Speaker Richardson previews the 2017 session in the Missouri House (VIDEO)

Labor, tort, education, ethics, and regulatory reforms will be among the focuses of the Missouri House Republican supermajority in the 2017 legislative session.

House Speaker Todd Richardson discussed his caucus' priorities for the 2017 session (watch the video at the bottom of this story or click on this photo to view).
House Speaker Todd Richardson discussed his caucus’ priorities for the 2017 session (watch the video at the bottom of this story or click on this photo to view).

“We want to have an aggressive approach early in session and really follow through on some of the things that we think the voters were talking about when they spoke in November,” said House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff).

Labor reform efforts will include work to pass legislation supporters call “right-to-work,” and “paycheck protection,” as well as reforms to project labor agreements.  Tort reforms will include resumption of efforts to pass legislation changing how expert witnesses are evaluated, and Missouri’s collateral source rule.

In education reform, Richardson says expansion of charter schools will be considered, and the caucus will look for ways to improve student achievement “across the board.”

“We’ve identified a task force of members in the House that’s going to start digging into those issues specifically,” said Richardson.

Richardson also wants to pick up where the legislature left off last year with ethics reform.  With that, his first goal in the House will be to again pass a bill banning gifts from lobbyists to legislators.

“I was proud of last year that we were able to take some substantive, meaningful steps forward on ethics reform but I don’t think anybody thinks that that job is complete,” said Richardson.  “We want the environment in Jefferson City to be better than it is today and that’s going to be an ongoing process.  This year that’s going to start with work on the gift ban.”

Republicans will also study Missouri’s regulations of businesses.

“We want to take this notion of cutting red tape and removing the regulatory barriers for business out of the campaign space and into the practical legislative space,” said Richardson.

He said the legislature will continue the work it began last year on a statewide regulatory framework for ride sharing companies like Uber and Lyft.  The House will also push legislation being called, “The Sunshine Act,” which would require an analysis of proposed regulations before they are enacted.

Richardson said the House will also take a more comprehensive look at what licensing requirements exist in Missouri, to see if it presents “unnecessary barriers” to employment.

He said such regulations affect a broad section of Missourians.  One example that has come up in legislation in recent years has been people who want to get paid to braid hair.

“You think about the notion of somebody having to go get literally hundreds of hours of training before the state will allow them to do a little hair braiding on the side because they want to earn some extra income,” said Richardson.  “It’s just something that doesn’t make sense when you explain it to most Missourians.”

The prefiling of bills for the 2017 legislative session began December 1.  The session begins January 4.

Missouri House to investigate reports of harassment within Department of Corrections

The state House of Representatives will investigate reports of harassment within the state Department of Corrections, which has reportedly victimized numerous employees and cost the state millions in legal settlements.

House Speaker Todd Richardson (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
House Speaker Todd Richardson (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

A recent article on Pitch.com outlined multiple cases in which, it said, court documents showed some Corrections employees were the victims of harassment, retaliation, and threats based on sex, age, religion, or physical ability.

In several of those cases, the employees or former employees making the allegations agreed to a settlement with the state.  Between 2012 and 2016 those settlements totaled more than $7.5-million.

“The things that have been reported coming out of the Department of Corrections are unacceptable.  They’re unacceptable for our state.  They out to be unacceptable in any workplace environment,” said House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff). 

“They’re doubly concerning here in Missouri because it’s leading to a huge budget impact.  The cost to the state to have to settle these claims has been significant,” said Richardson.

He said the House would take up a “very thorough review,” of what’s been happening at the Department.

“That will involve our budget committees but it’s also going to involve our policy committees, so we can get to the bottom of what’s going on and most importantly – how do we make the environment better than it is today,” said Richardson. 

Representative Kathie Conway (R-St. Charles) chairs the House committee that deals with the Department of Corrections’ budget.  She said the reports of harassment never came up in her committee, even though they were resulting in sizable settlements.

