by Phill Brook
This has been one of the more bizarre legislative sessions I’ve covered.
The strange developments began in January when Gov. Eric Greitens sought to move the inauguration to Columbia.
The legislature killed the idea. The inauguration, after all, is a joint session of the General Assembly.
The next abnormality came a few weeks later when the Senate took up a House-passed resolution to block pay raises adopted by the Constitution’s compensation commission for legislators, statewide elected officials and judges.
That night, Greitens went to the Senate president pro tem’s office to lobby two senators supporting the pay raises.
Reports emerging from that closed-door meeting suggested something quite different from normal gubernatorial lobbying.
“I can see by your pupils in your beady little eyes that you’re afraid of me,” two newspapers reported Greitens said to one of the senators.
Insulting a legislator is not just bizarre, it’s not smart. Just one angry senator can kill a governor’s nomination or legislative proposal by a filibuster.
At first, the Missouri governor seemed to have learned. At a later meeting with the Senate Republican caucus, Greitens was described as extremely respectful, despite unresolved differences.
He even replaced his normal causal dress with a coat and tie when visiting senators where formal dress is expected.
But things soon changed.
Greitens’ advocacy organization, A New Missouri, used internet to disclose the personal cell phone number of a senator with whom Greitens disagreed.
The Springfield News-Leader later reported that five other senators were identified as targets in a brief posting on the organization’s website.
The funding source for Greitens’ organization is another unique aspect for the year. It was created under a law that allows contributors to be kept secret.
Using a private organization of secret donors to attack the governor’s legislative opponents is a first since the state adopted laws requiring financial transparency of special interests trying to influence public policy.
Not to be outdone by the governor, the legislature contributed to this year’s bizarreness.
For months, speculation circulated about a potential leadership challenge in the Senate.
It was not just talk. There is real frustration by some at what they complain as a heavy-handed approach by the leadership.
In the closing days of this year’s session, those rebellious Republican senators effectively seized control of the Senate, stopping action on a pile of non-budget bills until the Senate took up a bill to curtail lobbying expenditures and force disclosure of funding sources for political attack groups like the governor’s.
Another sign of the GOP Senate split came when the Senate added $45 million to the Appropriations Committee recommendation for education.
That violated an unwritten rule that a budget committee’s recommendation is not significantly changed without agreement from the committee chair.
The reason is that some committee spending cuts are just negotiating ploys for something to trade when the bills come before the House-Senate conference committee.
That large education increase adopted by the Senate seriously diminished the negotiating powers of the Senate Appropriations Committee chair.
The divisiveness led two polar opposites in the Senate – conservative Republican Bob Dixon from Springfield and liberal Democrat Kiki Curls from Kansas City — to sing “Kumbaya” during a Senate session in an effort to bring peace.
Over in the House, a new form for a bill was created – sponsored by a committee rather than by a legislator.
What struck me as bizarre was the degree that some committees used this new bill form for laundry lists of different issues contrary to a state Supreme Court decision that a bill cannot cover more than one subject.
Even the House Judiciary Committee dominated by lawyers sidestepped that legal dictum.
One bill dealt with ethics violations, powers of the state auditor, child support, drunken driving interlocks, the state’s commercial code, filing false documents with county deed recorders, financial trusts, circuit court geographic changes, bankruptcy claim exemptions, an alert system for assault against police, mental health patient trial rights and more.
The legislative process always has its quirks, but this year it has been downright bizarre.