December 20, 2014

Missouri House Republicans offer ethics legislation

How House Republicans propose reforming ethics practices for the state’s elected officials has been laid out in a series of bills.

Representative Caleb Rowden (R-Columbia) carried the e-cigarettes bill in the House.  (photo courtesy; TIm Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Caleb Rowden (R-Columbia) (photo courtesy; TIm Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Caleb Rowden said he’s talked with leadership in his chamber and in the Senate about the priorities in ethics reform. He has filed one bill with several provisions in it, HB 188.

One would try to jam what is known in the Capitol as the “revolving door.”

“We plan to implement a one-year cooling off period for legislators before they can become lobbyists, providing time to negate any potential undue influence carried over from one side to the other,” said Rowden.

The bill will also seek to make statewide offices more accountable. Ads including public officials’ images or voices must disclose whether taxpayer dollars have been used to buy air time.

“We have seen a significant increase in statewide officials using their capacity to boost their profile for a potential reelection campaign,” said Rowden. “While we certainly do not want to inhibit the ability of these individuals to do their jobs well, we do believe it’s important for there to be accountability and transparency in how these spots are being financed.”

The bill also includes language dealing with so-called “dark money;” donations made through social welfare groups so that the original donor of the money is not identified. It would require more reporting by organizations that spend more than a quarter of their budgets on political activity.

“The idea is to separate those 501(c)(4)s that are formed specifically to give large amounts of money to candidates or initiatives … to separate them from, for instances, the American Cancer Society, or someone like that, who has certain political interests but certainly wouldn’t be perceived as someone who is trying to abuse the system.”

HB 188 would also bar lawmakers from accepting lobbyist gifts; something Rowden said he has already committed to doing.

Rowden and Jefferson City representative Jay Barnes have also filed a series of bills dealing with ethics issues individually.

Outside of legislation, Rowden said the House also plans to make changes related to ethics when it votes on the rules by which it will operate for the next two years. Those will include the elimination of “issue development committees,” and requiring additional approval for committees to have dinners outside of the Capitol.


Gov Nixon: tolls on I-70 should be part of transportation discussion

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon won’t say he’s preparing to call for toll roads to fund an update of I-70, but he thinks it should be discussed.

Governor Jay Nixon (D) addresses higher education leaders at a meeting on the Governor's Public Agenda for Higher Education.

Governor Jay Nixon (D)

The Transportation Department has told Governor Nixon it will give him the report he’s asked for, on the options for paying for the repair and expansion of I-70 with tolls.

Nixon said Missouri voters have weighed in on the other ideas that are most often aired.

“The people of our state … over the last decade have said, ‘No,’ to a gas tax increase and have said, ‘No,’ to a sales tax increase,” Nixon said in a one-on-one interview with Missourinet.

Nixon said because of the importance of transportation to Missouri, a funding solution needs to be found. “Just because we have not come up with the right method doesn’t mean we don’t have the responsibility.”

Nixon said it’s time to talk about tolls.

“I look forward to working with the legislature to come to some long-term decisions about how best, and I think this is one that potentially is … a significant part of that discussion.”

The Department is expected to get a report to the governor by the end of the month. In asking for that report, Nixon suggested using tolls to pay for work on I-70 could free up resources currently used on that interstate for road and bridge projects throughout the state.

The legislature last looked at the issue in 2012 when a bill proposing tolls didn’t get past a legislative committee hearing.

Earlier stories:

Missouri governor wants fresh look at tolls to pay for I-70

Legislative leaders express doubts about tolls on I-70

Missouri legislative committee to investigate state response in Ferguson (VIDEOS)

A state House-Senate oversight committee has met for the first time as it prepares to investigate the Nixon Administration’s response to unrest in Ferguson, particularly on the night that the decision of a grand jury not to indict the officer that fatally shot Michael Brown, Junior, was announced.

Senator Kurt Schaefer (left) has been voted the chairman of the Joint Committee on Governmental Accountability, which Senator Eric Schmitt is also a member of.

Senator Kurt Schaefer (left) has been voted the chairman of the Joint Committee on Governmental Accountability, which Senator Eric Schmitt is also a member of.

St. Louis County senator Eric Schmitt (R) says he and other elected officials from that region want answers.

“After a state of emergency was called for and the National Guard was in St. Louis, and the National Guard was in Clayton, and the National Guard was downtown, why the National Guard was not in Ferguson when one of our communities was burning,” Schmitt said.

St. Louis City senator Jamilah Nasheed (D) was stronger in her criticism.

“A majority black district burned under a state of emergency,” said Nasheed. “They protected Clayton, they protected the airport, they protected all of those areas, but when the black community needed them the most the Democratic governor wasn’t there.”

Columbia senator Kurt Schaefer (R) was elected the chair of committee. He says it has all the powers of a circuit court, and with those powers he said it is prepared to subpoena Governor Jay Nixon (D) if it feels that would be necessary.

“I think we have a ways to go before we get to that point but I think the committee is very dedicated to make sure that anyone who has information relevant to the inquiry comes before the committee,” Schaefer said.

