Headline: Missouri’s Supreme Court throws out a major section of Missouri’s ethics laws [Entered: 02/17/2012]
In a unanimous decision, the state’s high court threw out a package of ethics laws passed by the Missouri General Assembly in 2010.
The measure imposes penalties on lobbyists for filing false information, gives the Missouri Ethics Commission power to launch its own investigations, requires electronic filing of more campaign finance reports and restricts the transfer of funds between political committees.
The provisions had been passed after stories of a federal grand jury investigation into former House Speaker Rod Jetton and campaign contributions. Supporters argued the heightened exposure of campaign contributions would balance the legislature’s earlier action that removed the cap on campaign contributions.
But Missouri’s Supreme Court held Tuesday [Feb. 14] that the legislature had violated a state constitutional provision that prohibits expanding a bill beyond its original topic.
The original bill covered only state contract bidding and procurements.
“The multiple provisions relating to campaign finance, ethics and keys to the capitol dome are not logically connected or germane to procurement,” the court wrote in its decision.
The reference to the dome relates to a section tacked onto the bill that requires the administration to provide legislators with keys to the top dome above the Capitol rotunda.
Gov. Jay Nixon promptly called on legislators to re-pass the ethics and campaign finance provisions in the current legislative session so as to reinstate the requirements for the 2012 campaign season.
“This week has caused a lessening of the protection and openness in the political system of the state of Missouri that was agreed to overwhelmingly by the legislature,” Nixon said at a Friday [Feb. 17] news conference.
He urged legislators to work quickly at restoring the campaign finance and ethics provisions.
“We should mark in days the number of days we go without penalties for obstruction of justice from some ethics investigations,” Nixon said of one of the provisions struck down by the court that expanded the authority of the Missouri Ethics Commission to investigate violations.
Nixon also urged legislators to reinstate the limits on campaign contributions. Missouri voters had approved the limits, but the legislature repealed them.
* Get the court’s decision [http://www.courts.mo.gov/file.jsp?idR499].
* Get the bill, SB 844 [http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUM„4&YEAR 10].
Headline: Missouri Senate approves delay of candidate filing date [Entered: 02/16/2012]
By Matthew Patane
State senators suspended chamber rules Thursday [Feb. 16] to put a bill on the fast track that would push back candidate filing dates for Missouri’s August 2012 primary. The next day, the Senate gave the measure final approval and sent it to the House.
The bill pushes back the filing period a month, moving the opening day for filing from Feb. 28 to March 27. The proposal also includes a provision that would require the Secretary of State to reimburse local governments for costs incurred while advertising the new filing date.
Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, said he sponsored the proposal to give candidates an appropriate time frame to file for candidacy because Missouri’s district maps are still being reviewed by the courts.
“Hopefully the commission can get a map done by that point,” Parson said.
Missouri’s Supreme Court threw out the Senate map drawn by a panel of appeals court judges and tossed the redistricting issue back to a bipartisan citizens commission. That commission was scheduled to meet the weekend after the Senate’s action.
Unless the Senate redistricting commission were to act quickly, on the opening day of filing, candidates would not know for certain in which Senate districts they reside.
In addition, a challenge to the House districts is before a circuit court, and the state Supreme Court is reviewing a challenge to the congressional district maps. Parson said the changes only apply to the 2012 election and that the governor was on board with delaying the filing period.
The Senate’s final vote on the measure came on the same day Missouri’s Supreme Court heard another round of arguments about the congressional map.
* Get the bill, SB 773 [http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUMw3]
Headline: Missouri Supreme Court hears congressional redistricting arguments [Entered: 02/16/2012]
By Mary McGuire
The legal fight over Missouri’s congressional district map returned to the Missouri Supreme Court on Thursday [Feb. 16].
Two separate lawsuits charge the map violates a state provision of the state constitution that requires the districts to be “as compact as may be.”
In a decision earlier this year, the court held that although the districts did not appear to be compact, that was a question of fact for the lower court to resolve. The lower court upheld the map, triggering an appeal that brought the case back to the state Supreme Court for Thursday’s [Feb. 16] second round of hearings.
