Category Archives: Other

Why I Won’t Be Standing in Line This Morning

Filing for this year’s elections begins this morning, but I won’t be among those candidates waiting in line for hours to get their names first on the ballot. This year, I’m choosing to voluntarily forego my chance at an electoral boost.*

While others are standing in line, I’ll be dropping our oldest off at school like I do every school day and then replacing mom’s job of dropping the younger ones at preschool. Then, I have more important things to do this morning than stand in line.

I’ll be trading the chance to be the top name on the ballot for changing dirty diapers at home with Jane and our newborn.

On Saturday night around 10:30, one precious little Rosemary Elizabeth Barnes was born. Rosie weighs nearly nine pounds and measures just over 20 inches long. She likes her sleep and sometimes sounds like a bleating sheep. Her mother, father, brother, sisters, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins are all as smitten as can be.

After some trying but wonderful time of bleating like a sheep on dad’s shoulder Sunday night (while mom caught up on sleep), she finally called it a night, and slept six hours!

To those who have sent texts, emails, or notes, thank you. We are wonderfully blessed to have four happy, healthy children and to live in a community with great support from family and friends. It’s going to be a sweet and slow week in our house with as little technology and distractions as possible.

The Secretary of State’s Office will still be taking applications next week. I’ll secure a spot on the ballot then. 

No Politician Pay Raises or Funds for RSA

Last week, I pledged to offer an amendment rejecting politician pay raises that Gov. Nixon recommended in the state budget. On Monday, the House Appropriations Committee for General Administration adopted those changes. We eliminated Gov. Nixon’s proposed raises for politicians and staff for state-wide office holders making more than $100,000 a year. In turn, we took the money saved and put it into the budget line for state employee health care.

The Committee also accepted an amendment from Chairman Robert Ross that zeroed out funding for the bonds on the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. In an earlier hearing, OA Commissioner Doug Nelson predicted the sky might fall if such an action were taken – arguing that Wall Street ratings agency would ding the credit of the state of Missouri if we refused to pay. At the same time, Nelson refused to turn over an alleged letter from bond counsel he previously used to justify Gov. Nixon’s stadium gambit. If Commissioner Nelson was serious about his concerns about the zero line, he must release the document. It’s pretty simple: if it says what he claims, there’s no reason not to release the document. My suspicion is that it doesn’t say exactly what he and Gov. Nixon have claimed. There’s one easy way to prove me wrong.

Meanwhile, I believe the legislature would be improperly abdicating its oversight and budgetary duties if the stadium funding is returned to the budget without three things happening: (1) Commissioner Nelson must release the letter from bond counsel. (2) The legislature must find an entity of state government that we can trust won’t try to use the money as the first payment for a new thirty-year bond indebting two more generations of Missourians for a palace for billionaires. And (3) the legislature must find appropriate limiting language to place on any appropriation to “trust but verify” that the trust-worthy entity will comply with the budget. I believe State Treasurer Client Zwiefel is the trust-worthy person to whom any stadium funding should be appropriated.

3 Unrelated Illuminating Events and Ethics

Graveyards are full of indispensable men. On Saturday, Justice Scalia passed away. On Wednesday, a member of the House resigned in a swirl of scandalous rumors. Meanwhile, with children sick and a new baby very soon to arrive, I was absent from the Capitol more this week than ever before. (Kids on the mend. Baby due any day now.) These three events put things in perspective.

The Capitol is a great venue to people-watch. Some days I will just pause for a few minutes to scan the room and watch all of the different things that are happening at one time. As session gets closer to the end, you can watch legislators, citizens, staffers, and lobbyists scurry around the Capitol like ants in a colony that is fast caving in on them. I count myself among the ants on most days.

So here were my three takeaways from this week’s events. (1) We’re all terminal. Enjoy every moment, even the boring or bad ones. (2) No political “victory” isn’t worth losing one’s dignity. And (3) family is more important than all of it. Despite the political hubbub surrounding his death, Justice Scalia’s family is mourning the loss of a husband, father, and grandfather. Whatever public embarrassment there is with the House member’s resignation, his family’s pain is much worse. And no matter how important any bill this week on the floor was, family takes priority. 

The News-Tribune Jinx?

