Author Archives: jaybarnes5
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.
On Thursday, the House passed legislation to prohibit the use of fetal body tissue obtained from an abortion in medical experiments. Every time an abortion bill comes up, the opposition attacks the motives of pro-life representatives. On Thursday, I spoke in favor of House Bill 2069. Though most weeks I spend a few hours writing and editing, this week the text of my extemporaneous floor speech on HB 2069 is better without edits:
Beginning at approximately the 1:55 mark: Mr. Speaker, I rise to make three points. The first is that I believe this body and normal people reject the utilitarian logic that some must, or should die, so that others can live better, particularly when those who die have no choice in the matter. The Lady from St. Louis County uses that word a lot – choice, choice, choice. Where is the choice for the child, Mr. Speaker? Where is the choice for the child in the womb to say, “I want to live, I want to breathe.”?
The second point Mr. Speaker: we heard an earlier person from the other side of the aisle talk about fetal abnormalities, and those are tragic situations for everyone. But a child born with disability is no less a human being worthy of life than anyone else, Mr. Speaker. They are a creation of God. They have dignity. They deserve our legal protection.
And third and finally, Mr. Speaker, the lady from St. Louis County spent a Senate amount of time talking about facts and saying that this body is paying no attention to facts. We also heard people talk about abortion like its’ any old medical procedure – like it’s a knee replacement or a shoulder manipulation.
But Mr. Speaker, here is the ultimate fact: Every single abortion ends with the premature termination of a human life, and a being with a soul. And a life of someone who did not have the opportunity to say, “I want to live.” When we bring these bills to the floor, it is about children. It is giving voice to the voiceless. It is defending the defenseless. Children should not be science experiments, Mr. Speaker. Thank you.
It’s no secret that Missouri has the most lax ethics laws for legislators in the country. Ours is the only state without limits on gifts, campaign contributions, or a reasonable waiting period before a legislator can become a paid lobbyist. For the past four months, we have worked to change that for the better.
In January, Speaker Todd Richardson made ethics a top priority and assigned all ethics bill to the House Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability, of which I am the chairman. In past years, we combined all of the ethics proposals into a single bill – and then watched it languish in the last month of session. A big, bulky target, it became easy prey for ethics reform opponents to quietly kill.
We took a different path this year. Instead of an omnibus bill, the House sent narrow single-subject ethics bills to the Senate. One of these bills has already passed. House Bill 1983, which prohibits legislators from cashing in on their service by being paid as campaign consultants for fellow members or candidates for statewide office, was signed by Gov. Nixon this Thursday.
Now, with four weeks left in session, there are four ethics bills are teed up for debate to be sent to the governor’s desk .
House Bill 2203, which I have sponsored, prohibits candidates (including incumbents) from using their campaign funds to purchase businesses or make other exotic investments. It also requires that, after an elected official has finished their service, they must dispose of their campaign funds before becoming a paid lobbyist. When emptying their former campaign account, a former member is limited to (1) giving refunds to donors, (2) donating the money to charity, or (3) transferring it to a political party committee. This part of the bill was added by the Senate and prevents former members from cashing in on their campaign funds in a later career as a lobbyist.
Finally, the bill prohibits candidates from converting campaign funds into personal use by transferring it to another committee and then receiving compensation from that committee. A conference committee agreed to the final language of the bill this week. And now it simply waits for action by both bodies.
House Bill 2226, which I have sponsored, closes a loophole in our state’s current self-dealing law. Self-dealing laws prevent those who serve in the public trust from profiting directly from their decisions in public service. Under federal law, persons appointed by executive agencies to provide advice and expertise are prohibited from self-dealing. Under current Missouri law, they are not. HB 2226 is awaiting Senate action, and I am confident that it will pass.
As agreed to by a conference committee, House Bill 1979 imposes a six month waiting period before former members of the General Assembly are permitted to become paid lobbyists. On Thursday, it passed the House 131 to 19. It now awaits Senate action.
Finally, House Bill 2166, as passed by the House, enacts a ban on lobbyist expenditures. The Senate debated it previously this session, but still awaits action. I am hopeful that the Senate, too, will pass it and send it to Gov. Nixon.
With just one month left, we have put them in the position to reach Gov. Nixon’s desk. And together, if all of these bills are passed, they will make a significant positive difference in the way your General Assembly operates.
If you become paralyzed by a drunk driver, who should get the benefit of your responsible decision to pay health insurance premiums every month? You or the drunk driver?
Under current state law, whether you or the drunk driver gets the benefit of your health insurance is decided by a jury. But if a bill working its way through the General Assembly becomes law, the drunk driver will get it automatically.
