Category Archives: Judiciary

Supporting Property Rights and Farming in Missouri

The Missourinet reports on legislation that protects property rights and farming in our state. One provision of the bill ‘grandfathers’ in pre-existing farms when governments, state or local, try to change the rules in the middle of the game. A few people argued this was unprecedented and would set up a tiered-system that advantaged old businesses over new ones.

While I didn’t really plan in advance on standing up on this bill, I couldn’t let those claims slide by without a rebuttal because they’re just plain wrong. Governments grant waivers to pre-existing businesses and buildings all the time when they change the rules in the middle of the game. In zoning, they’re called non-conforming uses.

Many times local governments have no choice but to grant waivers. There’s this thing called the Fifth Amendment that requires “just compensation” for the taking of private property. There’s also an old doctrine on ‘regulatory takings’ which requires government to pay value for property it doesn’t take in full but regulates to such an extent that it actually kills the value of the property. 

One of my comments made it into the Missournet report:

Representative Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City) says the law could actually protect local governments from putting themselves in legal jeopardy under the Constitution. “If the government takes your property, they’ve got to give you money for it. If a government changes regulations so much that they could put somebody out of business … that’s called a ‘regulatory taking.’ So what your bill is doing is probably actually protecting municipalities and counties from themselves if they’re going to overreach and try to put farms out of business that are already in business.”

House Passes Amendment to Increase Foster Adoptions

The Missourinet reports on a bi-partisan amendment I sponsored yesterday that could increase foster care adoptions in Missouri by as much as 80 percent. The amendment would allow natural parents and adoptive parents to enter into legally binding post-adoptive agreements that would allow the natural parents continuing limited contact with their children. A similar law in California led to an 80 percent increase in foster care adoptions. 

The amendment was identical to HB 1994, sponsored by Rep. Susan Carlson of St. Louis. As noted by Rep. Chris Kelly, these agreements would be voluntary for all parties. The underlying purpose of the bill is to improve the lives of children, natural parents, and foster parents in the foster care system. As an added benefit though, if we see similar results as California, the bill could save over $10 million for the state of Missouri. 

The Missourinet has posted the audio of the debate here.

Rethinking the War on Drugs – Getting Beyond Incarceration v. Legalization

The WSJ published a great essay this weekend on outside-the-box thinking in the War on Drugs. The authors start by noting that the national drug problem “is so complex that it has produced not just one clear, simple, wrong solution but two: the “drug war” (prohibition plus massive, undifferentiated enforcement) and proposals for wholesale drug legalization.”

There are two points that cannot be refuted. The first is that the “war on drugs” is not working. Though drug usage has declined, it is still too high. Too many lives are wasted – both through addiction and incarceration. The second point is that legalization will make the drug game less violent (indeed, it would probably eliminate violence), but will also undoubtedly have a terrible impact on society through higher rates of abuse.

Given these facts, what are policy-makers to do? Continue down a path that costs billions every year and leads to incredible rates of recidivism – or move towards legalization? The authors argue there are other options. And I agree. I don’t agree with all their ideas, but do like the following:

  • 24/7 Sobriety – a program in North Dakota where, rather than incarceration, people convicted of certain alcohol offenses are made to show up twice a day every day for BAC tests. “More than 99 percent of the time, they show up as ordered, sober.” This same idea could be applied to drug offenders.
  • HOPE – A judge in Hawaii created a program where, rather than choose between a warning or a long prison sentence for drug probationers, he would meet probation slip-ups with immediate time in jail. The program “reduced drug use by more than 80% and days behind bars by more than 50%, according to the National Institute of Justice. I note that HB 1525, sponsored by Rep. Gary Fuhr, would allow something similar in Missouri.

I’m interested in sponsoring legislation authorizing programs like 24/7 Sobriety in Missouri and I’ll continue to support Rep. Fuhr’s effort to add swift and certain punishments to our probation and parole system.  

Veteran’s Courts in 27 States – AP Reports

The Associated Press reports on HB 1110, my bill to foster the creation of more veteran’s courts in Missouri. 

Reporter Wes Duplantier adds some things I didn’t know about veteran’s courts:

Over the past three years, at least 27 states around the country have set up “veterans’ treatment courts,” aimed at healing instead of punishing…

The first veterans’ court started in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2008. Its commissioner, municipal judge Robert Russell, also helped start the city’s drug treatment court in 1995. Russell said he got the idea for the veterans’ court after watching a Marine in his drug court be motivated to do better in treatment by talking to law enforcement officials who were also veterans. In the years since the Buffalo court’s first hearings, similar courts have popped up in states from Alabama to Alaska. Other states – including Maine, Pennsylvania and Missouri – are looking to add more courts.

Why I Voted No on the Latest Work Comp Bill

The House passed a bill Wednesday to ‘fix’ problems with Missouri’s worker’s compensation system. There’s general agreement that there are three major issues that need to be addressed with worker’s compensation: (1) the status of occupational disease claims; (2) whether an injured employee can sue a co-employee in civil court; and (3) the Second Injury Fund.

