NP Spotlight: Volume 12
NP Spotlight is a regular (weekly-ish) feature providing updates on local and statewide legislation and governance, links to significant information, and general news about Northland Progress.
Despite efforts by some, MO Senate punts on ethics reform
For years, local pundits, politicians and members of the public have called for meaningful ethics reform in Jefferson City to combat the undue influence of special interest groups and big money donors. The Missouri legislature is scheduled to adjourn for the year next Friday and it is all but certain that they will do so without making any strides on ethics reform.
A bipartisan group of four senators led by Northland Senator Rob Schaaf (R-St. Joseph) forced a debate on a ban of “dark money” – campaign contributions routed through nonprofits and other entities to hide the source – by threatening to hold up senate business until the matter was taken up. Sen. Schaaf has long called for ethics reform including a dark money ban, and those calls only got louder when Schaaf recently became the target of attack ads from Governor Eric Greitens’ nonprofit, A New Missouri Inc. The digital and radio ads and robocalls publicized Senator Schaaf’s personal cellphone number, leading many in the statehouse to cry foul. Greitens personally benefited from $6 million in dark money spending during his gubernatorial campaign and a lavish inaugural ball funded by dark money.
Schaaf got his chance to argue for a dark money ban when the senate took up a bill aimed at limiting lobbyist gifts to legislators to $40; Schaaf offered an amendment to the bill that included a dark money ban with assurances that it would receive a vote. However, the vote would never occur, as several of Schaaf’s fellow Republicans lined up to filibuster the amendment as a supposed limitation on free speech. Regarding the Republican opposition to Schaaf’s amendment, Sen. Ryan Silvey (R-Kansas City) noted that it was “silly that we’re coming out here and waving the freedom flag.”
Both Schaaf’s amendment and the underlying bill to limit lobbyist gifts were set aside on Friday, and it now looks very unlikely that any ethics reform will be passed out of the legislature during the 2017 session. This disappointing news comes as Greitens, who was recently fined for an ethical violation, continues mounting political attacks and runs his administration with a concerning lack of transparency. When it comes to ethics reform, “The people of Missouri will have to handle it on the ballot,” Schaaf said. “And they will. It may take a while, but they will.”
ACTION ALERT: Highway Comm’n deciding whether to repair or replace the US 169 Buck O’Neill Bridge
The Missouri Highways & Transportation Commission is considering options for the deteriorating US 169 Buck O’Neill Bridge built in 1957, namely whether to undertake a two year repair project (during which time the bridge would be closed) or build a new bridge. If you would prefer to see a new bridge that would improve the flow of traffic downtown and avoid the massive inconvenience of a two year closure of a main artery connecting the Northland with the rest of Kansas City, then please take the time to say so during the public comment period which will end in a few weeks.
It’s worth noting that finding the money to build a new bridge would be much easier if MoDOT was not so woefully underfunded, an elephant in the Capitol that the Missouri legislature continues to ignore rather than address head on (think raising Missouri’s paltry gas tax or creating toll roads). Nevertheless, KCMO city leaders seem optimistic that a combination of city, state, regional and federal funds could finance the project.
CLICK HERE to provide a comment to the MHTC and request that they consider building a new bridge rather than closing the Buck O’Neill Bridge to pursue a stop-gap measure with a two year closure.
U.S. House passes bill to repeal ACA and replace it with Medicaid cuts, Senate to start from scratch
Last Thursday, the U.S. House passed a bill to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act. The House-approved bill would provide tax breaks to the wealthy, eliminate premium protections for those with preexisting conditions, and allow older Americans to be charged more for health insurance. Northland Congressman Sam Graves (R-Tarkio) voted in favor of the bill that narrowly passed with a vote of 217-213, rationalizing that it would “provide Americans over $900 billion in tax relief.”
Indivisible KC is hosting a “Die-In” at Graves’ office on Thursday, May 11 so that his constituents can express their disappointment in his vote.
Tellingly, Senate Republicans have announced that they will consider what was passed by the House but draft their own version of the repeal and replace legislation.
Legislature (finally) passes budget, reaches a deal to avoid cuts to the elderly and disabled
Working late into Thursday night, the Missouri Senate approved the $27 billion state budget and sent it to Governor Greitens’ desk for approval. A late-breaking deal that raids special funds earmarked for the regulation of professionals such as doctors, veterinarians and engineers allowed the Senate to generate $35 million to cover services provided to thousands of elderly and disabled Missourians. The deal was reached just one day before the mandate provided in the state constitution.