Budget Week in the Missouri House

The House worked through our $27.3 billion state budget this week. By the time the budget gets to the House floor, the big picture items are nearly set. For example, Medicaid (which receives by far the most money) is an entitlement. It gets what it gets; the legislature can’t cut its ample share of the pie.

Education spending is another example. Every year the Budget Committee determines the amount that will be spent on the Foundation Formula for K-12 education. And once that budget bill hits the floor, that appropriation is the third-rail. Anyone who tries to reduce it on the House floor should brace themselves for 750 volts.

Here’s the big picture for the budget (see the pie chart below for an illustration):

First, it’s not in the chart, but this includes a two percent pay increase for state employees. Slow but steady progress is the best path for us to lift state employee pay out of the national cellar. This raise isn’t as much as I might like, but it is continued progress.

Second, the budget includes $9.8 billion in Medicaid spending, a four percent increase from last year. That’s more than one out of every three dollars in the state budget that goes to health care for Missourians who are elderly, disabled, or live in poverty.

Education is our second largest category. The state budget includes $6 billion for K-12 education and $1.3 billion for higher education. Next comes transportation, which, funded nearly entirely through dedicated taxes, receives $2.2 billion in funds.

The transportation budget includes the Highway Patrol. In recent weeks, some people have talked about moving Highway Patrol out of the transportation budget. Senate Budget Chairman Kurt Schaefer disagrees and so do I. I think it’s a bad idea and would fight against it.

Even though the big picture items are complete, there is still plenty of debate and work left to do once the budget hits the floor. This week I successfully made two amendments to the budget.

The first amendment I added transfers $1 million from the Columbia campus of the University of Missouri to Lincoln University for the explicit purpose of being used for agricultural research in conjunction with its status as a land-grant university. This amendment brought Lincoln’s total agriculture research appropriation from $0 recommended by Gov. Nixon to $2 million. In effect, however, it will be double that because Lincoln is eligible for matching federal grants.

The debate on this amendment was intense and the vote was close – 83 to 78. It would not have passed without bi-partisan support and the help of other representatives in floor debate. In particular, Rep. Josh Peters (D-St. Louis) helped by pointing out that Mizzou leadership had a $1.8 discretionary spending account last year. Locally, Rep. Travis Fitzwater (R-Holts Summit) helped move votes our way by talking about the impact Lincoln has on students within his district.

Lincoln is eligible for up to $5.6 million in matching grants from the federal government so I’m hopeful that the Senate will add even more to this line item.

The second amendment I added transfers responsibility for paying the current bond payments on the building formerly known as the Edward Jones Dome from the Office of Administration to the State Treasurer.

Due to my columns alone, this newspaper has probably paid for more ink about the stadium saga than any other issue affecting state government. Since I’ve probably spent 5,000 or more words on it already, I won’t detail how that transpired. However, it’s fair to say that no one in the legislature wants it to happen again.

By transferring responsibility for making the payment from OA to our independent State Treasurer Clint Zweifel, we are effectively appointing a trusted escrow agent to ensure that the money is held and paid for the purpose the legislature desires. This avoids a standoff on whether to make the appropriation at all. It should also remove any thought Gov. Nixon might have about unilaterally indebting a generation of Missourians for funding a new stadium with your tax dollars.

Finally, the House budget reduces appropriations to the University of Missouri system by $8.7 million. This is less than two percent of their total appropriation from state government and less than a 0.28 percent reduction in the system’s overall $3.1 billion budget. Just to be clear, that’s not a typo. For every thousand dollars in the UM System budget, the Missouri House cut $2.80, a big cup of coffee.

Some have alleged these reductions are overly punitive, vindictive, and will harm students. I disagree. The most obvious reason is that the overall reduction is tiny compared with the system’s overall budget. The second reason is that the reduction relates to performance. Since last fall’s conflagrations, Mizzou has suffered significant enrollment reductions for next fall. Students are quite literally voting with their feet and leaving campus. With fewer students, there should be reduced appropriations.

Third, and finally, sometimes you have to tell the people and institutions you love that they’re traveling down the wrong path. To my knowledge, I’m one of only two members of the Missouri House who are double-graduates of Mizzou – first as an undergrad and then in law school. I’m far from a Mizzou-hater. I am a proud alumnus. Over the last seven months, I’ve been dismayed to see our state’s flagship university dragged through the muck in the national media. Unfortunately, I think the university’s leadership has largely created this problem and needs to take further steps to fix it.

