will be a complete well-rounded success in life. If you lack either of them, you will not.

Let’s start with GRIT. What is grit?

It’s the quality of never giving up. It’s the thing that makes someone persist through a task – even when it gets difficult and even when it gets boring. It means that when you start something, you finish it.

In America, more than anywhere else, if you work hard and show real grit – if you never give up – you will be successful in life.

This is an idea backed by research which shows that students who excel in college and life are not necessarily those who excelled on high school tests. Instead, the people who are most successful are those who are the most optimistic, persistent, driven to success, curious to learn new things, and able to work well with others.

The most successful people in life are those who are able to bounce back from disappointment. Those who fail, and, rather than give up, resolve to do better next time. Those who never accept mediocrity or low expectations.

There’s actually a test for this now – and like any test, it’s not perfect, but I want to share it with you this afternoon.

It was devised by a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania named Angela Duckworth and it’s called the Grit Scale. The researcher who developed the scale put it to the test at West Point – the Army’s college. Incoming freshman to West Point were evaluated by the Army according to what they call the “Whole Candidate Score” which takes grades, physical fitness, and leadership capabilities into account. And they were scored on the self-reported Grit Test. At the end of their summer training course, the Grit Scale proved to be a more reliable indicator of success than the Army’s lengthy and involved measure.  Basically, if you scored well on the Grit Test, chances were very good that you’d be successful in the Army.

So, what is the Grit Test? Here are a few of items on which to evaluate yourself. I hope you find them interesting and resolve to improve your own ratings on these questions. 

  1. I aim to be the very best in the world at what I do.
  2. I have overcome setbacks to conquer an important challenge.
  3. I am ambitious.
  4. Setbacks don’t discourage me.
  5. I stick to ideas or projects for the long-term.
  6. I am a hard worker.
  7. I finish whatever I begin.
  8. Achieving something of lasting importance is the highest goal in life.
  9. Achievement is NOT overrated.
  10. I have achieved a goal that took years of work.
  11. I am driven to succeed.
  12. I am diligent.

There are other questions as well. But these get to the heart of the Grit Scale. Sometimes, the secret to lifetime success can be failure at a young age – but only those failures followed by resolved to do better.

What can you do to improve your score on the Grit Scale? Push yourself beyond your own limits. Set long-term goals with short-term measurements and resolve to accomplish them. Turn that A- into an A. Or the A into an A+.

So that’s GRIT.  From Monday to Thursday January to May, this building is full of people who scare high on the GRIT scale. But I would argue that GRIT is not enough to live a successful, well-rounded life. There’s another quality that’s equally important – and its moral fortitude.

What do we mean by that?

It means the willingness to do what is morally right – no matter if its unpopular, no matter if its difficult, no matter if its embarrassing.

There’s a saying chiseled into the walls of the Senate chamber that hits at this quality. “Nothing is politically right that is morally wrong.” That extends beyond the Missouri State Senate – and public service. It extends to your entire life.

And there’s the greatest source of all for the idea. In Mark 8:36, Jesus asks, “For what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?”

Success gained through immoral action or for immoral purposes is not true success. It is hollow – and will come to an ignominious end.

Be honest and earnest in everything you do. It may not always seem cool or expedient, but it’s what you must do to live a good life.

GRIT can make you a success on paper. But only GRIT plus MORAL FORTITUDE can make you a true success in life.

I know from what I know about Lighthouse Prep and from the explanations on the program that most and probably even all of you have an above-average level of GRIT and MORAL FORTITUDE as you graduate and leave your parents.

My challenge to you is that you not only keep those qualities. But you grow them. You make them stronger. You go home this evening or sometime later this week and look up the GRIT scale on the Internet. Then print it out. And will yourself to having more GRIT. And I challenge you that, when life gets tough, when you face difficult moral decisions, you think about the moral teachings you learned from your parents and Lighthouse Prep. And you pray for the wisdom to make the right and just decisions for yourself and others. If you do those things, I am confident that all of you will meet the world with great success.

