Meet Eric Greitens in Jefferson City, Thursday at 11:00 a.m. at the Downtown Diner

Eric Greitens has a resume you won’t believe – until you meet him. He’s a former Navy SEAL and a Rhodes scholar. He’s written a best-selling book on overcoming hardship called Resilience that’s a must read. Fortune Magazine named him one of the 50 greatest leaders in the world for his work as the Founder and CEO of The Mission Continues, a nonprofit dedicated to helping veterans rejoin society. Time Magazinecalled him one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

Eric has dedicated his life to service for others. And he’ll be in Jefferson City this Thursday morning at the Downtown Diner to take your questions. Don’t miss this opportunity to meet an inspirational leader. I hope to see you there.

Municipal Court Reform Becomes Law

On Thursday, Governor Nixon signed municipal court reform legislation sponsored by Sen. Eric Schmitt. Like the transfer legislation Gov. Nixon vetoed last week, Senate Bill 5 was the product of a bi-partisan, cross-regional effort to improve the lives of all Missourians. The major focus of the bill, however, was in the St. Louis region, where dozens of municipalities (which probably shouldn’t exist) have implemented systems of taxation by citation. These cities – like Edmundson, St. Ann, and Normandy – have treated their municipal courts more like profit centers than forums for law enforcement. 

Senate Bill 5 aims to stop these schemes to abuse citizens. Most of the press on Senate Bill 5 focused on the Mack’s Creek portion of the bill. Under current law, a municipality can receive up to 30 percent of its revenue from traffic tickets. Sen. Schmitt’s bill reduces that to 20 percent for most of the state and 12.5 percent for St. Louis County. This will force municipalities to quit balancing their budgets by writing phony tickets. (By contrast, Jefferson City receives just over three percent of its annual revenue from traffic fines and fees.) 

As I’ve written before, the right amount is not 30, 20, 12.5 or even three. It’s zero. Article IX, section 7 of the Missouri constitution requires that the “clear proceeds of all penalties, forfeitures, and fines” for breach of the “penal laws” must be distributed to schools, not municipal, county, or state budgets. 

For minor traffic violations, Senate Bill 5 caps fines and costs to $300 and prohibits jail time. To help municipalities collect unpaid tickets, the bill allows municipal courts to withhold tax refund money from offenders. Just as important, it requires every municipal court to adopt basic due process standards. Every municipal court: (1) must give defendants in custody due to a municipal arrest warrant must an opportunity for a hearing in front of judge within 48 hours, (2) is prohibited from holding a person more than 24 hours without a warrant after arrest; (3) certify that defendants are not being detained to coerce payment of fines and costs; (4) be held in a courtroom open to the public and large enough to accommodate the public, parties, and attorneys; and (5) must make use of alternative payment plans and community service alternatives. If a municipal court fails to comply, it’s taken over by the county circuit court.

Just as important, SB 5 creates minimum standards for local governments in St. Louis County. To continue their existence, every local government must have (1) a balanced budget, (2) an annual audit, (3) insurance, (4) ordinances that are easily-accessible to the public, and (5) an accredited police force with a written use of force policy. These are simple requirements. A municipality that can’t meet them is a municipality that should no longer exist. The bill empowers citizens by permitting them to file an affidavit with the Attorney General if they believe their municipality is not complying. The AG has a duty to investigate and is given the authority to file suit against the lackluster municipality. If a judge finds that the municipality has failed to meet these standards, they can order an election for disincorporation or place an administrative authority in charge of the city.

In signing the bill, Gov. Nixon rightly called it “the most comprehensive and sweeping municipal court reform bill in Missouri history.” It’s a bill that will help “return our municipal courts to their intended purpose: serving our citizens and protecting the public.”

Of course, some municipalities will still find ways around these restrictions. Just this week, KMOV in St. Louis reported that many municipalities’ revenues are shifting from traffic tickets to other citations. In Pine Lawn last year, the city prosecuted eight non-traffic ordinance violations for every household in the city.

