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Senate debates bill to force governor to fill vacancies quickly

State senators began debate Tuesday on a bill to require Missouri's governor to move more quickly in making appointments to state boards and commissions — or to let the lieutenant governor make those appointments.

The Missouri Constitution requires the Senate to approve the governor’s appointments of people to head most state departments and to serve on the numerous boards and commissions.

But, senators have complained in recent years, there are too many times when departments are being run by “interim” directors and the boards and commissions have vacancies that aren’t filled, or have people serving long past the “last day” of their appointed term.

In many cases, a recent state auditor’s report said, boards and commissions have so many vacancies they can’t meet because they don’t have a quorum — and that’s especially difficult for boards that regulate professional licenses.

The Constitution generally allows appointees to keep serving past their end-of-term dates — saying in a couple of different places that the governor’s “appointees shall serve until their successors are duly elected or appointed and qualified.”

But, state Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, has introduced a bill to require new appointments within 90 days.

Delays in filling vacancies “have been a problem for some time,” Dixon said. “We’re just further behind now than we have ever been with regard to board and commission appointments.”

He commended the Nixon administration for moving forward with appointments to replace interim directors with permanent ones, since Dixon pre-filed his bill last month.

Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, has told reporters several times this year that Nixon recently asked Senate leaders for suggestions of Republicans who would be willing to serve on bipartisan panels like the Missouri Human Rights Commission.

Otherwise, Dempsey said, Nixon hasn’t explained the delays in making appointments.

Nixon told reporters at a Capitol news conference his staff has been working to find people willing to serve.

“I’ll tell you what hasn’t been dragging its heels,” the governor said, “is the Legislature adding to the number of appointees governors have to appoint.

“As we’ve lessened the number of state employees by 4,600, the Legislature has added over 330 appointments to various new boards and commissions that they continue to push out there.”

And several senators said Tuesday they should look at consolidating or eliminating some of the boards and commissions.

Nixon said: “It’s really important that everyone realize how we ask a lot of people … to serve and, oftentimes on boards and commissions, there is a significant amount of backgrounds, interviews and hearings.”

He said it’s getting “harder and harder to coax, shall we say, folks into being willing to do that.”

Zach Matson of the News Tribune staff contributed information used in this story.

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