Legislative Column for the Week of Monday, Jan. 27, 2014
Senate Debates First Bill of 2014 Session

Legislative News

The Senate Rules, Joint Rules, Resolutions and Ethics Committee, which I chair, began investigating a serious issue this week currently affecting thousands of Missourians. As has been widely reported, the price of propane has skyrocketed recently. In just November of last year, a gallon was around $1.25. As of Monday, it was around $5. This radical price increase has been devastating to citizens, many of which use propane to heat their homes.

The price increase is being blamed on a shortage. Wet conditions forced many farmers to use huge amounts of propane to dry their crops. Propane exports have also increased. Demand for cheap fuel sources, such as propane, have increased throughout the world.

However, none of these factors account for a price jump of this magnitude in such a short time, especially considering we’re producing more propane than ever before and exporting it in record amount. Local suppliers, who are not the cause of this problem, are as baffled as anyone at this situation.

The Senate has already called on Attorney General Chris Koster to look into the matter. On Wednesday, the committee also considered Senate Resolution 1168, which calls upon the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the price increase of propane, the price disparity between storage facilities, and the supply shortage of propane available to consumers.

I cannot stress how serious this issue is. Many Missourians use propane to heat their homes or businesses. If prices remain this high, those people are going to be forced to either pay inflated costs or use alternative, and less safe, means, such as portable electric and gas space heaters. As this crisis continues to affect Missourians, we have to get to the bottom of this possibly manufactured crisis before it has dire consequences on the hard-working citizens of our state.

On Tuesday, the Senate began debating the first bill to reach the floor of the upper chamber. Senate Bill 507 changes our state’s gubernatorial appointment process. One of the governor’s most important duties is appointing citizens to Missouri’s more than 200 boards or commissions and the state’s various departments. These appointments are then vetted by the Senate, and if qualified, approved.

However, there are currently countless boards with long-standing vacancies. Many are unable to meet because there are simply not enough members for a quorum. This robs citizens of their right to representation on the commissions that regulate many industries and practices in this state.

The root of the problem is bad language in the law that dictates the appointment process. Currently, the governor is required to make appointments “without delay.” This vague phrase has allowed the governor’s office to leave many board seats vacant. Even worse is the common practice of designating an “acting director” in a state department when the previous one leaves, and then never appointing a permanent one. We currently have state department leaders, which wield an incredible amount of authority, who have never been vetted or approved by the Senate.

Shown above, Patty Richard testifies before the Veterans’ Affairs and Health Committee on Senate Bill 639 on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014.

Senate Bill 507 would establish a time limit for the governor to make appointments. It will ensure citizens have the opportunity to participate in state government through service on a board or commission, and guarantees those individuals who run our state departments are appropriate for the job.

The General Laws Committee approved Senate Bill 613 on Tuesday. This bill would ensure the Second Amendment rights of Missourians remain inviolable, regardless of Washington’s actions. I’m hopeful we move quickly to pass this measure. As elected state officials, it’s our duty to protect citizens’ constitutional rights. This measure would go far in preventing any institution, even that of the federal government, from illegally infringing on Missourians’ civil liberties.

On Thursday morning, my wife, Patty Richard, testified before the Veterans’ Affairs and Health Committee on Senate Bill 639, which would require mammography facilities to provide patients with dense breast tissue information on the possible benefits of alternative screenings. My wife has long advocated for this measure, which could help save lives. I’m proud to stand with her as she works to see this important bill passed.