Bills Sponsored by JeffCo Senators

16 Jan

After checking up on Jefferson County’s state representatives in my last post, I will now examine what bills our state senators have put forth in this new legislative session.

Gary Romine, R, 3rd district, Farmington – Romine’s district covers the southern part of the county, roughly south of a line from Dittmer to Festus (map here). The district also covers Iron, Reynolds, St. Francois, Ste. Genevieve, and Washington counties. He has a lot of bills. I will hit the highlights.

One bill of Romine’s I will call the Bob Shockey bill. Here’s a description:

Currently, under the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA), a practice is unlawful when the protected trait is a contributing factor in the decision to discriminate. This act changes that standard to a motivating factor standard. The plaintiffs in employment and age discrimination cases have the burden of proving these standards.

Recall that Arnold police chief Bob Shockey sued the city back in 2013. His goals were to 1) damage the mayoral campaigns of incumbent Ron Counts’ opponents, and 2) make some money for himself. He claimed that he was being discriminated against, and listed all the ways he was supposedly being bullied. But to sue for discrimination you have to be part of a protected class, and the only one Shockey qualifies for was being over age 40, so he tacked that claim onto his suit with no evidence that it was the reason for his treatment.

Anyway, under Romine’s bill, Shockey would have to prove that his age was the motivating factor for his treatment (not incompetence). That is a much higher legal bar, I submit that Shockey would not have gotten his bogus $70,000 settlement had this law been in affect three years ago. This is not to say that I think Shockey had anything to do with Romine’s interest in this issue.

Romine also has a bill regarding high school equivalency degree exams that appears to be similar to what Rep. Gannon proposed over in the House. It would waive the test-taking fee for first-timers. He has another bill just like Gannon’s, this one urging the creation of the Joachim Creek Joint Task Force to fight flooding in DeSoto.

Another bill, reported here, would rename the new Jay Nixon State Park. Romine doesn’t like Nixon allowing a park to be named after himself, and he think the money to buy the park, which was intended for lead belt restoration and remediation, was misused.

Other bills of Romine’s eliminate property taxes for disabled veterans, modify the crime of animal trespass, prohibit two-way communications devices in jails, change bingo regulations, modify titling for junk cars, and modify employer arbitration agreements.

romine

Romine family at inauguration

Paul Wieland, R, 22nd district, Imperial – Wieland covers the bulk of Jefferson County, and no other counties. One of his bills would allow a pregnant woman to enroll in a health insurance program at any time, not just during open enrollment periods. Another bill would allow life insurance companies to exclude coverage for suicide within the first year after the plan was issued. Wieland is an insurance agent.

Another bill repeals provisions of law that require the licensing and taxation of peddlers by counties.

Finally, Wieland is again proposing to repeal the death penalty in Missouri, in line with his Catholic pro-life views. He has tried this the past two years. Last year this bill made it out of committee but did not get a vote on the Senate floor.

wieland

Wieland family at inauguration

House Bills Sponsored by JeffCo Reps

15 Jan

The Missouri legislative session is underway, and with GOP supermajorities in both houses and a GOP governor, we should expect a lot of big items to be passed in the next few months. I’m going to take a look here at what bills our local representatives are pushing. I will look at the activities of the two state senators that cover Jefferson County in a separate post.

Shane Roden, R, 111th district, Cedar Hill –  He has a bill allowing adult motorcycle riders to go helmetless if they have proof of health insurance (motorcycle helmet freedom is a big issue with him) and another bill concerning firefighters and cancer and hazardous duty. On another interesting note, he is cosponsoring a medical marijuana measure. Roden is a paramedic and firefighter.

John McCaherty, R, 97th, High Ridge – He also has a motorcycle helmet law, but it requires everyone under 21 to wear a helmet, while Roden’s bill only requires helmets for those under 18. McCaherty has a bill regarding custody of in vitro human embryos and one about school library media services programs. He is co-sponsoring a bill to add crimes against police to the hate crimes law.

