On Tuesday, Speaker John Diehl announced appointments for committee chairmanships. I’m pleased to report that I was re-appointed as chairman of the House Committee on Government Oversight and Accountability. As chairman of this committee for the last four years, starting with the Mamtek debacle, we have investigated waste, fraud, and abuse in state government. We’ve also debated and passed substantive bills arising from those investigations. The committee’s investigations have typically been reactive. In this session, I intend for the committee to take more pro-active role. In coming weeks, I will write more about what this will mean.
I have also been appointed to the House Committees on Ethics, Consumer Affairs, and Appropriations for General Administration.
Politician Pay Raise Refusal Advances
On Wednesday, the House Rules Committee heard and approved HCR 4, a resolution I sponsored that rejects the politician pay raises recommended by the Citizens’ Commission on Compensation for Elected Officials. In December, the Commission recommended a $4,000 or 11 percent raise for state legislators, and eight to ten percent raises for statewide elected officials.
Over the past four years, state employees have received steady (but small) pay increases. We still rank near the very bottom of state employee pay for the entire country. By stark contrast, Missouri legislators already enjoy the 16th highest salaries in the country.
Serving in elected office is an incredible honor. We don’t need to increase the salaries. I anticipate that the House will take up and pass HCR 4 next week as our first substantive act of the new legislative session.
Bill Success Rate – Legislation 101
Last Sunday, the News-Tribune ran an informative piece on the role that filing actual legislation plays in a legislator’s job. It was interesting to see the sidebar chart showing my legislative filing and “success” rate. According to the chart, I’ve sponsored 71 bills, of which three have passed.
The article rightly explained that whether a particular bill passes does not, alone, indicate whether a legislator was successful in filing the bill. With 163 House members and 34 senators, no single member of the General Assembly (except the House budget chair) is able to pass more than a handful of bills in any session. So, why file more than a few bills? Simple – there’s more than one way to change the law.
You can, of course, pass the bill itself. More likely, however, you attach the bill as an amendment to another bill that’s moving. Or, you handle a Senate version of a similar – or identical – bill that passes. If you have an idea for legislation but do not file an actual bill, your chances of success in adding it as an amendment are greatly diminished. The committee process vets an idea.
Most bills I have sponsored were not filed with the intention of pushing that particular bill number to become law. I’m not driven by the “glory” of getting my name on a bill that I can hang on the wall. My objective is improving our state. I file these bills to secure a hearing, and a positive vote on the bill from the committee.
Armed with that committee vote, I later attach the bill as an amendment to a different bill. The floor speech follows a template, “This amendment would improve our state by (describe what it does). And, Mr. Speaker, I must note, it is identical to a bill I filed that was passed by a wide, bi-partisan margin in committee.” The second sentence eases the path to adoption. And you never get to say it unless you go through the process of filing the bill, requesting a hearing, testifying on it, and then urging the committee chairman to pass it.
I reviewed the bills I’ve sponsored and tallied the number that were incorporated as amendments to other bills. Together with the three bills that became law on their own, I counted 21 bills that became law through amendments. For example, House Bill 1208 from 2012 would have prohibited rapists from using child custody cases as leverage against their victims. That particular bill did not pass by itself but was included as an amendment in House Bill 1256, which did become law.
Amendments are also occasionally offered that weren’t proposed as bills. My favorite example comes from 2012 when I offered an amendment to Senate Bill 749 that requires insurers to inform consumers if coverage for surgical abortions were added to their insurance plans and allow pro-life Missourians to exclude such coverage from their own plans. The Catholic Conference dubbed it “the Barnes amendment” and it became law to give pro-life Missourians the right to choose whether they would pay for someone else’s abortion in their insurance plan or not.
Finally, every once in a while you can change Missouri law without even passing a bill. That’s what happened with House Bill 1986, a bill I sponsored in 2012 to require the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to purchase software to detect and deter cheating on standardized tests. Without having to pass an actual bill, DESE decided to purchase the software on its own for the next school year.
As Mark Twain famously noted, “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.” The number of bills filed versus passed is a misleading indicator of a legislator’s effectiveness. It gauges a general legislative activity, but doesn’t measure success. It also fails to account for a legislator’s efforts to stop bad bills or bad amendments – an equally important task.
One of the local legislators (Rep. Caleb Jones from Columbia) in last week’s story filed more bills than me (81) and only passed four. Yet, he was recently voted as the top legislator who “gets things done” by readers of an inside-the-Capitol newsletter called MoScout.com. In the same poll, I was voted as the top legislator who “does their homework.” These polls are meaningless in the big picture, but still nice to receive recognition for hard work from people who observe the legislature on a daily basis.