NP Spotlight: Volume 8
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.
Corruption continues in Jeff City, Auditor Galloway to investigate while Gov. Greitens “shoots blanks”
Conflicts of interest and dark money continue to cloud the Missouri Capitol, as several stories broke this week that highlight the need for ethics reform in Jefferson City.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the FBI is investigating state regulators’ effective blockade of a weigh-station technology company that is attempting to enter the Missouri market. Dallas-based Drivewyze allows commercial truck drivers to bypass weigh-stations using GPS and cellphone technology, and began its efforts to operate in Missouri in 2014. Currently there is only one company in the state operating in the weigh-station bypass field – HELP Inc. Drivewyze claims that it has encountered substantial resistance from Missouri state employees while trying to get up and running, including Col. Bret Johnson, (former) superintendent of the Highway Patrol, and Scott Marion, head of the Motor Carrier Services for MoDOT. Notably, both Johnson and Marion were board members of HELP Inc. while serving in their official state capacities.
Two Northland legislators, Rep. T.J. Berry (R-Kearney) and Sen. Rob Schaaf (R-St. Joseph) have introduced bills that would make it easier for HELP Inc. competitors to enter the Missouri market. “There is no doubt in my mind that there is a conflict of interest,” said Berry.
On Friday, State Auditor Nicole Galloway announced an investigation into the potential conflicts of interest surrounding state officials serving on the board of HELP Inc. Since being appointed in 2015, Ms. Galloway has worked to improve ethical and financial oversight of state programs, evidenced in part by her ongoing Budget Integrity Series.
In light of this investigation, recent reports of bribes being offered to Missouri House members in exchange for favorable votes, and a record-shattering $128 million pouring into Missouri’s state elections in 2016 (mostly from big donors), ethics reform is badly needed in Jefferson City.
Despite running on a promise to “take dead aim” at corruption in the Capitol, Governor Greitens has accomplished nothing of substance to clean up Missouri politics. On the contrary, Greitens has quickly embraced the ethical gymnastics and financial shell games that are all too common in Jefferson City, becoming a deft practitioner of the political dark arts he decried during his gubernatorial campaign just a few months ago. More than halfway through the session, the Missouri Senate has not even voted on the Governor’s proposed lobbyist gift ban – perhaps due in large part to the Governor’s own ethical issues.
Wealthy donors, corporations and well-funded special interest groups will continue to wield undue influence in Missouri, unless and until Missourians demand action instead of empty campaign rhetoric with no follow-through. Here’s hoping that day comes sooner rather than later.
MO House passes budget that would fully fund K-12 education; Senate Republicans balk at proposal
The MO House passed a proposed budget this week that would fully fund Missouri’s K-12 school aid formula for the first time since its inception, providing an additional $45 million to meet the state formula’s needs at $3.4 billion. The budget increase was made possible in large part by substantial cuts to higher education, including $50 million in funding cuts for the University of Missouri system.
However, Senate Republicans are already pushing back, saying it is doubtful that the Senate will approve the proposed budget. Senator Dan Brown (R-Rolla) who chairs the Senate’s appropriations committee said that he disapproves of the proposed budget due to a 2014 law that would require the state to cover costs for early education a year after the formula is fully funded. That could mean millions in additional spending as school districts start receiving state aid to pay for early childhood education programs based on the number of enrolled students receiving free or reduced-price lunch.
The proposed budget is now under consideration in the Missouri Senate. If you want to see our public schools receive full state funding, call your state senator and tell them to approve the fully funded formula.
Federal judge finds MO’s abortion restrictions unconstitutional
A federal judge says he plans to issue a preliminary injunction to block abortion-restricting rules in Missouri similar to ones in Texas that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down last year.
Like the Texas laws found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, Missouri requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals and to physically upgrade their facilities to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers. Critics say the laws are intended to shut down abortion providers by imposing unnecessary and burdensome requirements. The case was brought on behalf of Planned Parenthood Great Plains and Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis and Southwest Regions.
