NIXON APPOINTS COUNTY TREASURER AS STATE AUDITOR
Gov. Jay Nixon on April 14 appointed Boone County Treasurer Nicole Galloway as the permanent replacement for State Auditor Thomas Schweich, who committed suicide on Feb. 26. Schweich, a Republican, was just re-elected last year. Galloway, a Democrat, will serve out the remainder of his term, which ends in January 2019. She intends to seek a full term in 2018.
Nixon initially appointed longtime aide John Watson as state auditor shortly after Schweich’s death with the intention that Watson’s tenure would be temporary. Watson will resign in favor of Galloway on April 27.
Galloway, 32, is a certified public accountant and certified fraud examiner. Prior to becoming county treasurer, she was a corporate auditor for Shelter Insurance Companies in Columbia. She holds an undergraduate degree in applied mathematics and economics from the Missouri University of Science and Technology and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
“The people of Missouri have my commitment that I will be an independent watchdog that reviews all levels of government with even-handedness and integrity,” Galloway said in a news release. “The office will be committed to protecting taxpayers and ensuring that government is held accountable for the resources it uses and to the citizens it serves.”
This marks the second time Nixon has picked Galloway to fill a vacancy created by the death of an incumbent, the first being her April 2011 appointment as Boone County treasurer. Galloway won a full term in the office in 2012. A Fenton native, she lives in Columbia with her husband and two small children.
SENATE SUED FOR ALLEGED SUNSHINE LAW VIOLATIONS
A state government watchdog group is suing the Missouri Senate on claims the group has been prevented from recording some Senate committee hearing in violation of the state’s Sunshine Law. Progress Missouri filed the lawsuit on April 15 in Cole County Circuit Court. It is seeking an injunction barring Senate committees from prohibiting recording in the future.
The Sunshine Law requires that a “public body shall allow for the recording by audiotape, videotape or other electronic means of any open meeting.” The Missouri Constitution, however, grants the Senate and House of Representatives the authority to determine the rules of their proceedings. The Senate’s internal rules grant committee chairmen the power to allow or prohibit the recording of hearings as they see fit.
In addition to the full Senate, the lawsuit names as defendants three Senate committees and their Republican chairmen: Sen. Mike Kehoe of Jefferson City, chairman of the Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy and Environment Committee; Sen. David Sater of Cassville, chairman of the Seniors, Families and Children Committee; and Sen. Mike Parson of Bolivar, chairman of the Small Business and Industry Committee.
All three chairmen have refused to allow Progress Missouri to record hearings. While Kehoe and Sater allow recordings by members of the news media, Parson prohibits any person or group from recording in his committee.
The outcome of the case will likely hinge on whether the constitutional authority of the Senate to determine its own rules gives it the power to exempt itself from laws of general applicability. The recording of hearings isn’t an issue in the House, the rules of which require committees to follow the Sunshine Law and don’t grant chairmen the discretion to prohibit recordings.
PROPOSED 2-CENT BUMP IN FUEL TAX STALLS IN SENATE
Legislation that would slightly increase the state fuel tax appears stalled in the Missouri Senate, which debated the measure on April 14 and April 15 but set it aside without a vote amid opposition from anti-tax senators. Missouri’s fuel tax of 17 cents per gallon was last increased in 1996 and today is one of the lowest in the nation.
The Missouri Department of Transportation’s construction budget has sharply declined from a high of nearly $1.37 billion in 2009 to $685 million this year. MoDOT officials anticipate that by 2017 its construction budget will further shrink to $325 million, about the $160 million less than the $485 million annually it takes to just to maintain the state highway system.
State Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, initially proposed increasing the fuel tax by 2 cents a year over three years for a total hike of 6 cents per gallon. The tax rate would then be adjusted annually for inflation under the bill, SB 540. During Senate, however, the bill was amended to a one-time 2-cent increase with no inflationary adjustment. The additional $55 million generated by a 2-cent hike would give MoDOT sufficient matching revenue to draw down Missouri’s share of federal highway funds in 2017 but not in 2018.
LAWMAKERS APPROVE CUTTING WELFARE BENEFITS
The Republican-controlled General Assembly on April 16 granted final approval to legislation that would immediately strip more than 6,300 Missouri children of their welfare benefits. The measure, SB 24, was sent to the governor on votes of 25-9 in the Senate and 111-36 in the House of Representatives.
Under existing law, benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program carry a lifetime cap of 60 months. SB 24 would lower that cap to 45 months. Nearly 11,700 current recipients – two-thirds of whom are children – will have already been on the program for more than 45 months by the time SB 24 takes effect, meaning they would immediately lose their benefits if the bill becomes law.
Republican supporters of SB 24 say reducing TANF benefits would encourage recipients to take more personal responsibility for their situations. Democratic opponents question how children, who constitute the bulk of TANF beneficiaries, are supposed to take personal responsibility for their parents being poor.
HOUSE ENDORSES REPEALING MOTORCYCLE HELMET LAW
The House of Representatives on April 13 voted 97-57 of legislation that would repeal Missouri’s motorcycle helmet law for riders age 21 or over. Under the bill, HB 523, motorcycle riders under age 21 would still be required to wear a helmet. The bill now advances to the Senate.
Supporters say adult riders should have the freedom to determine for themselves if they want to wear a helmet. Opponents the helmet is an essential safety requirement and that motorcycle fatalities and serious injuries will increase sharply if helmet use becomes optional. Missouri lawmakers enacted similar legislation in 2009, but Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed it.