How Lobbying Works – and Your Constitutional Rights

“The courts of justice shall be open to every person,” promises Article I, section 14 of the Missouri Constitution. If some people had their way, this constitutional right would disappear. The latest attack is House Bill 1512, legislation that would force employees into private and often secret arbitration of any disputes they have with their employers. It was the biggest substantive topic of discussion this week in the House – but the conversations took place in the marbled hallways and rotunda as lobbyists in favor of eroding your constitutional rights button-holed legislators to try garner their support.

This is how it works: there are three main lobbying areas on the House side, one just outside the side doors on the Republican side of the chamber, a second just outside the side door on the Democratic side, and a third just behind the chamber.

This is where “lobbyists” earn the moniker. Loitering in these lobbies, they take the roster of the House and divide it up – assigning each lobbyist on their team a set of representatives. Then they go to the door, give their business card to the doorman, and ask to summon the representatives one at a time.

A representative, of course, does not have to answer the summons, but most are willing to hear what a lobbyist has to say. I should also note that any person can do this, and that, while some legislators may ignore a hired lobbyist waiting for them in the hallway, I don’t know any who would ignore a constituent.

If you know what’s going on, it is fascinating to watch the lobbyists count, and attempt to sway, votes. Body language tells you a lot – even from a long way away. And representatives quickly earn reputations: as discerning, detailed, and issue-oriented or as someone who votes on feelings and interest group politics. Over time, the lobbyists come to know for whom they need to offer logic and reasoning, whom they can bully, and whom they need never worry because they will just follow the herd.

This process happens every week as legislators and lobbyists scurry around with great hurry and worry. This week’s focus of attention was House Bill 1512.

On Monday, Attorney General Josh Hawley joined with every other Attorney General to oppose forced arbitration agreements, as would be imposed by HB 1512, in the context of sexual harassment claims. “Access to the judicial system, whether federal or state, is a fundamental right of all Americans,” Hawley’s letter states. Purported arbitration agreements “often are set forth in clauses found within the ‘fine print’ of lengthy employment contracts [and] are typically presented in boilerplate ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ fashion by the employers. As a consequence, many employees will not even recognize that they are bound by arbitration clauses until they … attempt to bring suit.”

The AG letter focused on sexual harassment claims, but its logic is true for any and every claim that an employee or an ordinary consumer may have against their employer or a company that defrauded them. Forcing employees or consumers to give up their fundamental rights is un-American.

HB 1512 would change Missouri law for the worse in three ways.

First, under current law, as the late Justice Scalia once put it, “If a party challenges the validity of … the precise agreement to arbitrate at issue, the … court must consider the challenge before ordering compliance with that agreement.” HB 1512 would reverse Justice Scalia’s rule, declaring that a private lawyer must make that determination rather than a judge.

Second, continued at-will employment has never been considered a “contract” because it can be ended by either party at any time without legal consequence. HB 1512 would reverse decades of law in Missouri and other states by declaring the opposite, but only for arbitration agreements.

Third, under current law, arbitration agreements must be binding on both parties. After all, what’s good for the goose should also be good for the gander. Many times, however, an employer will try to force an employee into arbitrating only those claims where the employee is likely to be the plaintiff, and will protect its own constitutional rights by declaring that claims where it is the plaintiff can be brought in court. HB 1512 would permit an employer to reserve its own constitutional rights while forcing their employees to give up theirs.

All three of these changes are contrary to federal law, common sense, and the fundamental rights of Missourians. I had prepared for vigorous public debate on HB 1512 this week. But, on Monday and Tuesday, it became obvious that there were serious misgivings among House Republicans. Lobbyists worked the marble halls with great fervor to bend votes their way, but they apparently failed to garner enough support, and the bill never came up for a vote. For the sake of every Missourian who cares about the Constitution and an impartial system of justice, the ideas in House Bill 1512 should die a permanent death.