Rob Vescovo, R, 112th, Arnold – He is the most active local rep as it pertains to bill filing, and has several significant bills. One would require public entities to issue bonds via public sale, or competitive bidding. I wrote here about a state auditor’s report that stated that this change would save Missouri taxpayers millions of dollars by forcing the financial companies that work with public entities to get the best deal on bonds.

Another Vescovo bill would prevent political subdivisions from giving preferential treatment to unionized companies in public construction projects (aka project labor agreements, which drive up costs to taxpayers). This bill was introduced last year but did not come to a vote.

Another bill requires written contracts for school superintendents and assistant superintendents, and limits the amount of  severance pay that these officials can receive. This will stop the outrageous payouts to disgraced superintendents like Fox’s Dianne Critchlow.

Vescovo is also co-sponsoring the hate crimes against police bill, and is cosponsoring a bill to modify rules about expert witness testimony at trial (implementing the Daubert standard).

Dan Shaul, R, 113th, Imperial – No bills at this time.

Becky Ruth, R, 114th, Festus – She is trying again this year to create a Waterways Trust Fund to divert money to ports. She also wants to add two new genetics diseases to newborn screening requirements (she has added other diseases in the past) and add a teacher to the State Board of Education. Finally, she has a bill to create a tax deductible First-time Home Buyer Savings Account. Ruth is a former teacher and a current realtor.

Elaine Gannon, R, 115th, DeSoto – She is sponsoring a resolution urging the creation of a Joachim Creek Joint Task Force to battle repeated flooding in DeSoto, and she has a bill making some minor adds to high school equivalency degree testing programs. Gannon is a former teacher.

Ben Harris, D, 118th, Hillsboro – No bills at this time.

Who Will Replace Boyer on the County Council?

13 Jan

Jefferson County Councilman Bob Boyer, a Republican from the Arnold-area district 3, was elected in November to be the next county assessor. While other officials elected in November are taking office now, Boyer will not do so until September 1, so that the current assessor can complete the biennial reassessment cycle that is currently underway.

According to the county charter, section 12.3.4, it is up to the council to fill a vacancy on the council. One would think that the county executive would make the appointment in such a situation, but that is not the case. He would do so if a county office, like treasurer, became vacant, but not for a council vacancy. Boyer’s term expires after the November 2018 election, so the person the council chooses to replace him would serve for about a year before having to decide whether to run for re-election (assuming this appointment will take place in late summer/early fall).

Since the council, minus Boyer, consists of 4 Republicans and 2 Democrats, we can assume that a Republican will be appointed to the seat (sorry, Phil Amato). But who might that person be? Let’s engage in some wild speculation by looking at Republicans who have recently run for Arnold-area elected office:

EJ Fleischmann – Current Ward 1 city councilman in Arnold, elected in April 2016. He is active in local GOP politics and has ties to state Representative Dan Shaul and state Senator Paul Wieland. These ties make him a serious competitor for this seat. He is young, at only 24 years of age. Odds of being appointed: 3/2

Jason Fulbright – The other Arnold Ward 1 city councilman in Arnold. He was first elected in April 2013 (unopposed). He ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination for state representative against Shaul in 2014, but won the Arnold township GOP committeeman position. Last year he was elected to the water board for the Arnold area (after that board painted the water tower blue). His party connections are growing, but I don’t think he lines up as well as Fleischmann ideologically with those who will make the appointment. He is currently signed up to run for re-election to the Arnold council in April. Odds: 4/1

Dan Smith – He lost to Democrat Jeff Roorda in the 2012 race for state representative in District 113. He currently serves on the county Planning and Zoning Commission. But most importantly, he served on the Fox School Board from 2008-2014, while disgraced former Fox superintendent Dianne Critchlow was stealing from the district. Here’s what I wrote when he was appointed to P&Z:

Anybody who has served on the Fox school board over the past six years is, in my mind, automatically disqualified for any elected or appointed office, because it was the board that allowed all of this to happen, through a combination of neglect, naivete, or coziness with Critchlow.