 

The Most Frivolous Legislation I’ve Seen in Six Years

In a courtroom, baseless claims are called frivolous. In the legislature, it’s a weekly occurrence. In six years, I’ve seen a lot of polished horse manure, but nothing tops the expert witness bill currently working its way through the General Assembly.

For two years, proponents of changing Missouri’s standards on expert witness testimony have made two claims. First, they say Missouri courts have a “junk science” problem. Second, they argue we should move to the federal standard called Daubert, which they claim is stricter than current law.

The first claim – “junk science” – has no basis in fact. This being the Show-Me State, skeptical legislators have asked for real-world examples. In two years, the proponents have yet to identify a single case where changing the standard would have made any difference.

The second claim – that federal courts have a stricter standard – is demonstrably false. But don’t just take my word for it – go to the primary source documents. The leading case in Missouri on expert witness standards is Healing Arts v. McDonough, where Missouri’s Supreme Court explicitly ruled that our state standard is stricter than Daubert.

Next, read Johnson v. Mead Johnson, the most recent case from the federal appeals court over Missouri federal courts. This case was decided by a conservative panel of judges that included Missouri’s own Judge Duane Benton.[2]  The conservative panel described Daubert as having “greatly liberalized what had been … strict standards for admission of expert scientific testimony.” Under Daubert, the conservative panel explained that judges (1) must “resolve doubts about the usefulness of expert testimony in favor of admissibility,” (2) must allow expert testimony if it “advances the [jury’s] understanding to any degree,” and (3) may only exclude expert testimony “if it is so fundamentally unsupported that it can offer no assistance to the jury.”

Moreover, judges are “not to weigh or assess the correctness of competing expert opinions.” Instead, expert testimony “should be tested by the adversary process with competing expert testimony and cross-examination, rather than excluded by the court at the outset.”

What do you call a claim with no basis in fact or law? Most of the time, we call it frivolous.

If you’ve listened to the proponents and then read the Mead Johnson case, you’d think they were talking about the federal standards as being too liberal. So what gives?

The truth is that expert witness standards bill is not about standards at all. The proponents’ real goal is to provide insurance companies and others with a right to frivolous litigation. Despite the liberalized standard, some courts interpreting Daubert have ruled that it requires an additional evidentiary hearing. In essence, there are two trials: the first to the judge, and the second to the jury.

If insurance companies can convince a few Missouri judges to adopt the same logic about holding an additional hearing, then the lawyers representing alleged wrongdoers will benefit because it will allow them to bury middle-class Missourians who have been harmed with paperwork and additional costs before they can present their claim to a jury of their peers.

In addition, adoption of the federal rule would swamp Missouri courts. Federal judges can handle Daubert hearings because they have fewer cases, more serious cases, and more resources. They employ legal clerks to help with research and drafting opinions. State judges have more cases and no clerks. In fact, for efficiency, prevailing parties often provide the first draft of judicial orders.

Daubert hearings will make it more expensive for all Missourians to resolve their disputes because it will be more difficult to get a trial date. Will proponents pay for the increased resources judges will need for these hearings?

Despite the costs, cases would be rare where expert testimony is excluded. As Benton and his conservative colleagues explained, judges must resolve any doubts in favor of allowing jurors to hear the evidence. This is a fundamentally conservative philosophy. In our country, the “people” make determinations of fact in most trials, not government officials. Our Founders upended the traditional relationship between government and citizens, and they enshrined the right to trial by jury in the Constitution because they had seen the King use colonial courts to further his special interests.

I understand some would prefer that the constitutional right to trial by jury not exist. These special interests and their legislative defenders seek to drive up costs and enact roadblocks before you can exercise this constitutional right. However, the Constitution isn’t some cheap Chinese buffet. I wouldn’t vote to erode your First or Second Amendment rights. Nor will I vote to whittle away your Sixth or Seventh Amendment rights.

Proponents of this legislation want to turn Missouri’s judges from umpires to activists. But Missouri’s judges don’t want to be forced to go along for the ride. The next time you hear someone say this bill has little opposition, ask them to name a single active judge who supports it. In fact, the two statewide associations of judges that takes positions on bills both oppose this change because they see it exactly for what it is.

