October 23, 2014

Budget director: will work with lawmakers on how association dues are paid

The state’s budget director tells House Republicans the Nixon Administration’s budget office is willing to work with legislative budget makers to change how the state pays dues to organizations its agencies and elected officials belong to.

Republicans called attention this week to the paying of dues to the National Governors Association out of the budget for the Department of Social Services’ administration. For three years that added up to more than $390,000 dollars.

See earlier story

Budget committee members including Representative Caleb Rowden (R-Columbia) feel they appropriated money to be used by that agency, not to pay organization dues.

“We feel like we’ve been duped, I think it what it really boils down to, intentional or not,” Rowden told State Budget Director Linda Luebbering. “It’s absolutely and unequivocally wrong, and there’s no other way to put it.”

Luebbering told the committee she doesn’t have the authority to commit to changing how dues are paid, but said she would talk with others in the Nixon Administration and future legislative budget makers about the issue.

“I have committed that we are willing to work with the House and Senate to see if we can’t come to agreement on how to do this differently in the future.”

Republicans say the appearance is that the paying of the Governors Association dues was being hidden, but Luebbering says that was not the intention.

“There are dues paid in a lot of different places in appropriations. They don’t have specific line items. This is not any different from the other ones,” Luebbering told lawmakers. “Clearly we felt it was appropriate, clearly previous administrations have paid it from various places as well.”

Luebbering notes other expenses such as food are also covered out of administrative appropriations that don’t have specific line items.  She says the expenditures can be found on the Missouri Accountability Portal.

“We think it is just as transparent as any other dues that are paid in state government,” says Luebbering.

Representative Chris Kelly (D-Columbia) disagrees, and calls the expenditures, “clearly not transparent, extremely opaque.”

Representative Robert Ross (R-Yukon) says “incredible” is that the Governors Association dues were paid out of the Social Services budget in September of 2013, three months into the fiscal year’s budget.

“If that’s the case, clearly we have been over appropriating to Children’s Division, Social Services, the whole gamut, if they already know at that point that they have extra money and can say, ‘Hey, let’s pay the Governors Dues on this.'”

Kelly says the only way such expenditures will stop is if future budget committees do a more extensive job of going over the state budget.

“I think we are not doing as good a job managing the budget as Jeremiah Nixon is at spending the money,” says Kelly. “We’ve seen example after example of example of that brilliance, about how he finds ways to spend the money in ways that we don’t authorize.”

Kelly suggested twice the amount spent on dues be removed from the governor’s budget for Fiscal Year 2016.

House Speaker Tim Jones (R-Eureka) in his comments Friday on the end of the regular session of the General Assembly hinted that work to review such expenditures will continue during the legislative interim.

Lawmakers: Nixon’s office indicates special session coming on transfer bill

House members who oppose the transfer legislation that has been sent to Governor Jay Nixon (D) say his office has indicated to them that he will call a special session for a new bill to be created.

Representative Tommie Pierson (at podium) is joined by Representative Clem Smith (left) and other House Democrats who oppose the proposed transfer legislation.

Representative Tommie Pierson (at podium) is joined by Representative Clem Smith (left) and other House Democrats who oppose the proposed transfer legislation.

The Chairman of the legislative black caucus, Representative Tommie Pierson (D-St. Louis City), urges Nixon to veto the bill that has been passed as soon as he receives it. 

“Hopefully we can come closer to solving the problem if not solve the problem during a special session,” says Pierson.

Representative Velda Village Hills (D-Clem Smith) says the bill does nothing to help schools in danger of going bankrupt and shouldn’t be called a transfer bill. He says it is really about pushing school vouchers, and does so in largely black school districts.

He blames leadership in the House for pushing that issue and says a special session will reveal their motives.

“Is this truly about the education of these children in these districts? If the majority party fails to do something in [the special session], that answers the question right now,” says Smith.

Representative Chris Kelly (D-Columbia) says just because the same lawmakers would likely be dealing with the issue again does not mean a different result can not be expected.

“Nixon vetoes it … the voucher people will know they can’t get their stuff unless they compromise,” says Kelly. “The compromise is fixing the problem in Normandy, not using the problem in Normandy as a screen behind which to hide vouchers.”

A request for comment from Governor Nixon’s office is pending at the time this article is being published.

Criminal Code rewrite backers urge Gov. Nixon to sign it into law

Representative Chris Kelly (D-Columbia), standing among fellow lawmakers and others who worked on the first rewrite of the state’s criminal code in more than 30 years, expressed his frustration Tuesday morning.

Chris Kelly (at podium) and other lawmakers and organizations' representatives urge Governor Jay Nixon to sign criminal code legislation.

Chris Kelly (at podium) and other lawmakers and organizations’ representatives urge Governor Jay Nixon to sign criminal code legislation.

“We have literally begged the State of Missouri to evaluate our work with a fine-toothed comb, and we still hope for that kind of evaluation,” says Kelly.