Investigative reporter Craig Cheatam highlighted the story of one couple in Hanley Hills. They’re set for a trial on the charge of failure to get an occupancy permit after they were recently married and the husband moved in with his wife. There were not any other people living in the house.  And yet, it’s apparently an offense in Hanley Hills to live with a new spouse without first checking in with your friendly local government bureaucrat. The couple may have a constitutional claim against the statute as applied to them, but even if they don’t, this is the type of case that any sensible prosecutor would dismiss. That is, unless the purpose of the court system making money and not justice. Cheatam’s report highlights the fact that the legislative process is never finished. Just as con men will always find new ways to commit fraud, so too will bad local government officials find ways to squeeze their citizens. Next year’s reform may well be to prohibit municipalities from prosecuting married couples for living together. 

The Safe Sleep Act and the Democratic Process in Missouri

As we pause to celebrate Independence Day this weekend, we should remember those famous words expressed by the Founders in July 1776: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

The Founders replaced a system of government in which the people had no voice with one in which they did. They specified that government only derives “just powers from the consent of the governed.” And they instituted a democratic system in which, eventually, everyone would have a say.

Of course, the ability to change laws for the better or make your voice heard in Washington is limited in today’s world. In Missouri, it’s different. Here, with a citizen-legislature closer to their constituents, any single Missourian with a good idea can change the law for the better.

This week I want to talk about two heroes of the democratic process this year in Missouri – two Missourians who suffered a tremendous personal tragedy, but who then went to work changing Missouri law to help avoid anyone else having to go through the same loss.

Anna and Aaron Haber are two young parents from Missouri. When they went to choose a day care for their children, they did their research and found a place that was both licensed and reputable.  On August 20, 2014, they dropped their two children off in the morning – including Owen George Haber, their seven month old.

Many people don’t realize it, but, at that age, it’s not safe to place any extra material in a crib with a baby. Nor is it safe to wrap the crib with bumper-pads, sleep-positioning devices, or anything which might restrict the air-flow to the child. The American Academy of Pediatrics’ safe sleep recommendations makes clear that these materials should not be in a baby’s crib. The reason is simple: these materials risk suffocation.

Owen was put down for a nap that day and never woke up. I cannot imagine the grief felt by Anna and Aaron. It’s hard to say how any of us would react to such a tragedy. It would be an understandable reaction to withdraw or avoid the subject.

That’s not what Anna and Aaron did. They decided they didn’t want any other child or any other parents to suffer the same tragedy. So they started contacting legislators.

Their own state representative is Rep. Jeanne Kirkton from St. Louis. Rep. Kirkton filedHouse Bill 707 to require all licensed day care facilities to implement a safe sleep policy for babies that follows the rules of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Anna and Aaron did their part as well. They traveled to the capitol on several occasions to tell their story to legislators and why the bill was important for protecting children. They had to re-tell and re-live their tragedy in every single meeting. I met with them in the hallway and will admit to crying with them in public. And they did this time and time again.

It probably would have been easier psychologically for Anna and Aaron not to re-tell Owen’s story each and every time. But they realized that, unless they were there to explain the tragedy, their bill to protect children might get lost in the mix somewhere.

They found other allies, including Sen. Jeannie Riddle (R-Mokane). Then Sen. Riddle and Rep. Kirkton did their part. They looked for bills upon which to stick HB 707 as an amendment. Eventually, Senate Bill 341, sponsored by Sen. Riddle was Truly Agreed and Finally Passed by the legislature. SB 341 sits on Gov. Nixon’s desk awaiting his signature.

Anna and Aaron Haber are heroes of democracy. After personal tragedy, they realized the law could be changed to better protect Missouri children. Rather than withdrawing, they chose to work to protect others. I’m not confident I could do it. Their actions took personal courage – and because of them, Missouri children will be safer.

Oh, and there’s another happy part to this story. The Habers are expecting their third child in September. May little Owen George’s soul rest in peace knowing that he will not be forgotten, and that his parents fought so hard to make the world a safer place for other children.

