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.

Special Session II – Week One

The General Assembly returned for the year’s second special session this week to work on legislation concerning abortion. On Wednesday, while the Senate went through its machinations, I was honored to present House Bill 6 to the House Committee on Children and Families.

House Bill 6

Among other things, this legislation would respond to recent court cases by re-instating the Department of Health and Senior Services’ statutory authority to regulate abortion clinics for the health and safety of patients in a way that is likely to meet requirements the United States Supreme Court outlined last year in the case,Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. Examples of these reasonable regulations include requirements that clinics have complication plans to ensure safety; another requirement that abortion facilities be designed such that a patient can be transported from a procedure room to an ambulance; and ensuring that infection control protocols remain in place.

Though not in the current version of the bill, there was also discussion in committee to require every abortion facility to have a written protocol for managing medical emergencies and the transfer of patients requiring further emergency care to a hospital within a reasonable distance of the abortion facility. This language is important for our state because there is evidence that the Planned Parenthood facility in St. Louis has had dozens of emergency room calls for patients suffering dangerous hemorrhages, a known abortion complication. In addition to these requirements, HB 6 would require the facility  provide evidence to DHSS that physician abortion providers in our state are actually licensed physicians and subject to annual inspections. HB 6 would also grant the state attorney general concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute criminal violations of the state’s abortion laws.

The committee hearing featured passionate but respectful debate from both sides – and worked to identify ways to improve the bill.

Protecting Pro-Life Advocates

Another part of Governor Greitens’ call for special session would protect pregnancy resource centers and other pro-life organizations from the St. Louis Board of Aldermen’s radical pro-abortion agenda.  It would pre-empt an ordinance that St. Louis  just passed that requires religiously-affiliated organizations, including schools, to hire or lease office space to people who support abortion and thus violate the leasor’s deeply-held religious beliefs. For example, a pregnancy resource center that exists to encourage women to choose life by providing them care and resources, should not be forced to hire someone who proudly and loudly supports abortion on demand. Nor should they be forced to lease space to Planned Parenthood or any other abortion provider. The bill also pre-empts any local ordinances that would attempt to limit the free speech rights of pregnancy resource centers by prohibiting them from counseling, referring, or communicating with women in crisis situations.

House Bill 9, sponsored by Rep. Hannah Kelly would protect the First Amendment rights of pro-life advocates. Some legislators have asked how this could fit the call for an “extraordinary” situation under our state Constitution. Since at least 1976, the Supreme Court has stated that “the loss of First Amendment freedoms, for even minimal periods of time, unquestionably constitutes irreparable injury” that is enough to justify the extraordinary judicial remedy of a motion for preliminary injunction. In fact, Planned Parenthood relies on this specific line of cases when it urges federal courts to issue injunctions against state laws that impact abortion. The same logic applies to pro-life advocates. The state should not sit idly by “for even minimal periods of time” when a local government enacts legislation or a regulation that impairs Missourians’ First Amendment rights.

The Cost of Special Session

I was asked in the committee whether this bill was worth the extra money spent for special session. Yes. If every member attends every day of session, the tab is about $20,000 per day. But that’s not how special sessions typically operate. Instead, sometimes the Senate is in session (or near full session) and the House is not – and vice versa. For this week, when the Senate was in session, it likely cost less than $7,000 per day for two days of substantive activity. Next week, when the House convenes, the cost will increase because there are five times as many House members; .  so,  about $15,000 per day. To me, the legislation’s importance justifies the cost.

What Happens Next?

While the House committee meeting went on for seven hours Wednesday, the Senate was working on its own version of the legislation. Sometime around midnight, the Senate passed a bill and sent it to the House. It is too early to determine what the House’s next step will be – that will be answered over the next five days. Regardless, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to debating these measures on the House floor next week.

Why Every Missourian Should Support This Special Session

Article IV, section 9 of the Missouri Constitution grants the governor authority to call a special sessions. It states that, “On extraordinary occasions, he may convene the general assembly by proclamation, wherein he shall state specifically each matter on which action is deemed necessary.”