I cannot fathom that the Jefferson County Council would actually appoint this guy to join them. Given that Critchlow has yet to experience any repercussions for her actions, I think the uproar among county residents would be quite significant if Smith was entrusted with another public office. But he still has friends in GOP circles, as indicated by his appointment to P&Z. Odds: 12/1

Phil Hendrickson – He challenged Boyer in the 2014 GOP primary for county council, losing 58-42%. He serves on the Jefferson County Code Commission. Odds: 20/1

Anybody else?

2016 APR Rankings and School Poverty Rates

7 Jan

I am a bit behind here on posting the results of local schools in the 2016 Missouri Annual Performance Report (APR) rankings, which came out in November. So you may have already read about this. In order to add a little value, I am including the percentage of students in each district eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, which is the proxy for poverty rate generally used in the education business (income eligibility table here – it’s a Texas link but the numbers are the same). This will give us an indication of how poverty plays into the JeffCo school rankings.

For review, APR is a method of ranking schools in Missouri that takes into account test scores (and their changes over time), graduation rates, attendance, and college/career readiness. Here is my table:

2016-apr-table

The top three districts in the county for APR are unchanged this year, except that Windsor is tied for 2nd instead of being in 3rd place. Jefferson continues to improve, moving up to 4th this year while Northwest remains 5th. Hillsboro and Dunklin are slowly getting better. Sunrise and Desoto had bounce-back years, returning to their score from two years ago after big drops last year. Crystal City is stagnant, and Grandview dropped big; the district went from 4th in the county last year to 8th this year.

For statewide comparison, the Post-Dispatch reports that “about 67 percent of districts in the state got at least a 90 percent score, which is similar to last year.”

Free/Reduced Lunch Rates

There is definitely a correlation between APR score and free lunch rate in JeffCo; the five districts with the highest free lunch rates occupy the bottom five spots in the rankings, though not in order. Dunklin has the highest free lunch rate at 55.9%, followed by Sunrise and Desoto (which has the lowest APR). The statewide percentage of students eligible is 51.7%. Free lunch rates and other data are available here.

Interestingly, Festus, the best district in the county by the APR and MAP measures, has only the fifth-lowest free lunch rate. Facts like this show that a district can overcome a higher poverty rate, at least to some extent. The lowest free lunch rate is at Fox, at 32.6%, 23 percent less than at Dunklin.

Comparing Small School Districts

5 Jan

The Post-Dispatch had a story on New Year’s Day about the Strain-Japan School District in Franklin County, which consists of just one elementary school but has had great academic success:

The school is one of about 70 elementary-only, mostly rural, single-school districts in Missouri that receive little attention in the education arena. When they do, they’re often cited by education reform advocates as proof of what they think is an expensive, excessive number of school districts in Missouri.

But Strain-Japan’s test scores regularly rival and even best those of St. Louis’ wealthy and renowned school districts, while operating at a fraction of the cost.

This brought to mind JeffCo’s elementary-only school district, Sunrise, south of De Soto and 55 miles southeast of Strain-Japan. This district doesn’t do so well, showing up in the bottom half of county schools in performance ratings, though it ticked up in 2016. I thought I would compare some numbers between the two districts. These are from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) website:

strain-sunrise

Along with the test scores, the other numbers definitely favor Strain-Japan: less poverty, higher tax rate, more spending per student. Taken together, these certainly explain some of the discrepancy, but the difference in test scores is quite significant. People in the Sunrise district will want to study the P-D article, and maybe take a field trip out to Sullivan, MO, to learn more about how Strain-Japan has been so successful.

Note: Sunrise just passed a bond measure in August, so the district will be getting more money soon, which will be spent on district buildings and infrastructure.

Kasten Booted from Port Board

3 Jan

Jefferson County Port Authority board of directors member Jim Kasten was denied another 3-year term by the county council on December 27. The board voted 5-0 not to approve his reappointment. Kasten is also the Herculaneum city administrator and district 5 representative (Democrat) on the county council (elected in 2014), and it is these roles that were cited by one councilman to explain the no vote.

