One of the Missouri Legislature’s budget leaders wants to make a major procedural change to the budget, in light of news that the state has paid millions of dollars to settle lawsuits.

Scott Fitzpatrick file photo from 2015 (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The House Budget Committee will want answers from Missouri Department of Corrections’ officials, according to incoming Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob. A scathing investigative report in the Kansas City “Pitch” says the state paid more than $7 million during the past four years, to settle lawsuits brought by Missouri Corrections employees who claim they were victims of harassment and retaliation.

“One of the things like I told you that we’re going to do in the Budget Committee is remove the estimated, the “e”, off the end of the appropriation, the Legal Expense Fund, so that we have better oversight,” says Fitzpatrick.

The “e” stands for estimate in the appropriations of the state’s Legal Expense Fund. The account is used to make payments that stem from lawsuits against the state.

Chairman Fitzpatrick says his committee will take whatever measures it can to ensure that the Department changes its culture, following the “Pitch” investigation.

“From what I read in the “Pitch” article, what’s happening and has happened over the last several years in the Department of Corrections is awful,” Fitzpatrick says. “I mean it’s absolutely unacceptable.”

Fitzpatrick plans to call Department officials to testify in January.

“Come January when we go back into session, one of the first orders of business for my Committee will be to sit down and talk with the Department of Corrections and start demanding answers on how it got this way and what their plan is to correct it,” Fitzpatrick says.

Fitzpatrick supports the decision of House Speaker Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) to call for an investigation into the Department. House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty (D-Kansas City) also supports Richardson’s call, and wants a special legislative investigative committee to be granted subpoena authority to compel witness testimony.

The 2017 Missouri legislative session begins January 4.