November 26, 2014

Nixon, legislators in familiar postures (AUDIO)

The next round of state law-making doesn’t start for about two months. But relations between the Governor and the legislature are already rocky.

Republicans regularly claim Governor Nixon is not engaged in the lawmaking process, that he vetoes bills that he might have signed if he had been more interactive with the legislature.   The Democratic Governor points to several bipartisan successes during his first six legislative sessions. “Whether strengthening our mental health industry or  revitalizing our automotive industry or building a new Fulton, we’ve worked across the aisle to get things done,” Nixon says.

But Senate leader Tom Dempsey says the facts prove otherwise, and he has personal experience., noting, “I’ve sponsored legislation for the governor based on his State of the State where he has backed off his support during the process.”

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(Senators Schmitt, Kehoe, Wasson, Dempsey, Munzlinger, Richard)

He says Nixon and his Department of Public Safety didn’t communicate with the sponsor of the Criminal Code revision this year, which was handled by Democratic Senator Jolie Justus. Instead, says Dempsey,  the Nixon administration sent messages to outside organizations to influence policies set in the new criminal laws.

Senator Mike Kehoe of Kansas City is critical of Nixon for soliciting his support for a state office project this year and asking him to lead the legislative effort to approve the plan.  The legislature approved the bill, but Kehoe complains Nixon then vetoed the bill “without a phone call to anybody.”

Nixon says he looks forward to working with the legislature.

AUDIO: Nixon, Dempsey, Kehoe 2:22

 

 

Committee will study Missouri Attorney General’s office

The outgoing House Speaker is anticipated to announce a committee in response to a New York Times article that tied Missouri’s Attorney General to donations from a company he had halted an investigation of.

Tim Jones' appointment of a committee to look into transparency in the Attorney General's Office would be one of his last actions as Speaker before being forced out of the House at the end of this year by term limits.  (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Tim Jones’ appointment of a committee to look into transparency in the Attorney General’s Office would be one of his last actions as Speaker before being forced out of the House at the end of this year by term limits. (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The article published two weeks ago by the New York Times says Attorney General Chris Koster (D) stopped an investigation into the maker of 5-hour energy drinks after being approached by a company lobbyist. It says that lobbyist’s firm donated money to Koster, and alleged other connections between Koster and potential subjects of investigations.

House Speaker Tim Jones (R-Eureka) says he wants a committee to determine if the Attorney General’s office needs more accountability.

“I’m not necessarily saying right now that Attorney General Koster did anything wrong or not,” says Jones. “I think there’s some things to be very concerned about,” says Jones.

Jones says he would welcome Koster’s assistance with that committee.

“If he thinks that he has done absolutely no wrong, but maybe there’s some appearances of impropriety that he would think could be corrected for future attorneys general so that they don’t fall into the same traps that he did, I’m going to welcome that discussion,” says Jones.

Jones says there is a difference between when legislators receive donations from those impacted by legislation they work with, and when the Attorney General receives money from those who are or could be investigated by that office.

“The huge difference that exists is with the legislative process everything is open and transparent to the public,” says Jones. He says the Attorney General’s Office is, “not transparent at all … and so when you have these thing happen like what the New York Times Article describes and then you have a massive, massive campaign contribution that makes pretty much any contributions that hit the General Assembly pale in comparison, it causes questions to be asked, validly, and it hints at least the appearance of improprieties.”

Missouri lawmakers consider using new budget powers (VIDEO)

Legislative Republicans say they might use their new power to release money the governor is holding back sooner than later. Governor Jay Nixon’s budget chief says they’ll have to wait.

House Speaker-designee John Diehl, Junior (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Speaker-designee John Diehl, Junior (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“Probably in January, my guess would be, we’re going to get a tryout of Amendment 10 fairly early,” House Speaker-Designate John Diehl, Junior tells reporters.

Diehl is referring to the amendment passed by voters Tuesday that allows the state legislature to vote to override a governor’s decision to withhold money in the budget in the same way it does a veto. Nixon is still restricting more than $503-million in General Revenue, and Diehl says lawmakers might try to release some of that.

“There’s still, as I understand, hundreds of millions of dollars of withholds yet the governor is attempting to prepare a fairly significant supplemental budget,” says Diehl. “How do you have a supplemental budget saying there’s additional moneys to appropriate while you’re withholding money saying the money’s not there?”

State Budget Director Linda Luebbering says there isn’t necessarily a way to connect withholding money on one hand while asking on the other for more to be appropriated in a supplemental budget. She says funding requested in a supplemental budget could be for programs considered more important or more imperative than the items for which money is being withheld.