Over the past month, Capitol insiders have complained about Governor Greitens’ rhetoric and rumors of several special sessions for topics that do not clearly fit within the meaning of “extraordinary.”  One wise former senator opined on Facebook that, “Our constitution has set up a citizen legislature” and that “our founders designed a system of checks and balances designed to move at a snail’s pace to protect the liberty of the people.” While I agree with this sentiment, it is not adequate justification to oppose the calling of special sessions for specific reasons that fit the demands of the state constitution.

So, just what is an “extraordinary occasion?” There’s no court case on point. However, the plain meaning of the word “extraordinary” is that which is “beyond what is usual, ordinary, regular, or established.”

The first special session Gov. Greitens called involved time sensitive legislation regarding a proposed steel mill and aluminum smelting facility that would add hundreds of jobs to our state.  Thus, the topic was certainly consistent with the previous issues and circumstances surrounding special sessions. For example, Gov. Nixon called special sessions relating to jobs proposals from Boeing and Ford – and no one seriously suggested that it failed constitutional muster or longstanding traditions.

On Wednesday, Gov. Greitens called the summer’s second special session, requesting the legislature to  pass legislation to protect women’s health by enacting “common-sense health and safety standards in abortion clinics.” Like the first call, Gov. Greitens’ second call clearly meets the extraordinary test: it is a response to a federal court decision handed down in late April that invalidated all of Missouri’s rules and regulations for abortion facilities.

In Comprehensive Health Planned Parenthood Great Plains v. Williams, Judge Howard Sachs of the federal court for Missouri’s Western District struck down the state’s regulations on abortion facilities as unconstitutional, citing a United States Supreme Court opinion from last year that invalidated similar regulations enacted in Texas.

Before handing down his decision in the case, Judge Sachs published a memo which explains the rationale for this special session, citing the state’s argument that a decision could “cause unintended collateral damage by deregulating abortion clinic requirements that are accepted as desirable and outside the concern of the Supreme Court in the Texas case.” In April, the Court suggested it might stay its decision “for a specified period until the General Assembly can take action.” Unfortunately, the Court denied a Motion for Stay in May.

Abortion rights supporters often argue that it must be kept legal in all circumstances so that it can be regulated. Supporters argue that restrictions would lead to “back alley abortions” where women are not safe. President Clinton famously said his position on abortion was that it should be “safe, legal, and rare.” Unfortunately, by striking all abortion facility regulations, the effect of the Order in Planned Parenthood v. Williams puts patient safety at risk if the legislature does not take swift action.

Planned Parenthood will probably argue in the next few weeks that abortion is among the safest of all medical procedures, with miniscule risks of complications for the patient undergoing the procedure. The truth is much different. Here are some basic facts about abortion safety for women in Missouri.

First, the Planned Parenthood facility in St. Louis had to call an ambulance 58 times in seven years (about once every month and a half). At least 23 of those emergency calls were to respond to hemorrhages, a complication of abortion.

Second, and unfortunately, because Planned Parenthood has failed to comply with state law requiring it to report abortion complications, we do not know how many other serious complications have occurred because of procedures at the facility. However, it is reasonable to assume that there are significantly more cases than those 23 worst case scenarios that resulted in an ambulance being called to the facility for hemorrhages.

Third, the St. Louis facility has been cited by the state Department of Health and Senior Services for hundreds of regulatory violations – including failure to perform criminal background checks on employees with patient contacts and failure to maintain a sterile facility. From 2009 to 2016, Planned Parenthood was cited for 111 times for failure to provide a safe and sanitary environment.

Fourth, abortion rights supporters have argued elsewhere that it is no more dangerous than a colonoscopy. Wrong. In support, abortion supporters have cited a 2015 study that found an abortion complication rate of 2.1 percent. But by comparison, a 2010 study of colonoscopy patients found a complication rate of 2.01 per 1,000 exams – or 0.2 percent. Reading these studies together suggests an abortion is 10 times more dangerous than a colonoscopy. Colonoscopies are, of course, required by state regulations to be conducted in facilities that are safe and sterile. But, after the recent ruling, abortions are not.

If the legislature does not act, there will be no facility safety requirements at all for abortion providers – a result that all Missourians should oppose and that cannot wait to be fixed next year. Whether you are pro-life or pro-choice, everyone should agree that medical treatments should be provided in safe and sterile facilities. In response to the court’s decision, the legislature must and will move quickly to enact common sense regulations that protect patient safety.

Garbage In, Garbage Out in Report Claiming Concern Over Expungement Legislation

Garbage-in, garbage-out. Nothing could be truer of government reports. On Tuesday, State Auditor Nicole Galloway released a report suggesting the General Assembly may have passed legislation that will violate the Hancock Amendment’s strict limits on raising revenue through taxes or fees. The potential offending legislation, according to Galloway’s report, was Senate Bill 588, a bill that I carried in the Missouri House, to help Missourians who had turned their lives around to expunge non-violent offenses from their record if they met strict requirements. Of course, creating such a path is not free. Accordingly, to be fiscally responsible, the legislation had to include a filing fee that high enough to cover the costs so that law-abiding Missourians wouldn’t be left paying the tab.

Senate Bill 588 sets an expungement case filing fee of $250 – roughly the median figure compared to the fee other states charge. Unlike taxes or broadly applicable fees, the expungement fee is completely voluntary. If a Missourian has never been convicted of a crime, they pay nothing. If a Missouri has been convicted of a crime and rehabilitated themselves such that they are eligible, they still are not forced to pay anything.

Auditor Galloway’s report suggests that the General Assembly may have violated the Hancock Amendment by protecting taxpayers from having to absorb the costs of expungement filings, even when they’ve never been convicted of a crime. The report’s fatal flaw is that it relies on a bloated fiscal note that dramatically overestimated the number of Missourians who are eligible and likely to apply for an expungement.

The flawed fiscal note on which the Auditor relies estimated the legislation could result in the collection of up to $146 million in expungement filing fees based on assumptions that there would be 617,197 expungements filed each year. To put that in context, there were only 170,362 total criminal cases (excluding traffic citations) filed in Missouri circuit courts. In other words, the data on which Auditor Galloway relied predicts there will be nearly four times as many expungements filed as actual criminal cases.

The flawed fiscal note makes at least five faulty assumptions:

  1. The note assumes Missourians will pay $250 to expunge speeding tickets after three years. Except that current law already requires points on a person’s license disappear after three years. Automatically. Based on filings from last year, traffic tickets account for 42 percent of the total cases filed by Missouri prosecutors – so shave 42 percent off the fiscal note.
  2. The note assumes five percent of eligible Missourians will apply. It’s apparently a pure guess – and thus not a legitimate route to determine the legislation’s likely fiscal impact. Fortunately, we have at least rough proxy that might make for a more accurate assumption. Under current law, Missourians can expunge a DWI after 10 years if they have no further convictions. In 2016, there were 7,470 applicable DWI convictions in Missouri. Yet there were only 101 petitions for expungement filed – a percentage of 1.3 percent. With this in mind, we can shave approximately 75 percent off the already reduced fiscal note.
  3. The note fails to account for indigent applicants. Section 488.650 of the bill provides that the surcharge may be waived if the petitioner is unable to pay the costs. By some estimates, approximately one in three criminal cases filed is assigned to the public defender’s office. This is a good proxy for the percentage of potential applicants who would be eligible for waiver of the fee. As a result, we can take another 33 percent off the total for indigency.
  4. The note fails to de-duplicate offender data. Under SB 588, a person is only eligible if they have not been found guilty of any other misdemeanor of felony. However, the analysis did not include a thorough de-duping review of all arrest and conviction records. This would preclude considering an unknown, but likely large number of offenses counted as “eligible” for expungement under the fiscal note. (One study by the National Institute of Justice found that just over 75 percent of released felons were re-arrested within five years. We cannot apply that 75 percent factor to the entire bill, however, because it also allows for misdemeanor expungements.)
  5. The note fails to account for the fact that up to two misdemeanors and one felony can be expunged in a single petition. This too would reduce the number of expungements filed, and likely by a significant amount because many single instance events resulting in multiple criminal charges and convictions.

Applying some of these reasonable assumptions to SB 588 yields a dramatically different result. The first three flaws can be readily quantified. Start with the initial estimate of $146 million, then eliminate the 42 percent that represent traffic citations and the estimate is reduced to $84.7 million. Next apply a take-up rate of 1.3 instead of 5 percent and the revised estimate is $22 million. Then set aside approximately one-third of cases for the indigent applicants and the estimated fees collect is reduced to $14.5 million. These calculations do not account for the inability to de-dupe current convictions or to group multiple offenses into a single expungement filing.

In her announcement and press conference on the report, Auditor Galloway was careful to point out that her analysis was of a potential violation. But, to put it plainly, there is absolutely no chance SB 588 would raise voluntary fees beyond the Hancock limit of $94.3 million. It is good legislation that will help Missourians secure the second chance they’ve earned —  consistent with the actions of dozens of other states.

Senate Bill 43 Update

Legislation to weaken Missouri’s zero tolerance ban against discrimination on the basis of religion, age, gender, race, disability, or national origin and provide civil immunity to supervisors who harass their subordinates remains on the House calendar. Over the past week, some supporters of the bill have argued that courts would not interpret the plain language of SB 43 to also eliminate claims for breach of contract and trade secrets between employers and employees.

Those who do not know the past are condemned to repeat it. In 2005, the legislature passed a bill to reform Missouri’s worker’s compensation laws. At the time, some groups warned that it would have an unintended consequence of taking some cases out of the work comp system – to the detriment of Missouri businesses. Their warnings were ignored.

A few years later, Missouri courts ruled that the plain language of the new legislation moved claims for “occupational disease” out of the worker’s compensation system and into regular courts. One such case is called State ex. rel. KCP&L v. Cook, 353 S.W.3d 14 (2011). Three years and tens of millions of dollars in court judgments and settlements against Missouri businesses later, the legislature finally found a way to fix the unintended drafting error that it made in 2005.

Just last year, the Missouri Supreme Court overturned a felony stealing conviction under a plain reading of a statute that contained an unintended error. In State v. Bazell, the Court explained that it “must give effect to the plain and ordinary meaning of the statutory language and, when the meaning is clear, it must not employ canons of construction to achieve a desired result.” For a court to do anything else would be judicial activism. Details matter – and courts interpret statutes by the plain meaning of their words. Passing Senate Bill 43 as its currently drafted isn’t just bad public policy because it weakens standards on religious freedom and discrimination. It’s also bad for Missouri businesses that may seek to enforce employment contracts and protect trade secrets.

Crunch Time for the State Budget

The Missouri Constitution requires the General Assembly pass a state budget by May 5. Meeting this deadline seemed increasingly unlikely for several reasons. First, we started late due to a change in administration and the swearing-in of many new House and Senate members. And second, there’s been robust and healthy debate about priorities and substantive policy.

Three policy areas have dominated budget debate this year. Inside the Capitol, most of the talk centered on shifting all of our state’s Medicaid system to managed care. Under current law and budget appropriations, Missourians on Medicaid who reside in counties within approximately 50 miles of Interstate 70 currently receive their coverage through an insurance company in an arrangement that approximates how people with private health insurance receive care. (Caveat: the current system still does not have sufficient financial incentives for Medicaid recipients to choose their own care.)

Two years ago, the Missouri Senate added language in the budget to transition the rest of the state from a fee-for-service system where taxpayers write checks directly to health care providers in Medicaid to managed care, where a third-party oversees services (and the public fisc). The transition process is not quick. Medicaid is a massive program. A public bidding process is required before a change like this can occur. The Department of Social Services has worked on the transition for the past two years and will complete the shift in just a few months.

With this time frame in their mind, managed care opponents understood that this year’s budget was likely the last good opportunity to prevent its spread outside the I-70 corridor. Led by the indefatigable Sen. Rob Schaaf, the opponents battled. They attempted to amend the budget in Senate committee to ban expansion of managed care, and it narrowly failed. Next they attempt to amend the bills on the Senate floor, but the amendments failed again. As a result, Medicaid managed care will be expanded from its current footprint in the I-70 corridor (which includes Cole County) to every county in the state. I believe this is a positive change for taxpayers over the long-term.

The second major issue is education funding. The House fully funded the elementary and secondary education “foundation formula” for the first time in our state’s history. However, as the bills came out of Senate committee, there had been a reduction of $45 million. It appeared that the House and Senate would have to work out such a large difference in conference committee. On Tuesday, in a surprise move, the Senate voted to fully fund the formula as well. As a result, the item is no longer “conference-able” in Capitol-speak, meaning full funding is almost guaranteed to remain in the budget.

The more interesting thing about the Senate’s foundation formula amendment was that it did not include a corresponding decrease somewhere else in the state budget.  Instead of making a hard choice about priorities, those who voted for the amendment simply added $45 million to the state’s spending total. This creates an interesting issue for budget conference committees because the Senate’s budget is not balanced. Based on this education amendment alone, the Senate budget spends $45 million more than the consensus revenue estimate.

The third major issue is nursing home eligibility. The House restored nursing home funding from Gov. Greitens’ proposed budget because those cuts might have led to short-term savings, but increased long-term costs as persons who would previously have been eligible for nursing homes or in-home care would instead seek more costly care in hospital emergency rooms. The House restored some eligibility by passing legislation to eliminate the circuit-breaker tax credit. The Senate has not passed the circuit-breaker tax credit, but followed the House with restoring some eligibility.

The budget conference committee will meet next week to hash out the differences. With K-12 education funding no longer conference-able, the first and key question will be how to deal with the money the Senate’s budget deficit.  A cynical move by the legislature would be to send the bills to Gov. Greitens out-of-balance. That would force the governor to take the oft unpopular step of choosing which programs to cut through his power of withholding and line-item veto. It also gives away a fundamental power of the legislature: the power of setting government priorities through the appropriation process.

The fact is that when the legislature over-appropriates, it avoids the tough votes, but also essentially gives away its constitutional powers to the executive branch, literally “passing the bucks.” I am confident that the budget conference committees will defend the legislature’s powers and send a balanced budget to Gov. Greitens.

House Should Not Abdicate Its Responsibilities on SB 43

Last week’s column focused on the discrimination aspects of Senate Bill 43. Among other things, this legislation (1) weakens our current zero tolerance standard against discrimination on the basis of religion, age, gender, race, or nationality; (2) provides civil immunity for supervisors who discriminate or sexually harass their workers; and (3) eliminates pro-life protections in Missouri law that protect employees against pressure to have or participate in an abortion.

As if to prove the opponents’ point, SB 43 specifically mentions cases that proponents claim were bad cases. In McBryde v. Ritenour207 S.W.3d 162 (Mo. App. E.D.), a high school basketball coach was fired for which his white counter-part received only a verbal reprimand. In his termination letter, McBryde’s supervisor said he had a tattoo that was a sign of gang-affiliation. Actually, McBryde’s tattoo was a Star of David he had inked while playing professional basketball in Israel.

Another case abrogated by SB 43 is Daugherty v. Maryland Heights231 S.W.3d 814 (Mo. 2007). In this case, Doug Daugherty was a 59 year-old police captain and a 16 year veteran of the City’s police department. After Daugherty learned of his termination, he met with his supervisor, the police chief (who also happened to be his brother-in-law). He taped the conversation, recording the chief stating that “the city administrator wanted to get rid of employees over the age of 55 because their salaries were costly to the City.” Daugherty said he thought this was age discrimination, and the Chief agreed.

Should Daugherty have a claim? Like McBryde, his case is specifically mentioned in SB 43 as creating bad law.