“That is a personnel matter, and other than how many employees they have or need or have positions to fill, as far as budget goes that’s the only personnel issues we become involved with,” said Conway. 

The line in the state budget from which money for settlements with the state comes does not have a finite dollar amount in it.  Rather, it has an “E” at the end of that line, meaning it includes an estimated amount.  That allows for additional money to be used for that purpose, as needed.  Conway said that is one reason the settlements never came to the attention of a legislative committee.

Richardson said details on how the House investigation will proceed will be released in coming weeks.

House Budget Chairman not optimistic going into FY ’18 budget process

The Missouri House’s Budget Committee Chairman said he doesn’t, “have a lot of optimism,” about putting together a budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Representative Scott Fitzpatrick (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Scott Fitzpatrick (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

State revenue continues to come in more slowly than legislators and the governor projected when working on the current fiscal year’s budget.  Shell Knob Republican Scott Fitzpatrick said that means when Governor-Elect Eric Greitens (R) delivers his budget proposal next month, it could call for little more than covering things the state is mandated to pay.

“The biggest challenge that he’s going to be facing is the increase in Medicaid and other mandatory programs, that basically have to be funded in order to pay the providers that are providing services to the people that are eligible under state law,” said Fitzpatrick.

He said if the legislature does not find a way to stem those costs before Fiscal Year 2018 begins, “I would anticipate seeing cuts to a lot of other programs in order to just pay the bills related to Medicaid.”

Fitzpatrick said under the fiscal circumstances in which Greitens will be taking office, “I think he’s going to be doing well just to be able to get us a budget that balances without relying on unreasonable revenue assumptions, then we’ll take it from there and hopefully make some policy adjustments this session that will allow us to curb some of those costs.”

State General Revenue growth in Missouri spiked briefly, earlier this week, at more than 4-percent, but again fell off to well below the roughly 5-percent said to be needed to fund the current fiscal year’s budget.  Governor Jay Nixon (D) has, since that budget went into effect, withheld $150-million to keep it balanced.  Fitzpatrick said without a major improvement in revenue growth, more restrictions will be needed.  He called on Nixon to make them.

“If he wants to leave this state in a better spot than the way he found it he needs to make restrictions before he leaves office, but if he chooses not to do that then [Governor-Elect Greitens] will have to do that pretty much immediately upon assuming office,” said Fitzpatrick.

“Barring an unforeseen explosion in revenue growth for December, I would anticipate $200-million is around what this round of restrictions should be, and if things get worse from there then it could be possible that even more than that would be required,” said Fitzpatrick.

All this means that Fitzpatrick, as he enters his first year chairing the House Budget Committee, does not expect to make many people happy while playing his role in preparing the Fiscal Year 2018 budget.

“I’ve told everybody who’s come to talk to me about the budget this year that they shouldn’t expect anything good to happen,” said Fitzpatrick.  “’Play defense,’ is kind of what I’ve told anybody whose job relies on a state appropriation because it’s going to be a tough year.”

Fitzpatrick said it will also be difficult to take care of his personal priorities:  fully funding the foundation formula for K-12 education; boosting state employee pay; and accelerating the repayment of state debt.

As early as next week, members of Nixon’s administration will join members of the governor-elect’s staff in meeting with House and Senate budget planners to prepare a Consensus Revenue Estimate – a projection of how much revenue the state will bring in during Fiscal Year 2018 that they will base a budget plan on.

Trio of public safety bills filed; sponsor says one could help prevent incidents like 2015 drowning in water patrol custody

The Chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee for Public Safety and Corrections has filed three bills for the 2017 session dealing with public safety issues.  She said one would, in part, help prevent incidents such as the drowning of an Iowa Man while in patrol custody in 2014.

Representative Kathie Conway (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Kathie Conway (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

That bill would increase by $1-million the amount collected from boat title and registration fees that would go to the Water Patrol Division of the State Highway Patrol.

St. Charles Republican Kathie Conway said that division does more than put boats and troopers on Missouri’s waterways.

