SPEAKER BANS ‘COUNTRY CLUB’ COMMITTEE HEARINGS
One day after embarrassing television footage aired of Republican lawmakers schmoozing with lobbyists at the Jefferson City Country Club at what officially was a public hearing of the House Telecommunications Committee, House Speaker John Diehl on Jan. 28 instituted an immediate ban on committees meeting outside of the Capitol.
The so-called hearing, which Democratic committee members chose not to attend due to its unseemly nature, was in reality an expensive dinner paid for the Missouri Telecommunications Association, which represents companies with business pending before the committee. By labeling the dinner an official committee hearing, under state law the cost of the dinner will not show up on the ethics reports of the individual lawmakers who attended and instead be attributed to the group.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Diehl, R-Town and Country, told a St. Louis radio station last summer that he would ban the practice of allowing committee hearings to be held at restaurants. But Diehl equivocated when asked about the subject last week, saying: “It’s something we’ve always done. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong.”
A country club hearing of the House Utility Infrastructure Committee scheduled for Jan. 28 was cancelled after Diehl issued his directive. That event was to be paid for by the Missouri Energy Development Association. No House Democrats had planned to attend.
SENATE REJECTS PAY HIKES FOR ELECTED OFFICIALS, JUDGES
The Senate on Jan. 29 voted 31-3 to pass a resolution rejecting pay raises for lawmakers, statewide elected officials and judges that had been recommended by the State Salary Commission. Under the Missouri Constitution, the commission’s recommendations would have automatically taken effect on Feb. 1 if lawmakers hadn’t rejected them. The House of Representatives approved the rejection resolution, HCR 4, on Jan. 20 by a vote of 133-15-10.
The Salary Commission is an independent panel that meets every two years to set pay levels for lawmakers, elected officials and judges. Its latest report called for state senators and representatives to receive a $2,000 raise with the start of the 2016 fiscal year on July 1 and another $2,000 raise in FY 2107. Legislative pay would have gone from the current level of $35,915 a year to $39,915 once both increases were implemented.
The governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state auditor and state treasurer each would have received 8-percent pay raises in FY 2016 and additional 8-percent raises in FY 2017. The lieutenant governor would have gotten a $4,757 increase in FY 2016 and another $4,757 bump in FY 2017.
State judges, who received substantial pay hikes ranging from $17,000 a year for associate circuit judges to $21,000 a year for Supreme Court judges, would have gotten 1 percent raises in FY 2016, with an additional, undetermined increase possible in FY 2017.
KOSTER DROPS SOME CITIES FROM LAWSUIT, ADDS OTHERS
Attorney General Chris Koster on Jan. 22 dismissed legal action against six of the 13 north St. Louis County municipalities he sued in December for allegedly receiving excess revenue from traffic fines in violation of state law. However, Koster also added four other municipalities to the lawsuit.
Missouri law prohibits municipalities from deriving more than 30 percent of their annual budgets from traffic fines. Under the law, fine revenue in excess of the cap is supposed to be turned over to the state school fund. However, the law has largely gone unenforced.
Koster said Beverly Hills, Breckenridge Hills, Crystal Lake Park, Mackenzie, Pagedale and Pasadena Park had all come into compliance with the law, so he dropped them from the lawsuit. Added to the case are Calverton Park, Hanley Hills, Kinloch and Velda City. Remaining defendants from the original suit are Bellerive Acres, Hillsdale, Moline Acres, Normandy, Uplands Park, Velda Village Hills and Vinita Terrace.
MoDOT, CONSERVATION SPENT $376,000 FLYING OFFICIALS
The state departments of transportation and conservation spent a combined $376,000 during the 2012 and 2013 fiscal years on flights for members of their governing commissions to attend meetings and conduct other official business, according to a report issued Jan. 26 by State Auditor Thomas Schweich. While there are numerous state boards and agencies, Schweich said members of the State Highways and Transportation Commission and Missouri Conservation Commission are the only ones who provided flights at taxpayer expense.
Schweich’s office estimates the transportation and conservation departments could have saved $294,000 during the two-year period covered by the audit by providing commissioners mileage reimbursement instead of plane travel. In response, the departments said providing flights significantly cuts down on travel time, and many commissioners would not have the time to serve if they had to drive to meeting and official events.