Monday, August 29, 2016
Audit criticizes House, Senate dealings with lobbyists
Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway has released audits of the Missouri House and Senate legislative bodies. The audits were conducted as part of a series of regular reviews by the Auditor's Office, and identified issues related to open records, lobbyist contributions and personnel policies.
In both the House and Senate, unclear and incomplete open records policies have led to confusion over what is and is not open to the public. Both chambers claim Sunshine Law exemptions to legislators' official records and emails, but even for generally agreed open records, in many cases documents were not available or did not exist for audit staff to review. There were no records kept on meetings held by interim committees on topics related to Medicaid, the military and capital improvements. The same held true for House and Senate Joint Committees, where auditors found basic records missing for meetings on critical topics related to education and child abuse and neglect. In some cases, joint committees failed to even meet, or to submit final committee reports required by law.
The audit identified concerns related to personnel policies that were not included in either the House or the Senate handbooks, including the absence of a policy to provide whistleblower protections to employees from retaliation for reporting abuse of authority or violations of the law witnessed in the workplace. The audit also recommends the House and Senate fully comply with the Family Medical Leave Act, providing employees with leave to care for returning service members.
The audit also describes potential issues involving contributions from lobbyists that could result in the appearance, or existence, of a conflict of interest. In the House, an interim committee solicited contributions from lobbying firms to support a statewide education tour. Lobbyists also contributed to a Senate fund to pay for evening meals for senators and state employees who work for the Senate, when working late during the legislative session, despite the fact that senators already received a daily allowance of about $100. In addition, the bank account for this fund is held outside the state treasury, in violation of the Missouri Constitution.
Complete audits of both the House of Representatives and the Senate are available online here and here.