“They have to take care of docks, they have to take care of emergency equipment, they have to have trucks and SUVs that have ability to go four-wheel-drive and into places that some of their other vehicles can’t get, so it’s not just simply, ‘Well instead of a car they have a boat,’” said Conway.  “The $1-million will go a long, long way, and it comes in fees so it’s not the taxpayers’ money.  It’s the people who are actually using our waterways and registering their boats that will be contributing this extra money.”

Conway believes additional funding for the Water Patrol division will also lead to continued improvements in training of its troopers, and that will help prevent incidents such as the drowning of an Iowa man, Brandon Ellingson, while in patrol custody on the Lake of the Ozarks in 2014.

“That is exactly why we want it, so we know that these water patrol officers have the best training that they can have,” said Conway. 

She said when the Water Patrol became part of the Highway Patrol in 2011 there was, “some confusion and some overlapping, and there wasn’t, I don’t think, the best opportunities to train everybody to the highest degree.

“This money would go a long way in alleviating those situations that could be dangerous for the boating public,” said Conway.

The state recently agreed to pay $9-million to Ellingson’s family as part of a settlement agreement.

Another bill would extend to the state’s community colleges the ability that colleges and universities have for their police departments to control traffic on streets maintained by those institutions.

Conway says community colleges were left out when colleges and universities were granted that power under a bill that became law several years ago.

“They are able to control traffic on their campuses much better and that’s the safety of the students and everybody that visits the campus,” said Conway.

She said such authority would also make community colleges eligible to apply for federal money for training – money they are not eligible to apply for now.

A third bill filed today by Conway would close what she called a “loophole,” in how money in the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control Fund can be used.       Conway said Governor Nixon’s Administration has used money in that fund to pay for the core expenses of the Division of Alcohol and Tobacco.

  “That money is to be used strictly to hire and maintain field investigators so that the public is assured that when we issue a license to an entity to sell alcohol … that the laws governing them are enforced and that those that don’t are punished or have their licenses revoked,” said Conway.  “I think so much of the crime we see can be traced back to alcohol and drugs, so if we’re going to give somebody a license to sell alcohol I feel as a state we’re responsible to make sure that they follow the rules for selling alcohol.” 

Conway said the number of field agents has declined and she believes the work of those agents has fallen to local law enforcement officials.

“Police officers aren’t trained in everything involved in having an alcohol license.  It’s like having a real estate license.  You don’t expect a cop to know everything that a broker should know to sell real estate,” said Conway.  “It’s our responsibility.  The city didn’t necessarily issues that license that we did and collected fees on.  I just think that we’ve gotten very lax in it and I think we’ve been doing a big injustice to the public.”

Each of these measures was filed as legislation in the 2016 session, and each passed out of the House with 138 or more votes.


Gift ban proposal re-filed for 2017; sponsor expects better chance of passage under Governor-Elect Greitens

The sponsor of a key ethics reform proposal that the House passed in 2016 believes it has a stronger chance of becoming law in 2017.

Representative Justin Alferman (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Justin Alferman (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Hermann Republican Justin Alferman filed in 2016 legislation that would ban gifts from lobbyists to state legislators.  It passed the Missouri House but did not reach the governor.

Alferman has filed that legislation for the 2017 session and said he expects it to have more vigorous support from the administration of Governor-Elect Eric Greitens.

“Governor [Jay] Nixon’s office didn’t coordinate with myself, didn’t coordinate with [House Speaker Todd Richardson] on any of the ethics bills that he took credit for,” said Alferman.  “Governor-Elect Greitens has already called me and I’ve already been in talks with his staff in order to craft a better bill.”

Alferman said the incoming governor’s staff is pleased with the position the House took last year of an all-out ban on gifts, rather than setting a limit.

“The House has proven our position is going to be zero.  We can’t even start negotiating on what the final bill’s going to look like until we get it back from the Senate,” said Alferman.  “Between infinity and zero … there’s a lot of wiggle room.”

The 2016 bill stalled in the Senate where, Alferman said, some senators worked to defeat it, but he says some among them are no longer in office.

“Having the executive branch that is going to be a major driver in this is going to be extremely helpful in getting this done this year,” said Alferman.  “[Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard and Senate Majority Leader Mike Kehoe] have been extremely helpful in at least giving it floor time last year and getting it to the point that it did.”

The legislature passed and Governor Nixon signed into law three ethics reforms in 2016 – bills that bar elected officials from hiring one another as paid political consultants; bar statewide elected officials, members of the General Assembly, or appointees subject to Senate confirmation from registering as lobbyists until six months after the end of their terms; and limit how long campaign funds can be invested and how they can be used.

Alferman said between those and policies enacted by House leadership to govern how House members and staff behave both in and out of the Capitol, and similar policies in the Senate, the public perception of the legislature should be better than it was four years ago.

“What the speaker has done and set in place has hopefully alleviated any concerns that there are of either sexual harassment or inappropriate workplace dealings that we potentially had in the past.” said Alferman. 

Today is the first day legislators can file measures to be considered in the 2017 legislative session.

Update:  The 2017 bill is HB 60.

Representative to propose tougher gun restrictions for domestic abusers

A state House Republican plans to propose tougher Missouri gun laws for those with a history of domestic violence.

Representative Donna Lichtenegger (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Donna Lichtenegger (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Donna Lichtenegger (R-Cape Girardeau) will propose mirroring Missouri law to a 1997 federal restriction on the ownership, possession, purchase, or sale of firearms by those convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors or who have orders of protection against them.  Missouri remains one of the states that have not adopted the same law, meaning only federal agents and courts can pursue cases regarding the federal law.

Missourians who were found guilty of a domestic violence misdemeanor or were the subject of an order of protection were to be denied concealed carry permits under the state’s original CCW law.  That prohibition was nullified after the legislature overturned the veto of SB 656, allowing anyone who can legally carry a gun to carry one concealed without getting a permit.

Lichtenegger expects her proposal will have support among her fellow Republicans’ supermajority.

“Under the circumstances of what I’m talking about and the fact that NRA is willing to help me … I’m not changing the gun bill at all,” said Lichtenegger.  “All I’m doing is taking the state law and matching it with the federal law as far as domestic violence goes just to give the people who are being hurt more coverage.”

Lichtenegger is pursuing the issue in part because of her own experience with domestic violence committed by her father when she was a child.

“My father was a violent alcoholic,” said Lichtenegger.  “Believe it or not, in his lawyer’s office he threatened to throw acid in my face and my brother’s face … when I was four years old I vividly remember my father abusing my mother.”

“I wanna make sure that these women and men who are hurt get their day in court without the fear that they’re going to be hurt more,” said Lichtenegger.

Lichtenegger said she is still developing language for a bill for the session that begins January 4, and said it could also deal in some way with those suffering from mental health issues.

Task Force on Human Trafficking preparing recommendations for 2017 legislative session

A legislative task force on Human Trafficking has held its final hearing, though its members could continue its work in some form.

Representative Elijah Haahr (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Elijah Haahr (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The group was created in 2015 with the goal of making recommendations to the legislature on how to fight trafficking in Missouri.  A report with those recommendations is due by the end of the year, and is being developed now.

The body already helped pass legislation adding to the crime of trafficking the advertising of a victim for sex or pornography, and letting a victim keep his or her address confidential, making it harder for traffickers to find them.

The group has been chaired by Springfield Republican Elijah Haahr.

“It’s been a good experience and I think it’s one of those things that everybody in the state can appreciate the work we’re doing here today,” said Haahr.  “Probably the biggest thing is opening people’s eyes to how bad the issue is in the Midwest, but then hopefully giving them some of the tools that we can to move forward.”

One of the task force’s recommendations will be the creation of a position in the state’s government that oversees anti-trafficking efforts.  That would require the legislature to propose where the money for such a person’s salary would come from in the state budget.  Discussion also continues of where in state government that position would be housed, or whether it should be a non-profit position outside of the government.

Representative Cloria Brown (R-St. Louis) also sits on the Task Force on Human Trafficking (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Cloria Brown (R-St. Louis) also sits on the Task Force on Human Trafficking (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Other recommendations could include using state money to help support groups that offer victims treatment and assistance transitioning out of trafficking, and requiring that employers post the national trafficking hotline in break rooms.  Haahr expects six to ten recommendations will be included in the report.

Another possible recommendation that Haahr said could face some resistance is that of decriminalization in cases in which a person working as a prostitute was coerced.  He expects legislators to be more supportive of proposing tougher legal penalties for those who solicit prostitutes, and of options for trafficking victims to have prostitution convictions expunged from their records.

“Nobody wants to be perceived as Missouri going soft on crime,” said Haahr.  “You also don’t want traffickers to declare open season and think, ‘We can bring women to this state where they’re not going to get arrested for prostitution,’ and have an influx of new trafficking in the state.”

Several members of the task force expressed an interest in seeing it continue to meet, though it is set to expire at the end of this year.  The legislature could consider a resolution that would continue the group or create a new one, or it could continue to meet as a working group.  Members also learned that Attorney General-Elect Josh Hawley and the state courts are also discussing efforts to fight trafficking in Missouri, so lawmakers could wait to see what develops there before deciding how a legislative effort might proceed.

Haahr expects the task force’s report and included recommendations to be released in a matter of weeks.

Proposal would ask voters for bonds to pay for new or improved veterans home

A House Republican wants to again propose asking Missourians to support adding to the number of beds in Missouri’s veterans homes.

Representative Lindell Shumake (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Lindell Shumake (photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Hannibal representative Lindell Shumake has proposed in the past two legislative sessions a resolution that would ask voters to approve $50-million in bonds to build a new veterans’ home.  He plans to file on December 1 a similar proposal, though this time it could be for more money.

This time it could be for a new home, or for the replacement or expansion and upgrading of the state veterans home at Mexico, which is more than 30 years old.

“There’s some thought that the home in Mexico, Missouri, needs to be rebuilt,” said Shumake.  “Of course our goal would be to expand bed space by however much we can.”

As Shumake’s proposal worked its way through the legislature’s 2016 session, he and others were told that the state already exceeds the federal Veterans Administration’s limit on beds in Missouri veterans homes of 1,257.  That means if Missouri builds a new veterans home it would not receive a federal reimbursement for the construction.  It could, though, for replacing a home.

Shumake would prefer for the state to build a new home, which would have around 150 beds, because that would go farther toward addressing the growing waiting list of veterans wanting to get into one.  As of May more than 1,900 veterans were on that list, with roughly a third of those ready to enter a home now.

He plans to file his proposal regardless of whether the state Veterans Commission favors a new home or a replacement.

“Creating the fund, having it there available would be the first step certainly,” said Shumake.  “Before it goes to the voters, though, we would want to have some more concrete ideas in mind as to if it’s going to be new or if it’s going to replace and increase the number of beds in an existing facility.”

Last year Shumake’s resolution cleared the House but stalled in the Senate.  If approved, it would go before voters on the November, 2018 ballot.

House Minority Leader hopes to find common ground with Republican supermajority, governor

Kansas City representative Gail McCann Beatty has been elected Minority Floor Leader for the 99th General Assembly when it convenes in January.  She will lead a Democratic minority with 46 members in a chamber of 163 representatives.

Representative Gail McCann Beatty
Representative Gail McCann Beatty

Despite the challenges of being in a superminority and having an incoming governor from the opposing party, McCann Beatty said she looks forward to finding issues all sides can work together on.

“I’m going to reach out to the new governor and try to build a relationship with him and hopefully we can have a conversation about some of the things that are important to our caucus.  I do not believe that everything that we do, that we’ll be on opposite sides,” said McCann Beatty.  “I think there’s probably some things that we may be able to meet in the middle that are just good public policy for the state of Missouri.”

