The Last Week
As I walked into the Capitol building with one of my colleagues on Friday morning, a lobbyist asked us if we would be able to stop the train. We all pretty much agreed that the light at the end of the tunnel was indeed an oncoming train. Read on….
With complete control of state government, Republicans proved unable to govern during the 2017 legislative session, likely setting the record for the fewest number of bills passed in a regular session in state history.
Missouri has a Republican governor for just the second time in 25 years and Republicans hold large supermajorities in both the House and Senate. Yet they accomplished virtually nothing positive of significance this year.
Just 59 policy bills won final passage this year, along with the 16 appropriations bills that make up the FY 2018 state budget.
That shatters what is believed to be the previous record for futility, which was set in the 2000 session when lawmakers enacted just 67 policy bills, plus 17 appropriations bills.
Eric the Unready
Until Gov. Eric Greitens took office in January, he had never served a single day in public office, and his inexperience shows.
Gov. Greitens was so unready for the duties of his office that he felt to the need to hire a “chief operating officer” to do his job for him.
The governor essentially was a non-entity this year. He was rarely seen and only heard when he and his shadowy dark money minions attempted to bully his fellow Republicans into submission.
The governor’s tactics backfired and contributed greatly this year’s Republican dysfunction.
With his lack of leadership, Gov. Greitens has proved why high public office is no place for beginners.
Tipping the Scales of Justice
The purpose of our civil courts is to fairly weigh disputes and reach a just conclusion, but under the guise of being ‘business friendly,’ Republicans are making Missouri’s civil litigation system unfriendly to justice. The majority enacted several bills this year that do nothing less than tip the scales of justice in favor of the powerful and against the powerless.
Of particular concern is SB 43, which seeks to lock the courthouse doors to victims of unlawful discrimination by gutting the Missouri Human Rights Act. The Missouri Human Rights Act makes it illegal to discriminate in employment, housing or public accommodation based on race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, gender, disability or familial status, and it is one of the most important tools we have to illegal discrimination in our state.
SB 43 is sponsored by state Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, whose company, Show-Me Rent-to-Own, is currently being sued for racial discrimination. Gary Romine is being sued for violating the Missouri Human Rights Act, yet he sponsored legislation to gut the Missouri Human Rights Act.
This is a clear abuse of official power and exactly the sort of self-dealing and corruption Gov. Greitens campaigned against. Gov. Greitens should find the courage to stand up to the powerful interests who want to undermine the fairness of Missouri courts by vetoing SB 43.
Balancing the Budget on the Backs of the Vulnerable
Much of this year was spent arguing over which group elderly and disabled Missourians should suffer to pay for 15 years of failed Republican tax policies that have starved the state of the resources needed to provide basic services in order to grant hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy.
The governor wanted to eliminate nursing home and in-home care services for more than 20,000 disabled Missourians who simply aren’t disabled enough to satisfy the governor.
House Republicans wanted to strip poor elderly and disabled of a modest tax break they rely on to get by.
House Democrats and senators of both parties wanted nothing to do with either plan and devised a plan to avoid harming either group by “sweeping” excess funds that are sitting unused in government accounts.
In the end, and at the very last minute, House Republicans relented to go along and we were able to restore 8,000 disabled or elderly Missourians to receive nursing home and in-home care services.
Picking which group of disabled and elderly Missourians to hurt is choice that never should have been pondered and a discussion that never should have taken place.
Republican attacks on working families finally bore their bitter fruit with the passage of so-called right-to-work legislation.
The bill makes it a crime punishable by jail time for businesses to negotiate labor contracts that require workers to pay for the union representation they receive.
Throwing business owners in jail because they decide they know better than the government when it comes to running their companies and negotiating with employees won’t create jobs or grow Missouri’s economy.
Although Gov. Greitens signed the bill into law, pro-worker groups are circulating a rarely used “referendum petition” that would place it on the 2018 statewide ballot and block the law from taking effect unless voters approve it.
When the bill was before the legislature, Republican lawmakers refused to support Democratic attempts to let voters decide the issue because they fear the outcome won’t be what they wish.
Democrats believe in letting the people decide this issue.
BILL GUTTING MO HUMAN RIGHTS ACT GOES TO GOVERNOR
By a vote of 98-34, with many Democrats abstaining in protest, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives on May 9 granted final approval to legislation that would make it significantly more difficult to hold employers accountable for illegal workplace discrimination. The bill previously cleared the Senate and now awaits action by Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican.
Senate Bill 43 erects several new barriers designed to discourage lawsuits under the Missouri Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, gender, disability or familial status. It is sponsored by state Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, who owns a chain of rent-to-own stores that faces a pending lawsuit for alleged acts of racial discrimination in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act.
Democratic critics of the bill said Romine’s sponsorship amounted to an abuse of power. They urged Greitens, who campaigned on a pledge to clean up the culture of corruption and self-dealing in state government, to veto the bill. However, SB 43 is supported by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a key special interest group that was an early backer of Greitens during last year’s crowded four-way GOP gubernatorial primary.
PRESCRIPTION DRUG MONITORING FAILS FINAL HURDLES
Legislation to establish a statewide prescription drug monitoring program to help prevent opioid abuse failed to pass after the Senate insisted on a weak version of the bill that the House of Representatives was unwilling to accept and a last-minute compromise couldn’t be brought to final votes before lawmakers adjourned for the year on May 12.
The House approved the measure, House Bill 90, 102-54 more than a month ago. However, Senate opponents who see prescription monitoring as an unwarranted government intrusion into patient privacy added a number of restrictions to the bill, such as excluding many drugs from being subject to monitoring and requiring patient information to be purged after just six months, which monitoring supporters said is too short a time period to effectively track excessive purchases.
Because of the lack of a statewide monitoring program, more than two dozen Missouri counties and cities, including St. Louis and Jackson counties, have joined to create their own. Because HB 90 would preempt local efforts, lawmakers with strong local programs objected giving those up in favor of a weaker statewide program.
Missouri is the only state in the nation that hasn’t enacted a monitoring program to alert doctors when patients seek to obtain multiple prescriptions from different doctors. With HB 90 unable to pass before the legislative session ended on May 12, more cities and counties are expected to join the growing network of local programs.