Nasheed says the state’s plan for the night the grand jury decision was announced failed, and calls that “misconduct.”

“This thing may be bigger than you [reporters] can even [fathom]. Once we start subpeonaing records and looking at the cross-communication and the cross-dialog … because what I heard coming from the mayor in Ferguson is that this could be semi-criminal.”

When asked what actions might be taken against Nixon or anyone else based on the committee’s findings, Schaefer told reportsers, “We have all legislative action available to hold anyone accountable.”

Asked specifically if that would include an attempt to impeach the governor, Schaefer said it would be premtaure to predict an outcome.


(link to video) Senator Eric Schmitt discusses what issues the committee will investigate (courtesy; Missouri Senate Communications)

(below) Senator Jamilah Nasheed says she’s heard things from Ferguson’s mayor that she thinks are “semi-criminal.”

Missouri Gov. Nixon discusses ‘difficult’ months since Michael Brown shooting (AUDIO)

Governor Jay Nixon says the past four months have been “difficult,” when asked about how he, personally, has dealt with the criticism he’s faced for his handling of issues in Ferguson.

Governor Jay Nixon on the day he announced he would name the "Ferguson Commission," to study events in Ferguson and make recommendations for progressing on those issues.  (courtesy; the office of Gov. Jay Nixon)

Governor Jay Nixon on the day he announced he would name the “Ferguson Commission,” to study events in Ferguson and make recommendations for progressing on those issues. (courtesy; the office of Gov. Jay Nixon)

Nixon sat down for a one-on-one interview with Missourinet’s Mike Lear.

“It’s been very easy for folks who want to be critical here to have a pretty big microphone,” said Nixon. “That same level of energy has not been spent on solutions or progress.”

Nixon has told reporters many times in his six years as governor that he doesn’t like to look in the past, but he says that doesn’t mean he is not “introspective” about challenges he or the state has faced.

“This has been a very long protest that we need to translate into some progress,” Nixon said of the response to the shooting of Michael Brown, Junior August 9 and the events since, “Otherwise it will go down in the history books as just a very long protest, and that comes from both sides. All sides.”

He said many things have happened in the past four months that have sparked anger that have been out of his control.

“I didn’t say that the body should be left in the street for four and a half hours,” Nixon said, referring to the handling of Brown’s body after the shooting.

Nixon said once the Highway Patrol responded to Ferguson, “we had a really good first night. I thought that community policing attitude shifted the tone … but I think then that the release of the name and the tape without direct communication there, I think, flared things up once again,”

In talking out of things out of his control, Nixon also referred to the video of Michael Brown’s stepfather, taken shortly after the grand jury decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson was announced, shouting to protesters to, “burn this bitch down.”

“The fact that the ultimate announcement of the grand jury decision was late at night and that some members of the family were far more strident that night than they had been to that point. The family had been, clearly, pleading for peace,” said Nixon.

Nixon stands by the plan the state had in place for the night that announcement was made, calling it “solid.”

“The unified command with those law enforcement officers out there in the front. The National Guard with 700 members guarding static locations. The Guard in reserve if necessary,” said Nixon. “The fact that we have not lost a life or had a serious injury on either side since August 9 shows a stunning level of discipline by law enforcement, the Highway Patrol and the National Guard, and I’m very proud of their work.”

A state of emergency remains in place in Missouri as part of the executive order Nixon issued November 17 putting that plan in place. In that order he wrote, “regardless of the outcomes of the federal and state criminal investigations, there is the possibility of expanded unrest.”

Asked whether he is concerned, now, about additional violence when the federal investigations’ findings are released, Nixon said, “I think a lot of the energy was focused initially on the state investigation and the grand jury. While we have continued to see protests and challenges, they certainly have not been to the same degree that they were around that time, but certainly we’re watching very closely.”

That executive order is set to expire next week unless extended by the governor.

AUDIO:  Mike Lear’s one-on-one interview with Governor Nixon, 18:16


Missouri Governor wants fresh look at tolls to pay for I-70

Governor Nixon wants the state’s highway commission to take a fresh look at using tolls to repair and widen I-70.

Jay Nixon addresses the media ahead of the Michael Brown grand jury announcement.

Governor Jay Nixon

The Governor sent a letter to the state’s Highway Commission and legislative leaders asking that the commission prepare a report before the year’s end on options for using tolls to improve and expand I-70, which in Missouri runs between St. Louis and Kansas City.

Nixon calls the interstate one of Missouri most pressing infrastructure needs, with its youngest sections nearly 50 years old and designed for road standards and traffic volumes of an earlier day.

He says using tolls to pay for work on I-70 could free up resources currently used on that highway for road and bridge projects throughout the state.

The Department raised the idea of tolls three years ago but it didn’t catch on in the state legislature. Repair and widening of I-70 would have been paid for as part of a proposed sales tax increase to pay for transportation that was rejected by voters in August.

Read the governor’s letter here.