Kelly and other lawmakers want Governor Jay Nixon (D) to sign the criminal code legislation, SB 491. They say his signature would set into motion a review process that would continue until the bill would take effect January 1, 2017.

Nixon has cited concerns about the bill being too large and thereby leaving too much room for error. He has said he wants the bill to be broken into pieces that can be handled separately.

Senator Jolie Justus (D-Kansas City) says that is the only message the legislature has received from the Governor, but says she learned on Thursday of last week that the Nixon Administration’s Department of Public Safety sent a fax to an outside party, expressing concerns with the criminal code.

“If these were real concerns they would have sent it to us,” says Justus.

Asked whether Nixon’s motivations are political, Justus says that is a good question to ask him. She says she hasn’t heard from his office since the legislation was passed last week.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving on Monday sent Nixon a letter saying the bill could make evidence difficult to admit in cases of driving while intoxicated. Kelly says that letter stems from a memo from the Department of Public Safety.

“They are consistent with political rather than professional communication,” says Kelly, “but I don’t have any specific evidentiary reason to believe that the governor is the starting point for that political as distinct from evidentiary communication.”

Justus expressed her frustration during budget debate in the Senate by proposing an amendment to add $150 for the Department of Public Safety for the purchase of a fax machine so it can better communicate with the legislature.

See our earlier story on the criminal code bill’s passage

Missouri legislature passes proposed rewrite of criminal code

The state legislature has sent to Governor Jay Nixon (D) a roughly 600-page proposal to update Missouri’s criminal code. The proposal was passed out of both chambers Thursday with wide majorities favoring it.

Representative Stanley Cox prepares for debate before final passage of the roughly 600-page criminal code bill, on his desk.  (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Stanley Cox prepares for debate before final passage of the roughly 600-page criminal code bill, on his desk. (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The bill, whose development began five years ago with a subcommittee put together by the Missouri Bar, could face a challenge with Nixon. He has said the proposal is too big, creating too much room for error in Missouri’s system of criminal laws and punishments. He wanted it broken into smaller sections to be considered individually.

That idea was dismissed by some who have worked on the plan for years, including Representative Chris Kelly (D-Columbia).  He and other backers of the bill say there are multiple opportunities for review even after it is enacted, including by the Missouri Supreme Court’s Standing Committee on Criminal Procedure.  The effective date of the legislation was also pushed back to January 1, 2017 to allow further time for review.

“As much as I can see,” Kelly told the bill’s House sponsor, Stanley Cox (R-Sedalia), “this is delay for delay’s sake rather than for any policy reason.”

A fellow Columbia lawmaker and attorney, Senator Kurt Schaefer (R), agrees with Nixon.

“Public safety is the most important thing the State of Missouri does,” says Schaefer, “and the impact on victims and victims’ families if something does not go right is terrible.”

“I can tell you as a prosecutor who has personally dealt with changes in statute in the field when you’re prosecuting a case,” says Schaefer, “a lot of times you don’t know what those things are until you are presented with a fact pattern that nobody thought of and suddenly that statute has to apply to it and then you find something that may have been an unintended consequence.”

Schaefer says he would like to have seen the code addressed chapter-by-chapter.  He voted against the bill in the Senate.

Cox and Senator Jolie Justus (D-Kansas City), the sponsors of the bill in their respective chambers, both told Missourinet previously that they believe they could overturn a veto of the bill if that’s what Nixon decides to do. It cleared both chambers Thursday with margins that could overturn a veto if no large number of lawmakers switches sides.

Senator Bob Dixon (R-Springfield) hopes the strong votes send a strong enough message that a veto override attempt won’t need to be made.

“It reflects the diligence with which everyone working on this bill, from staff all the way to agencies that answered questions for us, worked on it,” says Dixon.  “It was probably the most fully vetted bill that’s ever gone through the General Assembly.”

See the House vote on the criminal code bill

See how thirteen of the people who worked on the criminal code bill were honored

Criminal code crafters honored with superhero artwork

Some of the lawmakers and others who worked on the proposed update of the criminal code sent to Governor Jay Nixon (D) Thursday have been honored in a piece of art to mark its passage out of the legislature.

CCAvengers

The poster depicts superhero charicatures of 13 people who worked on the proposed revision of Missouri’s criminal code, sent Thursday to Governor Nixon.

The poster features Senators Jolie Justus and Bob Dixon, Representatives Stanley Cox and Chris Kelly, Eric Jennings who works in Senator Dixon’s office, Executive Director of the Missouri Office of Prosecution Services Jason Lamb, Deputy Director of Missouri Kids First Emily Van Schenkhof, Chief Executive Officer with the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence Colleen Coble, lobbyists for the Missouri Bar Woody Cozad and Catherine Barrie, lobbyist for the Missouri Supreme Court Betsy Aubuchon, and lobbyist Ward Cook.

Missouri Bar legislative counsel Eric Wilson, who is also featured on the poster, asked his friend Ronald Barba draw the poster.

See our story on passage of the criminal code bill and on the last round of changes