United in St. Louis

In January, 48 Jewish Community Centers in 26 states reported receiving nearly 60 bomb threats. On Monday, vandals in St. Louis committed a senseless property crime with enormous symbolism – damaging more than 150 gravestones at a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis.

In December, I had the privilege of visiting Israel with a group of fellow legislators on a mission with the Jewish Federation of St. Louis. It was an amazing and inspiring trip. We met with Israeli businesses that had expanded in Missouri. We visited universities and social service agencies that gave us ideas for better governance here. We were pilgrims to Christian holy sites.

And we also learned about Jewish culture – including millennia of persecution. One night about midway through our visit, we visited a kibbutz (a co-op) far from a large city and came upon a statute that, without context, would not cause a second look. It was a woman with elongated arms and fingers grasping a child’s back, and the child reaching up to her shoulders.

In the 1940s, the kibbutz included many Holocaust survivors and individuals that were able to get out of Europe before the full Nazi wrath claimed their lives and the lives of their families.  Of course, not everyone escaped. During our visit we spoke to one such individual, now in her 80’s, who explained the sculptor created the statue based on a letter from a victim of the Holocaust where she explained that her arms just were not long enough to save the children. To me, the statute was symbolic of both the tragedy of the Holocaust and the hope of Israel – a place where her arms would be long enough.

I was also struck by our visit to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem. The museum takes each visitor through the history of the Holocaust – and the systematic march from words and rhetoric to legal oppression to outbursts of violence to organized “re-location” to the gas chambers. The most heart-wrenching items were the little things the victims carried – their personal effects, the photographs in their wallets that showed happier times. The museum is designed to put you in that place. In one section, literally in their shoes. What would you take with you? What would you say to your loved ones? What would you have been thinking if you were in their shoes? What would you have done? Would have been willing to leave everything you knew, where you had lived your whole life, before it was too late? If you were a non-Jew, would you have had the courage to help hide and protect?

Actions, words, and symbolism matter.

It is embarrassing that something like this happened in our state. What happened next is inspirational. One course of action would be to try to ignore it. Missourians of different faiths joined hands to make things better – confronting hate with unity. On Tuesday, Rep. Stacey Newman had an impassioned moment of personal privilege on the House floor describing the hurt that she felt. On Wednesday, Gov. Greitens and Vice President Pence joined thousands of Missourians of different faiths to show defiant opposition as well as to help rebuild this sacred resting place. In these divided times, let us never forget our shared humanity and values that cross sectarian, ideological, and partisan lines.

Capitol Report – Jan. 26, 2017

Chief Justice Breckenridge Addresses the General Assembly

On Tuesday, Chief Justice Patricia Breckenridge delivered the last of the four big speeches at the start of session. I’ve never had much patience for pomp and circumstance. And with this being my seventh session, the novelty has worn off. At the same time, I have come to recognize that these civic rituals are important reminders of the impact the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government have on people’s lives. As old-hat as they may seem, one must endure and appreciate them as symbolic odes to the great responsibilities that come with public service.

In this week’s address, among other points on which I agreed, Chief Justice Breckenridge joined Gov. Greitens’ commitment to raise Missouri state employee salaries out of the cellar, calling for “21st century wages for 21st century work.” I’ve written repeatedly here in support and persistently worked through the budget process to move this from rhetoric to reality. Even in these tight times, I’m hopeful that we can improve state employee pay.

Rejecting Politician Pay Increases

Two years ago, in better fiscal times for the state budget, I sponsored and passed HCR 4 to reject a proposed politician pay increase by Citizens’ Commission on Compensation for Elected Officials. This winter, the Citizens’ Commission proposed another pay hike. The case against it is even stronger now. This time around, Rep. Bernskoetter is handling the rejection resolution. On Tuesday, this year’s version of HCR 4 passed out of the House by a vote of 154 to 5. The Senate has until Wednesday to do the same for the resolution to take effect.