Filings in Schaaf v. Nixon

Schaaf v Nixon – Plaintiff Response to Nixon MTD and RCSCA Venue Motion (6.26.15)

RSA Schaaf Mtn Transfer Venue Suggestions in Support

Schaaf v. Nixon – Nixon Second MTD

A Crazy Abortion Lawsuit and Legislating Morality

This is not just a bad joke. This week in federal court a group of devil worshippers sued to overturn our state’s restrictions on abortion as a violation of their First Amendment rights to freedom of religion and the Establishment Clause. (I’m not just calling them devil worshippers. The suit is literally brought on behalf of “The Satanic Temple.”)

While absurd, this lawsuit strikes at the heart of a key point in the abortion argument and governing philosophy in general. Abortion defenders often claim, “Well, you can’t legislate morality.” Not true.

We “legislate morality” all the time. In fact, most laws involve some moral judgment. Prohibitions on murder, rape, theft, assault, slavery, you name it, all involve moral judgments. Even civil laws with no criminal consequence involve morality. Take, for example, the Senior Savings Protection Act – which I handled and Gov. Nixon just signed – it’s underlying premise is that it’s morally wrong for a swindler to steal from vulnerable Missourians, so the law makes it easier to stop that fraud. That’s legislating morality.

Do these laws violate the Establishment Clause because they’re based on morality that’s entirely consistent and derived from religious values that are shared by nearly all religions? Of course not. Neither do our restrictions on abortion, an event that ends a life. In the case of the 72 hour waiting period, it’s not too much to ask three days wait before taking an entire lifetime away from a child.

Usually when someone argues, “We can’t legislate morality,” what they really mean is just, “We shouldn’t legislate morality” in this situation. In some senses, the statement that “we can’t legislate morality” is also true. No law will ever eliminate fraud or crime or any of the other things we prohibit or limit. Human beings will make bad choices regardless of what government tries to do. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. 

Gov. Nixon Lucy’s the Legislature on Education

Poor Charlie Brown. He wanted to be a place-kicker. He just needed someone to hold the football up for him. Along came Lucy. She teed the ball up for him and told him it was time to kick. Then, just as Charlie was about to kick the ball, Lucy would swipe it away.

On Friday, Gov. Nixon vetoed House Bill 42, an education reform bill sponsored by Rep. David Wood (R-Versailles). In the process, he pulled a Lucy.

This was not the first education transfer bill to cross Gov. Nixon’s desk. Last year the bill was Senate Bill 493. I was involved in its formation and passage. We held dozens of meetings with legislators of both parties and across the ideological spectrum. In the end, we passed a bi-partisan, cross-regional bill. Gov. Nixon vetoed it.

In his veto message from last year, Gov. Nixon said he had four major problems with the bill.

First, it included a “private option” that would allow children in failing schools within failing school districts to transfer to private schools if those private schools agreed to accept a lower tuition rate than the traditional public schools to which those same children would be eligible to transfer under current Missouri law.

This provision would have saved “sending” districts money, alleviated pressure on “receiving” districts, and given children and their parents in poor neighborhoods similar opportunities that children of middle class and wealthy families enjoy.  Nevertheless, equality in educational choice was too much for Gov. Nixon. It’s too dangerous for Gov. Nixon and the defenders of the status quo to allow poor families, no matter how desperate, the freedom to make their own choices. (It’s also relevant to mention that these eligible private schools would have had to abide by the same regulations as public schools, could not have been controlled by any religion, and could not have required students to take any religion classes.

The legislature listened to Gov. Nixon and took this extremely limited private option out of the bill.

Second, Gov. Nixon said he could not sign the bill because it did not provide any transportation funding for transfer students. I agreed with Nixon on this point and the legislature fixed that flaw.

Third, Nixon said he disliked a provision in the bill encouraging receiving districts to accept a lower tuition by not counting the transfer student scores in statewide assessments for five years. Again, I agreed with Nixon on this. And again, the legislature fixed the problem in this year’s bill.

