Category Archives: Other

Deja Vu: Rejecting Politician Pay Raises

Last year, I sponsored a resolution rejecting politician pay increases that passed before the end of January. Our state employees are the worst paid in the country, but, as much as I would enjoy a raise, Missouri politicians are doing just fine.

This year, Gov. Nixon recommended a two percent raise for state employees and politicians. Gov. Nixon deserves credit for putting a raise in the budget for state employees. Politicians are a different story.

On Monday, I plan to offer an amendment in the House Appropriations Committee for General Administration to take the politician pay hike out of the budget. If successful, I’ll attempt to put the money into state employee health care. It won’t be a huge amount, but everything helps. 

Executive Agencies Don’t Get to Write Their Own Laws

On Wednesday, the House approved Senate Concurrent Resolution 46 to reject an administrative rule promulgated by the Department of Health and Senior Services to impose a minimum wage on home health workers.

When the legislature passes a law to create a government program, it often also includes a provision empowering a state department to make rules to implement the program. But rule-making is not some willy-nilly anything-goes process. Agencies only have the authority statutes provide them. They don’t get to write their own laws.

Last year, DHSS promulgated a rule that purported to require vendors in the home health care program pay aides a higher minimum wage. At a hearing before the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules last year, the Department failed to defend the rule and admitted to key facts which showed they had not complied with state law.

In hearings on the House and Senate resolutions on the issue, no one showed up to defend the department’s authority to promulgate the rule. Similarly, in floor debate, no one defended the department’s authority to promulgate the rule – and there’s a pretty simple reason why: the department lacked authority to do it.

After several Democrats attempted to turn the debate away from this central question, Rep. Genise Montecillo (D-St. Louis) stood to urge the House to work to increase wages for home care workers, and then she “got it.” She said she suspected Gov. Nixon directed DHSS to promulgate the rule knowing the whole time that it didn’t have the authority to do it, and anticipating that the General Assembly would reject it through the JCAR process.

Bingo! In his last two years, Gov. Nixon has become un-moored from the rule of law. The home health care worker rule is just one of several issues where Gov. Nixon has tried to re-write the law on his own. And each time we can, the legislature reigns him in. 

Seeking Full Funding for Ag Research at Lincoln University

In 1865, soldiers from Missouri serving in the 62nd Colored Infantry stationed in Texas had a dream: they wanted to start an institution of higher education for newly-freed Americans in our state. In 1866, they  established Lincoln University. In 1870, Lincoln received its first state funding for teacher training. In 1890, Lincoln earned recognition as a land-grant institution, a status conferred by the federal government making it eligible for federal agricultural research grants.

For over 100 years, the federal government provided nearly all land-grant funding. That changed during the Bush Administration, when states were asked to pick up more of the tab. In Missouri, the flagship campus in Columbia received enough funding for ag research to draw the maximum in federal matching funds. This land-grant match was built into Mizzou’s appropriations.

Lincoln did not fare as well. Its land-grant funding, when received at all, has been placed in a separate line-item more easily subject to gubernatorial vetoes and withholds. Since 2000, Lincoln has forfeited over million in federal agricultural research funding because the legislature failed to appropriate enough money to match federal investment in its agricultural research.

Last year, Gov. Nixon did not recommend any money for Lincoln’s land-grant funding. The legislature appropriated $500,000. This helps, but it doesn’t fill the gap completely.

This year, Gov. Nixon again recommended a zero for Lincoln’s land-grant funding. And, thanks to the leadership of Rep. Donna Lichtenegger (R-Jackson), the House Appropriations Committee for Higher Education appropriated $500,000 again.

Agriculture is and has always been Missouri’s top industry. Gov. Nixon has reminded the legislature of this fact in nearly every State of the State address. It defies logic that he would continually forego millions of dollars in agricultural research funding.

With help from Rep. Josh Peters (D-St. Louis), a recent Lincoln graduate, I’m hopeful that the legislature can do more. Mizzou and Lincoln collaborate on many agricultural research projects. And just as Mizzou receives its full land-grant appropriation, so too should Lincoln.

Serving at the Public Trust Should Require Foregoing Private Profits

Legislators, judges, public employees with decision-making purchasing authority, and members of boards and commissions are all prohibited under current state law from taking actions which might benefit them personally. The reason for the ban on self-dealing is obvious: those who serve in the public trust should not use their positions to make private profits.

Unfortunately, Gov. Nixon’s actions concerning the stadium revealed a hole in Missouri’s ethics laws. Under federal law, members of executive branch task forces are prohibited from self-dealing. Under state law, they are also covered by the Sunshine Law. (See AG Jay Nixon opinions 129-2004 and 143-2003 which he has ignored in his role as governor.) But they are not explicitly covered by the self-dealing statute.