McCann Beatty said she already has a ‘decent’ relationship with House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) and hopes to build on that, and find some things their respective caucuses can work on together.

“We still have a serious issue with infrastructure and that’s something that both sides understand that that’s a problem that we need to address, so the issue is how do we come together and come up with a good solution to resolve that.

“There are some education issues that we still need to address … I think there are still things we need to do to help get all of our districts where they need to be and early childhood education I think is one of those, so I think that’s something that I think both sides can agree that that’s something we need to do and we just need to figure out how do we do that,” said McCann Beatty.

McCann Beatty has been the ranking member of the House Budget Committee.  She said that committee and the budget process have been areas where in the last few years her party has had the ability to accomplish some of its goals despite being in the minority.  She expects that will continue.

McCann Beatty and her predecessor as minority leader, Representative Jake Hummel (D-St. Louis), have both said her party has remained relevant in the House despite being in the superminority.  She expects it will remain so.

“I think we simply have to continue to focus on our message and those things that we find important.  We’ve always stood for the working class, we’ve always stood for quality healthcare, we’ve always stood for quality education, we’ve always stood for a living wage, and those things won’t change.  We’ll continue to put our message out there,” said McCann Beatty.

McCann Beatty takes over for Hummel, who leaves the House due to term limits and will serve in the Missouri Senate beginning in 2017.

House Democrats elected the rest of their leadership team following Tuesday’s election.  The Assistant Minority Leader is Representative Gina Mitten (St. Louis), the Minority Whip is Kip Kendrick (Columbia), the Caucus Chair is Michael Butler (St. Louis), the Caucus Vice Chair is Randy Dunn (Kansas City), the Caucus Secretary is DaRon McGee (Kansas City), and the Policy Chair is Deb Lavender (Kirkwood).

House Speaker expects results, passage of right-to-work, after 2016 General Election

Missouri’s House Speaker is pleased with a general election that saw his party retain supermajorities in both his chamber and the state senate, as well as in the governor’s office and other statewide offices.

House Speaker Todd Richardson (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
House Speaker Todd Richardson (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Republicans will have 117 members in the state House and 24 in the Senate.

Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) said he has spoken several times, including last night, with Governor-Elect Eric Greitens (R) and would meet with him soon.

“I think we’re going to find a tremendous amount of common ground and it’s built around a common vision for what Missouri looks like,” said Richardson, “That’s a Missouri that respects and protects individual freedom.  That’s a Missouri that has a stronger, more vibrant, dynamic economy than we have today.  It’s a Missouri that has a strong education system for every Missourian no matter where they were born or where they live.”

Richardson said for his party to have control of both chambers and the governor’s office presents something of a mandate to get things done.

“I’ve been very proud of the record of accomplishments of this General Assembly over the six years that I’ve had the chance to be here,” said Richardson, “The ability that we’ll have over the next two years to affect long-lasting positive change for the state is a unique opportunity and we’re going to be ready to seize on that as soon as the General Assembly comes back in January.”

Richardson said his chamber’s top priorities will be issues that his party believes will improve Missouri’s economy.

“That means a universe of labor reform, tort reform, and education reform,” said Richardson, “I think if we’ll focus on those issues as well as removing some of the government barriers to innovation and economic development, we’ll have the workings of a pretty good agenda to start with

Richardson expects that will include passage of legislation that supporters call, “right to work,” which aims to prevent employees from being required to pay union dues as a condition of employment.

“A lot of this election cycle was on that issue,” said Richardson.  “There were clear contrasts between Governor-Elect Greitens and Attorney General Koster on that issue, and I think there’s always been and continues to be strong support for right-to-work in the General Assembly.  I know it’s an issue that Eric [Greitens] cares deeply about and so I anticipate that will be something that moves its way through the General Assembly very quickly.”

Richardson said ethics reform will also be a priority early in the 2016 session, as legislators  again attempt to pass a ban on gifts from lobbyists to lawmakers.