Jan 26, 2017 – Weekly Capitol Update

HOUSE PASSES RESOLUTION REJECTING PAY INCREASES

The House of Representatives on Jan. 23 voted 154-5-1 to reject pay increases that are set to take effect on July 1 for statewide elected officials and lawmakers. The House sent the rejection resolution, HCR 4, to the Senate, which must also pass it by Feb. 1 to stop the raises from kicking in as scheduled.

Under the Missouri Constitution, the state Salary Commission sets the pay rates for statewide elected officials, lawmakers and judges every two years. The new rates automatically take effect unless timely rejected by two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate.

The Salary Commission’s latest report, issued in December 2016, calls for the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state auditor and state treasurer to receive 8-percent pay raises in each of the next two fiscal years. Lawmakers would get a pair of 2.5 percent bumps — the first in FY 2018, which starts July 1, and the second in FY 2019.

The commission’s 2010 report was the last the legislature has allowed to take effect. While it provided no pay hikes for lawmakers and statewide elected officials, it did authorize a one-year pay increase for judges. In recent years, however, judicial branch officials have argued that the 2010 report provides judges with automatic annual pay increases, even if the legislature rejects future salary commission reports.

After some resistance, the Republican-controlled legislature finally acquiesced to that point of view last year by providing funding for the unscheduled pay hikes. As result, judges will receive a roughly 1 percent pay hike this year even if HCR 4 passes.

 

CHIEF JUSTICE DISPUTES NEED FOR CIVIL COURTS CHANGES

Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Patricia Breckenridge on Jan. 24 disputed the need to overhaul laws governing civil litigation in state, noting that only about 5 percent of civil cases in Missouri involve tort claims, such as wrongful death of personal injury, which can lead to large damage awards. Breckenridge made her comments during the annual State of the Judiciary address before a joint session of the General Assembly.

“Our citizens can be proud of our courts, where they go to resolve their disputes peaceably and where their constitutional rights are protected …,” Breckenridge said. “We, more than anyone, want our courts to live up to their responsibilities to properly administer justice.”

A week earlier, new Republican Gov. Eric Greitens had described Missouri as a “judicial hellhole” for business that are sued for wrongdoing, although he offered no evidence to back up his claim that corporate defendants are treated unfairly in Missouri. Nonetheless, the Republican-controlled legislature is advancing various bills that would make it more difficult and costly for injured parties to sue over alleged wrongdoing unless they have substantial financial means.

 

NEW ATTORNEY GENERAL REFUSES TO FOLLOW STATE LAW

New Attorney General Josh Hawley has offered shifting rationales for why he believes he doesn’t have to follow a state law that requires the attorney general to live in Jefferson City. Hawley, a Republican who has never previously held public office, lives nearly 25 miles away in Columbia and has said he won’t move.

State law says the attorney general “shall reside at the seat of government and keep his office in the Supreme Court building,” both of which are in Jefferson City. When the St. Louis Post-Dispatch first reported the residency violation on Jan. 23, Hawley initially claimed the law only requires him to have his official workplace in Jefferson City. A day later Hawley shifted his analysis, arguing — the plain language of the statute to the contrary notwithstanding — that he can continue living in Columbia because it is “within an ordinary commuting distance” of the capital city.

Hawley is believed to be the first Missouri attorney general in history to refuse to comply with the residency requirement. Critics have said that Hawley either can serve as attorney general or live in Columbia, but the law doesn’t allow him to simultaneously do both, and he must choose which one he wants most.

However, it doesn’t appear that much can be done to force Hawley to comply with the law. The normal remedy when an elected official is in violation of the law is for the attorney general to file a writ of quo warranto to remove the official from office, an action Hawley is unlikely to take against himself.

 

COURT UPHOLDS COUNTY’S BAN ON TRAFFIC CAMERAS

The Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District on Jan. 24 upheld a 2014 amendment to the St. Charles County Charter that prohibits both the county government and municipalities within the county from operating automated traffic camera enforcement systems. The lawsuit claimed the voter-approved amendment unconstitutionally encroaches on the authority of cities, a notion the three-judge panel unanimously rejected.

While counties typically lack power over the affairs of cities within their boundaries, St. Charles County has a charter form of government, and the Missouri Constitution specifically allows such counties to adopt charter provisions granting them authority over municipal services and functions.

The use of traffic enforcement cameras to catch red-light or speeding violations essentially has been blocked throughout Missouri since the Missouri Supreme Court issued a trio of rulings in August 2015 making it practically impossible for cities to use such systems without changes in state law that the legislature as of yet has shown little interest in enacting. The current case is Jim Pepper, et al., v. St. Charles County.

 

SENATE APPROVES ITS VERSION OF ‘RIGHT-TO-WORK’

The Republican-controlled Senate on Jan. 26 voted 21-12 in favor of its version of controversial legislation that would make it a crime punishable by jail time for business owners to negotiate labor contracts that require workers to pay dues for the union representation they receive.

Since the House of Representatives approved a similar bill a week earlier, both chambers have now passed so-called “right-to-work” measures. However, the chambers must approve the same bill before one can be sent to the governor to be signed into law.

Before granting Senate Bill 19 final passage, Republicans rejected an effort by Democrats to put the measure on the statewide ballot. House Republicans likewise had blocked efforts to let Missouri voters have a say on the issue. Missouri voters overwhelmingly rejected right-to-work when it last appeared on the ballot in 1978.