“County boundaries are important, so you want to split them as little as possible. … The 5th District under HB193 covers five counties … there is no reason whatsoever for it to cover five counties when it could cover one and a portion,” Jamie Landes, an attorney for one of the lawsuits, said at a news conference after the court hearing.
But the difficulties of getting a plan through a 197-member legislature got a note of sympathy from Judge Gary Lynch.
“Making law is kind of like making sausage, you know, versus a smaller group in which you could hold, perhaps, more accountable and more precisely accountable,” Lynch said.
Lynch is an Southern District Appeals Court judge who was filling in for a Supreme Court judge who had recused himself from the case.
Attorney Edward Greim, who represents the legislative redistricting committees, defended the proposed map’s compactness.
“It’s about whether the territory is closely united enough to make a district. That’s as good as we can do,” Greim said at a post-hearing news conference.
After the 2010 Census, Missouri had to redraw its congressional districts based on changes in the population. The General Assembly overrode a veto on its maps from Gov. Jay Nixon.
The court gave no indication of when it would issue a decision.
Noting that the legislature would have to redraw the congressional districts and that a current citizens commission is working on state Senate districts, the court got an unusual plea from the state attorney general’s solicitor for defining what is meant by the compactness requirement.
James Layton asked the court to provide “the guidance necessary for the General Assembly in the future and for the commissions this year and in the future to know what they need to do.”
* Get the redistricting map [ http://www.mdn.org/2011/DATA/MAPS.HTM ] .
* Get the bill, HB 193 [http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM3&YEAR 11]
* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/SUPCOURT.HTM]
Headline: Missouri’s Senate approves restrictions in lawsuits by employees [Entered: 02/16/2012]
The Missouri Senate approved along party lines on Thursday [Feb. 16] a measure that adds occupational diseases to the workers’ compensation program.
Workers’ compensation provides coverage for workers injured or killed on the job. Including occupational diseases in the program would protect employers from lawsuits because a worker receiving coverage is restricted from suing an employer for damages.
In 2005, the legislature excluded occupational diseases in a broad package of changes that scaled back workers’ compensation coverage. After that, businesses began to complain the exclusion had led to an increase in lawsuits against employers.
In addition, the measure imposes restrictions on when an employee can sue a co-worker for injuries, limiting such a lawsuit to a deliberate and purposeful act.
The bill was approved Thursday [Feb. 16] on a party-line vote, with Democrats voting against the measure.
The Senate proposal heads to the House of Representatives, which is still holding committee hearings about its own workers’ compensation legislation.
It is the second measure that has been pushed by a coalition of business organizations to clear the Senate this session. Earlier, the Senate approved legislation limiting when an employee can file a discrimination lawsuit against an employer.
* Get the bill, SB 572 [http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUMW2]
* Get the roll call [ http://www.mdn.org/2012/FORMS/VOTEVIEW.HTM?ne_year 12&ne_vote˜8 ] .
Headline: Senate committee passes a tax credit for students to attend private schools [Entered: 02/14/2012]
By Jordan Shapiro
The Senate General Laws Committee approved a bill allowing students in failing school districts to use state tax credits to attend private or parochial schools.
Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, sponsored the bill, which addresses students attending the unaccredited St. Louis and Kansas City school districts. Suburban St. Louis school district Riverview Gardens has also lost its accreditation.
“This would provide students an automatic accredited education,” Cunningham said.
At an earlier hearing on the bill, Catholic school leaders had urged lawmakers to allow students in failing districts to attend their schools.
According to Cunningham, the tax credit would allow students living in a failing school district to attend private schools without violating the so-called “Blaine Amendment” in the Missouri Constitution, which prohibits state funds going to religious institutions.
The committee passed the measure with a 7-1 vote on Tuesday [Feb. 14]. The only vote against it came from Sen. Kiki Curls, D-Kansas City, who said the tax credit would not reach the targeted population of students.
* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/VOUCHER.HTM]
* Get the bill, SB 451 [http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUME1]
Headline: House Republicans cut health budget to add money to higher education. [Entered: 02/16/2012]
By Jordan Shapiro
A House committee cut $68 million of state funds from health care programs Thursday [Feb. 16] to boost funding for higher education.
Missouri’s public universities were facing a 15.1 percent reduction under Gov. Jay Nixon’s 2013 budget proposal until Nixon used $40 million from a national mortgage settlement to soften his initial cuts. If the cuts from the social services budget are used solely to fund higher education, then the universities face only a 1.3 percent decrease from the past fiscal year.
The committee’s proposal came under strong attack from Nixon.
“Cutting health care for the blind, prenatal care for women, services for people with developmental disabilities and … child care for low-income families is not the way to balance Missouri’s budget,” Nixon said.
A few legislators suggested that some of the committee’s recommendations were imaginary. Some of the cuts involve reductions in expected mandatory payments to the federal government that the state might be required to fund in a later budget bill.
* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/HBUDGET.HTM]
* Get the bill, HB 2010 [http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM 10]
* Get the bill, HB 2011 [http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM 11]
* Get the governor’s budget proposals. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/DATA/BUD13.HTM]
Headline: Plan for tougher teacher, student performance evaluations faces bipartisan criticism [Entered: 02/15/2012]
By Stephanie Ebbs
A Republican legislator’s plan for improving Missouri’s teachers came under bipartisan attack Wednesday [Feb. 15] for being too vague and ineffective. The senator’s bill would require each school district to create a system of evaluating teachers and its own standards for “instructional improvement.”
Two senators from St. Louis County, Republican Jane Cunningham and Democrat Maria Chappelle-Nadal, said the legislation fails to establish a quantifiable standard for student performance. Cunningham said that without specifying what qualifies as “learning,” a district could create lower standards than what the state requires.
Cunningham said the bill, sponsored by Rep. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, comes too late in an existing conversation. Chappelle-Nadal said schools in St. Louis County, where she serves on a school board, already have these practices.
* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/EVALS.HTM]
Headline: Missouri school district presents its appeal to Turner v. Clayton [Entered: 02/15/2012]
By Stephanie Ebbs
In a case that amounts to asking the Missouri Supreme Court if it really meant what it said, the state high court heard oral arguments on whether public schools must accept students from an unaccredited district.
In an earlier case involving the Clayton School District, the court held that state law does require that Clayton schools accept students from St. Louis City schools that have lost accreditation.
That case, Turner v. Clayton, was sent back to the lower court, which has further proceedings on the issue scheduled for next month.
The second case, heard Wednesday [Feb. 15], involves the Webster Groves School District. Webster Groves’ attorney said this law is impossible to enforce.
The ability for students to transfer out of unaccredited districts is one of many education issues the state government is considering. The General Assembly is creating a package of education bills this session, including tougher evaluations for teachers, the public school funding formula, accountability for charter schools and how to deal with the unaccredited districts in St. Louis and Kansas City.
* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/TRANSFE2.HTM]
Headline: Legislative investigation into Mamtek ends with recommendations for bonds, businesses [Entered: 02/15/2012]
By Matthew Patane
The Missouri General Assembly ended its investigation into the failed Mamtek project in Moberly on Wednesday [Feb. 15] with the release of the Senate’s findings.
In its investigation report, the Senate Governmental Accountability Committee released a series of recommendations that advocate stricter restrictions on the issuance of industrial bonds by local governments. The report also recommends the Department of Economic Development establish a five-star rating system to evaluate businesses seeking incentives for development projects.
Committee chairman Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, said the recommendations were put forth to prevent future failures. Lembke also maintained that the department did not do its due diligence while looking into Mamtek U.S. Inc., the domestic branch of the China-based company.
The Senate committee released the report two days after the chairman of a House committee issued a similar draft report. The House and Senate panels represent only two of a series of investigations into the artificial sweetener manufacturing plant. The Securities and Exchange Commission as well as Missouri’s attorney general are also investigating the financial collapse of Mamtek.