Councilman Don Bickowski (District 1, GOP) stated at the meeting (video here – see 47:25 mark) that he felt there was a conflict of interest in Kasten holding these multiple roles. He said he also has opposed port board appointments from cities, as he thinks the board should be independent of other governmental jurisdictions. Bickowski cited the case of outgoing councilman Cliff Lane (6th district, Democrat), who he says resigned from the port board when he took office as a councilman in 2010. Lane was one of the no votes on Kasten.

I can see where Bickowski is coming from. Port board members from other jurisdictions could try to steer port development to their area (like, say, Pevely instead of Herculaneum) or otherwise score points for their cities. There is no accusation that Kasten did such a thing, but conflict of interest principles are intended to prevent even the appearance or possibility of a conflict.

Kasten was only narrowly reappointed to the port board in September 2013 for his current term. He was approved by a 4-3 vote, with current council members Bob Boyer, Renee Reuter, and Bickowski voting no, as they did this time around.

Kasten Responds

When nobody responded to the “all in favor say aye” call, Kasten let out a “you’ve got to be kidding me.” He then stated that “there’s too much ideology on the council, people coming in with set beliefs that can’t be changed or altered, no matter how much evidence to the contrary.” He insisted that he had “never, never” put the council or the port board in a conflict of interest. He went on, forcefully:

I have never, one time, shown you any reason why-I’ve given you a conflict of interest. If there is, I want you to point it out right now! You don’t have any, because all you are is a bunch of ideologues, and I’m fed up with it, and I’m gonna call you out every damn time that I get a chance.

It may be true that he has never shown a conflict. But as I stated above, the issue is of the mere possibility of the existence of conflict. Here’s a definition from Wikipedia:

A conflict of interest is a set of circumstances that creates a risk that professional judgement or actions regarding a primary interest will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest.

See, it says “a risk.” In this case, it is Kasten’s position in the governing structure of three different entities. Kasten’s actions don’t have to be unduly influenced; the possibility just has to be there. It’s like when Dianne Critchlow and her minions engineered the hiring of a board member’s daughter-in-law to be food service director at the Fox district, or gave a scholarship to the child of a school board member. Whether those board members were stooges to Critchlow out of stupidity or as part of a quid pro quo doesn’t matter; the fact is that there was a possibility of undue influence, and those moves should not have been allowed. (This is not to compare Kasten to Critchlow.)

So now County Executive Ken Waller will have to find someone else to fill Kasten’s spot on the port board. There was another port board dustup in 2013 when Dan Govero and Steve Markus were denied reappointment to the board, with the council citing slow progress from the board. Kasten appeared at a subsequent council meeting to beseech the council to undo that decision, which they did not.

JeffCo Year Ahead

1 Jan

Greetings and Happy New Year. Thank you for checking out this blog on occasion. I thought I would list some of the topics that I’m sure will be discussed on these pages in the coming year.

  • We should get an idea this year whether there will be any justice for Dianne Critchlow, or whether she will walk away scot-free after pillaging the Fox school district. The St. Charles County prosecutor is currently reviewing the case.
  • The detente between Arnold mayor Ron Counts and councilman Phil Amato seems to be over, and they may face off in the April mayoral election. Will police chief Bob Shockey interfere again on Counts’ behalf (he sued Counts’ opponents last time around)? Will Amato have his campaign office inside the Arnold Food Pantry (cans for votes?)? Will someone young jump into the race?
  • It should be a very exciting legislative session starting this week. With Jay Nixon out of the way, the GOP supermajorities can pass right to work and other union bills as well as some need legal reforms without having to worry that Senator Gary Romine (GOP, 3rd district, Farmington), who represents southern JeffCo, will fail to support veto override votes. As usual, I will cover our JeffCo delegation in Jeff City as nobody else does.
  • Speaking of which, I’m sure other issues will arise where I will have to fill the vacuum left by the Leader when it refuses to cover them properly or at all. But it’s a service I am happy to provide.

Let me know in the comments if there are other events you are looking forward to this year, and as always, I welcome your news tips.

 

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