“For example one we typically have in the supplemental process is if mental health needs more funding for overtime for their staff. That’s a perennial supplemental,” says Luebbering. “They have to pay the staff that money and they have to have those staff because they’re working in 24-hour institutions. We can’t tell those people not to show up.”

Luebbering says the governor had to withhold money in the budget because it was based on a projected growth in state revenue of 11-percent, and the state is only projected to experience a growth of 5.2-percent, causing him to have to withhold money.

Further, she doesn’t believe the legislature can use its new Amendment 10 powers on withholds that have already been made.

“The Amendment is not backward-looking. The attorneys, I’m sure, will probably argue about that, but when new law goes into effect it’s forward-looking,” says Luebbering. “If the governor took new actions after that amendment goes into effect which is 30 days after voters approved it, then those new actions would be eligible for the new process. Actions he’s already taken are not.”

Republicans have said they are still reviewing the state’s budgetary situation and whether they could use the Amendment 10 process on withholds already in place.

Diehl and other legislators on both sides of the aisle have accused Nixon of using withholds to try to force the legislature to act in a way he wants it to on specific pieces of legislation or vetoes. Diehl says the vote on Tuesday shows Missourians agree with that criticism.

When they do have that ability, Diehl says it will be used responsibly.

“If there’s a withhold because it clearly needs to be withheld, we’re going to respect that, but if it’s something that’s just being used for blackmail or leverage in other political situations, I don’t think we’ll hesitate to use the constitutional powers that the voters gave us,” says Diehl.

Video:  Speaker-designee Diehl thinks voters sent Gov. Nixon a (courtesy; Missouri House Communications)

Missouri Senate picks leaders, lists priorities (AUDIO)

Republican and Democratic legislative leaders have started outlining priorities for a legislative session where one party will have enough strength to pass its agenda without help from the other side.
Senator Tom Dempsey (R-St. Charles)

Senator Tom Dempsey (R-St. Charles)

St. Charles Senator Tom Dempsey remains the leader of the Senate. His top priority is passage of the agriculture bill vetoed last year by the Governor, but without the captive cervid language that killed the issue last year.

After that, he says, “We’re going to continue to work on those policies that are going to spur growth in our economy and get people working.” He also lists “continued commitment to education achievement through funding and through policy” as a high priority.  He’s also sure there will be issues related to Ferguson, too.

Dempsey has 25 members of his caucus. The nine Democrats have picked St. Louis Senator Joseph Keveany as their floor leader.

He agrees that economic development and job creation should be a priority.  And he thinks Democrats can be significant players although outnumbered more than two-to-one.  “Sometimes we may not be able to pass a whole lot but we can stop things, ” he says, “So I like to think that we can stimulate intelligent discussion and try to move things in the right direction.”
Senator Joe Keaveny (D-St. Louis)

Senator Joe Keaveny (D-St. Louis)

Republicans, however, have shown they can act without needing Democratic votes.  GOP Senators passed a motion during the veto session that cut off a Democratic filibuster on the 72-hour abortion waiting period bill, allowing an override vote on party lines.

Pre-filing of bills for the 2015 session starts in 24 days. The session begins January 7th.

AUDIO: Senate news conference 24:00

AUDIO: Keveany interview 15:49

Amendment Ten worries Missouri Governor Nixon (AUDIO)

Governor Nixon is reviewing the implications of an amendment approved this week that he thinks limits his power to keep the state budget in balance.

Governor Jay Nixon announces he will make cuts and layoffs in the Department of Motor Vehicles if the legislature carries through with a proposal to provide only eight months' worth of funding to that Department.

Governor Jay Nixon.

Nixon and the Republican-dominated legislature have butted heads repeatedly about Nixon’s practice of withholding funding from projects and programs after lawmakers approve a state budget. Nixon says it’s his job to keep the state from deficit spending throughout a fiscal year.  Amendment Ten, approved by 57% of the voters earlier this week, lets the legislature override his decisions to withhold.

Nixon says the present situation illustrates the challenge the legislature has created for itself and for him–a budget that requires state revenue to grow twice as fast as it is growing. “You can’t spend money we don’t have,” he says.

Lawmakers say they have been forced to put the amendment before voters because Nixon has played politics by withholding funds.   Some Republicans already are talking of overriding some withholds when the new legislative session begins in January.   Nixon says he’ll just do the best he can to keep the budget in balance.

AUDIO: Nixon press conference 15:00