Breaking Up the St. Louis Cab Cabal

“Government works best when it determines the rules of the road, not when it seeks to determine the composition of the traffic.” That quip from law Prof. Richard Epstein is one of my favorites, and it applies across government. Broad, simple, and clear rules of general applicability are better than narrow, complex, and opaque rules with exceptions to the exception. (As I’ve said often in this space: the devil is in the details. In drafting legislation and administrative rules, it is far easier to state this general goal in the abstract than it is to accomplish it in the real world.)

This week, the House passed legislation that fits Epstein’s rule. Under current law, to operate in Missouri, transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft must comply with varying regulations in any municipality in the state in which they wish to operate. In St. Louis, the regulations are particularly ridiculous. There, incumbent cab companies control the St. Louis Metropolitan Taxicab Commission and have the power to keep new competitors out of the marketplace.

This cab cabal has the monopoly power to determine who competes against them and how. Their rulebook is 152 pages long. For a new company to enter the market, it must first obtain a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity from the board controlled by the new company’s potential competitors. Under Rule 203A, the Cab Cabal can base its decision on, among other things, “the color scheme proposed to be used” by the applicant, whether the existing cab companies are already “sufficient to properly meet the needs of the public” or “other relevant facts as the MTC may deem advisable or necessary.” In other words, the Cab Cabal can accept or deny an application for nearly any reason.

House Bill 130, sponsored by Rep. Kirk Mathews, does an end run around the cab cabal. Instead of requiring innovative new companies to kiss the rings of the various local regulators everywhere in the state, HB 130 establishes a simple statewide regulatory regime. This new statewide regulation requires companies to (1) disclose their fares in a transparent fashion, (2) inform riders of their driver’s information before a ride begins, (3) provide their riders with an electronic receipt, (4) implement and enforce a zero tolerance policy for drunk drinking, (5) require driver’s to have insurance, minimal traffic tickets in the past three years, and be at least 19 years old, (6) adopt and enforce a privacy policy protecting the personally identifiable information of riders, and (7) adopt non-discrimination policies.

Uber is active in 81 countries and 563 cities around the world. Incumbent cab companies who currently monopolize or quasi-monopolize their regions oppose them. Naturally, anytime a business enjoys monopoly or near monopoly status, it will do everything it can to maintain the status quo. This week, the Missouri House took a big step to ensure Uber and companies like it will be able to operate everywhere in Missouri. HB 130 passed overwhelmingly, 140 to 16. It’s time to bring this 21st century service into our state.