The paper ran a story last weekend on new House policy. I noted that nothing had been referred to the Ethics Committee, on which I sit, and I did not know of any lurking issues. Not even a week later, this dropped. Well, the Ethics Committee still has not had any complaint referred to it. But apparently only because Speaker Richardson wouldn’t let it get that far. (The Ethics Committee can only hear complaints against sitting members.)

Senate Passes First Ethics Bill

On Thursday, the Senate took up the first of many single-subject ethics bills passed by the House. The first topic was the “revolving door.” The House version required legislators to wait a year before becoming a lobbyist. This is consistent with the ethical rules in Congress and a strong majority of states. The Senate eliminated the waiting period. Instead, a legislator may not quit in the middle of their elected term to become a lobbyist. I am disappointed, but remain optimistic. It’s only mid-February and expect that many will work to see that the versions that become law are stronger than what the Senate passed this week.

More Reasons to Oppose PDMP

Dear Colleague:

Last week, I wrote you a long email to explain my opposition to a dragnet government database tracking the medical information of innocent Missourians. Dragnets are un-American and contrary to the principles of a free society.

After a week in which many of you apparently privately voiced your own opposition, I was surprised to read two newspaper articles attributing your opposition to “fear,” “confusion,” or “misinformation.”

I write today to add a few more points.

Privacy is a Fundamental Human Right, Not a Red Herring

Proponents have called privacy concerns a “red herring.” We know better. A right that the Supreme Court has called the “right most valued by civilized men” should never be called a red herring. Is the First Amendment a red herring? The Second? The Third? The Fourth? The Fifth? If you value limited government, you must be a no on this bill.

There’s a Difference Between Welfare and Private Health Care

I also read that proponents claim this is no different than other databases. For example, proponents told the Post-Dispatch that “more invasive” medical records of Missourians are already stored by Medicaid for welfare recipients and that it is “no different than our electronic medical records.” These statements misinform in two ways.

First, what is “more invasive” is in the eye of the beholder. For many, chronic pain and the prescriptions taken to help them function are more private than other health information.

Second, we’re comparing apples and oranges. A Missourian who signs up for welfare should not get a blank check from taxpayers. Their care should be coordinated to help save taxpayer money. It’s part of the bargain a person makes when they sign up for welfare.

By contrast, Missourians who aren’t on welfare don’t have their health care records in any government database. Proponents also make the big government argument that there’s no difference between your health information being stored by your medical providers / health insurance companies versus it being stored by the government. Just ponder the implications of that argument for a minute. If you share something with a private company or person, it’s the same as sharing it with the government? As powerful as they are, your health insurer is not the government.

Your Constituents Oppose PDMP

Proponents also implicitly argue that most Missourians would be just fine with sharing this medical information with the government. Recent polling indicates the obvious. In November 2014, Pew polled Americans on Internet privacy and found that 81 percent of Americans viewed the “state of [their] health and the medications [they] take” as “very sensitive” or “somewhat sensitive” information. More respondents found this information sensitive than the content of their phone or email messages and every other category of information other than Social Security number.

PDMPs Do Not Work

Despite anecdotal evidence offered by proponents, the most comprehensive comparative study of state PDMPs concluded that they do not make a difference in drug overdose deaths. In “Prescription Drug Monitoring and Drug Overdose Mortality,” a study published in Injury Epidemiology, the authors analyzed the relationship between drug overdose deaths and the implementation of state PDMPs.  “Overall,” the authors find, “implementation of PDMPs was associated with an 11 percent increase in drug overdose mortality.” They concluded, “Implementation of PDMPs did not reduce drug overdose mortality in most states[.]” To be fair, the authors are PDMP proponents, and their proposed solution to a program they found was not working was to increase monitoring, not abandon it. In addition, their data tracked until the year 2008.  

Conclusion: Vote Your Conscience, Vote Your District, Vote Your Principles

As you continue to consider how you will vote, I ask that you keep all of these things in mind. As with any issue, you must look to your conscience, your principles, and your district in making your decision.  Take a look at the facts. Examine them closely and think about their long-term implications. Then take a stand and do so without flinching. When you do that, regardless of how you vote, you deserve respect.

Sincerely,

Rep. Jay Barnes 

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.