Friday, May 10, 2024

Legislation will allow state auditor greater discretion to audit municipalities

(From State Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick)

Missouri taxpayers are one step closer to having a more effective method to hold their local government officials accountable for their actions thanks to legislation that will give State Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick greater discretion to audit municipalities when wrongdoing is uncovered. 

Now just a signature from Governor Parson away from becoming law, House Bill 2111, which was sponsored by State Representative Phil Christofanelli and handled in the Senate by State Senator Travis Fitzwater, was approved this week by the Missouri Senate by a vote of 32-0 and was previously approved by the Missouri House by a vote of 145-0.

"Thank you to both Representative Christofanelli and Senator Fitzwater for the hard work they put in to move our legislation through the process and onto Governor Parson's desk. Thank you as well to the members from both sides of the aisle in the House and Senate for supporting our bill with no opposition and giving my office a greater ability to shine the light of transparency on every corner of this state," said Fitzpatrick. "With the signature of the Governor, House Bill 2111 will allow us to do more to help the many Missourians who regularly reach out to our office for assistance in rooting out fraud and abuse in their local governments."

Under current state law, the State Auditor's Office has the ability to investigate whistleblower complaints but, even if the investigation uncovers wrongdoing, the office is not authorized to move to an audit of counties that have a county auditor, or political subdivisions such as municipalities, fire protection districts, ambulance districts, and sewer districts. For these governmental entities, the State Auditor's Office has to be invited in by the governing body or by a petition signed by voters even in cases where an initial investigation uncovers the likelihood of fraud.

House Bill 2111 will allow the State Auditor's Office to bypass the need for an invitation in cases where an investigation finds improper government activity has occurred. In addition, an audit could be conducted upon request by a prosecuting attorney, circuit attorney, or law enforcement agency as part of an investigation of improper activity.

House Bill 2111 also contains provisions to allow the State Auditor's Office to use its subpoena power during the investigative process. The existing authority to issue subpoenas during an audit allows the office access to vital information it may not otherwise be able to obtain, and expanding that authority to the investigative process would assist the office in conducting a more effective review to determine if improper governmental activity is occurring. The bill also provides additional protections for whistleblowers who submit information to the State Auditor's Office.

If signed into law by Governor Parson, the provisions in the bill will take effect on August 28 of this year.

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