The courtroom has always been the place in American government where the average citizen could stand on close to equal footing with the government and the powerful. While insurance companies and other powerful interests can influence the legislature and the executive branch in ways that ordinary citizens cannot, they stand on equal ground once a case is submitted to a jury. Insurance lobbyists don’t get to enter the jury room. This bill won’t quite let insurance lobbyists into the jury room. However, it will let them abuse our court system to make it prohibitively expensive for middle class Missourians to take modest meritorious claims to that same jury room.

There’s nothing conservative about passing legislation to increase frivolous litigation. Nor is there anything conservative about attempting to turn judges from umpires to activists. The next time you hear someone claim Missouri courts have a “junk science” problem, ask them to name an actual case where their bill would make a difference. They won’t have an answer. Their silence should tell you all you need to know.


[1] The other judges on the panel were Judge Lavenski Smith, another Bush appointee, and Judge Clarence Beam, a Reagan appointee.

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.

Why I Oppose PDMP and Hope You Will Too

Dear Colleague:

According to the Supreme Court, the “right to privacy” is a “fundamental human right” and “the right most valued by civilized men.” Far from being a mere “emanation” or “penumbra,” the right to privacy finds explicit support in the First, Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

The idea that there are vast spaces in our lives upon which government should not, and, by constitutional and statutory limits, cannot intrude is a fundamental principle of liberty and a quintessentially American idea.

In 1928, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis warned that telephone wiretapping was just the first of many new technologies capable of invading the privacy of Americans:

The progress of science in furnishing the Government with means of espionage is not likely to stop with wiretapping. Ways may someday be developed by which the Government, without removing papers from secret drawers, can reproduce them in court, and by which it will be enabled to expose to a jury the most intimate occurrences of the home. Advances in the psychic and related sciences may bring means of exploring unexpressed beliefs, thoughts, and emotions. “That places the liberty of every man in the hands of every petty officer” was said by James Otis of much lesser intrusions than these. To Lord Camden, a far slighter intrusion seemed “subversive of all the comforts of society.” Can it be that the Constitution affords no protection against such invasions of individual security?

      Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928), 474, J. Brandeis dissenting.

Justice Brandeis was ahead of his time. The Court held that the Fourth Amendment did not protect telephone conversations intercepted by government wiretap.

It should not be surprising that Justice Brandeis was on the losing side. It often takes government decades to catch up with new technologies and understand their broader implications. 

Nearly 40 years later, Brandeis was vindicated in Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967), a case where the Supreme Court held in a 7-1 decision that warrantless wiretapping is prohibited by the Fourth Amendment. Just a year later, Congress passed the Wiretap Act to require a super-warrant before government could intercept a person’s communications. Then, in 1986, in a minor miracle, Congress got ahead of the computer technology curve bypassing the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, which was designed to give the same protections to electronic communications that already existed in statute for wire and oral communications.

The Wiretap Act and ECPA are just two examples of dozens of how American legislatures have taken action to protect privacy. As Congress put it in the legislative history to the ECPA:

[T]he law must advance with the technology to ensure the continued vitality of the Fourth Amendment. Privacy cannot be left to depend solely on physical protection, or it will gradually erode as technology advances. Congress must act to protect the privacy of our citizens. If we do not, we will promote the gradual erosion of this precious right.

Rather than pass legislation that intrudes on privacy, Congress and state legislatures have consistently enacted statutes to enhance privacy. To my knowledge (with two significant exceptions), federal and state statutory enactments affecting privacy have been almost completely one-sided.

I give you this history as background to why I oppose a dragnet prescription drug monitoring program and strongly believe you should too.

Under PDMPs, all painkiller prescriptions are monitored by government. The tracking occurs whether the Missourian is an innocent 82 year old grandmother with a broken hip or a three-time convicted drug dealer. Because you receive the prescription, government tracks you.

The PDMP logic tree works like this: because some people abuse prescription painkillers, government should track all people who use them – regardless of whether a person has done anything wrong.

When you take a step back, it should not take long to see how absurd this logic is. If it’s acceptable logic for prescription painkillers, why should we stop there? There are a host of public health risks more serious than prescription drug abuse to which the same logic could be applied.

