Legislation aimed at providing transparency for the State’s Legal Expense Fund was unanimously approved by a Missouri House committee in Jefferson City on Wednesday.
Missouri’s Legal Expense Fund is used to make payments that stem from lawsuits against the state.
The “Kansas City Pitch” broke the November story that the state paid more than $7 million during the past four years, to settle lawsuits brought by Corrections employees who claim they were victims of harassment and retaliation.
State Rep. Paul Fitzwater (R-Potosi) chairs the Missouri House Corrections and Public Institutions Committee.
“As you know, in the past we have paid out millions of dollars, millions of dollars, in lawsuits and checks have been written to people that we (state lawmakers) didn’t even know about,” Fitzwater told the House Rules Committee.
The Potosi Republican testifies he was “flabbergasted” when he read the scathing November “Pitch” investigation.
“Again, almost $8 million, $7 point something million has been paid to people, and my understanding is they were paid and the deal was they couldn’t say anything about it,” says Fitzwater.
State Rep. Cloria Brown (R-St. Louis County) told the committee on Wednesday that former Attorney General Chris Koster (D) should have been posting the payouts on the State Accountability Portal website.
Fitzwater’s bill requires new Attorney General Josh Hawley (R) to submit a monthly report to legislative leaders starting in September, detailing all activity concerning lawsuits filed against the Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC).
The bill also requires details about any payments from or deposits to the fund, involving the DOC.
The House Rules Committee voted 12-0 to approve Fitzwater’s bill on Wednesday.
The bill now heads to the full House.
Rep. Fitzwater, whose sprawling southeast Missouri district includes the maximum-security Potosi Correctional Center in Mineral Point, says his aim is transparency and accountability.
Fitzwater also told committee members that Mr. Hawley’s office supports the bill.
Daniel Hartman, Special Counsel at the Attorney General’s office, testified before the Rules committee, for informational purposes.
Hartman says Hawley’s office supports efforts to increase transparency. Hartman also says AG Hawley’s office will issue its first State Legal Expense Fund report to legislative leaders this month.
“The first reports will be released April 30 and will go back to January, February, March and April,” Hartman testifies. “And then every 30 days we will follow on and release the prior months.”
Hartman testifies the reports will involve settled cases and cases where they have judgments, not active litigation. He says the Attorney General’s office doesn’t want to “tip their hand”, with trial strategy.
State Rep. Michael Butler (D-St. Louis) requested that Hawley’s office post the number of active cases in the reports, without details. Hartman tells Rep. Butler he’ll check on that and will get back to him.
Lawmakers in both parties were outraged when they learned about the payouts from the November “Pitch” stories.
House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty (D-Kansas City) has filed a separate bill, which would require the Attorney General to submit a monthly report to lawmakers detailing all activity concerning the fund.
Fitzwater praises Beatty’s bill, calling it a “good bill”. Fitzwater tells Missourinet he hopes Leader Beatty can offer an amendment to his bill on the House floor.