Although the House report suggested the General Assembly look into adopting legislation that would mandate increased due diligence and responsibility from state and local economic development departments, the Senate’s recommendations focus more on discussing changes to the current state agency.
The recommendations do, however, suggest legislation requiring voter approval for municipal issuance of appropriation bonds. Lembke said he plans to work on improvements for the future, which include filing legislation to deal with bond issues.
Headline: Missouri representatives, physicians support bills restricting teen tanning [Entered: 02/15/2012]
By Josie Butler
Teens would be restricted from tanning in salons under two bills presented to a House committee Wednesday [Feb. 15].
One measure before the House Health Care Policy would prohibit anyone under the age of 15 from using a tanning salon. The second bill would require parental consent for the use of tanning beds for teenagers 17 years and younger.
“Children are more susceptible to harm caused by tanning devices than other people are,” said Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City. “Children are different, they are not old enough to know what’s best for them.”
Dr. Rachel L. Hailey, a physician in Lee’s Summit, presented a statement from the National Cancer Institute saying tanning bed users are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who never use tanning beds. Hailey urged representatives to support the bills to protect the youth from potentially life-threatening cancers.
No one testified in opposition to either bill.
* Get the text story [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/TAN.HTM]
Headline: Obama’s citizenship questioned again in Missouri House [Entered: 02/14/2012]
By Jordan Shapiro
Questions about President Barack Obama’s citizenship surfaced during a House committee hearing Tuesday [Feb. 14].
The House Elections Committee conducted a public hearing on a bill that would require all presidential and vice-presidential candidates to submit their proof of citizenship to be on the Missouri ballot. The bill’s sponsor Rep. Lyle Rowland, R-Cedarcreek, said his measure responds to “controversy” about the current president.
“We are here in the Show-Me State, and we just want to be shown if what they (candidates) claim to be is true,” Rowland said.
Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis County, opposed the bill and called it an “utter waste of time.”
Newman said that presidential candidates are nominated by the National Republican and Democratic parties, who are responsible for vetting their qualifications.
* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/BIRTHER.HTM]
* Get the bill, HB 1046 [http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM46]
Headline: Planned Parenthood rallies at state Capitol in support of Affordable Care Act [Entered: 02/13/2012]
By Mark Hodges
Supporters of Planned Parenthood spoke out against Senate legislation that would allow health care providers to limit their coverage for moral reasons. That would include items such as birth control and abortion services.
Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said the Catholic Church as a business shouldn’t be exempt from the Affordable Care Act. He said hospitals and other facilities associated with the church should provide the same services as any other institution.
Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County, sponsor of one of the bills, and said no health care provider should be obligated to provide services that he or she is morally against.
* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/CAREAC2.HTM]
Headline: Bill would allow students to share recorded lectures [Entered: 02/16/2012]
By Jordan Shapiro
After the University of Missouri System tightened the ropes on creating audio recordings of lectures, a proposed bill in the Missouri House of Representatives would allow students to share those lectures with the public.
In December, the UM System issued a policy that restricts students’ right to share lecture recordings. The policy was issued in response to a posted lecture from a UM-Kansas City student. The video was edited to suggest the professor advocated union violence, said MU journalism associate professor Charles Davis.
The bill sponsor, Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific, said some UM students complained that the policy would inhibit their willingness and ability to learn. Curtman said although he understood why the university made that policy, it was a legislator’s responsibility to make laws that serve people’s rights best.
Curtman said students might enjoy sharing their recordings with their families and sometimes other students.
“This bill would allow students to continue their recording habits and sharing recordings with public in personal use only,” Curtman said. “The bill does protect intellectual property rights and copyright laws.”
* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/RECORD.HTM]
Headline: Capitol Perspectives: Jason’s Key [Entered: 02/17/2012]
By Phill Brooks
This past week, another chapter was added to the saga of “Jason’s key.”
It was added by a Missouri Supreme Court decision that likely will have a major impact on the role of special interest money in Missouri government and the upcoming campaigns.
The phrase “Jason’s key” might seem to have no relationship with campaign finances or ethics. It doesn’t.
