Missouri General Assembly kicks off 2018 legislative session

The part-time legislature will meet from January to May

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri legislature is back in session, ushering in a new year of conflict, compromise and co-operation.

State lawmakers traveled to the capital this week for the start of the second regular session of the 99th Missouri General Assembly. Session officially began Wednesday afternoon.

In the Senate, newly elected Sen. Mike Cierpiot was sworn in by the chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court. The Lee’s Summit Republican takes over from former Sen. Will Kraus in representing the 8th Senatorial District. Kraus, also a Republican, resigned from the Senate when Gov. Eric Greitens appointed him to the Missouri Tax Commission last summer.

Another Kansas City-area Republican, Sen. Ryan Silvey, is also leaving the Senate. On Tuesday, the governor appointed Silvey to the state’s Public Service Commission. A confirmation hearing was held Thursday morning for Kraus and Silvey, with both receiving full Senate confirmation shortly thereafter.

Silvey, though of the same party as the state’s chief executive, was a vocal critic of the governor. As a senator, Silvey was often a thorn in Greitens’ side during last year’s legislative session. As the Kansas City Star reports:

Silvey routinely criticized Greitens’ reliance on so-called dark money — campaign contributions routed through nonprofits to conceal the origin of the money. He was part of a bipartisan group of senators who called for the creation of a special legislative committee to investigate whether the governor engaged in illegal activity during his 2016 campaign as well as during his time as governor.

“We can no longer turn a blind eye to the unprecedented games being played by Gov. Greitens and his political machine,” Silvey said last year. “You can’t ignore possible unethical behavior by the governor or his campaign, just because you share the same party label. Missourians deserve to know what happened and it’s the duty of the Senate to find out.”

During the opening session, the Senate addressed a few housekeeping duties and offered a preview of what’s to come. Republican Sens. Rob Schaaf and Gary Romine vowed to oppose confirmation of five gubernatorial appointments to the State Board of Education — the same members who, in December, voted to fire former Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven. The governor later withdrew his interim appointees, then resubmitted them Wednesday as in-session nominees, giving the Senate more time to act on their confirmation but meanwhile removing them from the board.

On Thursday, Democratic Sen. Jamilah Nasheed brought up the costs of opposing the nominees, saying doing so might have the effect of shutting down the Education Board until May. Without the five appointees, the board lacks a quorum to conduct business. Sen. Romine said the board’s hiatus would be unfortunate but bearable, and that the governor could remedy the situation by selecting nominees that are less controversial.

In Wednesday’s end-of-day press conference, Senate Republicans, who currently hold a super-majority in the chamber, addressed potential changes to the Missouri tax code, measures to stimulate economic development and working with the governor to improve state infrastructure.

Democratic leadership discussed filing amendments to last year’s Senate Bill 43, which raised the bar for proving workplace discrimination and altered whistle-blower protections. Sen. Gina Walsh, the minority leader, criticized the governor’s controversial Education Board appointments, but said she cannot speak for other members of her party.

As part of my duties as a multimedia specialist for the Missouri Senate, I compiled a short video on the start of the new session. The package features Cierpiot’s swearing-in and quotes from Senate leadership during Wednesday’s press conference.

Lawmaker proposes ‘largest tax cut in Missouri history’

Republican Sen. Bill Eigel wants to cut taxes while upping infrastructure funding

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri state Sen. Bill Eigel, a Republican from Weldon Spring, has pre-filed a bill that would offer a major overhaul of the state’s tax system. He said the measure would cut taxes for a majority of Missourians while streamlining the collection process by doing away with some deductions and exemptions.

What’s different about this bill is that it also calls for a raise in the state’s fuel tax — currently one of the lowest in the nation — to increase infrastructure funding. Eigel, who hails from a growing suburban community, said he realizes the importance of maintaining Missouri’s transportation systems. Even though he has opposed raising the fuel tax before, he believes such a measure is acceptable when included in a larger package that reduces the overall tax burden on Missouri citizens.

Eigel said the bill dovetails with like-minded proposals currently making their way through the Republican-controlled United States Congress.

Some worry the measure is too extreme, as it proposes a slow elimination of the income tax in its entirety. Others simply believe now is the wrong time for Missouri to consider cutting taxes that pay for important public programs that are already underfunded — things such as education and health care.

As a multimedia specialist for the Missouri Senate, I had the opportunity to create a video package on the proposed legislation. Watch it below, and be sure to visit senate.mo.gov for the latest updates on this specific legislation, Senate Bill 617, and other notable bills.

The Missouri General Assembly is set to convene Jan. 3 to begin its 2018 regular legislative session.

What is the Missouri Plan?

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A view of the south side of the Missouri Capitol building in Jefferson City [Zachary Reger]
Missouri’s most notable claim-to-fame in modern legal philosophy is often overlooked.

The state’s constitutionally guaranteed system of merit-based judicial selection — the “Missouri Plan,” as it’s often called — marked a seismic shift in the process of court appointment, one that swept the nation in a grand revision of how we populate many of our appellate and high courts.

By forgoing popular alternatives of direct election and nomination-confirmation of state judges, Missouri ushered in a new “nonpartisan” era of judicial selection.

After the Plan’s initial adoption in the mid-1900s, dozens of states followed, creating merit-based systems of their own. Newly democratic nations across Europe and South America drew inspiration from the Plan in writing their own constitutions, as did even a few established democracies during historic reformation votes.

And Missouri started it all.

What follows is a brief overview of the philosophy and origins of the Missouri Plan, a lightly edited excerpt taken from my undergraduate thesis work at the University of Missouri.

Continue reading “What is the Missouri Plan?”

Is ‘this Trump thing’ sustainable?

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CC BY-SA 2.0 Gage Skidmore

A piece in the Washington Post explores a freshman Kentucky congressman’s recent recess in his heavily Trump-supporting home district.

Read until the end. It’s worth your time.

Republicans went nuclear — now what?

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1946 nuclear test at Bikini Atoll [Public Domain]
After a Democratic filibuster of Neil Gorsuch, Congressional Republicans have exercised the “nuclear option,” dismantling the requirement of a 60-vote cloture movement before voting on Supreme Court nominees. Gorsuch can be confirmed with a mere 51 supporting senators, an up-or-down vote scheduled for Friday.

So what now?

Two law professors write in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that we should “stop worrying and learn to love the nuclear option.”

On the other hand, an opposing law professor writes a piece for U.S. News arguing that to kill the filibuster is to “kill trust in the court.”

When all is said and done, at least one thing is certain — it will have been an excellent day for C-SPAN ratings.

What is ‘fake news’?

Setting aside the metaphysical quandary, a potential lawsuit in Colorado could, if nothing else, set a new legal definition of the term “fake news.”

If filed, the suit would pit the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, a local newspaper, against state Sen. Ray Scott.

Scott, a Republican, referred to an opinion column in the Sentinel as “fake news” in separate posts on Facebook and Twitter earlier this month. In defense, the paper’s publisher is considering a defamation suit, although he has yet to pursue any concrete legal action.

The story has earned national attention, perhaps due to the current political climate—the Trump administration has made it a point to assail the national news media, describing such outlets as “the enemy of the American people.