Proposed law would give state boards, commissions newer members

When Lincoln University’s curators meet Thursday in Jefferson City, they still will be short one voting member — a vacancy that’s existed for a year, after some members of the Missouri Senate indicated they wouldn’t approve Gov. Jay Nixon’s nomination of former St. Charles Community College President John McGuire as an LU curator to succeed Rodney Boyd of St. Louis, whose term had expired Jan. 1, 2011.

And four of the other seven voting curators are serving past the end of the terms they were appointed to.

When the Linn State Technical College Board of Regents met in Linn last month, five of the members were serving past the ends of their appointed terms.

A check this weekend of a state website — http://boards.mo.gov/UserPages/BoardSearch.aspx — showed that 207 of Missouri’s boards and commissions had a total of 1,269 positions that currently are either vacant, or are filled with someone serving in an expired term.

Some of the appointments are to be made by legislative leaders or special groups, but many are Gov. Jay Nixon’s responsibility.

For instance, the 10-member Missouri State Penitentiary Redevelopment Commission currently has four vacancies — all to be filled by the governor’s appointment.

The appointments power comes from the Missouri Constitution, which says the governor is to “fill all vacancies in public offices unless otherwise provided by law, and his appointees shall serve until their successors are duly elected or appointed and qualified.”

In the Constitution, “qualified” generally means winning the state Senate’s approval through the “advice and consent” process.

Missouri senators last week gave first-round approval to a proposed law change that, among its provisions, would allow appointees to serve only 60 days beyond the end of their appointed term — and then the position would remain vacant until the governor filled it and the Senate approved that new appointment or re-appointment.

Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, added that language to the bill during last week’s debate — and doesn’t think it violates the Constitutional permission for people to continue serving past the end of their term, no matter how long that takes.

“The statute already makes it clear that there is a term for the appointment,” he explained in an interview. “We’re not saying that person can’t continue to serve.

“We’re just saying that person has to be reappointed or somebody new has to be appointed within a reasonable time.”

A number of senators have complained in the past few years that too many people are serving too long on boards and commissions, without being reappointed or replaced.

For instance, on the Lincoln curators board, one member’s term ended at the beginning of this year, two have been serving since their terms ended Jan. 1, 2012 — and one has continued serving since the term ended Jan. 1, 2008.

“You’re seeing people who are appointed to two- and three-year terms that are serving for eight and 10 years,” Schmitt noted, “and I don’t think that was the intention of having defined terms for these boards and commissions.”

Schmitt’s language was added to a bill sponsored by state Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield.

“I do not believe this is a partisan issue,” he told colleagues during last week’s debate. “This has been a problem for some time. … (But) half or more of our boards and commissions remain vacant” right now.

Dixon said he thought changing the law would mean “whoever the governor is will have incentive to have these positions filled in a more timely fashion.”

Several senators pointed to a recent report from State Auditor Tom Schweich that found 56 vacancies among 200 positions in the state’s Division of Professional Registration’s regulatory boards.

And, Schweich said, three regulatory boards have so many vacancies they don’t have enough members for a quorum, and can’t do official business.

Nixon has said his staff isn’t having problems getting people willing to serve on state boards and commissions.

But a bigger problem, he told reporters at a Capitol news conference last week, has been “the Legislature adding to the number of appointees governors have to appoint.”

Lawmakers have “added over 330 appointments to various new boards and commissions that they continue to push out there,” he said.

Meanwhile, state senators also are concerned that Gov. Jay Nixon has made too many interim appointments of department heads — that don’t require the Senate’s consideration, under current law — instead of filling the positions with someone who must win the Senate’s approval.

The bill senators perfected last week would limit those temporary appointees to only 120 days service, before the governor would have to name someone to the position on a “permanent” basis.

The Senate must vote one more time on the measure to pass it, before it can be sent to the House.

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