And that was the point of the state high court’s decision.
The word key in the phrase “Jason’s key” refers to a key that opens access to a very high place in Missouri government. Jason refers to Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, who has wanted copies of that key for legislators.
The key opens access to the loftiest floor in Missouri’s Capitol. Up there is the whispering gallery, high above the Capitol rotunda seal. Tour guides tell me it’s one of the few American spaces designed with perfect acoustics so that a whisper said against the wall can be heard clearly by someone on the other side of the circular wall.
For many years, only staff of the governor had access to that key. That aggravated Crowell. He argued that lawmakers regularly have groups of schoolchildren who would like to see those loftier locations in the Capitol.
Administration staffers argued it was an unsafe place. Getting there takes you through what amounts to the attic of the Capitol — a location where years ago I found an empty whisky bottle dating to the early 1900s.
In 2010, Crowell got the legislature to stick his dome-key bill onto an omnibus bill that had grown from a simple item on state government contract procurements to a massive package of ethics and campaign finance restrictions.
The “Jason’s key” issue might not have had much to do with procurements, but so what? After all, procurement had nothing to do with all the other provisions added to the bill — such as making it a crime for the governor to offer a job to a legislator to get the lawmaker’s vote, restricting the shifting of campaign funds among political committees, stronger enforcement powers of campaign finance violations, tougher penalties for lobbyists who file false information and tougher campaign finance disclosure requirements.
The advantage of putting “Jason’s key” into that bill was getting the signature of the governor. Gov. Jay Nixon had vetoed a bill with a provision for Jason’s key the year before. But, on the other hand, Nixon really wanted the tougher laws on government ethics and campaign finance disclosure.
So, the legislature essentially offered Nixon a deal. Sign the bill with “Jason’s key” and the governor would get those other provisions he wanted. The governor agreed and signed the bill.
But now, Missouri’s Supreme Court has issued a ruling essentially telling the legislature and the governor that they are prohibited by the state constitution from making the kind of deal that involves “log rolling” more than one issue into a single bill.
The constitution requires that a bill be limited to one subject. Further, it prohibits the legislature from expanding the scope of a bill beyond the original version when it was introduced into the legislature.
In its unanimous decision, the court cited those provisions and concluded that “the sections relating to campaign finance, ethics and keys to the Capitol dome are not logically connected or germane to procurement,” which was the original purpose of the bill.
So just as the 2012 campaign heats up, the court has thrown out a major package of legislation designed to provide more transparency for voters about special interest money in campaigns and to give the Missouri Ethics Commission stronger powers to enforce those laws.
Were it not for term limits, legislators might have known better. In a couple of decisions decades earlier, the court clearly had warned lawmakers that this kind of “log rolling” was banned by the constitution.
But with term limits, those cases seem to have been forgotten. Long-time lobbyists have been predicting that the legislature’s increasing habit of tossing unrelated issues into a bill was going to come back and bite the General Assembly.
It finally has.
I have a friend, David Valentine, in the Truman School of Public Administration who runs the Legislative Academy — it provides new lawmakers with a background on basic legislative issues, including the requirement that a bill be limited to a single topic and not expanded beyond its original scope.
But clearly, a short presentation does not make up for the loss of institutional memory by lawmakers who used to have decades of history in the legislative process.
On the other hand, Nixon says he is not so sure this is a reflection of term limits. With a chuckle in his voice, he notes that this kind of legislative strategy was used well before term limits. “Log-rolling of bills was something that was done many, many times, and many, many years it was attempted.”
As for “Jason’s key,” it’s still around in the law. Crowell got that provision stuck into a couple of other bills that became law in 2010 and remain in effect.
That is not the case, however, for the tougher campaign finance disclosure and ethics requirements about which the governor and legislators had bragged about just two years ago. There was only one bill with those provisions, and now those provisions are gone.
As always, let me know (at firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any comments. If you would like your comments, or a portion of them, included in a future column, let me know and be sure to include your full name in your email.
[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and a faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.
Past columns are available at http://www.mdn.org/mpacol.]