As if this were not enough, SB 43 also eliminates protections for whistle-blowers who refuse to break the law or report illegal activities of government or private businesses to the proper authorities. The genesis for this portion of the bill is a case called Dunn v. Enterprise, 170 S.W.3d 1 (Mo. App. E.D. 2001). The plaintiff Dunn was the corporate comptroller for Enterprise with an excellent performance record. As comptroller, it was his job to certify that the company’s financial records were prepared in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP).

In May 1998, Enterprise began preparing to become a publicly traded company for an IPO. As a part of that process, Dunn began to take a closer look at Enterprise’s financial statements and business practices. He discovered that some accounting measures which were acceptable for a private company would violate GAAP for a publicly-traded company. In June 1999, outside investment bankers advising Enterprise agreed with Dunn’s concerns. Soon after, Dunn was placed on probation and told he could stay with the company “as long as he behaved.” Dunn continued to encourage Enterprise to follow GAAP requirements in its IPO. In December 2000, the outside advisor again agreed with Dunn. On January 4, 2011, Dunn was fired. Enterprise ultimately postponed its IPO – avoiding violating the law in the way Dunn feared.

Should Dunn’s insistence that his employer not violate public securities laws designed to protect the honesty of our financial markets be protected under Missouri law? I think most reasonable people believe it should be protected. However, Senate Bill 43 would ensure that future Dunns have no legal recourse. It specifically excludes supervisors, managers, and executives from legal protection: the very persons most likely to know about and be able to stop illegal activity.

The bill also eliminates punitive damages for these cases, and, like the discrimination section, it states that it is the “exclusive remedy” for “any and all claims of unlawful employment practices.” By doing so, SB 43 would eliminate statutory protections for state employees in §105.055 that prohibit state employee supervisors from punishing, in any fashion, a state employee who discloses information the employee reasonably believes evidence a violation of law, rule, or regulation, mismanagement, gross waste of funds, abuse of authority, or substantial and specific danger to public health or safety. The current law also prohibits supervisors from prohibiting state employees from discussing the agency’s operations with legislators, the state auditor or attorney general.

Senate Bill 43 will likely come up for debate next week. While I believe it should be rejected completely, that likely will not happen. At the very least, the provisions eliminating pro-life protections, state employee protections, and ordinary contract claims should be taken out of the bill. Details matter. If the House refuses to fix clear drafting problems with the bill after it came out of the Senate, the House will be abdicating its responsibilities as a co-equal chamber in the General Assembly.

Budget Reconciliation Process Looms

 The General Assembly has very few responsibilities that it must accomplish every year. Passing a balanced budget is one of them. This week, the Senate Budget Committee worked its way through Missouri’s $27 billion budget. The focus next week on the Senate floor will likely be the state budget, and it appears there will be several significant areas of disagreement that will have to be worked out in a conference committee.

SB 43 Weakens Standards Against Discrimination and Pre-empts Pro-Life Protections

Should Missouri maintain its current zero tolerance policy against discrimination on the basis of religion, age, gender, race, or nationality? Should an employee who is sexually harassed by a supervisor be able to hold her harasser personally responsible? Should Missouri law protect state employees’ jobs who report their reasonable beliefs about waste of taxpayer funds or illegal activity in state government to elected officials? These are a few of the questions Senate Bill 43 raises, which would dramatically change the Missouri Human Rights Act.

The first change concerns the level of discrimination that Missouri law permits. Currently, Missouri has the strongest law in the country. Our zero-tolerance policy prohibits discriminatory actions against a person where religion, age, gender, race, or nationality is a contributing factor to the decision. Under Senate Bill 43, the person discriminated against must prove that religion, age, gender, race, or nationality was the motivating factor. In practice, this means the person who has been discriminated against will need smoking gun evidence to prevail in many cases.

I oppose this change. If SB 43 becomes law, Missouri would become the first state, I believe in in American history, to backslide on legal protections for people of faith, age, gender, race, and nationality. Even so, there are far worse parts of SB 43.

