Legislative Actions and Information for the Week of April 15, 2019
|On The Floor
This week, Senator Nasheed was successful in passing one of her legislative priorities. Senate Bill 203 deals with nuisance actions in St. Louis City and St. Louis County. This legislation will allow neighborhoods to better address nuisance properties that drive down property values in the community. This legislation now heads to the Missouri House of Representatives for its consideration.
Outside of passing one of Sen. Nasheed’s legislative priorities, several other major issues came up for debate this week in the Missouri Senate.
On April 15, the Senate voted 26-7 in favor of a compromise plan to borrow $301 million to pay for bridge repairs around the state. The plan also calls for an appropriation of $50 million in general revenue to be included for bridge construction in the state budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
In January, the governor proposed selling $351 million in bonds to finance bridge repairs. However, the House of Representatives balked at the plan, which would cost taxpayers an additional $100 million in interest payments over 15 years.
As an alternative, the House approved a plan that would avoid borrowing by providing $100 million in general revenue funding for transportation projects this year – with the possibility of additional general revenue appropriations in future years.
The Senate plan is something of a hybrid of earlier proposals in that it would provide $50 million in general revenue upfront and then sell $300 million in bonds to provide the rest of the bridge financing. However, the Senate plan aims to keep interest payments down by paying back the bonds in seven years, instead of 15 years. The proposal, Senate Concurrent Resolution 14, is currently awaiting a House committee hearing.
On April 16, the Senate voted 31-3 in favor of a proposed constitutional amendment that generally would limit all six statewide executive branch elected officials to serving two, four-year terms. If the House of Representatives also approves the measure, it automatically would go on the November 2020 statewide ballot for voter ratification.
At present, only the governor and state treasurer are subject to term limits. Senate Joint Resolution 14 would extend term limits to the offices of lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state auditor and attorney general.
Although those offices currently aren’t subject to term limits, in practice only a handful of people have served more than eight years in them, the most recent being former Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who served three terms from 2005 to 2017. The record for longest tenure in a single statewide elected office belongs to former Secretary of State James Kirkpatrick, who served four terms from 1965 to 1985.
Senate Bill 391 was also debated on April 16. This legislation aims to change state law regarding concentrated animal feeding operations, otherwise known as CAFOs. Senate Bill 391 prohibits county commissions and county health departments from regulating these industrial-sized livestock operations beyond state regulations. Senator Nasheed opposes SB 391. She believes local control is very important, and does not believe the state should be dictating to counties how they ensure the health and the quality of their communities. Several counties have already passed regulations to deal with the effects of these operations, and Sen. Nasheed worries that those regulations could be undone if SB 391 was passed. Ultimately, SB 391 was placed on the informal calendar with an amendment pending.
In addition, the Senate also debated Senate Bill 259 on April 16. This bill modifies the Title IX process at colleges and universities across Missouri. It attempts to incorporate due process for defendants accused of sexual assault through an appeals hearing before the Administrative Hearing Commission. The bill allows for those involved to be represented by lawyers and for the accuser in a sexual assault complaint to be cross-examined. This legislation also allows institutions to be stripped of state funding for failing to comply with these provisions.
There are many concerns to keep in mind when discussing a sensitive topic like Title IX and sexual assault. To address one of her concerns, Sen. Nasheed proposed an amendment to SB 259 to allow public defenders to be appointed if a student could not afford to hire a lawyer. This would ensure that those in need of legal representation would be able to receive it, and not be priced out of a fair proceeding. The amendment was voted down by the body. Senator Nasheed believes if this legislation was really about protecting due process rights, the amendment would have been adopted. After a long night of debate stretching until 2 a.m., SB 259 was laid over.
Bills and Committees
Senate Bill 22 – This bill has been approved by the Senate’s Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. It requires the discovery phase of a trial to begin only after the defendant has been arraigned. It also gives prosecutors the discretion to redact personal identifying information from materials the state discloses to the defendant’s counsel during the discovery process. This legislation is currently on the Senate calendar, and can be brought up for debate at any time during session.
This week, the Senate’s Appropriations Committee completed its work on the state’s operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year. After the committee approved each of the budget bills that make up the state’s 2020 operating budget, the budget now heads to the Senate floor for discussion by the full Senate. Following the work completed by the Appropriations Committee, Sen. Nasheed is disappointed that more funding was not allocated to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) across the state.