House Bill 2226 closes this large hole in Missouri’s ethics laws. It applies the self-dealing prohibition to gubernatorial task force members charged with rendering advice involving spending your tax dollars. It requires the same task force members to submit personal financial disclosures. On Thursday, it passed the House by a vote of 157 to four. 

Show Us the Letter

Last year at this time, the Nixon Administration claimed it had a letter from bond counsel on which it was relying to justify Gov. Nixon’s belief that he could unilaterally agree to an unlimited amount of debt to fund construction of a new stadium in St. Louis. The Nixon Administration cited attorney-client privilege and refused to release the letter. Last year, I could understand why. The stadium “plan” was ongoing.

On Tuesday, the House Appropriations Committee for General Administration heard testimony on the state’s continuing debt for the Edward Jones Dome – and one of the first questions I asked was about that letter. Specifically, because the stadium plan is dead, I asked whether they would now release the letter which they claimed last year justified their position.

I was met with the same response. Different scenario. Same response. The project is dead. Nixon’s refusal to release the letter supports one of two inferences: either the letter doesn’t say what they claimed; or it doesn’t it exist. In short, I believe the Nixon Administration has misled the General Assembly and the public about the contents or existence of this letter from bond counsel. And, this being the Show-Me State, there’s one simple way to prove me wrong: SHOW US THE LETTER. 

Ethics Bills Move to Senate

On Wednesday, the House passed legislation to ban lobbyist gifts by a vote of 147 to 12. If this bill makes it through the Senate, the days of $500 steak dinners are done.

The vast majority of elected officials begin (and continue) their public service for the right reasons. They serve because they want to improve our state and their respective communities.

Power is a great test of character. Men and women in public service have decision-making authority on issues that affect billion dollar industries – on salaries that are fair, but nowhere near the impact they can have on others.

I don’t believe anyone’s vote has ever been bought for an average priced meal. But I do know of elected officials who have abused the current laws to extract extravagant meals and gifts from lobbyists. And I believe there are some elected officials for whom gifts helped cause them to lose sight of why they were in Jefferson City to begin with.

Elected officials serve at the public trust. We represent you – not ourselves. That’s why in the General Assembly we don’t even refer to members by their name, but instead only by their district or their county.

The same should be true of local elected officials. So this week we added an amendment imposing the same gift ban on every elected official in the state.

Combined, the seven ethics bills passed by the House and the rules changes on sexual harassment, which have already taken affect, will make our Capitol a better place.

Unlike past years, we kept ethics bills narrow this year. In the past, for efficiency, we likely would have rolled all seven of these bills together into an omnibus package. But that path led to failure every time it was tried in the past. This year we resisted the temptation to broaden the scope of each bill. A serious effort at ethics reform requires focused attention. I remain hopeful that the Senate will pass each of these seven bills quickly. 

Nixon’s Speech – The Good, the Bad, the Strange

Some days in the legislature feel like Groundhog Day – in the Bill Murray sense. For me, that’s the case with most Opening Day speeches and the State of the State address. This week, on Wednesday night, Gov. Nixon took the dais for his eighth and final address. I felt waves of deja vu. Gov. Nixon apparently felt this way too – as he recalled his very first SOTS address. , No surprise, he said a few things with which I agree, more with which I don’t, and a few that seemed misplaced.

The Good

Gov. Nixon’s proposed budget includes a two percent pay increase for state employees. And, unlike one previous example, it’s an increase for the entire year. Though I sound like a broken record – I’ll repeat – the key to getting out of the basement of national rankings is to have modest but steady raises.

Nixon also proposed to “expand family-friendly policies like parental leave for state employees.” In the words of Kris Kristofferson, the governor must be reading my mail. Just last week I filed House Bill 2228, which would allow state employees ten days of paid maternity or paternity leave. The House Committee on Government Oversight will hear the bill Monday afternoon.

The Bad

Nixon’s budget is built on a bed of straw. It includes hundreds of millions of dollars from proposed Medicaid expansion that is dead on arrival. He has also asked for $388 million in supplemental funding for Medicaid, which means we were nearly half a billion dollars short in last year’s budget estimates for Medicaid spending and Gov. Nixon is asking the legislature to make up the difference from last year before we even consider next year’s bill.

Nixon claimed that, when he took office, “a lot of talented entrepreneurs couldn’t get access to the capital they needed.” As governor, Nixon takes credit for changing all that. And this year, he’s proposed $10 million for the Missouri Technology Corporation to “help more entrepreneurs innovate and grow right here in the Show Me State.”

State government is not an investment bank – and shouldn’t operate like one either. Deciding which companies and entrepreneurs to favor with capital is something that private investors should do with their own money – or with money that people have entrusted to them. It’s not something that should be done with taxpayer dollars.