In particular, I’m writing about Senate Bill 847, which would abrogate the collateral source rule. In short, the collateral source rule prevents defendants from introducing evidence at a trial that a third-party has paid part of the damages suffered by the person who was injured. In most cases, that third-party is an insurance company that only pays part of the damages because the person injured paid premiums.
It’s a legal doctrine nearly as old as our state. In 1854, in a case called The Proper Monticello v. Mollison, the United States Supreme Court explained that this rule prohibiting wrong-doers from benefiting from their victims foresight was already “well-established” in American law.
Courts have described the collateral source rule to have three purposes. First, it ensures that a wrongdoer does not benefit from their victim’s foresight to purchase insurance. Second, it supports the deterrent purposes of tort law by requiring the wrongdoer to pay the full extent of the damages he caused. And third, if there’s threat of a “windfall” between a wrongdoer and his victim, the wrongdoer should never be the beneficiary.
These purposes relate directly to personal responsibility. We are each responsible for our own lives. We are responsible for the good decisions that we make – and should be able to benefit from them. And we are responsible for the harm that we cause – and should be required to make good for it.
If you work and are responsible, you pay health insurance premiums every month. In 2010, the last year for which I could find data, the average annual health insurance costs for Missouri families with private health insurance was $13,903 per year. With Obamacare, that price is only going up.
What do you get for those monthly payments? First, your money purchases the certainty that a medical calamity will not bankrupt you. Rather than being forced to pay for your medical care out-of-pocket, you pay an insurance company to reduce your out-of-pocket costs. If you use less than your premium payments, you don’t get your premiums back but at least you’ve had the certainty all year that an illness will not bankrupt you. If you use more, you get the certainty, and actually spend less through premiums than you would have if you did not have insurance.
I believe you should be able to keep the benefits you’ve paid for and that government should not take any action to give those benefits to someone else. And under current law, our civil justice system ensures that people who harm others intentionally or through reckless behavior are held personally accountable for their behavior through monetary damages.
Do not be mistaken, defendants found liable in civil lawsuits have done something wrong. Every successful lawsuit involving physical injuries to the victim involves a conscious and deliberate choice by the defendant to violate a community safety rule. There are no exceptions. Though most defendants do not directly intend the result of their actions, i.e. injury to the plaintiffs, to be liable, each and every civil defendant must have, at some point, made a conscious and deliberate choice to engage in an action that violates safety rule designed to protect you and I and everyone else in our state.
For example, we have traffic rules designed to protect the safety of everyone traveling on our roads and highways. We have laws against following too closely, running red lights, speeding, and drunk driving. When someone violates these community safety rules and injures someone else, the wrongdoer is responsible for the harm they cause.
For over 160 years in this state, the collateral source rule has ensured that juries of ordinary Missourians can hold wrongdoers fully responsible for the harm they cause. Unlike “pure” collateral source states, defendants in Missouri can present evidence of the amount of medical bills paid. The jury also sees the original bills. Then it’s up to you – the jury – to decide the true measure of damages.
Unfortunately, personal responsibility is a value that politicians often preach, but don’t always vote that way. The most prominent recent example involving health insurance is Obamacare, which involved an overt transfer of benefits from those responsible enough to purchase health insurance and gave it to the uninsured. If you have a “Cadillac” health care plan, Obamacare taxes it and uses the proceeds to benefit the uninsured. Obamacare also creates an incentive for people not to buy health insurance when they’re healthy. With its rules on guaranteed issue, a person can choose to forego health insurance until they know they’re going to have high health costs. These free-riders take advantage of those of us responsible enough to pay our premiums every month.
Senate Bill 847 shares features of Obamacare, except, instead of giving the benefits of your health insurance policy to the uninsured, it gives them to drunk-drivers, red-light runners, and other people whose negligent acts have harmed someone else.
Neither the plaintiffs’ health insurance nor the defendants’ liability insurance are relevant to the measure of damages caused by the defendants’ wrong-doing. The abrogation of the collateral source rule operates as little more than a perverse reverse socialism. One leading advocate of pro-insurance company tort reform measures has even admitted that proposals like SB 847 “operate as wealth-transfers to tortfeasors.” That’s because this so-called “reform” takes money and resources away from responsible middle-class Missourians who pay their health insurance premiums every month and gives the benefit of those premiums to wrong-doers and their insurers.
Those wrong-doers range from those who have done the mundane – following too closely – to drunk drivers and far worse. Others may side with drunk drivers and their insurance companies. But if this bill comes up for a vote, I’ll stand with those Missourians who were responsible enough to buy health insurance.