Protecting Constitutional Rights

It was a busy week for Catholics in mid-Missouri and for legislators in the Missouri House. I spent much of Monday and Tuesday attending and participating in the ceremonies and celebrations welcoming our new bishop to the Diocese of Jefferson City. It was a moving ceremony, and, though I am not one for pomp or circumstance, a rare occasion where it was greatly appreciated. The formality of such a ceremony is a reminder of the permanent things.

Politicians, political parties, nations, and even empires will rise and fall. The Church and our faith is permanent. They existed prior to our nation, state, or any popular politician of the moment. And they will persist even after they are gone. As a priest put it in Mass last week, there is no successor to August Ceaser, or Napoleon (who promised to destroy the Catholic faith), but there is a successor to St. Peter and there always will be.

It was an interesting contrast to move from the permanence and contemplative mood of vespers and ordination to the hustle-and-bustle of the Missouri House on its first really busy week of the session. On Wednesday, we worked through a morning session, and then an afternoon session that lasted through dinner, “perfecting” 16 bills in total.

I use “perfecting” in quotations because that is the official term for the formal step in the process for a bill to receive a vote of the entire House before moving to the Senate. Bills on the “perfection” calendar are open for amendments to make them better. “Perfection” is more than a misnomer. Has there ever been a “perfect” bill? But I guess you have to call it something, and “perfection” is better than the “Make Bills Better” calendar. After a bill is “perfected,” it is placed on the Third Read calendar for one more vote before its sent to the Senate.

Among other items, we passed legislation to extend and increase benevolent tax credits that benefit maternity homes, pregnancy resource centers, food pantries like the Samaritan Center, child advocates, homeless shelters, and home renovations for Missourians with disabilities. Credits for maternity homes and pregnancy resource centers were increased from $2.5 million to $3.5 million beginning in July 2019.

The most heated debate took place on House Bill 1413, dubbed “paycheck protection,” which would require annual authorization, including electronic authorization, before public employees have union dues or political contributions taken out of their paychecks.

Like right-to-work, the policy idea behind the bill is that no person should be forced to waive a constitutional right in order to get or keep a job. Democrats argue that the motivation for the bill is actually just an attack on labor organizations. Republicans argue that it is about protecting constitutional rights of employees. That is, indeed, why I support the bill.  

But whether those Republicans actually care about protecting worker’s freedoms and constitutional rights will likely be put to the test next week. The very same day that we “perfected” HB 1413, we also started the “perfection” process for legislation that takes the exact opposite approach to protecting constitutional rights of employees.

House Bill 1512, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Corlew, would create a default rule that forces employees into private and often secret arbitration of any disputes they have with their employers. It may not be popular with some people who pretend to be conservative, but both our state and federal Constitutions expressly protect your right to trial by jury in criminal and civil cases.

From even before the founding of our country, the right to trial by jury in both criminal and civil cases was seen as a bulwark against tyranny and special interests. Like other constitutional rights, a person can waive their right to a jury trial. But such a waiver should never be forced upon them. Yet, HB 1512 would do just that – foisting the waiver of constitutional rights onto people who never actually made such agreements.  

In preparation for debate on the bill, I filed an amendment to protect your constitutional rights. Using language that is identical to the right-to-work legislation passed last year, my amendment would prohibit employers from making employment contingent upon a prospective employee’s waiver of their constitutional rights to trial by jury, or waiver of rights to freedom of speech or to petition government relating to (1) acts of sexual assault, rape, or harassment in the workplace; (2) discrimination on the basis of religion, race, gender, disability, national origin, or age; or (3) an employer’s actions to force an employee to participate in an abortion in violation of state law.

Right-to-work proponents insist that no one should be forced to give up their constitutional rights as a condition of employment. House Bill 1512 and my proposed amendment to it puts this rhetoric to the test. If my colleagues care about constitutional rights and employee freedoms, either the bill will be rejected as is, or my amendment protecting your constitutional rights will be accepted.  