MTC has great intentions. It’s just not the proper role of government in a free society. We don’t and shouldn’t ever have Chinese-style “capitalism – with state-sponsored and favored enterprises. Even where there are the best intentions, the fact is that you’re taking taxpayer money, giving it to a group of unelected people, and requiring them literally to pick winners-and-losers. The right place to secure capital for a new business is a bank – not government.

The Strange

Gov. Nixon surprised everyone when he encouraged everyone to “work together to protect kids and consumers by reining in the billion-dollar daily fantasy sports industry.” Nixon says daily fantasy sports are unregulated gambling. If Missouri’s going to legalize it, Nixon says we need to regulate it.

I happen to agree with his legal analysis. Daily fantasy sports are far more a game of chance than poker – and poker is considered gambling. The strange thing is – if Nixon’s legal conclusion is right, then the General Assembly doesn’t have the authority to legalize it because our state’s prohibition on gambling is in our state Constitution, not our state statutes. If fantasy sports websites want certainty in Missouri, a question for the ballot is the only way they’re going to get it.

The Week Ahead

 

On Monday, the House Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability will hear my bill on parental leave for state employees. The Committee on Conservation and Natural Resources will hear  House Bill 1782, a bill that would require the Department of Natural Resources to sell land in Oregon County that it illegally diverted from counties in the lead belt that suffered environmental harm from the now bankrupt ASARCO. On Wednesday, the Committee on Health and Mental Health Policy will hear House Bill 1923, a bill nearly identical to one I sponsored last year but came up just short of passing as a result of the end-of-the-year filibuster.

In floor action, I anticipate the House will take up and pass three more ethics bills – a ban on lobbyist gifts, a prohibition against candidates using their campaign funds for exotic investments, and a bill to ensure that state laws against self-dealing also apply to members of executive task forces charged with recommending policies that involve spending your money.  

Ethics Package Must Include Nixon Too

In his opening remarks last week, Speaker Richardson pledged that the House would pass a package of ethics bills at the earliest opportunity. This week, we delivered. On Monday, the House Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability heard and passed four ethics bills. On Thursday, the House passed them on to the Senate.

The first two bills increase transparency by requiring additional financial disclosures by members of the General Assembly. Under current law, elected officials must disclose their outside employment and financial interests, as well as all honorariums, travel, and lodging paid for by a third party once a year. Examples of out-of-state travel and lodging include gubernatorial trips to foreign countries that include members of the General Assembly and are paid for by the Hawthorn Foundation, or a meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

House Bill 1452, requires that personal financial disclosures must be filed twice annually. House Bill 1575 requires that out-of-state travel and lodging disclosures must be filed within 30 days of the travel. Both of these bills ensure timely public disclosures.

The late Auditor Tom Schweich explained that corruption was not limited to outright bribery or self-dealing. That the more pervasive form of corruption was the “short-circuiting” of the ordinary political process through undue or improper influence. You might call this “type-two” corruption. That’s the aim of the other two bills.

House Bill 1983 prohibits elected officials from working as paid political consultants for fellow members or statewide candidates. There are recent examples of powerful members of the legislature working for other members – for pay. These relationships drive the perception if not actual conflicts of interest.

Finally, House Bill 1979 closes the revolving door by requiring legislators to wait one year before working as a paid lobbyist. It also prohibits legislators from soliciting people for a lobbying job while they are still members.

These four bills were passed out of the House on the first possible day. In most years, there is little to no floor activity in the first, second, or even third weeks of session. This year, the ethics bills packed the schedule. And it’s only half-time.

Next Tuesday, my committee will hear its second batch of ethics bills. House Bill 2165 prohibits former legislators from working as lobbyists until they liquidate their campaign accounts – even with the one year waiting period. House 2166 bans lobbyist gifts. House Bill 2203, which I sponsored, requires that campaign funds be liquid – held in savings accounts or short-term investments, and may not be used to invest in businesses or hedge funds.

Finally, House Bill 2226, which I also sponsored, adds members of executive branch task forces and advisory committees created for the purpose of recommending public policy involving the spending of taxpayer money to the list of officials prohibited from self-dealing. Under current Missouri law, executive branch task force officials are covered by the Sunshine Law, but not§105.452‘s prohibition on self-dealing. Under federal law, executive branch task force members are prohibited from using their public position to make a private profit. If they violate the law, they are subject to five years in prison. See 18 U.S.C. § 208.

HB 2226 fixes this oversight. Regardless if one is a legislator, department director, board and commission members, or a specially designated member of a gubernatorial task force, no person in a position of public trust should ever be permitted to obtain a special monetary benefit from their public actions – whether directly from taxpayers or from any other source.

Though it didn’t make his list of ethics priorities, I am hopeful that Gov. Nixon would agree with this simple premise: when one decides to accept a public position, they must also forego any personal profit that might be derived from their public position. To do anything less would violate the public trust placed in them. HB 2226 ensures that this fundamental rule of government ethics applies to task force members empowered with the authority to make key recommendations on the expenditure of taxpayer funds.

Looking at all these bill numbers might make you feel like you’re reading a telephone book. Why so many? It’s a matter of legislative and legal strategy. If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result, then those interested in passing ethics reforms bills in Missouri would be insane to try to put them all together in a single bill. We know from past experience that’s how ethics bills die.

As for the legal strategy, several of these bills affect political speech and the right to petition government. As fundamental rights explicitly included in the First Amendment, they are protected by strict scrutiny analysis. They must be narrowly tailored to further a compelling governmental interest. There’s no doubt that curbing corruption is a compelling interest. But to ensure bills meet the narrowly tailored requirement, we must sometimes choose to do less than we might otherwise like.

I expect that the second half of bills will make their way to the Senate within the next few weeks. After that, it’s in the Senate’s hands. With the leadership of President Pro Tem Ron Richard and our own Senator Mike Kehoe, I’m more confident than ever that several (and hopefully all) of these bills can make it across the finish line.

Ethics Reform and Its Limits

The late Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously noted, “The central conservative truth is that it is culture not politics that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.”Conservatives,generally, better appreciate the permanence of human nature. As the great Russell Kirk said, we distrust “sophisters, calculators, and economists who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs.” We understand that no law ever passed or rule ever created will make the world a perfect place.

Liberals on the other hand, believe laws and rules can “fix” things. By setting a standard, government can set the bar by which actions are judged. Government, in other words, can change that which is considered morally unacceptable – before the larger culture accepts the change. Of course, the opposite is true as well. Government can pass laws that move the culture to cause more people to accept behavior that was previously unacceptable.

These truths conflict in theory, but blend together in reality. Only the most rigid ideologues would completely deny the “central truth” of the opposing ideology.

As the General Assembly convened this week, “ethics reform” was the hottest topic. In his opening day address, House Speaker Todd Richardson reminded the body, “When you take to this floor, you are not here as an individual. We hold these offices in a public trust. They are not ours. They are the people’s.” The House, he continued, is bigger than its members, individually and collectively. “It existed for centuries before we were here. And God-willing, it will exist for centuries after we are gone.”

For a small minority though entirely too many members, service in the General Assembly ends up being the worst thing that ever happened to them. With many lobbyists and others offering gifts and massaging egos, it is all too easy for a person to lose their sense of perspective and propriety.

It’s made worse in our state by the lack of ethics law. By objective measures, we  have the worst ethics laws in the entire country. On Thursday, the very first day on which he could refer bills, Speaker Richardson sent every ethics bill filed to the Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability, of which I am the chair.

In turn, I have immediately scheduled hearings for this Monday on seven of the most important bills – the very first day on which the bills could be heard. Departing from normal practice, it is my intent to vote several of them out of committee the very same day, and it is my hope that those will be taken up on the House floor by Wednesday – the first day on which any bill could be taken up under our rules. The rest will be taken up within the next few weeks.

Speaker Richardson understands and agrees with the central conservative truth. “There is no rule or law that can make our imperfect process perfect,” he said. However, “we can, and we must, work to improve the culture here in the people’s Capitol.”

And that goes beyond passing laws or creating new rules. On a personal level, I believe every member should strive to leave public service as a better person than when they entered it. And we must also strive to leave the institutions of government better than they were before we arrived.

I have the benefit of serving in my own community. Unlike others, I get to sleep in my own bed every night. And I also get to enjoy the daily frustration of the shared parenting duties – like coaxing one kid to eat anything green, reminding another to stop leaving her dolls all over the house, and convincing a third that there are only a few places in the house where it’s okay to dribble a basketball (on this there might be some parental disagreement). Raising children is a daily exercise in humility. It’s also a daily, tangible reminder of the things that are really important in life.

It is a tremendous honor and privilege to continue to serve as your state representative. As in past sessions, I will continue to do my best to represent you in a way that you can respect – even if we disagree on some issues (and, with my willingness to speak and write about so many issues, there must be something on which we disagree). To me, that means being forthright and outspoken in defense of constitutional freedoms, equality under the law, and limited government. It also means never being among those “cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Local Reps Win Polls

Local Reps Win Polls 

Dave Drebes of MoScourt.com conducted his annual best of the legislature poll two weeks ago – and three mid-Missouri representatives were winners. Rep. Caleb Jones was voted “legislator to call when you need to pass a bill in the House.” Rep. Travis Fitzwater was voted “House freshman most likely to be Speaker someday.” And I won the vote for “Best on the floor in the House.”