Welcome Gov. Greitens, Thank You Jay Nixon, Time to Get to Work

Gov. Eric Greitens

On Monday, it was my great honor to watch Gov. Eric Greitens inauguration on the Capitol steps. I’m not much one for pomp and circumstance, but was awed by the ceremonial peaceful transition of civil authority – and the theater that came with it. Against the backdrop of two of the largest flags I’ve ever seen and with a B2 bomber flying overhead, Gov. Greitens took the oath to uphold and defend our federal and state constitutions and to demean himself faithfully in office.
“Missourians don’t much value big talk,” Gov. Greitens told us. “Our state’s great history reminds us that Missourians have always understood that big achievements demand hard work. “Show me” doesn’t mean “Give me.” It means “prove it can be done, and we will do it.” Gov. Eric Greitens.
It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.
Gov. Jay Nixon
For the past six years, I have been one of Gov. Nixon’s fiercest critics in the General Assembly.  Occasionally I’d use this column for praise., but my criticisms were often harsh – sometimes too harsh. When Gov. Nixon walked off the public stage Monday, so did my criticisms. The slings and arrows of public service can be rough. If you’re going to be around for a while, you must develop alligator skin.
It is popular to deride “career politicians” but the fact is that Jay Nixon spent 28 consecutive years in government service. At any point in time over the last 20 years, he could have said, “Enough. I can make four to five times more money in the private sector and won’t have to deal with harsh critics in the newspaper (or the legislature).”  Gov. Nixon chose service. For that, he has mine and deserves every Missourian’s deep appreciation.
Ethics Reform – Gift Ban
This session marks the third in a row in which I am dedicated to improving our state’s ethics laws. In the first go-round, I filed five ethics bills. The most important would have closed the revolving door from legislator to lobbyist, limit gifts from lobbyists to legislators, and prohibited members of the General Assembly from serving as paid political consultants for other legislators. Every bill died in the Senate.
In year two, we passed the first substantive ethics reform in modern Missouri history – requiring a cooling off period before a legislator can become a lobbyist, prohibiting legislators from moonlighting as political consultants, and banning the use of campaign funds as exotic investment accounts. Unfortunately, the gift ban bill died again. When it did, Speaker Todd Richardson pledged that it would be the first bill we passed this year.
In the first week of session, we took the steps necessary to fulfill Speaker Richardson’s promise.
On Thursday, we “perfected” House Bill 60, sponsored by Rep. Justin Alfermann by a vote of 142 to six.  Rep. Alfermann’s bill enacts a total ban on lobbyist gifts. On Monday of this week, I expect that the House will formally send the bill to the Senate for consideration.
Embracing Innovation
On Monday, thanks to quick action by the City Council, hundreds of Uber drivers were here to provide rides to those attending the inauguration. For one day, it was free (leading my wife to consider testing the limits – could she request an Uber with car seats to ferry our four children around the city all day?). It was also popular – as it is throughout the country.
Unfortunately, many local governments in Missouri have prohibited Uber and other ride-sharing companies from operating in our state. Under the guise of public safety, they have allowed entrenched business interests to stifle competition. The situation is at its worst in St. Louis, where the Metropolitan Taxicab Commission governed by and for taxi-cab companies, set all of the rules and regulations for its own industry – from who gets to compete down to the details of the color schemes their cabs employ and uniforms their drivers wear.
It is a regulatory scheme reminiscent of a bygone era when the government attempted to control certain sectors of the economy down to the very smallest detail.  For example, the Interstate Commerce Commission was an agency created in 1887 to regulate railroad, trucking, bus, and telephone rates. It was necessary at the time because of monopoly power enjoyed by railroads. And it was rightfully repealed in 1995.
Missouri should encourage innovation, not squash it. Rather than allow local governments and taxi-cab companies to shut out competition, we should pass broadly applicable safety rules that allow for new technologies. Our laws should be updated to keep pass with technology and a modern economy.
Last year, the Missouri House passed legislation to create a statewide regulatory structure that would allow Uber to operate here under reasonable rules and regulations. It died in the Senate. Much like the gift ban legislation, it is back again this year, and moving quickly. It passed through the General Laws Committee Tuesday by a vote of 12 to one.

An Historic Majority and Increased Responsibility

Excitement and optimism abound in your state capitol. For the first time in Missouri history, our state is governed by a super-majority of Republicans in the legislature – and in the governor’s mansion. In past years, the operative number for controversial legislation was 109 – the number of votes needed to override a veto. Now the number is 82, a simple constitutional majority.

On Wednesday, I was honored to second the nomination of my friend, Todd Richardson from Poplar Bluff, to serve as Speaker for another two years. Elected by acclamation, Speaker Richardson made the case for a bold agenda to make Missouri competitive in an ever changing economy.

Many things impossible under Gov. Nixon are suddenly a reality with right-to-work (you don’t have to be a union member as a condition of employment) being the obvious first on the list. On the opposite end of the spectrum, special interest sales tax exemptions and giveaways appear dead – like public funding for stadiums.

The big-ticket items will gather most of the media attention. But the “little things” matter just as much. Every piece of legislation we pass matters to someone – more often than not, they matter a great deal. That simple truth is occasionally adrift within the sea of legislation we consider every session.

Elected office empowers us with a sacred public trust It is vitally important we ensure the legislative process is deliberative. No mistakes should be the mantra. Accordingly, the House has re-tooled the legislative process, flattening the multi-tiered maze of committees to reduce redundancy and inconsistent legislation.