Groundhog Week

Friday was Groundhog Day, and this was Groundhog Week in the Missouri House. In floor action, the House passed House Bill 1617, a bill relating to telehealth services in Medicaid. It will (for the second time) attempt to bring Missouri’s Medicaid system into the twenty-first century by encouraging providers to use new communications technologies to deliver services. The idea is simple: publicly-financed health services should be able to use the same tools to reduce costs and improve outcomes that private sector services use.

In 2016, I sponsored and passed legislation on the same simple topic. We wanted the Department of Social Services to ensure that health care providers would be compensated for services delivered via new video or other technologies just as they would be for services by more traditional means. The bill required DSS to promulgate additional rules to properly implement.

Unfortunately, something was lost in the translation. The proposed rules would have put unreasonable restrictions on telehealth services. For example, the rules would have required the employment of a technology “facilitator” in all interactions between patients and providers. While such a person may be necessary to help a doctor learn how to use the technology, they would quickly become an unnecessary appendage for digitally-savvy doctors.

The rules also would have prohibited the use of telehealth services unless the recipient lived more than 24 miles from the location of the provider. Sometimes this makes sense. But not when, for example, an immobile patient has an appointment for a service that would not require actual physical presence in the doctor’s office. Why force this patient into unnecessary travel?. Further, studies show that distances of just 15 to 20 miles make patients less likely to access preventive or diagnostic care.

House Bill 1617 clarifies the intent of the original legislation. We want to encourage the use of telehealth services anywhere and everywhere that it is: (1) within the scope of practice for the health care provider engaged in the service, and (2) is consistent with the standard of care for patients for an in-person visit. Like the first time we did it, HB 1617 passed with overwhelming support. It now moves to the Senate for further consideration.

The second great example of Groundhog Day this week came in the form of a committee hearing on House Bill 2247, which would introduce charter schools as an option for families in underperforming school districts. Nearly identical legislation passed through the House last year, and parts of the bill have been included in legislation multiple times over the past eight years.

Here’s a thought experiment: imagine that health care or higher education worked like financing for K-12 education. Imagine that children, Cole County residents, could not get state tuition at the University of Missouri – and, vice versa, that Boone County residents could not get state tuition at Lincoln University. Or that Medicaid restricted recipients to receiving care in the county of their residence or to only public hospitals and institutions. People would think such systems were crazy. They would be up in arms at restricting people’s choice in where to receive these services. And yet, in K-12 education, everything is reversed.

It is an intractable conflict between those who want to break out of the silos of the current system and those who defend the status quo. House Bill 2247 addresses this conflict. And, while it is a worthy topic of discussion and effort, in my eighth year in the legislature, I have grown weary of fights over school choice – whether it be in the form of empowering parents with financial tools to choose their child’s school or increasing choice within public schools (charter schools are publicly schools).

Every single year since I have been in the legislature, the two sides square off, stare each other down, lob a few insults, and then start pulling on a tug-of-rope. While we’re tugging as hard as we can to move immovable objects, children grow a year older – and another year older – and another year older. There have been a few times when we have been able to put the rope down to pass good legislation in this area.

One interesting idea can be found in House Bill 2200, sponsored by Rep. Shawn Rhoads, which would encourage public school districts to create “schools of innovation” and “cooperative schools” between districts to offer different curriculum, delivery methods, and instructional models than the traditional school model. In some cases, this may mean an extended school day. In others, it may mean dispensing with the traditional school calendar that is premised on agricultural calendars that are not relevant to our state’s urban areas, and yet, cause students to unnecessarily lose ground every summer. I’ll tug on the rope once more, but I’m more looking forward to bills to improve education where mutual agreement can be found.

The State of the Judiciary

The State of the Judiciary address concluded this year’s ritual pomp and circumstance. I’m not into canned speeches. Who is?  You knew Gov. Nixon would sprinkle his speeches with alliteration and some folksy “you betchas” punctuated with a grin and a fist pump.  Speaker Richardson is more inclined to paint a picture of some larger purpose.

