Gov. Eric Greitens
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Carl Vogel touched many lives in his role as a public official, business owner, community servant, and family man. His loss is a loss to our entire community. On Wednesday, I attended his funeral and the words of his son Jake struck me as important: the headlines reporting his death said he had “lost” a battle with cancer. I know it’s just a cliché, but it’s a terrible one.
Newsflash: we are all terminal. Eventually, something will lead to our passing from this earth. Those who live life with joy, dignity, and faith do not lose when they pass away. Carl Vogel was one of those people. When faced with a terrible diagnosis, he lived his last year without losing his sense of humor or his dignity. Carl Vogel was a winner his whole life – all the way to the end.
Many of the same things can be said of the late Cole County Commissioner Bob Jones, who passed away unexpectedly Tuesday morning. Like Carl, Bob could always be found with a smile on his face. He will be missed.
God-willing, they are both smiling down on our community from heaven. May their souls rest in peace.
Our strategy of confining ethics reforms to single-subject bills is working. Gov. Nixon has already signed one bill into law. And this week, the legislature sent two more bills to his desk.
House Bill 1979, sponsored by Rep. Caleb Rowden, imposes a six month waiting period after a member’s term of service is complete before they can become a paid lobbyist – and applies to current members of the legislature. I would have preferred a one-year waiting period, but with a five month legislative session that starts immediately upon the completion of current members’ terms, this effectively accomplishes the same thing. Elected officials will have to sit out a session before returning to the Capitol as paid lobbyists.
I sponsored House Bill 2203, which prohibits candidates from using their campaign funds like they’re a hedge fund manager. Campaign contributions are designed to be used in political campaigns – not to become a mechanism for investments that perpetuate the account. The Senate improved the bill with amendments that prohibit anyone from working as a lobbyist until they have disbursed the moneys in their campaign account by refunding it to donors, contributing it to a political party, or donating it to charity.
Credit must also go to Senator Kehoe, who helped shepherd these bills through the Senate in his role as floor leader.
Two other ethics bills still await Senate action. House Bill 2166, sponsored by Rep. Justin Alferman, bans gifts for state legislators. I believe this is the most important of the five ethics bills and remain hopeful that it will find a way to Gov. Nixon’s desk. The other bill awaiting Senate action is House Bill 2226, which I sponsored to close a loophole in state law by prohibiting special gubernatorial appointees from using their public positions to privately profit.
All of these bills share two things in common. First, public officials should not use their positions for private profit. These bills remove financial incentives for elected officials to do the wrong thing. Second, they help move the Capitol culture further away from entitlement and closer to service.
The vast majority of Representatives and Senators begin – and continue – to serve for the right reasons. But power is intoxicating. It changes people, slowly and sometimes imperceptibly to the person being changed. Humility can be hard when people Monday through Thursday laugh at your bad jokes and act like your every word has great meaning. No one is immune to this.
Our Founders understood this. Madison expressed it best, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.” These ethics bills won’t fix every ill with government. No bill ever could. They will, however, improve your state government.