From the KC Star: “Sachs’ injunction memo potentially sets up a showdown with Missouri lawmakers who are against abortion. Responding to concerns that invalidating the outpatient surgical portion of the bill might also invalidate other abortion requirements that fall outside the Texas ruling, Sachs said he was open to delaying the effective date of such a ruling for 60 to 90 days to give Missouri lawmakers time to carve out those requirements.
As an alternative, he also said he would give the state’s lawyers and Planned Parenthood’s lawyers 10 days after the formal injunction to reach an agreement to carve them out.”
House committee to vote on bill that would weaken discrimination laws
On Monday, April 10 at 1:00 PM, the House Special Committee on Litigation Reform will vote on a bill that would weaken state law protection against discrimination in the workplace. The Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA) currently protects “race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, age as it relates to employment, disability, or familial status as it relates to housing.” If passed, SB 43 would raise the bar for proving discrimination claims brought under the MHRA, and limit available damages on whistleblower claims. It has been universally lambasted by human rights organizations and activists, including former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson, who successfully sued her former employer for sex discrimination. In a letter to the legislature, Ms. Carlson argued against the passage of SB 43:
“Let me be very clear: This is not a partisan issue. Republicans, Democrats and Independents are all harassed and discriminated against . . . The perpetrators of these acts come from all political parties as well… If a Missouri employee is brave enough to report harassment or discriminatory behavior, I’d hope members of the Missouri legislature would stand with him/her.”
Three Northland representatives serve on the House Special Committee on Litigation Reform: Rep. Kevin Corlew (R-Kansas City), Rep. Joe Don McGaugh (R-Carrollton), and Rep. Mark Ellebracht (D-Liberty). If it is passed out of the Special Committee, it will proceed for a vote before the entire House.
Call your representative and tell them not to weaken Missouri’s anti-discrimination law, and to vote NO on SB 43.
Senator Schaaf drops crusade against Rx drug monitoring program to curb opioid abuse
Missouri is the only state in the nation without a prescription drug monitoring program, but that may not be the case for long. Sen Rob Schaaf (R-St. Joseph), a physician and longtime critic of prescription drug monitoring on privacy grounds, announced at press conference on Tuesday that he will no longer oppose the program. With illnesses and deaths from the opioid epidemic mounting here in Missouri (and across the nation), many longtime advocates of a drug monitoring program were happy to hear that the staunchest opposition in the state was ready to relent. For his part, however, Sen. Schaaf has requested that the program – which would provide physicians with access to a list of their patients’ prescriptions – be mandatory for physicians to use.
A bill introduced by Rep. Holly Rehder (R-Sikeston) has already passed the House and been assigned to committee in the Senate. Assuming Sen. Schaaf does not pull his public support, the bill seems likely to pass.
IMPORTANT UPCOMING DATES & EVENTS:
- Monday, April 10 – Heartland Alliance for Progress hosts “Stand Up KC.” Event is at Californo’s in Westport, from 5:15 PM – approximately 7 PM. RSVP and learn more here.
- Tuesday, April 11 – Charter school expansion bill (HB 634) is set for hearing in the Senate Education Committee. Hearing is set for 12:00 PM in Senate Committee Room 1. Call your state senator and tell him to protect public school funding by voting NO on HB 634.
- Monday, April 17 – MO AFL-CIO training to gather signatures for citizen’s veto against “Right-to-Work” – St. Joseph – CLICK HERE to learn more and RSVP.
- Wednesday, April 19 – MO AFL-CIO training to gather signatures for citizen’s veto against “Right-to-Work” – Kansas City – CLICK HERE to learn more and RSVP.
- Saturday, April 22 – March for Science – Washington Square Park, KCMO. Starts at 10 AM.
- Saturday, April 29 – Climate March KC – Washington Square Park, KCMO. Starts at 1 PM.
- Wednesday, May 24 – Northland Progress Meeting (Open to Public) – KC Improv, Zona Rosa. Meet and greet at 6:30 PM, program starts at 7:00 PM.