Among these annual speeches, the Chief Justice’s is the most difficult. A judge must avoid politics and the appearance of taking a side in any political issue of the day. An appellate judge’s duty is answer the questions of law before them – and to apply the facts of a case to the law. It is not to proselytize or philosophize. And yet, our state’s Chief Justice must stand before a group of politicians every January to give a speech that avoids political issues.

Its an unnatural role for any judge. But, in an age with a Tweeter-in-chief, 15-minute news cycles, and fact-free politics, I believe it is important for judges to provide the public and legislators with a human face, an example of professionalism, and an update on the branch of government that has more impact on the day-to-day lives of the persons with whom it interacts than the other two.

Chief Justice Zel Fischer drew the task this year. He’s a scholar and a throwback. Justice Fischer practiced law in a small town in northwestern Missouri and then served as an associate circuit court judge. In 2008, Gov. Matt Blunt appointed him to the Supreme Court. He has worked in our legal system from the smallest and most mundane of disputes to the biggest and most complicated, serving, first, his clients, and then, our state, with wit, unadorned language, and common sense logic.

On a personal level, Chief Justice Fischer could win any popularity contest. You’d enjoy his stories and conversation. He is comfortable in any setting – smart, funny and a self-taught guitarist who very likely knows more about country and rock music than anyone you know. You can see Justice Fischer walking on High Street many early mornings with Cole County’s own Justice Paul Wilson.

And yet, for all these qualities, a judge’s speech to a bunch of politicians is still a tall task. If you can’t talk about politics to politicians, what can you talk about? There are usually some stats to show the efficiency of Missouri’s courts. And this year was no different. Missouri was ranked third in the world for the best use of technology in court services – behind only Arizona and Dubai.  And there’s always talk about the general practice of law. Justice Fischer championed our Supreme Court’s effort with the “uniform bar examination” – a process that makes it easier for law students to become licensed in multiple states. In 2010, Missouri was the first state in the nation to join the process.

Usually, they discuss the basic operation of our judicial system and their work to ensure fairness and equal access to justice for all citizens. Justice Fischer’s best applause line came this week came when he referenced efforts to reform bail practices in criminal cases. “It seems obvious and important,” Justice Fischer said, “that before a trial is held and guilt or innocence is determined – we reserve our jail space for those who pose the most danger to the community or risk of fleeing the jurisdiction, and not those who simply may be too poor to post bail.”

Finally, Justice Fischer described how treatment courts can be used to fight opioid addiction. In 2015 and 2016, drug overdoses killed 2,500 Missourians. Behind that statistic are 2,500 stories of individual human tragedy. Unfortunately, funding cuts have stalled efforts to help people get treatment and return to lives as productive citizens. Instead, those struggling with addiction continue on the margins of society, shuffling in and out of jail, and leading generally unstable nomadic existences. Untreated addiction is bad for them, for society because it leads to more crime, and for taxpayers because it leads to higher spending on jails and prisons. Budget cuts have driven drug court participation down 23 percent statewide.

Three of the five bills I have filed this year are aimed at stemming opioid addiction. The first, House Bill 1618, permits pharmacies and other entities with secure facilities to accept unused prescription drugs for safe disposal. Missouri lags far behind on this issue. The only people or entities who can accept unused prescription drugs under current state law are the doctors who gave the prescription or law enforcement when they sponsor drug take-back days. The bill provides a safe and convenient way for people to dispose of excess prescription medications so that they don’t end up on the street or in our water supply. HB 1618 was heard in committee this week and I am hopeful that it can move steadily through the legislative process.

I have also sponsored House Bill 2120, which increases eligibility for Medicaid for new mothers. It specifically states that they are eligible for substance abuse treatment for up to two years after giving birth; and House Bill 2209, which establishes a Prescription Abuse Register. The PAR would consist of a list of people who have (1) committed drug or other crimes in which a court has identified them as a substance abuser, (2) lost civil court cases in which a court has found that they have a substance abuse problem, or (3) voluntarily put themselves on the list. The PAR would be available to any provider who suspected a patient of doctor shopping. These are just three of even more bills that have been sponsored to help address this crisis. I’m looking forward to working on them over the next four months.

