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Perspective: Special session an embarassment, but needed

Perspective: Special session an embarassment, but needed

May 7th, 2018 by News Tribune in Opinion

Nearly 30 years ago, the residents of Missouri amended the Constitution to allow the General Assembly to call itself into a special session.

Missourians clearly expected this option to be used only in extraordinary circumstances because the amendment requires three-quarters of both chambers to agree in writing. This threshold is higher than that of any other legislative action and is not achievable by just members of the majority party in either chamber. Though granted in 1988, the legislature has never utilized the authority.

That changed Thursday when the House and Senate delivered a petition to the secretary of state calling ourselves into a special session beginning at 6:30 p.m. May 18. The bi-partisan petition, signed by 138 representatives and 29 senators, convenes a special session for the sole purpose of considering the findings and recommendations of the House investigative committee, including disciplinary action against the governor.

This special session will allow Rep. Jay Barnes and the members of the House investigative committee to continue their work, ensuring the committee is not rushed by an arbitrary deadline.

I find it embarrassing the state is in this position. This embarrassment does not come from the rightful use of the power granted to the Legislature via the Constitution, but rather because this provision has to be used at all. Both of the reports issued by the House investigative committee have detailed shocking and potentially criminal behavior by the governor.

Instead of focusing his efforts on being the CEO of the state of Missouri, with its $28.5 billion budget and 55,000 employees across hundreds of locations, the governor is in a self-imposed cocoon insulated by staged photo-ops and an army of attorneys.

I absolutely believe the governor should have the opportunity to share his side of the story. The committee has publicly and privately asked him to do so, but he has repeatedly refused and continues to treat the office of governor as a part-time job. The state cannot afford to have its chief executive's attention focused on two felony indictments and trying to salvage two more years in the Governor's Mansion.

As I have noted in the last several columns, I remain thankful for the steady, thoughtful leadership of Speaker Todd Richardson and Sen. Ron Richard. By virtue of their efforts, both the House and the Senate have continued work on the state's business despite the distractions surrounding the governor, picking up the slack from his inability to lead.

Though much work remains to be done, the legislative session will end with a balanced budget that fits the needs of Missourians and multiple pieces of important legislation truly agreed to by both chambers. Success of session cannot be measured in the number of bills passed, but rather by the dual efforts of moving good legislation while stopping bills that are not good.

On Thursday, I was pleased to vote for SB894 and send it to the governor. SB894, sponsored by Sen. Doug Libla and Rep. Travis Fitzwater, recognizes Missouri's dire need for students well-educated in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. SB894 will increase exposure to STEM careers and opportunities, as well as increase computer science education for both high school students and their teachers in the form of ongoing professional development. Fitzwater bull-dogged this issue from the beginning of session, never missing an opportunity to extol the virtues and necessity of STEM education to senators and his colleagues in the House. Quite frankly, this bill didn't really have any option but to pass thanks to Fitzwater's hard work.

Conference committees on the FY2019 budget will begin formally today. These conferences will resolve the differences between the House and Senate versions of the 2019 budget. As these differences are reconciled, the conference committees will produce reports that will then go back to each chamber for one final vote before being sent to the governor. Sen. Dan Brown and Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick have assured the pro tem and the speaker that the conference committee reports will be completed by next Friday's constitutional deadline.

State Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, represents the 6th Senate District. He shares his perspective each Monday during the session and occasionally during the interim.