Aug 3, 2017 – Weekly Capitol Update

GREITENS PUTS GOP OPERATIVE ON STATE SCHOOL BOARD

Gov. Eric Greitens on July 31 appointed prominent Republican political operative Eddy Justice of Poplar Bluff to the Missouri State Board of Education, the governing authority for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, which oversees the state’s 520 public school districts and sets statewide education policy.

As treasurer of the House Republican Campaign Committee, Justice plays a key role in raising and spending money to elect Republican state representative candidates. Justice also is chairman of the 8th Congressional District Republican Party Committee. The news release from the governor’s office announcing the appointment made no mention of Justice’s extensive political resume.

According to a March 23 story by The Missouri Times, Justice supports the expansion of charter schools, which are public schools that operate independently of many of the state regulations governing traditional public schools. Charter schools, which currently operate only in St. Louis and Kansas City, have enjoyed limited success in Missouri with poor-performing charters far outnumbering the handful of high-achieving schools.

Greitens also appointed Melissa Gelner, who serves on the board of trustees of The Summit, a private preparatory school in Springfield attended by her two children. As with the omission of Justice’s status as a political operative, the governor’s news release made no mention of Gelner’s private school affiliation.

Under the Missouri Constitution, the eight-member state school board is prohibited from having more than four members from the same political party, which typically results in a board with four Republicans and four Democrats. However, Greitens designated Gelner as an independent, resulting in a partisan split on the board of 4-3-1, at least on paper.

While it doesn’t appear Gelner has personally donated to state political candidates in recent years, her husband, Brian Gelner, gave Greitens gubernatorial campaign $500 last year and previously donated to Republican legislative candidates. While not dispositive of her personal political affiliation, her family’s exclusive donations to Republicans could create the appearance that her independent designation is an effort to circumvent constitutional restrictions and establish a de facto 5-3 Republican board majority.

The governor also appointed former state Sen. Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City, to the state school board. Just days later, however, Scott withdrew after a Springfield News Leader reporter informed him that state law would require him to resign his job as president of Kansas Christian College in Overland Park, Kan., in order to serve. The paper reported it is unclear if the Greitens administration was aware of the law when it appointed Scott.

 

EFFORT TO LET VOTERS DECIDE RTW SCORES KEY LEGAL WIN

Those trying to give Missouri voters the final say on the state’s so-called “right-to-work” law scored an important legal victory on July 28 when the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District restored the original ballot language on a referendum petition to put the measure on the November 2018 statewide ballot. A lower court had rewritten the language, which effectively would have killed the petition drive by forcing it to start over with the deadline for submitting signatures looming.

A referendum petition takes a bill that has been passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by the governor and prevents it from taking effect until and unless approved by voters. It is the rarely used cousin of the more common initiative petition, which proposes legislation independently of lawmakers and places it on the statewide ballot. The referendum petition process was last used to force a 1982 vote on legislation to allow larger trucks on state highways. That measure was rejected by voters.

Acting on a legal challenge brought by right-to-work supporters, Circuit Court Judge Dan Green, a Republican, in June rewrote the ballot language prepared by the Secretary of State’s Office for the referendum petition, citing minor grammatical errors. Green also took the unprecedented step of flipping the ballot question so that instead of a “yes” to pass and “no” to reject – which is how ballot measures are always worded – a “yes” vote would needed to reject and a “no” to pass.

Green’s rationale was that voters are actually being asked to repeal an existing statute, since the right-to-work measure has been approved by the legislature and signed by the governor and, but for the referendum petition, would become law.

In a unanimous ruling, a three-judge appellate panel noted that the Missouri Constitution says that ballot measures “shall take effect when approved by a majority of the votes cast thereon, and not otherwise.” In this case, the appellate judges said the referendum has the effect of substituting the will of the voters for any previous actions taken by lawmakers and the governor. The judges also said the grammatical errors cited by Green didn’t result in confusion and weren’t sufficient to merit a rewrite.

The GOP-controlled General Assembly passed the right-to-work measure, Senate Bill 19, on Feb. 2, and Republican Gov. Eric Greitens signed it into law days later. The bill makes it a crime for employers to negotiate labor contracts that require workers to pay dues for the union representation they receive. During debate on the bill, Democrats attempted to attach a referendum clause to automatically put the measure on the statewide ballot, but majority Republicans opposed allowing voters to weigh in on the issue.

SB 19 is scheduled to take effect Aug. 28, but if the referendum petition is filed with the sufficient number of valid signatures prior to that date, then its effective date will be held until its fate is decided at the November 2018 general election. Officials with the Missouri AFL-CIO, which is spearheading the petition drive, say they expect to have more than enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

 

GOVERNOR APPOINTS SENATOR TO STATE TAX COMMISSION

Gov. Eric Greitens on July 31 appointed state Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, to the State Tax Commission, which oversees property tax assessment practices throughout the state. The governor subsequently called a Nov. 7 special election to pick Kraus’ replacement in the 8th Senate District, as well as fill two House seats that have been vacant since June.

Kraus has served in the Senate since 2011 following six years in the House of Representatives. He was ineligible to seek re-election next year due to term limits. His Senate district covers much of eastern Jackson County. Kraus can begin serving on the Tax Commission immediately, although his appointment will be subject to confirmation when the Senate reconvenes in January.

The other two special elections will held to replace Democrat Randy Dunn in the 26th District in Kansas City and Republican Tila Hubrecht of Dexter in the Bootheel’s 151th District, which includes Stoddard County and part of Scott County. Both Dunn and Hubrecht resigned shortly after the end of the 2017 regular legislative session to pursue other job opportunities.