Our Solemn Duty

“I believe in ethics, and I believe that our leaders should do not only what is legal, but what is right and honorable.” That’s what Gov. Greitens told Missourians as a candidate – and it is what I believe to be true about those who take the solemn oath to represent the people of this state.

Last week, Gov. Greitens admitted that he had an affair prior to taking office. These acts alone are inarguably wrong and dishonorable. That is not a judgment of permanent condemnation against any person who commits such an act. After all, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” On a personal level, a person who does these things must get right with themselves, their families, and God.

But we must demand more from our leaders. Three years ago, we did just that in the Missouri House when we learned that Speaker John Diehl admitted to inappropriate communications with an intern. Within hours of the story breaking, there was a push to hold Speaker Diehl accountable. To his credit, Speaker Diehl made the right and honorable decision to resign the next afternoon.

Some people have compared the stories of Gov. Greitens to Speaker Diehl, but they are much different. Speaker Diehl faced official consequences even if he committed no crime or had any sexual activity in the case. The process and consequences of an action against a sitting Speaker of the House are contained within a single body of government. There are no questions of due process or separation of powers.

Many are calling on the legislature to act immediately with respect to Governor Greitens because of outrage over what he has admitted and the allegations attached to it. However, the process of holding accountable an official in a separate branch of government is more serious and complicated. It requires more deliberation than a single night or week.   

This moment is bigger than this particular governor and this particular legislature. It is not a time for bombast or demagoguery, but to uphold the rule of law and the legislature’s role in our system of government.  I believe it is a test of the strength of our state government – and pledge to proceed with the seriousness of purpose that the moment requires.

One More Session – and a Legislator’s Place

The legislature convened this week for the eighth and final session in which I will serve as your state representative. It has been a great honor and privilege to be your voice in the Capitol. On Thursday, at the ceremonial unveiling of his official portrait, former Governor Jay Nixon explained that he eventually came to view his job in public service as helping people whom he would never meet, who would never know his name, and who would have no idea he had ever done anything to help them. I agree.

There have been great moments of satisfaction from feeling of a job well done – and moments of gloom from failure. Such is life. Sometimes when I think of the things I’ve learned over these eight years, I think of Bob Seger – “wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.”

As I reflect on my eight years, I noticed something on the House website that puts things in perspective – this week we are beginning the second regular session of the 99th General Assembly. It is the 198th time in our state’s history that this has happened. For those nearly 200 years, our statehouse has been filled with men and women of goodwill – and also a fair share of opportunists, con men, and people whose ambition you could see through a brick wall.

This fall, my son Atticus did a project for a school where he researched the history of our state Capitol. He accumulated primary resources about when and why the capital moved here, and how Sedalia tried to steal it from us. He also interviewed Bob Priddy, who is practically a primary source of his own when it comes to Missouri state history.

Priddy told the story of how Sedalia tried to seize the capital in 1895 via legislative hijacking. One morning early in session, a bevy of people from Sedalia stormed the Capitol by train, where a state representative named John Bothwell introduced a resolution for a statewide vote on the House floor to move the capital to Sedalia – and had it passed through both chambers before the day was through. And just like that, in about half a day, Jefferson City faced losing our status as the seat of state government. It was not to be for Sedalia. Jefferson City organized, and with support from St. Louis retained its status by a wide margin in the statewide vote.

Priddy spoke of Joe Folk, governor in 1905 who rode into office on a string of unbelievable corruption prosecutions; of Tom Pendergast and the Machine; and of State Treasurer Larry Brunk, who, during the Depression, parlayed official state taxpayer deposits into certain banks into personal payments from those very same banks. Treasurer Brunk was impeached by the Missouri House, but his former colleagues in the state Senate could not find the will to convict.  