The worker’s compensation system is known as the ‘grand compromise’ between labor and business. Around the turn of the last century, as our nation transitioned from an agricultural to industrial economy, workers faced the daunting prospect of destitution if they were injured on the job. At the same time, where an on-the-job injury was caused by an employer’s negligence, the employer faced potentially ruinous litigation in civil courts. Worker’s compensation was the product of these competing problems. In exchange for the certainty of compensation for workplace injuries, workers gave up the right to sue for negligence in circuit courts.

In 2005, the General Assembly made major changes to Missouri’s work comp laws – and in the process unwittingly erased some basic concepts from the state work comp system. First, the work comp changes removed occupational disease claims from work comp and thereby allowed employees suffering from diseases like asbestosis to sue for negligence in circuit courts. It also unintentionally allowed worker’s to sue their co-employees in circuit court. Finally, the legislature capped the surcharge used to fund the Second Injury Fund at three percent – an amount which has proven too low to pay the costs of the Fund.

Unfortunately, the bill passed this morning goes beyond the major issues. Instead, it adds two new provisions to the bill which are both terrible ideas – and in one case is an unconstitutional idea.

The first offensive provision would reduce the interest employers must pay to employees to whom the employer failed to make payments for temporary total disability on time when there’s no dispute that such benefits are owed.  Existing law provides that late payment results in additional interest payments of 10 percent. The reason is simple: if there’s no dispute that such benefits are owed, there’s no legitimate reason for an employer to withhold those payments. My fear with this provision is that some employers will deny payment of temporary total disability benefits to put pressure on claimants to settle legitimate permanent total claims for far less than what they are entitled to recover by law.

The second provision I oppose would extinguish an employer’s responsibility for work comp payments when a worker qualifies for Social Security. This ‘reverse offset’ is a quiet bailout shifting the financial burden to federal taxpayers from the business responsible by law for paying disability benefits. Federal law prohibits these ‘reverse offsets,’ and as a result, this provision is unconstitutional under the Supremacy Clause to the United States Constitution.  

A number of my colleagues voted for this bill with the understanding that the bill is still a work-in-progress and would come back from the Senate in a different form. Their logic is that we need legislative ‘vehicles’ to keep moving in order to get to the ultimate solution. I understand that position, but it’s vitally important that folks with specific problems clearly express those problems so they can be fixed.

I hope the legislature can find a way to fix all three problems. Missouri needs a worker’s compensation system that is fair to both employers and employees – and we must fix the Second Injury Fund. If we don’t, taxpayers will be forced to pay more than $40 million in General Revenues to make up the Fund’s shortfall.

I would be glad to vote for a bill that fixes the actual problems – but to gain my vote, a bill must fix all three problems and can’t include any unnecessary, unfair, or unconstitutional provisions. 

House Passes Rape Victim’s Protection Bill

The House just passed HB 1256, an omnibus judiciary bill which includes a provision I sponsored to protect rape victims from the abuse of legal process by perpetrators. In short, where a child is conceived as a result of rape, my bill would give the mother legal protections to shut off visitation time for the alleged perpetrator during the pendency of the trial. My provision is not perfect yet, and we had an amendment prepared to make some changes, but debate on the bill was cut off. I’m committed to working to make those changes in the Senate, and am very pleased we were able to get this measure through the House. 

NewsTribune Endorses Veteran’s Courts

The NewsTribune has endorsed the idea of veteran’s courts:

We believe Barnes’ proposal is not simply riding a wave of popular veterans issues; instead, it is worthy when judged on its own merits.

Military veterans who have served our nation, and suffer consequences as a result, deserve a fair chance to be healed.

Like a recovering addict, a veteran who is treated becomes a contributor, rather than a cost, to society.

A virtue of the legislation is it allows, but does not require, a circuit court to establish a specialty court for veterans. Courts will maintain the flexibility to base a decision on resources, caseload and other considerations.

Missourinet Reports on Legislation to Create Veteran’s Courts

The Missourinet reports on my Veteran’s Courts bill passing through the House.

House Passes Legislation to Create Veterans Courts

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri House passed legislation Thursday to create veteran’s courts to help Missouri combat veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress get treatment.

House Bill 1110, sponsored by Rep. Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City), authorizes Missouri courts to refer veterans to substance abuse or mental health treatment provided by the Veteran’s Administration upon agreement of the veteran, judge, and prosecutor in the case. Veterans who enter the program will be under close supervision of the judge on the case and must undergo drug testing. Upon successful completion of the program, charges can be dismissed, reduced, or modified upon agreement of the judge, prosecutor, and veteran.

“If a veteran is suffering mental health problems as a result of their service to our country, we owe them the effort to get them help,” Barnes said. “This legislation will help ensure that veterans who sacrificed for our country receive the treatment they need to help them keep their lives on the right track.”

The bill was supported by veterans’ organizations including the Silver Star Families of America and Veterans of Foreign Wars. Missouri is one of several states considering legislation to create veteran’s courts – an idea supported by the Department of Defense and VA.

CNN takes viewers inside the Orange County, California veterans court: