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Most JeffCo Reps Vote Against Prevailing Wage Repeal

15 Mar

One of the major union-related issues the Missouri Legislature has looked at in recent years is prevailing wage laws, which regulate and inflate what construction workers are paid for work on public construction projects. The state House passed a bill Tuesday to repeal these laws. The bill now moves to the House. According to the Post-Dispatch:

Supporters of the repeal say getting rid of the labor rule would save taxpayer dollars and make it less complicated to get government projects underway. Opponents say the law would essentially take money out of workers’ pockets.

According to MissouriNet:

A sticking point with many Republicans which represent rural districts is that contractors don’t report their wages paid, and worker pay is then skewed toward urban areas where the cost of living and wages are much higher.

The bill passed the House with 89 votes, as 20 Republicans voted no. That includes four Jefferson County GOP representatives: Elaine Gannon, Becky Ruth, Shane Roden, and Dan Shaul. Democrats Ben Harris and Mike Revis also voted no. The only JeffCo rep to support the bill was Majority Leader Rob Vescovo.

This is another example of how, even as the GOP has taken over the county, local politicians still generally side with unions, although not unanimously as they once did.

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Dem Win in Special Election – What Does It Really Mean

20 Feb

Two weeks ago, a special election was held in Missouri House district 97, which covers parts of Arnold and Fenton, including a small slice of St. Louis County. The election was necessary because Rep. John McCaherty (GOP), who was in his 4th and final term in that seat (due to term limits), resigned to focus on his run for county executive, which he has since decided to back out of.

In the special election, Democrat Mike Revis defeated Republican David Linton in an upset. Revis brought in 51.5% of the vote and won with a 108-vote margin.

Of course, this got Democrats excited, even on the national level, sure that this means a blue wave is coming in November. Some examples:

I think the Trump comparison is not that relevant. Trump was running against Hillary Clinton. If Clinton had run as the candidate in district 97, she would have lost big there once again. Instead, the local Democratic party nominated a moderate candidate who touts his NRA membership. And using the presidential election results to suggest that the 97th district is “deeply red” is erroneous. Keep in mind that McCaherty was a firm no on right-to-work legislation, reflecting the views of the district.

And Trump was not running either. Instead, the county GOP committee, a sclerotic, pro-establishment bunch that is primarily interested in getting themselves re-elected to the committee and that probably thought Jeb Bush would win the 2016 GOP nomination, chose a candidate who was blamed by at least one person for losing the seat:

Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, blamed the Jefferson County loss on a weak candidate.

“I’ve won a lot of Democratic races for Republicans,” Engler said. “In order to do that, you have to outwork your opponent, not kind of work your opponent.”

Some blamed Governor Greitens and his current scandal for the loss:

It should also be noted that 14,000 people voted in this race in 2016, when McCaherty had no Democrat opponent, versus the 3,500 that voted in the special election. While the labor union troops that were reportedly out in full force in this campaign can make a big difference in a low-turnout race, I think their efforts will be insufficient come November 2018.

Bills from Our Reps

2 Feb

With the new legislative session underway (and overshadowed by the Governor Greitens affair scandal), let’s take a look at the bills the representatives from JeffCo have introduced. Most of these bills cover several items; I will highlight ones that I find interesting. The below information can be found here. I wil talk about our senators in another post.

Elaine Gannon (Republican, 115th district, from DeSoto)

  • HB 1365 – Allows parents to opt students out of standardized testing. Gannon was a teacher.
  • HB 1606 – Requires school districts to develop policies for accelerated student advancement
  • HB 2182 – Requires counties and cities to participate in the National Flood Insurance Program

Ben Harris (D, 118th, Hillsboro) – None

97th district – John McCaherty’s old seat, he resigned, now vacant. Special election will be February 6.

Shane Roden (R, 111th, Cedar Hill)

  • HB 1461 – Creates presumption that firefighters who were exposed to carcinogens and got cancer incurred the cancer on the job. This has the governor’s support. Roden is a volunteer firefighter.
  • HB 1462 – Removes residency and specific training program requirements for public safety jobs
  • HB 1913 – Gives businesses tax deductions for installing diaper-changing stations in mens or unisex public bathrooms
  • HB 1914 – Would overturn the recent transition of the St. Louis Police Department to local control, putting a state-appointed board back in charge
  • HB 1915 – Increases penalties for violating no-call list rules
  • HB 2113 – Prohibts some charges by water supply districts
  • HB 2158 – Allows motorcyclists to not wear a helmet if they have insurance and can prove financial responsibility. This is a pet issue for Roden.

Becky Ruth (R, 114th, Festus)

  • HB 1373 – Requires a teacher representative on the state board of education. Ruth was a teacher.
  • HB 1374 – Establishes a waterways trust fund
  • HB 1375 – Makes June 27 “Post Traumatic Stress Awareness Day”
  • HB 1796 – Establishes the First-Time Home Buyer Savings Account Act and authorizes a tax deduction. Ruth is a realtor.
  • HB 1830 – Increases minimum teacher salaries
  • HB 1831 – Adds diapers to the list of exempt items on back to school tax free weekend in August
  • HB 1927 – Requires the Department of Health and Senior Services to develop a voluntary nonopioid directive form to allow a person to refuse the administration or prescription of opioids

Dan Shaul (R, 113th, Imperial)

  • HB 1396 – Expands his ban on plastic bag bans from two years ago to other types of containers (cloth, paper, plastic, glass, etc)
  • HB 1397 – Prevents cities/counties from penalizing employers who alter or adjust employee schedules. I believe this relates to a push in some states to prevent employers from making short-notice changes to employee’s shift schedules.
  • HB 1570 – Requires state agencies to reduce impact of new regulations on small businesses
  • HB 1857 – Makes changes in election laws, including moving the absentee ballot deadline back a week and changing provisions about removal of names from ballots and paying election costs
  • HB 2121 – Extends the holding period for people arrested from 24 to 72 hours if the arrestee is a danger to himself or others
  • HB 2277 – Exempts permanently disabled persons from the requirement that a physician’s statement be provided each time a disabled license plate or windshield placard is renewed
  • HCR 64 – Urges Congress to pass a bill to allow the Delta Queen riverboat, which is moving to Kimmswick, to operate
  • HRB 1 – Repeals obsolete, expired, sunset, and terminated statutory sections and portions of sections

Rob Vescovo (R, 112th, Arnold) – serving as House Majority Leader  – None

JeffCo Legislative Wrap-up

15 May

As a follow-up to my last post, here’s an update on JeffCo-related happenings in the last week of the legislative session:

-Senator Gary Romine’s SB 43, one of the most controversial bills of the session, was passed by the legislature after six hours of debate in the House on Monday night. This bill changes the standard for winning a discrimination case from “contributing factor” to “motivating factor.” In the House, JeffCo reps voted along party lines on this bill.

-Representative Rob Vescovo was able to pass his bonding bill by attaching it to another piece of Senate legislation, SB 111. The provision requires school districts and cities to use competitive bidding when they issue bonds. A state auditor’s report in 2013 stated that this practice is little used but will save taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars per bond issue.

-Senator Paul Wieland had a bill, SB 302, that would allow for the creation of Advanced Industrial Manufacturing (AIM) Zones within ports (like the Jefferson County Port) along with some other port provisions. The bill, handled in the House by Rep. Becky Ruth, attracted a number of economic amendments, including one that would allow for special utility rates in the Bootheel in order to potentially attract a steel mill to replace a shuttered aluminum smelter, which was a major employer.

That amendment had some relation to SB 190, which was intended to allow for the modernization of Missouri’s electric grid. The plan would allow utilities like Ameren to raise rates to pay for these upgrades. But Sen. Romine led the charge against this bill, saying that it was not needed.

And so, likewise, with the Bootheel amendment, which Romine also opposed, seeing it as a giveaway to one company. Senator Wieland disagreed, according to the Missouri Times.

“It doesn’t cost the state a dime, we’re easing regulations, and creating jobs. This is straight from the Republican handbook, it seems to me,” Wieland said.

This opposition by Romine and others led to an epic rant from the House floor by Don Rone, a representative from the Bootheel (video here):

“I have traveled this entire United States and I’ve dealt with a lot of people in my job,” Rone continued. “I’ve dealt with some of the craziest farmers you’ve ever seen. But I don’t want to deal with the most selfish people as Libla, as Romine, in my life. Never. Five hundred shovel-ready jobs. I just don’t understand it. We shouldn’t pass anything they do because they’re heartless and they’re selfish. They are disrupting government at the state of Missouri. This is an opportunity for a whole generation in the state of Missouri. The citizens of my district will know and know and know how Libla treated them.”

Ultimately, the provision Rone wanted did not pass. However, the measure concerning AIM Zones in ports was attached as an amendment by Ruth to another bill, SB 283, which did pass the legislature.

-The Legislature passed a REAL ID bill that ensures that Missouri drivers licenses will still be accepted at airports and military bases next year. There has long been opposition in the Legislature to federal ID laws due to privacy. This bill gives Missourians the option of getting a REAL ID compliant license, which requires one’s proof-of-identity documents to be scanned and stored by the state. Rep. John McCaherty voted against this bill.

-Romine also played a role in bringing the Senate to a halt in the last two weeks. He joined up with several other senators on a crusade against “dark money” after a group linked to Governor Eric Greitens launched an ad against Sen. Rob Schaaf for his obstructionism. The group, A New Missouri, also prepared a mock-up of an ad against Romine, but did not run it. The group was able to force a hearing on an anti-dark money bill (dark money is given anonymously to non-profit organizations) by stopping Senate business, but the bill did not pass the Senate.

“The people of Missouri want ethics reform, and they don’t like these games that are being played,” said Sen. Gary Romine, a Farmington Republican. “I don’t think any member of this chamber wants to have a gun held to their head, that the governor might do this to them.”

Here’s an editorial by Romine on the matter. What’s funny to me is that this issue did not become serious until a senator was attacked, and only then did he and other senators react with high outrage.

-Rep. Ruth got a provision passed as part of SB 50 to add two new disorders to Missouri’s newborn screening test panel.

-Rep. Elaine Gannon and Sens. Wieland and Romine pushed a bill through to name a section of I-55 after West Point cadet Tom Surdyke of Festus, who died saving a classmate from drowning last year.

-The prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) bill failed, which keeps the issue alive at the county level, including here in JeffCo.

-Rep. Vescovo has announced that he will run for the position of House majority floor leader next year.

May Legislative Update

8 May
  • Sen. Gary Romine (R, 3rd district, Farmington) has been under heavy criticism for his role sponsoring SB43, a bill to change the legal standard in discrimination lawsuits from “contributing factor” to “motivating factor” (a higher bar to clear). This would prevent frivolous suits like the one filed by Arnold police chief Bob Shockey. Romine is under fire because a business he owns is being sued for discrimination. But this law would even not affect his case; since the suit is already in progress, it would proceed under the current rules. And people who are actually discriminated against can still win lawsuits under SB43, their claims just have to have some merit to them. Remember how Dianne Critchlow has threatened to sue the Fox district now that feckless prosecutors have let her off the hook? I guarantee her suit will include a baseless gender discrimination claim if it is filed under the current standard. As a business owner, Romine knows about the issues Missouri has with frivolous lawsuits, and is trying to address the problem. The House would need to approve this bill this week in order to send it to the governor.

Romine: “Rather than seeing this bill for what it is — one of the most significant economic development measures to come along in years — the media has been more interested in eliciting the opinions of trial attorneys, SB 43’s only real opposition and a group of people who generally stand to lose from any significant progress on the tort reform front.”

  • Sen. Paul Wieland (R, 22nd, Imperial) briefly held up the passage of HB 130, the bill to allow rideshare services like Uber to operate statewide. He thought, misguidedly in my opinion, that Uber drivers would drop their personal auto insurance since Uber provides coverage while you are working. He had other concerns as well. But three weeks later, Wieland’s concerns were satisfied and the bill was passed and signed into law.

“I just wanted to make sure we protect the public and we keep the number of uninsured motorists to a minimum and I believe this bill will do that,” Wieland told The Missouri Times Thursday.

  • Rep. Rob Vescovo (R, 112th, Arnold) was the House sponsor of SB 182, which eliminates project labor agreements in public construction projects. This bill, which has passed both houses, ends requirements that non-union contractors pay union wages and stops local governments from giving preferential treatment to union contractors. This bill will reduce the cost to taxpayers of public projects. Reps. Vescovo, Shaul, and John McCaherty (R, 97th, High Ridge) voted yes; Reps. Elaine Gannon (R, 115th, DeSoto), Becky Ruth (R, 114th, Festus), and Ben Harris (D, 118th, Hillsboro) voted no; and Roden voted present (weak).

“Some would say it’s an anti-union legislation, and I disagree,” Vescovo said after the House adjourned for the week. “I would say it’s pro-worker and it allows the other 86 percent of the workforce to bid on projects and work on projects without being signatory. That’s very important.”

  • Rep. Dan Shaul (R, 113th, Imperial) ticked off teachers, according to the Leader,  with his vote for HB634, which would allow for the expansion of charter schools in the state. Shaul also serves on the Windsor school board. Charters currently exist only in St. Louis and Kansas City. Teachers claimed Shaul has a conflict of interest, which I don’t buy. Some teachers turned their back on Shaul as he was sworn in for another term at the April 12 board meeting, which is quite juvenile. It doesn’t look like this bill will get a Senate vote. McCaherty, Roden, and Vescovo also voted yes on this bill.

“I would disagree with the assumption that my vote on HB 634 was a conflict of interest,” Shaul said. “The vote I took on 634 was to ensure that all kids throughout the state of Missouri have the same opportunity that kids (who) go to Windsor have.”

  • Along with SB43, other much-needed legal reforms have been advancing through the legislature, and our county reps have voted for them along party lines. However, Rep. Shane Roden (R, 111th, Cedar Hill) voted no on HB460, which would limit out-of-state plaintiffs who bring their cases in St. Louis in hopes of winning big verdicts. This is why you hear all those ads from lawyers about talcum powder and cancer on the radio or see them on billboards. Those plaintiffs don’t even live here.
  • Sen. Romine took to the Senate floor during debate over the budget to offer an amendment to fully fund the state’s foundation formula for education for the first time. It was a bit unusual to do this on the floor after the Appropriations Committee already put the budget bill together, and it caused a split between Senate leadership and some GOP senators as the amendment passed. Romine voted yes on this, Wieland voted no. The House also voted to fully fund the formula.
  • The issue of whether to join a prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) has been roiling county government here for months, but such a plan is also advancing at the legislature, and if it passes it would make the JeffCo debate moot. The House and Senate will be going to a conference committee to iron out their differences, but with only one week left, it seems unlikely this will get done. In the House, representatives McCaherty, Roden, and Vescovo voted no on the PDMP bill, HB 90, as did Sen. Wieland.

Parents React to DeSoto Principal Resignation

3 May

Adam Grindstaff, principal of Vineland Elementary in the DeSoto school district, was forced to resign last week over “the use of district monies.” According to district parents, the issue was the unapproved purchase of a vacuum cleaner for the school; the district will not provide specifics. The district notes that Grindstaff declined his right to a public hearing before resigning.

A swell of outrage resulted from this event, leading to a petition calling for the reinstatement of Grindstaff that garnered over 1,400 signatures and a Facebook group with over 1,100 members. A school board meeting on Monday was moved to a larger location (the junior high cafeteria) to accommodate residents, who were only given a total of 30 minutes to speak to the board. Grindstaff’s attorney was not allowed to speak publicly during this meeting, on advice of the district’s attorney. It is noteworthy that DeSoto employs the same law firm, Mickes O’Toole, that the Fox district used during the reign of Dianne Critchlow. It was this firm that sent out letters threatening lawsuits against vocal critics of the district for daring to speak out while also thwarting parents who attempted to get services for their children with special needs. The law firm also helped Critchlow resist transparency as she withheld credit card statements and other requested records until her kingdom crumbled.

What Now?

At this point, Vineland parents are wondering what steps to take next. I would like to offer some thoughts:

Meeting result: The district has stated that the board voted to accept the resignation, and word is that it was unanimous. Under the Missouri Sunshine Law, the results of any votes taken in closed sessions of board meetings must be revealed within 72 hours. So by Friday DeSoto will have to reveal what votes were taken Monday night (residents may have to request this information) and the results of the roll call (how each board member voted).

School Board Elections: The next board election is April 3, 2018. Two board members, Beverly Wilson and Terry Noble, will be up for re-election (if they choose to run again). The registration period for candidates will run from mid-December to mid-January. The best scenario would be that all opposition gets together around two challengers in order to not split the vote.

Missouri law does not allow for the recall of school board members. After the Fox fiasco, Rep. Rob Vescovo from Arnold introduced a bill to create such a process specifically for that district, but it did not pass the House. Other similar bills have been introduced in the past 15 years but have also failed. Currently, recalls can only take place of elected city officials in third-class cities in Missouri (like Arnold or DeSoto).

Superintendent: DeSoto’s superintendent is Josh Isaacson, a former assistant superintendent in the district who took the top job in July of 2016. He can be removed by the school board. However, he has a contract that is probably for two or three years. If he were to be let go during the contract, he would be due for a big payout from the district unless they could show cause. It was only five years ago that DeSoto paid $208,000 to get rid of a superintendent, Critchlow crony Andy Arbeitman.

State Audit: Residents could petition the state auditor to audit the school district. This would lead to a deep-dive into the district’s finances and operations. While it would not directly impact the Grindstaff issue, every school district could use a good state audit. The recent audit of Fox documented many problems. The school district would have to pay for a petition audit, which could cost $40,000 or so. After submitting a request form to the auditor, residents would have to gather a number of signatures based on the number of votes cast in the district in the last election for governor. By my calculations, there were 12,223 such votes cast, and so 1,222 signatures (10%) would need to be gathered within one year. If everyone who signed the online petition mentioned above actually lives in the school district, there are enough signers right there.

Lawsuit: Grindstaff could pursue a lawsuit against the district. He has legal counsel. I’m not sure if the fact that he resigned instead of making them fire him makes a difference in his chances of winning or getting a settlement.

Call Representatives: Residents could contact their legislators to discuss this. However, Rep. Elaine (Freeman) Gannon is said to be related to DeSoto assistant superintendent Clint Freeman, so there would be a conflict there. Rep. Ben Harris covers part of the DeSoto area, and the state senator for DeSoto is Gary Romine.

Wastes of Time

The following moves, however, will not accomplish anything.

  • Trying to get the board to remove the superintendent. The board hired him a year ago, and they voted to support the Grindstaff resignation. Why would they remove the superintendent over this? Plus, they don’t want to have to pay a big settlement.
  • Trying to remove board members prior to the election. There’s no way to do it, as I stated above. And the vote to accept the resignation was a judgment call on their part, not a sign of misconduct. But it is one that can be punished at the ballot box.

I salute the parents of Vineland for becoming politically active in response to this decision that they strongly disagree with. Unfortunately, the next election is 11 months away. But keep communicating, get organized, learn the relevant state laws, attend board meetings, and vote, and you can make a difference. As we have seen in the Fox district, it’s not easy to win elections and affect significant change. But it is worth trying.

County Exec Waller Wants Greener Pastures

17 Apr

According to the Leader, “The Festus City Council voted 5-3 at Wednesday’s (April 12) meeting to hire Gregory Camp, currently city administrator of Desloge, as the new Festus city administrator.”

According to individuals with knowledge of the hiring process, current Jefferson County Executive Ken Waller (Republican) applied for this position, and was one of the six candidates who received an interview. But he did not prevail in the end. It should be noted that the Festus city admin job will pay Camp $90,000 per year, whereas Waller currently makes about $81,000. We know that Waller wants more money from taxpayers, as evidenced by his participation in a multi-politician lawsuit against the county asking for more pay.

Waller’s second term as executive ends in 2018, but he was apparently looking for an early exit. His time as exec has been marked by conflict with the Republican-led county council, where he has adopted a more moderate, status quo approach to governing. He is currently trying to hector (his preferred leadership approach) the council into joining a prescription drug monitoring program.

Latest Lawsuit

This conflict is made evident by Waller’s recent decision to file another lawsuit, this one against the council over an ordinance it passed over his veto. The ordinance contains a rule that allows the council to replace members of some county boards that miss three meetings in a year. The original version of the bill gave the executive that power. It is the executive that appoints members to these boards while the council votes to confirm his appointments.

I’m not sure that this issue is even ripe for a lawsuit, since we aren’t in a situation where a board member has actually been removed. But it will require both sides of the lawsuit to shell out county money for outside legal representation, since the county’s full-time lawyers can’t participate in an intra-governmental court battle.

Next County Executive

It seems unlikely that Waller will run for another term as executive, though he still has a campaign committee set up for that purpose that has brought in $88,000 in the current election cycle and has $63,000 on hand.

One other Republican has taken a step to run for the seat. 97th district House Representative John McCaherty, Republican from High Ridge, who held the seat for seven years, has changed his campaign committee’s office of intent to county executive, per campaign finance records at the Missouri Ethics Commission:

mccaherty-exec

McCaherty will be subject to term limits next year, and thus unable to run again for the House. Incumbent Republican Paul Wieland will presumably run for reelection to the state Senate seat for northern JeffCo in 2018, so that option is out (though it is rumored that Waller was looking to make a play for it). McCaherty has raised $171,000, but only has $55,000 on hand.

Waller lives in Herculaneum, in House district 114, which is represented by Republican Becky Ruth. She is in her second term, and so could occupy that seat until 2022 if all goes well for her, so that option doesn’t seem open to Waller.

I guess he could always run for secretary of state.

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