For example, in December, The Pitch magazine reported on a series of lawsuits involving brazen sexual harassment in the Department of Corrections, including “repeated and overt sexual comments, groping, and pressure from supervisors and co-workers to have sex.” When those advances were denied or reported to higher authorities, “retaliation and even physical assaults sometimes followed.”

In response, Gov. Greitens brought in a new leader of the Department, noting, “Our corrections officers struggle in a culture of harassment and neglect” and have “low morale and shockingly high turnover.”

Under current law, a supervisor who gropes and pressures an employee to have sex can be held personally responsible for their actions. But SB 43 grants immunity to the sexually harassing supervisor. SB 43 tosses the tough talk about fixing “a culture of harassment” aside and replaces it with free passes for harassers. Not surprisingly, this would make Missouri an outlier. Of the 44 states with anti-discrimination statutes, only three grant such immunity, and none do so explicitly in their state statutes.[1] No ”culture of harassment” will ever be changed by granting legal immunity to harassers.

The next embarrassing part of SB 43 is its shocking breadth. On page 12 of the bill, it declares, “This chapter, in addition to chapter 285 and chapter 287, shall provide the exclusive remedy for any and all claims for injury or damages arising out of an employment relationship.” Chapter 285 contains protections for employee retirement plans, and Chapter 287 contains workers’ compensation laws.

So what other types of claims for injury or damages arise out of an employment relationship? Here’s the list I could think of: breach of contract – including an employee’s violation of a non-compete agreement and an employer’s failure to pay agreed wages to an employee, tortious interference with a business relationship – where an employee takes actions detrimental to their employer, misappropriation of trade secrets – where an employee steals confidential business information of their employer.

The bill’s proponents argue that courts will not interpret the bill this way. This is a convenient conclusion, but unlikely since courts are bound by the plain language where there’s no ambiguity. It says that it is “the exclusive remedy” for “any and all claims … arising out of an employment relationship.” All of the above are claims that arise out of an employment relationship.

Proponents may also argue that eliminating these causes-of-action would be unconstitutional for common law claims, and they would be correct. But even if a court ignores the plain language of SB 43 as it relates to these common law claims, there are still other claims that arise “out of an employment relationship” that are not common law.

For example, Section 197.032 of Missouri law prohibits employment discrimination against medical professionals and any other person who refuses “to undergo an abortion” or “to advise, consent to, assist in or perform an abortion.” Because SB 43 specifically lists statutory claims which survive its passage, and 197.032 is not included in the surviving list, a plain reading of the bill eliminates this important pro-life protection.

Chapter 168 of the Missouri Revised Statutes creates tenure rules for teachers around the state that, if violated, would ultimately lead to a claim arising out of an employment relationship. Because SB 43 specifically makes exceptions for claims arising out of Chapters 285 and 287, a plain reading of the statute should lead a court to dismiss any purported claim arising out of an employment relationship under Chapter 168.

Section 290.110 requires employers to pay unpaid wages of a discharged employee, and creates a cause of action if they cheat those who have been discharged. Section 290.130 creates a statutory cause of action for employees for wrongful discharge in breach of contract. Section 290.527 creates a cause of action to enforce minimum wage requirements. Section 294.121 creates a cause of action to enforce child labor laws.

In my seven years in the legislature, this may be the most poorly drafted section of a bill that I’ve ever seen. But courts don’t get to re-write statues. Instead, they interpret statutes by their plain language, not by guessing at what legislative proponents might have actually meant. To do anything else would be judicial activism. And, by its plain language, Senate Bill 43 pre-empts all of these statutory causes of action.

Senate Bill 43 currently sits on the House calendar ready for action sending it to the Governor. Unfortunately, this is not the complete list of problems with the bill. I will cover more in next week’s column.


[1] The six states without anti-discrimination statutes include Oklahoma, Wisconsin, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi. The three that grant immunity to harassers despite a state statute are Delaware, Louisiana, and Nevada – but those have been by court decision.