Nov 12, 2015 – Weekly Capitol Update

CAMPUS TURMOIL LEADS TO LEADERSHIP SHAKEUP AT MU

University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe and MU Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin both submitted their resignations Nov. 9 amid protests over racism and other issues at the flagship Columbia campus. Wolfe was expected to step down as early as Nov. 12, while Loftin will remain as chancellor until Dec. 31, when he will move to a lower-level position at Mizzou.

A student group called Concerned Student 1950 had been demanding Wolfe’s resignation for his perceived indifference in responding to a recent string of racist incidents on campus. The group draws its name for the year Mizzou finally began admitting black students.

A week-long hunger strike by student Jonathan Butler brought statewide attention to the students’ demands. However, the situation turned into a national story when the MU football team, in a show of solidarity with Butler, said it wouldn’t practice or play games until Wolfe resigned or was fired. Wolfe stepped down the next day.

Although Loftin had forcefully spoken out against campus racism, he had long been rumored to be on the way out for a variety of other reasons. Nine MU deans had written a letter to Wolfe asking that Loftin be dismissed for creating a “toxic environment through threat, fear and intimidation.”

Most notably, Loftin was criticized for caving to political pressure from anti-abortion lawmakers by severing the medical school’s instructional ties with Planned Parenthood. He also drew fire at the start of the semester when the university abruptly cancelled health insurance policies for graduate students, a move that was swiftly reversed amid a campus-wide outcry.

 

HOUSE CHANGES SEXUAL HARASSMENT, INTERN POLICIES

The House Administration and Accounts Committee on Nov. 5 voted to strengthen internal House policies on sexual harassment and college internships. The new policies include banning romantic fraternization between lawmakers and House staff or interns and designating all House employees as “mandated reported” who must inform House administrators of allegations or concerns of sexual harassment or face discipline.

The action came nearly six months after House Speaker John Diehl, R-Town & Country, resigned after his improper relationship with a teenage Capitol intern became public. Not long after Diehl’s departure, state Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, also resigned following allegations, which he denied, that he had sexually harassed two female interns.

After holding a public hearing on the proposed policy changes, the committee immediately voted to adopt the draft revisions without further amendment. However, the committee may make additional changes in the near future to account for concerns and suggestions raised at the hearing about potential shortcomings in the revised policies.

 

HIGHWAYS COMMISSION HIRES NEW MoDOT DIRECTOR

The Missouri State Highways and Transportation Commission on Nov. 4 hired a New Hampshire transportation official as the next director of the Missouri Department of Transportation. Patrick McKenna, who previously was deputy commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, will take over a cash-strapped agency that expects to have only enough money to maintain about one-fourth of the 34,000-mile state highway system starting in 2017.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nichols said tolling is one idea for generating new revenue that merits discussion. MoDOT has periodically floated toll road proposals over the years, but the idea hasn’t sparked much enthusiasm among lawmakers. Because of a 1967 Missouri Supreme Court decision striking down toll roads legislation signed into law by Gov. Warren Hearnes, a voter-approved constitutional amendment authorizing toll roads likely would be required.

McKenna, who will begin his new job Dec.1, replaces Dave Nichols, who retired as MoDOT director in May after 30 years with the department. MoDOT Chief Financial Officer Roberta Broeker has been serving as interim director.