Oct 26, 2017 – Weekly Capitol Update

GREITENS USED CAMPAIGN CASH IN PLAN TO TAKE OVER DESE

Gov. Eric Greitens spent $1,576 from his campaign account as part of a failed scheme to engineer a coup to oust the leader of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Oct. 23. Unlike most state departments, which are under the governor’s supervision, DESE is governed by a constitutionally independent board, and the governor has no direct control over its leadership or operations.

According to the Post-Dispatch, the Greitens campaign paid for Kenneth Zeff to visit Missouri in connection with him possibly becoming state education commissioner. Zeff is a school administrator and education consultant from Atlanta and an advocate of charter schools, which Greitens has said he would like to expand in Missouri. Charter schools are taxpayer-funded public schools that operate independently of a local public school district and are free from many state regulations. They currently operate only in St. Louis and Kansas City, where they have enjoyed limited success.

At the time of Zeff’s visit Greitens had been attempting to seize control of eight-member State Board of Education, reportedly with the aim of replacing DESE Commissioner Margie Vandeven, a respected educator who has led the department since 2015. Since late July, Greitens has filled three of four open spots on the board, but filling the final spot has proven difficult for the first-year governor.

Greitens withdrew his appointment of Melissa Gelner of Springfield in September after she refused to support the plan to oust Vandeven. He then appointed Heidi Crane, also of Springfield, to replace Gelner, but Crane later declined the post, though she didn’t publicly state her reason for doing so. The board spot remains vacant.

 

ABORTION LAW PASSED IN SPECIAL SESSION TAKES EFFECT

A new state law imposing tighter restrictions on abortion took effect as scheduled Oct. 24 after a Jackson County judge declined to issue an injunction blocking portions of the measure. The Republican-controlled General Assembly enacted the bill in July following a six-week special legislative session Gov. Eric Greitens called just to pass that one bill.

Senate Bill 5 imposes various new regulations on abortion clinics that aren’t required of other surgical facilities. It also grants the attorney general original jurisdiction to prosecute alleged violations of state abortion laws and invalidates a St. Louis City ordinance prohibiting employers or landlords from discriminating against women who are pregnant, use contraception or have had an abortion.

Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union had filed a lawsuit challenging a provision of SB 5 requiring that only the doctor who will perform an abortion can be the person to provide certain state-mandated information concerning the procedure at least 72 hours before it is performed. Under previous Missouri law, a nurse, counselor or other medical professional was allowed to provide the information.

The lawsuit argued the requirement imposes an unnecessary burden that doctors might not be able to realistically meet, thus delaying abortions for weeks. In denying an injunction, however, Jackson County Circuit Judge S. Margene Burnett said the requirement didn’t appear to impose an unconstitutional “undue burden” on abortion rights.

 

GOVERNOR APPOINTS GOP LAWMAKER TO JUDGESHIP

Gov. Eric Greitens on Oct. 19 appointed state Rep. Joe Don McGaugh, R-Carrollton, as a Carroll County associate circuit judge. McGaugh replaces Judge Kevin Walden, whom Greitens earlier had promoted to a full circuit judgeship.

McGaugh, whose legislative district covers Carroll County and most of Chariton and Ray counties, was less than halfway through his third House term. His departure leaves the House with six vacant seats. Two will be filled following special elections on Nov. 7. Special elections to fill three of the other vacancies already are scheduled for Feb. 6, and the governor is expected to call the special to replace McGaugh for that date.