“I am appalled that the state will not appropriate more funding to our state’s HBCUs,” said Sen. Nasheed. “Each year, we fail to give these institutions the funding they deserve. As long as we keep neglecting these institutions, I will keep fighting for our state’s HBCUs.”
HIGH COURT SAYS APPOINTMENT OF LT. GOVERNOR LEGAL
Finally answering a political question that has lingered for more than 50 years, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled 5-2 on April 23 that the governor has the constitutional authority to appoint a replacement to fill a vacancy in the office of lieutenant governor.
After former Gov. Eric Greitens resigned ahead of impeachment proceedings last June, the lieutenant governor replaced him, leaving the No. 2 statewide executive office vacant. Shortly thereafter, the new governor appointed the current lieutenant governor to his former post. The Missouri Democratic Party immediately filed a lawsuit contending the appointment violated state law.
The Missouri Constitution says “the governor shall fill all vacancies in public office unless otherwise provided by law.” Although the governor’s authority to fill vacancies in other statewide elected offices isn’t questioned, whether that power applies to replacing a lieutenant governor has long been disputed due to a state law that seems to exclude the office from being filled via appointment.
In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Zel Fischer said that although the constitution allows for alternate ways to fill vacancies, since no law provides another method of replacing the lieutenant governor then gubernatorial appointment remains the constitutional default.
In a dissenting opinion joined by one other judge, Judge George Draper said the state law in question does provide an alternative to appointing a lieutenant governor to fill a vacancy – leaving the office vacant for the remainder of the term until a new lieutenant governor is elected. The next election for lieutenant governor will be held in November 2020 for a term starting in January 2021.
Of the three previous lieutenant governor appointments in state history, only two occurred since the enactment of the disputed law. While the legality of one, in 1969, was hotly debated at the time, the next, in 2000, passed largely without controversy. Neither of those appointments was challenged in court, leaving the issue undecided until now.
COURT RULES BUDGET MANEUVER VIOLATED CONSTITUTION
On April 23, the Missouri Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the General Assembly cannot fire specific executive branch employees by removing their salaries from the state budget. The court held that such an action violates the Missouri Constitution’s separation of powers clause.
When passing the state budget during the 2018 legislative session, the General Assembly only provided sufficient funding to pay for 27 administrative law judges at the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, when there previously had been 28.
Although the court said lawmakers acted within their power by eliminating funding for an ALJ positon in the budget, they included wording in the appropriations bill that had the effect of requiring a specific person to lose their job, which the court said crossed the line into unconstitutionally.
“Isolating a single executive branch employee in this way exceeded the General Assembly’s plenary authority to appropriate funds because it effectively precluded the director of the department from selecting which ALJ to dismiss, which is the director’s constitutional prerogative,” Judge W. Brent Powell wrote for the court.
After the targeted ALJ obtained a judicial injunction blocking his termination, the labor department director eliminated the job of the most recently hired ALJ to ensure that the agency didn’t employ more ALJs than allowed with funding available.
HOUSE VOTES TO NIX ATTORNEY GENERAL RESIDENCY RULE
The House of Representatives voted 135-17 on April 18 to repeal a longstanding state law requiring Missouri’s attorney general to live in Jefferson City – a law the former attorney general, now current U.S. senator, violated during his two-year tenure in the office.
The law became an issue weeks after the attorney general took office in January 2017 when the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that he planned to continue living in Columbia, the law’s requirement that he reside in the state capital notwithstanding. After offering shifting rationales for why he didn’t have to follow the law, he ultimately relented and said he had leased an apartment in Jefferson City. However, he continued to vote in public elections from his Columbia address, calling into question whether he actually was complying with the residency law.
During debate on the repeal measure, House Bill 769, most lawmakers agreed the residency requirement, which doesn’t apply to any of Missouri’s other statewide elected officials, has become outdated and no legitimate reason remains for retaining it. The bill now advances to the Senate for further consideration.
STATE BOARD RESTORES LOCAL CONTROL TO STL SCHOOLS
The Missouri State Board of Education unanimously voted on April 16 to restore local control to the St. Louis Public Schools, which has been operated by the state-appointed Special Administrative Board since 2007. The district’s elected local school board, which continued to exist, but hasn’t had any power since the state takeover, will resume governance of the 22,000-student school system as of July 1.
The state takeover was triggered after the St. Louis district lost its state accreditation. Under the guidance of the three-member administrative board, the district regained provisional accreditation in 2012 and achieved full accreditation in 2017. The restoration of full accreditation set the wheels in motion for returning control of the district to its elected local school board.