For example, according to the CDC, nearly 2,000 Missourians die annually from alcohol-related deaths, significantly more than drug overdoses. The data are clear: Alcohol is a worse problem for society. If government simply put a tracker in every grocery store in our state, problem drinkers could be identified and deaths avoided. By the logic of trackers of prescription drug monitoring programs, you’re a technophobe if you wouldn’t support such a database. After all, lives are at stake!

How about junk food? Obesity and its related illnesses cost American taxpayers billions of dollars a year in Medicaid and Medicare. Its associated illnesses also kill more Americans than alcohol and drug overdoses combined. Junk food purchases are far less private today than prescriptions. Every grocery store tracks what you buy, and many provide the data to third-parties for internal (or perhaps external) marketing purposes. Because the data are maintained by third-parties and there’s no statutory protection, Americans have no privacy right in their junk food purchases at all. So why not enact a law requiring grocery stores to pass along their data on massive junk food purchasers? The Department of Health and Senior Services could use the information to aggressively target those Missourians who buy too much junk food.

Tanning beds? It took three years to pass legislation in Missouri just to require tanning bed proprietors to get parental consent before allowing a minor to tan. Yet, we also know tanning is a leading cause of skin cancer. It will literally kill you. So why not require proprietors to report the name of every person to use a tanning bed every time they use one? DHSS could use the data to bombard the most frequent users with anti-tanning messages, and we’d likely save some lives.

Smoking? Similar story.

Next, move beyond behaviors that can only harm a single person. If you buy the logic that government should track a law-abiding person’s behavior to save them from themselves, then you must certainly also agree that government should be able to track someone to prevent them from harming someone else. Just put the product into the same logic structure as the PDMP argument: some people will misuse X, therefore government should track all people who use X.

In this second category, government would start with guns. How would you feel if, instead of replacing X with “prescription painkillers,” we used the word “guns?” There may be some Democrats in the House who would be yes votes, but I doubt there’d be a single Republican. And yet, it’s the same argument.

Back to alcohol, some people misuse X and drive cars, therefore government should track all people who use cars. The technology is available to put a breathalyzer in every car. We could eliminate drunk driving accidents by requiring every driver to blow into a breathalyzer every time they started their car. If you’re for a PDMP, you should consider this as well.

PDMP proponents are well-intentioned. We all would like to reduce drug abuse and deaths in Missouri. But we should not do so in a way that treads upon the privacy rights of hundreds of thousands of Missourians who have done nothing wrong.

Until this year, it was PDMP or nothing. This year, however, there’s a better option available. House Bill 1922 protects the innocent and limits a prescription drug abuse database to those Missourians who have actually done something to create the reasonable suspicion that they are a drug abuser. It would work like the problem gambler’s list, and would capture a significant majority of those Missourians whose prescription drug use eventually puts their life in jeopardy.

PDMP proponents have reacted to this non-dragnet approach by arguing it would not be capable of identifying a potential drug abuser before they become one. That is true. But think about the implication of that argument? Do you want to live in a society where government tracks your activities so that it can stop you from doing something you haven’t yet decided to do? I’m confident algorithm-makers think computers can categorize people better than humans. But we’re each more than a computer program, and the thought that government might create a program designed with a “pre-crime” component is scarier than the tracking itself.

There’s also a second key difference that I believe illustrates the absurdity of the dragnet approach. HB 1922 provides that a person whose name is submitted for inclusion on the prescription drug abuse registry has the right to a hearing before being placed on the list. This is not in the bill merely because I think it’s a good idea to give a person the right to prove their innocence. Instead, it is necessary under the Constitution. Putting someone on a list to which a stigma would attach is something for which we must also give them the right to contest. The dragnet approach, on the other hand, does not require any hearing. In this case, when government violates the rights of everyone, it need not make any provision for procedural due process for those who object.

If you have voted no on PDMP in the past, I request that you remain steadfast in your opposition. If you have voted yes, I respectfully ask that you reconsider. You wouldn’t vote to create a government database tracking every alcohol, cigarette, tanning bed, junk food, or gun purchase. And you shouldn’t vote to create a government database for tracking prescription drugs either. Instead of the dragnet approach, signal your support for a targeted list of known drug-abusers. This will allow doctors to cross-check patients they suspect of pill-shopping. It will give recovering drug addicts a tool in their recovery. And it will protect the innocent.

Sincerely,

Rep. Jay Barnes