Fourth, Nixon complained that a “hardship transfer” provision in the bill was unrelated to the bill’s real impetus. That was certainly true. So, the legislature removed it from this year’s bill.

In January, I attended a meeting with two members of Gov. Nixon’s staff and eight other key House members on education. Gov. Nixon’s staff laid out his requirements for a bill. There was great hope that we could reach an agreement. Although I wasn’t integrally involved in the bill process this year, I heard from several people that the governor’s office actually engaged on the bill.

Like Charlie Brown, the legislature tried. We trusted Gov. Nixon was holding the ball in good faith. On Friday, Gov. Nixon yanked the football away. We will not fall for his trick again. Student transfer legislation is finished during the Nixon Administration. It will take a leader who can be trusted in the governor’s office before the legislature is willing to make another run at it.

Schaaf v. Nixon – Plaintiffs’ Legal Memo on Why the New Proposed Stadium Plan is Illegal

Schaaf v. Nixon – Plaintiffs Suggestions in Support of Motion for Preliminary Injunction

Hearing on Tuesday

In response to the plaintiff Missouri taxpayers and legislators motion for preliminary injunction and request for an order regarding collateral estoppel and the litigation in St. Louis City this morning, the Attorney General quickly filed a motion for change of judge on behalf of Gov. Nixon. The plaintiff Missouri taxpayers and legislators in Schaaf v. Nixon filed the following response:

Schaaf v. Nixon – Plaintiffs’ Response to Nixon Change of Judge and Renewed Notice

Stadium Lawsuit Documents

Schaaf v. Nixon – Plaintiff Jay Barnes Motion for Preliminary Injunction

Schaaf v. Nixon – Motion on Collateral Estoppel

Schaaf, et. al. v. Nixon, et. al. – Plaintiffs First Amended Petition for Declaratory Judgment and Injunctive Relief

Schaaf, et. al. v. Nixon, et. al. – Plaintiffs Response to Def. Nixons MTD

Schaaf v. Nixon – Nixon MTD

The Stadium Lawsuit

Three weeks ago, I joined five other legislators in suing Gov. Jay Nixon and the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex Authority over their plan to spend more than $400 million in taxpayer money on a new stadium that is more than half a mile away from the Cervantes Center.

We filed the lawsuit as ordinary taxpayers, but obviously with our role as state legislators in mind as well. To date, I have refused public comment on the lawsuit other than through the briefs I filed. On the day we filed suit, I received dozens of phone calls from media – including national media. I declined to speak with them.

The reason is simple: I didn’t file this lawsuit to get into the news. I filed it because I have serious concerns about Gov. Nixon’s attempt to run roughshod over the rule of law. Current state statutes put stop signs in place to prevent the accumulation of millions of dollars and decades of stadium debt without further legislative action. Whether a taxpayer-funded new stadium is a wise investment is not relevant to this case. The law is what matters, not economic projections.

Rather than seek legislative approval by changing current statutes, Gov. Nixon effectively decreed on his own that the twenty-six year old statute created a never-ending blank check to fund new stadiums. After we sued, Nixon blitzed St. Louis sports media and argued that the fact there are only six of us is proof that the legislature supports what he’s doing.  

Gov. Nixon knows that’s a lie. Every senator voted against Nixon taking unilateral action. And the Senate placed language in a budget bill to that effect, but it was scuttled in conference committee at the behest of now-resigned Speaker John Diehl. If we would have had a vote in the House, it would have been overwhelmingly against Gov. Nixon.

Nevertheless, these actions were not necessary. The current statutes prohibit what Gov. Nixon is doing. We have made five claims in the lawsuit, but three relatively simple ones are more important than the other two.

First, the statute that created the mechanism for building stadiums with taxpayer funded bonds prohibits refinancing or extending the bonds in a way that increases the amount of principal or interest owed. Yet, Gov. Nixon’s plan would increase the amount of principle and interest owed by hundreds of millions of dollars.

