There will be no special session of the Missouri General Assembly related to the cost of responding to unrest in Ferguson.
Governor Jay Nixon (D) today announced he agrees with the state legislature that there is no need to call lawmakers back to the Capitol early to approve more money for the National Guard and Highway Patrol. He said the legislature is right in what he calls an “alternative interpretation” of a statute that will allow him to use a fund that still has $12.5-million in it.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) told Missourinet he believed there was more money in the budget the Nixon Administration could use, and had told the governor that during a conference call between Nixon and legislative leaders on Friday.
In regard to the fund in question, Schaefer says, “the response at that time was they didn’t believe they could use that line for this emergency response. You’d have to ask them where that interpretation comes from because that’s actually what that money is there for.”
In a statement today, Nixon’s office says the language regarding how money in that line can be used, “has been traditionally interpreted as limited to the use of matching grants and exclusively for the expenses of the State Emergency Management Agency. Costs resulting from civil unrest are not eligible for federal reimbursement under a federal disaster declaration.”
Schaefer told Missourinet he’s, “a little puzzled,” by the reversal and the reasoning given for it.
“There’s nothing novel about the interpretation for those lines, for him to have the authority to spend this for an emergency response,” said Schaefer.
The Governor’s statement also references the joint statement released Monday morning by House and Senate Republican Majority leadership that in part indicated they agree with Schaefer’s interpretation. The crux of that statement is that those leaders want the House-Senate Committee on Government Accountability to hold hearings investigating the Nixon Administration’s response to unrest in Ferguson.
House Speaker-Designate John Diehl (R-Town and Country) says that leadership still wants those hearings.
“Part of our job is to oversee and to hold administration accountable on how money is spent,” Diehl said. “It’s also our job to oversee how state resources are being utilized and how state taxpayer money is being used. I know sometimes it’s difficult to answer questions. It’s only politicized if you choose not to answer the questions or to try to hide what the truth is.”
Diehl says there are still some questions that those Republican leaders have.
He says the Nixon administration, “could still not provide to us any information regarding how money has been spent out of those line items up to this point and could not give us any details as to what they would need to spend money on in the future.”
Aside from monetary issues, Diehl says legislators want to explore what he called the “overwhelmingly negative response,” they are hearing from law enforcement, first responders and citizens about the state’s response a week ago after the grand jury announced it had decided not to indict Darren Wilson for the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.
“It’s somewhat unthinkable that the state would believe that the situation which occurred in Ferguson and unfurled in Ferguson on Monday night was unanticipated,” said Diehl. “We think it was very much-anticipated. That being so, why did the state not respond and help protect businesses and lives in that area?”
Nixon has defended how the state responded Monday night and how it utilized the National Guard that night. He told reporters Tuesday the Guard was, “part of the unified command,” with St. Louis County Police, St. Louis Metropolitan Police and the Highway Patrol.
He says the Guard was, “providing services all throughout the area so that officials would be freed up to be part of that command.”
Diehl did not know when those hearings might begin, except to say that they would be “sooner rather than later.”