GROUP OUTLINES POSSIBLE MUNICIPAL COURT REFORMS
A working group appointed earlier this year by the Missouri Supreme Court to recommend reforms to state’s municipal courts on Sept. 1 issued a preliminary outline of dozen suggested areas of concern. The nine-member working group, which includes two former Supreme Court chief justices, is to issue a final report by Dec. 1 recommending changes aimed at ensuring municipal courts operate fairly and openly and protect the constitutional rights of defendants.
Issues the group focused on include addressing conflicts of interests that currently are common among many municipal court judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys; consolidating municipal courts in some regions; eliminating financial incentives for using municipal courts and law enforcement to generate revenue for city governments; and ensuring public access to court proceedings and records.
In the coming weeks, the group plans to hold hearings in Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield to solicit public input on possible municipal court reforms. The dates and locations of those hearing haven’t yet been set.
ETHICS COMMISSION SAYS LOBBYIST DINNER BROKE LAW
The Missouri Ethics Commission on Aug. 27 ruled that seven lobbyists violated the law last year when they treated five Republican state lawmakers to a dinner at an upscale Dallas, Texas, steakhouse and reported the meal as an expense for the entire 197-member Missouri General Assembly instead of the individual lawmakers. However, the commission issued no punishment against the lobbyists, finding they acted in good faith when they erroneously reported the expense and have since corrected the expenditure reports they filed with the commission.
Under the state’s ethics laws, lobbyists must report the cost of meals or gifts bought for lawmakers. While expenditures on behalf of individual lawmakers show up on the lawmakers’ reports, those made on behalf on the entire General Assembly, the full House or Senate, or legislative committees do not. The practice has been criticized as allowing lawmakers to benefit from lobbyist largesse while claiming they don’t since the expenses don’t show up on their individual reports.
The expense at issue came while some Republican lawmakers were attending the 2014 annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a front group for various conservative and corporate special interests. Fifteen lobbyists split the $5,687 cost of the meal for five Republican lawmakers, two legislative spouses and other attendees. Eight of those lobbyists correctly reported the expense against the individual lawmakers.
NET REVENUE COLLECTIONS UP 5 PERCENT SO FAR IN FY 2016
Net state general revenue collections during the first two months of the 2016 fiscal year increased 5 percent compared to the same period in FY 2015, going from $1.2 billion last year to $1.26 billion this year. Net general revenue collections for August 2015 increased 9.6 percent compared to August 2014, going from $685.4 million to $751.3 million.