The state House has voted twice this session to relax Missouri’s law requiring that helmets be worn by motorcycle riders.
Members voted earlier this month to pass House Bill 576, and on Tuesday voted for an amendment to Senate Bill 8, both containing the same language. They would allow riders 21 and older who have completed a motorcycle safety course or who have had their motorcycle license for at least two years to ride without a helmet if they have insurance.
Missouri legislators have for years debated easing the state’s helmet law. While both measures received favorable votes, the issue stirs passion in both proponents and opponents, and both sides of the issue are bipartisan.
The amendment to SB 8 was offered by Cedar Hill representative Shane Roden, who said he rides motorcycles himself. He said he would wear a helmet most of the time even if the law is changed, but he wants the freedom to ride without it.
The state House has proposed that Missouri shouldn’t create any new parks until it catches up on taking care of the ones it has.
It’s sent House Bill 698, sponsored by Representative Randy Pietzman (R-Troy), to the Senate. That would require that before any new parks are established and before any parks are expanded by more than 10-percent in acreage, the state’s current parks should be maintained, brought up-to-date, and have all maintenance work completed.
HB 698 would allow the Department of Natural Resources to accept the donation or gift of additional land, but no work could be done to it except to address public health, safety, or welfare concerns, until the other requirements of the bill are met. It would also require the Department to report annually to the General Assembly on maintenance at state parks and historic sites.
Pietzman said the bill is about making the Department of Natural Resources more accountable and more communicative with Missouri residents. He said the state has more than $200-million in state park maintenance backed up, but in recent years the Department has created and prepared new parks while letting others stay at various levels of disrepair.
McCaherty said the bill would tie the hands of the new administration of Governor Eric Greitens (R) in response to lawmakers’ perception of mismanagement that occurred under Greitens’ predecessor.
Representative David Wood (R-Versailles) is concerned the bill would interfere with a project to add 144-miles of the former Rock Island Railroad to the state’s trail system. He said the bill’s prohibitions would not block the state from taking that property in an anticipated donation from Ameren, but it would prevent the state from putting fencing along it.
A top Department of Corrections official has told a House subcommittee poor training, bureaucracy, and the Department’s growth have contributed to problems with harassment and retaliation among Missouri prison employees.
Dave Dormire is the Department’s Director of Adult Institutions and has been in the Department more than 40 years. He has announced he will retire April 1.
He talked to the House Subcommittee on Corrections Workforce Environment and Conduct after it had heard testimony from several other department officials, employees, and former employees.
The subcommittee was formed after news articles shed light on cases in which Department employees alleged they’d been harassed and, in some cases, retaliated against. Several of those cases have gone to court, and several of those resulted in settlements costing the state millions of dollars.
Since September, 2011, Dormire has been responsible for some staff appointments, overseeing the safety of staff and inmates, and for disciplinary decisions.
Dormire was asked why some of the people who had been involved in those incidents still work for the Department. He told lawmakers some allegations go unsustained, and some efforts are made to correct employees rather than fire them after a first incident.
Committee members also asked Dormire about reports they’ve heard of nepotism in the Department’s hiring and promotion practices. At an earlier hearing, they heard from a former employee that wardens often ignore the recommendations of panels assigned to recommend employees for promotion. The system was described as one of “good ol’boys” hiring and promoting friends and relatives.
Dormire told lawmakers the Department used the state’s Merit system, created in state law to prevent favoritism, political influence, or arbitrary decisions in hiring and other employment decisions.
Committee members asked Dormire about allegations raised by recent articles by Pitch.com suggesting that he had been involved in retaliation against employees, and had been deceptive in his answers in some investigations. Dormire denied those allegations.
A House subcommittee appointed to investigate harassment and retaliation in the Department of Corrections thinks how the Department handles allegations is not clear, at best.
The Subcommittee on Corrections Workforce Environment and Conduct was formed in response to an article on Pitch.com that detailed incidents within the department that in some cases led to lawsuits, costing the state millions of dollars.
The subcommittee took testimony from the department’s Inspector General, Amy Roderick, and the Division of Human Services Director, Cari Collins. Representatives asked questions about who handles harassment allegations and who makes decisions about any disciplinary actions that might be the result of those allegations. They weren’t satisfied with what they heard, with members calling the Department’s administrative structure “confusing.”
She said decisions about discipline of most prison employees, including terminations, falls on the Director of the Division of Adult Institutions, Dave Dormire, who answers to the Department Director.
Collins told the committee changes have been made in the past five years in her division’s procedures and its number of staff members that conduct investigations. She said some changes also followed meetings involving legal counsel, about the number of harassment complaints and resulting settlements.
Roderick told the committee her office does not handle harassment, but would investigate anything with a criminal component to it such as assaults. The committee asked her if she was familiar with an incident described in the Pitch.com article in which an employee who had complained about harassment was allegedly poisoned when she returned to work. Roderick said she had read the article, but had no knowledge of the incident.
Roderick said it would have been up to the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), more commonly called the warden, of an institution whether to notify her office of such an incident.
Hansen said one of the subcommittee’s goals is to learn about how the Department is structured. After that hearing he expects one of the subcommittee’s recommendations will be that Corrections’ process of handling all types of complaints be streamlined.
The subcommittee is expected to hold its next hearing Thursday morning.