Veto session: House votes to fund programs fighting child abuse, neglect; Senate disagrees

      The Missouri House voted Wednesday to override Governor Mike Parson’s (R) vetoes of several spending proposals in the state budget, including one aimed at stemming the sexual abuse of children in Lincoln County. 

Representative Randy Pietzman (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      The Senate did not concur on those overrides and allowed the governor’s actions to stand, and those proposals to fail.

      House members including Lincoln County representative Randy Pietzman (R-Troy) took to the floor expressing anger and frustration that Parson rejected $300,000 to fund a 3-year pilot program that would’ve hired investigators, a prosecutor, and staff to address an increase in sex offenders in the region.

      “I have children in my district that are getting ravaged … I’d like to read you the list of the cases but I think it’s just too much.  Children in my district getting raped and made child pornography with them.  It’s going on and we’ve got to stop it,” said Pietzman.

      He said that line item would be enough to get the program started and after 3 years local officials could sustain it after that.

Pietzman said he was approached with “offers” by people who didn’t want him to even propose the override.

      “Screw those guys.  I’m fighting to the end for these kids.  They deserve justice.  This is small piece of pie of our budget but it can do so much good if we get it into the hands of the right people, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

      Pietzman directed his criticism squarely at the governor, saying this was a plan he and others in the county worked for years to develop.  The governor has said that a federal grant program can be used to address this issue but Pietzman says that will not work.

      “Unlike [the governor] I’m not looking for a photo opportunity saying this is what I’m doing.  I’m doing it for those kids,” said Pietzman.

      The House voted 150-3 in favor of that override.

      The chamber also voted 151-3 to reverse the governor on a $2-million item that included 3-percent pay raises for caseworkers and supervisors in the Children’s Division.  These employees deal with abuse, neglect, and other issues facing children in the custody of the state.

Representative Raychel Proudie (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      Representative Raychel Proudie (R-Ferguson) said Missouri is having a hard time retaining those workers, partly because of how much they are paid.

      “Some of these workers [are] being spat at, cursed at, threatened  [while] trying to protect the children of this state when they can just go down to the local wizard stand or the local Wal-Mart and get paid more, and deal with less.  We owe them better than that,” said Proudie.

      On another vote, the House voted to restore funding for court costs to the owners of certain wedding venues.  St. Louis Republican Jim Murphy said these owners were years ago told by the Department of Revenue they did not need to pay sales tax, but years later the Department sent them bills for tens of thousands of dollars in back taxes.  Eventually everything was paid back to those owners but the court costs.

      Murphy said the Department harmed and lied to those Missourians.  “This year there was $150-thousand put into the budget to do the right thing, and that’s give these people their money back … well the governor, in his wisdom, and I cannot explain why, vetoed this,” said Murphy.  “We have promised these people over and over again that we would do right by them, only to have the rug pulled out from under them.”

      The House supported that override 152-2.

      It also voted 112-38 to override a veto on $700,000 for a Community Improvement District along Business Loop 70 in Columbia.

      These overrides were sent to the Senate, which voted to reject two of them and did not vote on the other two, so the governor’s vetoes stand.

House votes to block new state park creation until current parks’ maintenance is caught up

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.

Representative Randy Pietzman (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Randy Pietzman (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

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.

La Monte Republican Dean Dohrman said the bill would go toward supporting one of the state’s top industries:  tourism.

“We want to bring people in here.  We don’t want to take them out to our showcases and they be dilapidated,” said Dohrman.  “We want nice, clean facilities.  We want to keep those facilities, I think, to a high mark.”

Washington Republican Paul Curtman said the bill represents the type of policy the state should be using on other issues as well.

“We should not be acquiring more property for our state parks if we don’t even have the ability to actually maintain the programs that we have right now,” said Curtman.  “I think if we go back home and we tell people we had an opportunity to rein in government spending and make sure we’re spending money only on things that we can actually manage, people would expect us to say that we voted for that rather than against it.”

The bill passed out of the House 85-62; only a few more votes than enough necessary for passage.  Many, including some of Pietzman’s fellow Republicans, said it goes too far.

High Ridge Republican John McCaherty said he supports seeking greater accountability, but said prohibiting new parks until all maintenance is caught up is unrealistic.

“That’s never going to happen.  It’s never going to be completed.  It wouldn’t be completed at your house.  It’s not going to be completed at my house.  There’s always going to be a building that needs repair, there’s always going to be electrical work that needs to be done, there’s always going to be some project somewhere within the state of Missouri that needs to be done,” said McCaherty.

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.

“If we can’t spend the money, the gates for the crossings, the signs for the crossings to keep people off of the trail, the way to keep the cattle and the sheep, the livestock in place will not be put in unless it’s done at the property owner’s expense,” said Wood.

He is also concerned that without supervision of the newly-donated land, people will trespass on it.

HB 698 has gone to the Senate with four weeks left in the legislative session.