Second, the statute prohibits stadium bonds that have a maturity date in excess of 50 years. The original bonds for the stadium began in 1991. The 50 year period for the stadium bonds expires in 2041. Yet, Gov. Nixon’s plan would extend the bond payments until 2048 at the rate of $12 million per year.

Third, the statute requires that any new football stadium must be build “adjacent to an existing convention facility.” The only “existing convention facility” at the time the legislation passed in 1989 was the Cervantes Convention Center. This language did not just magically appear in the bill. It was added by a House committee after hearing testimony that the purpose of the bill was to “finance the construction of an exhibition center adjacent to the Cervantes Convention Center.”

A memo to the committee explained, “The new complex would be the largest convention center on one level in the United States and would allow St. Louis to host both more and larger conventions and meetings than can be accommodated today.” Almost as an afterthought, the memo mentioned, “The facility also could be used for professional football games and other major events.”

The Cervantes expansion had been a major goal of St. Louis City for at least three years. In February 1986, St. Louis Mayor Vince Schoemehl announced plans for expansion and appointed a committee to explore funding options. In May 1986, he announced plans to, in the words of the St. Louis Convention and Visitor’s Commission that operates the Dome today, “pursue the construction of a domed expansion to the convention center which includes exhibition and meeting space and more than 60,000 fixed seats.”

Gov. John Ashcroft signed the bill into law on the last possible day in 1989. At the signing, he barely mentioned football. Instead, he noted the bill was “but a first step in a long process necessary for potential expansion of the St. Louis Convention Center.”

Twenty-six years later, Gov. Nixon’s proposed new stadium is more than half a mile away from the Cervantes Center. That’s seven to nine city blocks. In between stands an Interstate highway, several city streets, blocks of proposed parking lots, other lots, and even a casino. To put that in Cole County perspective, the Proposed New Stadium is farther away from the Cervantes Center than Capital Plaza Hotel is from the Cole County Courthouse. Imagine if our City Council or County Commission tried to argue it was building an annex to the courthouse located in the parking lot of Capital Plaza.

When we filed the lawsuit, I anticipated a spirited defense by Gov. Nixon and the Convention and Sports Complex Authority. But, a recent turn of events shocked me.

In March, the Convention and Sports Complex Authority sued the City of St. Louis seeking to overturn a city ordinance that would require a public vote before any city taxpayer funds went to a new stadium. It’s a friendly lawsuit. St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay supports the new stadium.

Last Friday, the City of St. Louis filed a counter-claim based on the same “adjacency” issue we identified in our lawsuit. From afar that would seem good for taxpayers. Turns out, if you look closely, the City’s “adjacency” counterclaim is made in way that seems designed to lose. Why? My theory is that stadium supporters want to use a favorable ruling in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis based on slipshod arguments to prevent the plaintiffs in our lawsuit, representing Missouri taxpayers, from having their day in court in Cole County. They could argue this under a legal doctrine called collateral estoppel. Under this, a party simply says, “Look judge, this issue has already been decided in another case. You have to follow that prior decision.”

On Friday, I sped up the time frame in Cole County by filing a motion for preliminary injunction and noticing it up for hearing this Tuesday. Missouri taxpayers deserve a fair hearing in this case after vigorous argument from adversarial parties. Gov. Nixon does not get to decide on his own whether he has legal authority to do this, and we will not let St. Louis political power brokers prevent us from having our day in court on behalf of Missouri taxpayers.

This lawsuit started with concerns over the rule of law. The City of St. Louis and Convention Authority upped the stakes last Friday. I’m confident that the case will have a fair hearing in Cole County with both sides zealously represented. I don’t believe the other side has even a colorable case. But, just as Gov. Nixon doesn’t get to decide, neither do I. Instead, a judge will rule – a Cole County judge to start, which is appropriate because this is a state taxpayer lawsuit and this is the seat of state government. Eventually, it may be decided by seven judges on the Missouri Supreme Court.