These are just a few low lights from our state government’s checkered past. And Missouri is not unique. Governments are inherently prone to corruption — both the criminal kind and the softer corruption that settles in over time. Soft corruption happens when a legislator sponsors a piece of legislation just because a lobbyist asked, without knowing anything about the subject or asking any questions. It happens when a legislator grows lazy and makes decisions about votes without reading the actual bill or considering what it does, but just asking who’s for it and against it.  

It also happens when their heart or head tells them a vote is wrong, but they do it anyway because of pressure, inertia, an unwillingness to stick their neck out, or for some favor to be traded later. Instead of doing what is right, the path of convenience and personal advantage is  taken instead.  Of course, it’s human nature to avoid confrontation and to have ambition. The question is not whether it will happen, but how often and whether it will happen on votes that have serious impact on the lives of people beyond the Capitol’s marble halls.  

A colleague once explained the “favor to be named later” idea to me when he tried to flip my vote on a bill. “I disagree with your no vote, but even you can’t say this is a huge deal,” he said. “And, you know, you may have a bill that comes along where someone else might be on the fence, and you’re gonna need their vote. Why don’t you just throw a vote here, and then when your bill comes up, the favor will get returned?”

This is legislative utilitarianism: the idea that good ends justify bad means to get there. It may help clear a legislator’s conscience if they don’t think too hard about it, but it’s just as flawed as utilitarianism anywhere else. Doing something you believe to be wrong (even if it’s just a little wrong) under the belief that it will have a good result on an unrelated issue can justify nearly anything so long as you are an optimist about that potential good result in the future. And it’s addictive. Once you do it once, it’s all the more difficult to resist the logic the next time around.  I feel that I have resisted the temptation more than most, but I speak from experience: these trades are not worth it. Not even the little ones. They whittle away at your soul, and, as Jesus said in Mark 8:36, “For what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?”

There’s no legislative cure for human nature. So, what is to be done? I think the answer for the individual legislator is no different from the answer in the real world: when delusions of grandeur tempt, where ambition or fear of political consequences threaten, it’s time to take a step back and consider the larger picture. Individually, we are insignificant. Legislators do not have legacies. (Nor do governors for that matter.) As a general rule, people do not remember politicians other than the president. The realization of one’s own insignificance and the humility that emanates is a better antidote to corruption than any law ever passed. Instead of serving oneself and ambition, better to serve the Lord, our families, and our communities.

In my eight years, I’ve seen the worst and the best aspects of human nature: greed, pride, vanity, laziness, and vindictiveness are here every day. And so are diligence, humility, sacrifice, charity, and compassion. The Missouri state legislature, is a place where, in spite of our human weaknesses, when things go right — paraphrasing Gov. Nixon —people of goodwill can work together in service to make great differences in the lives of people who will never meet, who will never know our name, and who will never know we ever did anything to help them.

Decision-Time: Choosing Family and the Real-World Over Politics

It has been a great honor to serve as your state representative for the past seven years. With term limits, I have just one session left to serve – and with those term limits comes the question of what’s next. Over the past few months, I’ve been asked many times whether I will run for the Missouri State Senate. After a long time thinking about it and discussions with Jane, the answer we have reached is no.

I believe that, all too often, people choose the path expected of them without ever pausing to ask whether it’s the right path for them. In making this decision, we thought back to our first campaign, when we were just a family of three and our toddler would cry every time I left the house to knock on doors. Today, we are a family of six – and all of our children are in their formative years.

At this time in our lives, the sacrifices required for a campaign and continued service are more than I wish to bear. Being a good parent requires actually being there and not being distracted. I’d much rather be coaching or watching pre-K to 3rd grade basketball or soccer than doing anything else. For that matter, I much prefer time spent doing anything with my family over anything related to politics.

Fifteen months remain in my term of office. I’ve always believed (and now teach my kids) that you sprint all the way to the finish line, and that, no matter what the score, you hustle every second you’re on the field. That’s exactly what I intend to do over the next 15 months. I will continue to do my best to make our state a better place to live – with the same diligence, vim, and vigor with which I have approached the job over the past seven years.