I have been appointed Chair of one of the two “Rules” committees. My committee will review legislation from  twelve substantive areas: Conservation and Natural Resources, Elections, Elementary and Secondary Education, Health and Mental Health Policy, Higher Education, Local Government, Pensions, Professional Registration and Licensing, Transportation, Utilities, Ways & Means (taxes), and Workforce Development.  It’s a big task, but I’ll have a lot of help. The committee members are among the sharpest in the House.

Stadium Funding Dead on Arrival

What a difference a year makes. Gov. Nixon spent a little over a year attempting to divert your tax dollars to build a new football stadium in St. Louis. Last week, Gov-elect Greitens categorially ruled-out public funding for professional sports facilities, in particular a proposed new soccer stadium in St. Louis, pointing out the obvious – it’s “welfare for billionaires.” In response, one of the potential owners of the new team said it was “disappointing considering he doesn’t understand our business proposal and potential return on investment for the state.”

In fact, here’s what’s disappointing – that wealthy team owners, real estate developers, and elected officials all over the country regularly dupe taxpayers with claims that stadiums are a good investment for taxpayers. Among economists, there is nearly universal recognition that subsidized stadiums are a bad deal.  As Stanford economist Roger Noll has explained, “NFL stadium do not generate significant local economic growth, and the incremental tax revenue is not sufficient to cover any significant financial contribution[.]”

And here’s another thing to consider: the state only receives sales and income taxes on top of the revenue earned by an enterprise like a soccer team. If there’s such a great ROI for additional money invested, then private investors will invest their own money in the project.

Re-Filed Parental Leave for State Employees

Good legislation often takes several years to pass. Last year, I filed a bill to give state employees who are new parents parental leave. It passed as an amendment on a House bill, but did not ultimately pass. This year, I’ve filed House Bill 325 to do the same thing.

We are a pro-life, pro-family state. I believe state government should lead by example here and provide our new parents with valuable time off to be with their newborns. Since last year, House Speaker Todd Richardson has come out in support of the idea. I’m looking forward to working again to make this state law.

Increased Security at the Capitol

Starting this Tuesday, visitors to the Capitol will see increased security. State employees who work in the building or are there frequently will get cards to bypass security, and school children will be allowed to pass without going through metal detectors, but everyone else will have to go through a metal detector.

The operational details will matter a great deal here. We must ensure that the people who work and visit the capitol are safe. And we must also ensure that people are able to exercise their First Amendment rights to petition government in a way that doesn’t take an hour just to enter.

I wish we lived in a world where security at public buildings was not necessary. However, just two years ago, a person stabbed a man he believed to be Gov. Nixon. Nearly every other large public building like the Capitol has more security. For example, visitors to the Cole County Courthouse must pass through a metal detector. So as with many people, I don’t necessarily like the fact that there will be increased security, but it’s reality that some upgrades are a good idea.

Jay Barnes – Standing Up for Us

Jay Barnes – A True Taxpayer Advocate

Everything is Different – and the Same

No two sessions are the same. Each feels slightly different. But beneath the issues of the hour, permanent qualities remain. True character is revealed under the Capitol’s power and pressure, and this is most evident in the last few weeks of every session.

Threats, promises, and horse-trading are the order of the week. In Churchill’s phrasing, it’s the worst of all forms of government, except all the others. It’s ugly and beautiful. In your state Capitol, it’s all crammed in to three furious days in May. And this last week was no different.

With the dust now settled, I believe this was a successful session. Here are some highlights:

Ethics Legislation

On opening day, Speaker Todd Richardson pledged that the House would make ethics a priority. And we delivered. We sent five ethics bills to the Senate in the first three weeks. Unlike past years, we kept each bill narrow so the total package would not collapse of its own weight. In the end, the Senate failed to pass a lobbyist gift ban, which is disappointing. We did, however, (1) close the revolving door from legislators to lobbyists, (2) ban the practice of using campaign funds as a personal hedge fund, and (3) prohibit legislators from using their position to profit as a campaign consultant.

Telehealth Legislation

The telehealth legislation I have sponsored the past two sessions was added as an amendment to Senate Bill 579, which now sits on Gov. Nixon’s desk. This bill brings Missouri’s Medicaid system into the modern age by allowing for reimbursement of health care providers who provide their services using modern communication technologies. Thus, we increase access to care in rural counties and save money. The bill also makes Missouri the forty-seventh state to authorize telehealth services in the private sector. Finally, the bill establishes a statewide home tele-monitoring program in Medicaid that has proven in pilot projects to reduce hospital re-admissions for Medicaid patients – and, as a result, improve the quality of their care and save taxpayer money.

A+ Scholarships for All Qualified Students

What would you think if students who went to parochial and other private schools were not eligible for in-state tuition at our state’s four year colleges and universities? Most people would think that absurd. Yet, that’s exactly the case for our community and technical colleges. Students at public high schools are eligible for A+ Scholarships to two years colleges if they maintain a decent GPA, have good attendance, and complete community service projects. Under current law, private school students are not eligible for these scholarships even though they and their parents are taxpayers and the money goes to public colleges. In the last two weeks of session, a trio of House members (myself, Rep. Justin Alfermann, and Rep. Travis Fitzwater) started hanging amendments on education bills that expand A+ to everyone who qualifies, and I’m pleased to say that it’s on Gov. Nixon’s desk on two different bills.

Expungement Legislation

On Wednesday, the House passed legislation by a vote of 143 to 12 to allow for the expungement of non-violent criminal records for Missourians who have fully served their sentences and stayed out of trouble for an extended period of time after their sentence was completed. The bill was supported by prosecutors, law enforcement, criminal defense lawyers, and the Missouri Bar. I will write in more depth about it in future years, but as the House handler, this legislation may have more positive impact on the lives of more Missourians than any bill that will pass during my service.

I will cover more in future columns, but for the next few weeks I will enjoy a break from thinking about legislation. Every so often I take the time in the early morning to sit at my desk in the House chamber before anyone else arrives. It is quiet and perfect for reflection on the legislature’s awesome responsibilities and the role of each individual legislator.

Our great historian and journalist Bob Priddy wrote earlier this year that the end of session marks the time when “graduating” legislators become mere “pictures on the walls in the hallways, pictures that thousands of people pass by every day – and will pass by every day for generations to come – without looking, or, if looking, find no meaning in the images.”

Priddy is right. State legislators don’t have legacies. Despite the egos and arrogance of the present, no individual legislator is “important” in any permanent public sense. But what we actually do will endure. The bills we pass (or kill) will impact the daily lives of more than six million Missourians.

The people we impact will never know our names, but they will have to live with the rules we created – and so will we. In six years, I’ve kept this in mind every day and pledge that I will continue to do so moving forward. Legislators are not “special” and should not be made to feel as much. It’s also why I believe ethics reform legislation is so important, and will continue to push for it next session.

As always, it remains a tremendous honor and privilege to serve as your state representative. Thank you for reading.

Upholding the Rule of Law with SCR 45

On Tuesday, we overrode Gov. Nixon’s veto of Senate Concurrent Resolution 46, which disapproves an administrative rule that purported to require certain government contractors to pay a higher minimum wage than required by state law.

This resolution came out of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, of which I am the chairman. The committee’s role is to review new administrative rules to determine whether they comply with existing state laws. Statutes create administrative agencies. To create any new rule, an administrative agency must be able to point to a statute that grants them authority.

For SCR 46, the Department of Health and Senior Services proposed a rule that would have raised the minimum wage for home health care workers to $10.15 an hour. Whether this is good policy is not the issue. The question for SCR 46 was whether the department had the authority to promulgate the rule. In the hearing before JCAR, the Department conceded it had not taken the steps required to promulgate a rule.

At the start of the debate this week I made a prediction: that the opposition would never argue that the department actually had the authority to promulgate the rule. Instead, they would argue the policy’s merits.

