Legislation aimed at transparency regarding the state’s Legal Expense Fund has bipartisan support in the Missouri House.
Missouri House Corrections and Public Institutions Committee Chairman Paul Fitzwater (R-Potosi) and House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty (D-Kansas City) have filed similar but separate bills.
Beatty’s bill would require the Attorney General to submit a monthly report to lawmakers detailing all activity concerning the fund. Fitzwater tells Missourinet his bill specifically involves the Department of Corrections and the fund.
“I think she (Beatty) has a great bill. Hopefully the Speaker (Todd Richardson) is going to allow either both of them to go through or combine them both, because again, we need some accountability and transparency in these departments,” Fitzwater says.
The state’s Legal Expense Fund is used to make payments that stem from lawsuits against the state. The “Kansas City Pitch” reported in November that the state paid more than $7 million during the past four years, to settle lawsuits brought by Corrections employees who claim that were victims of harassment and retaliation.
Fitzwater’s committee met Monday afternoon in the House south gallery to discuss the two measures.
The Missouri House Budget Committee has voted 34-0 for Minority Leader Beatty’s legislation that would require new Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) to submit a monthly report to lawmakers detailing all activity regarding the state’s Legal Expense Fund, including payments from and deposits to the fund. Beatty says she requested and received five years worth of information from Hawley’s office.
“And what I quickly discovered, I thought it was all going to steer towards Corrections, but in reality we found out that it actually was through a number of other departments,” says Beatty.
Beatty filed her version in light of the November news that the state has paid millions of dollars to settle lawsuits.
House Corrections Committee Chair Fitzwater emphasizes that the House investigation into the DOC has been bipartisan.
“We (lawmakers) need to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money, and obviously in the past that hasn’t happened,” Fitzwater says. “There’s been some things that have taken place, and we’re just trying to make sure that those things don’t happen anymore.”
Fitzwater, whose southeast Missouri district includes the maximum-security Potosi Correctional Center in Mineral Point, has filed legislation that would require Attorney General Hawley to submit monthly reports to legislative leaders detailing lawsuits filed against the DOC, as well as any payments from or deposits to the fund. His bill only addresses Corrections.
Meantime, the chairman of a House subcommittee investigating the Missouri DOC praises new Department Director Anne Precythe, describing her as “zero tolerance”. State Rep. Jim Hansen (R-Frankford) chairs the House Subcommittee on Corrections Workforce Environment and Conduct.
“There has to be more training on leadership in the Department of Corrections, when people move from one position to another and start supervising people,” says Hansen. “She’s (Director Precythe) already starting to focus on that. So there’s a lot of issues, it’s gonna take time.”
Hansen’s committee, which will hear more testimony on Thursday morning at the Statehouse in Jefferson City, will make recommendations on policies and procedures.
Two other developments regarding the DOC emerged on Monday.
First, State Rep. Kathie Conway (R-St. Charles) told committee members on Monday that the DOC Inspector General has been moved to another position by Director Precythe. That employee testified in February before a House committee, and some lawmakers complained about a lack of specifics from her.
Also, the House Budget Committee will meet Tuesday morning for “markup” of budget bills. Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) tells Missourinet that he’s taken all e’s out of the budget.
The “e” stands for estimate in the appropriations of the state’s Legal Expense Fund. After the “Pitch” investigation, Chairman Fitzpatrick wanted to remove the “e” off the end of the appropriation, so that lawmakers could have better oversight.