Special Session II – Week 2

On Tuesday, the House debated, amended, and passed Senate Bill 5 back the Senate with stronger protections for women’s safety. We sent it to the Senate with two main features. First, it re-instates the Department of Health and Senior Services‘ basic authority to regulate abortion clinics – just as it regulates other medical treatment facilities.

Democrats seemed argue that any DHSS regulations would be overly burdensome and unnecessary. It’s easier to make arguments in a fact vacuum. For the most part, instead of talking about specifics, Democrats offered talking points. Here are some specific regulations that SB 5 authorizes:

  1. Requiring abortion facilities to be designed so that a patient can be carried on a stretcher to the ground floor for transfer to an ambulance in case of an emergency;
  2. Requiring abortion facilities to maintain infection control protocols;
  3. Requiring abortion facilities to run criminal background checks on all employees who have contact with patients;
  4. Requiring abortion facilities to have a complication plan for any medical abortion for which the known complication rate is greater than one percent;
  5. Requiring abortion facilities to have a protocol in place for transfer of a patient in an emergency to a hospital within a reasonable distance from the abortion facility;
  6. Requiring the doctor performing the abortion to actually have an in-person consult with their patient and to inform them of the medical facts on risks and contraindications.

I believe reasonable people should support all of these protections.

The second half of the bill protects pro-life advocates in St. Louis and elsewhere to be from local government regulations that would require them to hire or rent space to Planned Parenthood or vehemently pro-abortion job applicants. The fact that the legislature even has to spend time on this is ridiculous. Opponents of the special session legislation claimed the new pro-abortion ordinance in St. Louis was necessary to protect pro-choice Missourians from discrimination. But when asked in hearings to name examples, they could not come up with a single real-world example from before the ordinance passed. They did come up with an example after the ordinance passed   – of a woman who lost her job after she was denied medical leave after a miscarriage. However, state law already protects her.

Most people who call themselves pro-choice rightly bear that label. A fairly common position is that people say that, personally they would never choose an abortion and they would prefer pregnant women to choose life, but they just do not believe government should have anything to do with it.

Obviously, our Supreme Court has had a lot to say about this, starting with Roe v. Wade and continuing through the Hellederstadt case handed down last year. A general statement summarizing Supreme Court law on abortions is that states have always had and continue to have the authority to enact reasonable health and safety requirements on abortion providers, but those requirements cannot create an undue burden or place substantial obstacles in the way of a woman seeking an abortion. (The arguments in abortion law revolve around what is “undue” and what is a “substantial obstacle.”)

There are others who go further. For example, a committee meeting during this special session featured people in the audience with signs that said, “Abortion is a blessing.” People with that mindset cannot fairly be called pro-choice. Instead, pro-abortion is more accurate. It seems that the St Louis ordinance  blows past the politely pro-choice crowd into the more zealous pro-abortion zone. The House considered and passed the Senate‘s version of the bill‘s second part.

Comparing Infant Mortality and Abortion in St. Louis

Sometimes legislative debate can make you think you have entered a parallel universe. Both sides of an issue talk right past each other. They look at the same set of basic facts – and draw opposite conclusions. And then there are some hot-button issues where the underlying facts or the bill itself  seem irrelevant.

Abortion is one of those issues.

On Tuesday, Democrats decided one of their talking points would be a lack of focus on the infant mortality rate in St. Louis, which is unacceptably high. Several speakers in a row highlighted it. They said it was a tragedy to have such high rates in our country.

According to a calculator at the DHSS website, there were 4,573 live births in St. Louis area codes in 2014. That same year had an infant mortality rate of 11.4 per thousand – or 52 deaths. Between 2011 and 2014, 58 infants died in St. Louis zip codes per year. This is an alarming high rate. But compare that to Planned Parenthood in St. Louis – where more than 450 abortions are performed every month.

I believe the effort in St. Louis to silence and intimidate pro-life advocates is shameful, and it is my hope that the Senate will Truly Agree and Finally Pass Senate Bill 5 sometime next week.