The opposition did not disappoint. For over an hour, they avoided the actual question under debate. To his credit, Rep. Michael Butler (D-St. Louis) made the first attempt all session to defend the rule on its legal merits, arguing that the statutes were vague enough that the Department could do this. Then he concisely summarized the lawless argument his side has made on this all session, “We’re going to turn away a wage increase on something technical. The minority party is standing against this bill for the sake of the people. We’re caring about people. Forget the technical. We’re caring about people. … And the majority party is saying, ‘You know what? The people don’t matter as much as the rule of law.’”

Rep. Butler misses the point of the rule of law – and confuses the American and the French Revolutions. The American Revolution focused on principles of freedom protected by a Constitution. The French Revolution focused on the people. The American Revolution led to the greatest nation on earth. The French Revolution led to blood-shed. Its early leaders ended in the guillotine.

There’s nothing technical about upholding the rule of law. A lawless society is a society where no one is protected, and it the rule of law itself that is the greatest protector of the people. Perhaps there’s no greater depiction of this than in the movie, “A Man for All Seasons,” in which St. Thomas Moore is asked why he would give his worst enemy the benefit of the rule of law:

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

Protecting Privacy of Families Involved with Suicide – and Calling Out the Post-Dispatch

On Monday night, the House adopted an amendment I offered to a bill that would close suicide reports from release to the general public for 30 days. In the moments immediately after a person’s suicide or attempted suicide, their family should never learn about it through the news media. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Some news organizations put the need for speed ahead of what’s best for families suffering through tragedies.

This amendment is very similar to a bill sponsored by Rep. Genise Montecillo, whose privacy was violated last year by the Post-Dispatch. Last weekend, the P-D went further in an editorial in which they criticized her bill (which is fair) but also took unnecessary cheap shots. The following is the debate on the amendment. Curiously, even though the P-D has seen fit to opine twice on Rep. Montecillo’s bill, so far we haven’t read anything about this:

Newspapers in this state, including the Post-Dispatch, have fun pointing out the foibles and follies of this building. And the flaws that come with the political process. But Mr. Speaker, the newspapers of this state have their own flaws and foibles.

And the phrase if it bleeds, it leads all too often dictates what media outlets and newspapers do. In the few days since this body adopted the Lady from St. Louis County’s bill, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote on the editorial page something that is beneath the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, something that dragged the Lady from St. Louis County back into the spotlight this weekend.

The Post-Dispatch says this, “We don’t want to appear callous regarding the history of childhood abuse.” What does that sentence have anything to do with the Lady’s bill or this amendment? That is a sentence that is meant to inflame. That is a sentence from the most powerful newspaper in this state that is an attack on the Lady from St. Louis County because she’s trying to do what she thinks is right. That sentence has no business being in an editorial about this amendment or the underlying bill.

Here’s another thing they said that was interesting. They said “a greater good is served by talking about these issues” – the issues of suicide and not keeping the public in the dark. Mr. Speaker, that is true. But it is not true for individuals and their families in the immediate moments and days following a suicide attempt that they have to have their private lives splayed out on the front page of a newspaper before their family can even find out. Is that good journalism? To not wait an hour? To not wait three hours? As if the President had had something go wrong?

If it bleeds, it leads, is not good journalistic practice. It might be good copy that sells newspapers but it’s wrong. And Mr. Speaker, this amendment is designed to protect Missourians and their families in those moments immediately following a suicide where they need privacy and they don’t want their names on the front page of a newspaper in these trying times.

Alternatives to Abortion Program Saves Lives – the Legislature Just Increased Its Funding

Another week, another abortion debate in the Missouri House. To give you the context, the General Assembly increased funding for the Alternatives to Abortion program which provides moneys to Pregnancy Resource Centers that help women with crisis pregnancies to choose life and care for themselves and their children. After Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick finishes up comments on another part of the bill, Rep. Stacey Newman weighs in to oppose increased funding for PRCs – then I respond.