Jun 15, 2017 – Weekly Capitol Update

GROUP OF SENATORS SEEKS INVESTIGATION OF GOVERNOR

A bipartisan group six state senators filed a resolution on June 12 seeking an investigation into Republican Gov. Eric Greitens for possible ethical – and potentially criminal – violations relating to his campaign’s procurement and use of the donor list from a non-profit organization Greitens founded. The group consists of four Republicans and two Democrats.

On April 28, Greitens admitted to violating state campaign finance laws by failing to disclose his campaign’s use of a donor list from The Mission Continues, a charity for aiding former veterans that Greitens ran until his run for governor. Greitens’ campaign was fined $1,000 by the Missouri Ethics Commission and amended its campaign finance reports to claim the donor list as an in-kind contribution from the charity.

How Greitens’ campaign obtained the donor list remains unclear. If The Mission Continues gave it to Greitens, it would forfeit its tax-exempt status under federal law. A spokeswoman for The Missouri Continues told The Kansas City Star that it didn’t provide the list to Greitens or his campaign. However, if the campaign didn’t obtain the list with permission, the only alternative explanation appears to be that it was stolen.

The Senate resolution would establish a five-member committee to investigate the matter, with full power to subpoena witnesses and records. While Senate Republican leaders said the measure won’t advance during the current special legislative session, they left open the possibility of it being considered during next year’s regular legislative session.

In addition to issues relating to the donor list, the bipartisan group also wants to investigate whether Greitens’ recently established “dark money” organization, A New Missouri, is violating state campaign finance and lobbying laws.

 

SENATE PASSES ABORTION BILL AFTER LONG NEGOTIATIONS

After a long day of behind-the-scenes maneuvering, the Senate on June 15 voted 20-8 in favor of legislation to impose additional regulations on abortion facilities and allow discrimination against women based on their reproductive decisions. The bill advances to the House of Representatives, which is expected to debate the measure June 20.

The Senate was scheduled to convene at 9 a.m. on June 14 but didn’t do so until 7:30 p.m. After just a half-hour of debate, the Senate took another two-hour break before returning to quickly grant the bill preliminary approval with little discussion. The Senate later took a final vote on the measure in the early morning hours of June 15.

Instead of the scheduled public debate, the day was consumed with closed-door negotiations that resulted in the bill’s original Republican sponsor being dumped in an intra-party dispute and an extensive rewrite of the measure so that it could both win the support of majority Republicans while giving minority Democrats sufficient concessions to avoid a filibuster. In the end, Democrats opposed the bill but didn’t attempt to block it.

A primary provision of the bill seeks to invalidate a St. Louis City ordinance enacted in February that prohibits employers or landlords from discriminating against women who are pregnant, use contraception or have had an abortion. Other provisions seek to increase regulations on abortion clinics and grant the attorney general the authority to initiate prosecutions for alleged violations of abortion regulations. Prosecutorial decisions typically are made at the sole discretion of county prosecutors, with the attorney general’s office primarily doing only appellate work in criminal cases.

Gov. Eric Greitens called lawmakers into a special session on abortion after similar legislation failed to pass during this year’s regular session. Critics from both parties called the governor’s action an abuse of the special session provision, which under the state constitution is only supposed to be invoked on “extraordinary occasions.” Some critics contend the special session is primarily for Greitens to establish political credibility with anti-abortion groups after he was the only one of the four Republican gubernatorial candidates last year who wasn’t endorsed by Missouri Right to Life.

Special legislative sessions cost taxpayers roughly $25,000 for each day both chambers are in full session. Actual costs are less, however, on days when only one chamber meets.

 

PAROLE OFFICIAL RESIGNS FOR TOYING WITH INMATES

Missouri Probation and Parole Board Member Don Ruzicka resigned under pressure on June 12, days after a previously secret investigative report became public revealing that he and another official repeatedly played games during parole hearings in which try tried to work song titles or unusual words, such as “hootenanny” or “platypus,” into their questioning of inmates. The men awarded each other points for using the predetermined titles or words, with double points given if the inmate repeated them.

The Office of the Inspector General of the Missouri Department of Corrections issued its report on Nov. 1 concluding that Ruzicka and the other man, a parole analyst whose name was redacted from the public version of the report, engaged in unprofessional conduct. The report only became public after the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, a civil rights and social justice advocacy group, obtained a copy and released it to the media on June 8.

Corrections officials initially defended the two men, who admitted to the game-playing. In a June 9 interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, parole board Chairman Kenny Jones called them “very credible members who take their job seriously,” while corrections Director Anne Precythe said: “We have a very good parole board that is very conscientious about the decisions they make when it comes to the hearings they hold.”
After their antics became public, two Democratic lawmakers, House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty of Kansas City and state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed of St. Louis, separately wrote to Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican, asking him to fire the two men.

Ruzicka was a Republican state representative from Mount Vernon when then-Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, appointed to the parole board in December 2012. It remains unknown if the unidentified parole analyst who played the game with Ruzicka has been disciplined.

 

GOVERNOR SIGNS REAL ID COMPLIANCE BILL INTO LAW

Gov. Eric Greitens on June 12 signed a bill into law that seeks to bring Missouri driver’s licenses into compliance with the federal REAL ID Act of 2005. Although many states initially resisted the federal law due to privacy concerns, that resistance dwindled to the point where Missouri was one of just four states that still hadn’t complied.

The approval of a REAL ID compliance bill marks a sharply reversal for the Republican-controlled General Assembly, which in 2009 went so far as enacting a statute outright prohibiting state compliance with the federal law, which sets standards for security features on government-issued identification cards.

However, with the federal government warning that as of Jan. 22, 2018, it won’t allow people to use non-compliant state-issued IDs to board commercial aircraft or enter federal facilities, most of the resistance from Republican lawmakers crumbled. With the signing of House Bill 151, it is expected that the federal government will grant Missouri a temporary waiver from the REAL ID requirements to give the state time to implement its new law.