Jefferson City area lawmakers weigh in on ballot measures

Local lawmakers were somewhat divided over ballot measures on which voters decided Tuesday.

Statewide, voters rejected two ballot questions -- Amendment 1, which would have authorized the state treasurer to invest in municipal securities possessing one of the five highest long-term ratings or the highest short-term ratings, and the constitutional convention question, whether to hold a convention to amend or revise the constitution.

Voters passed three amendments -- Amendment 3, legalizing recreational marijuana for people ages 21 and over; Amendment 4, letting the General Assembly pass a law requiring Kansas City to increase funding for police; and Amendment 5, creating the Department of the National Guard.

Rep. Dave Griffith, R-Jefferson City, a veteran and longtime supporter of veterans issues, said the decision on the National Guard was a simple one for him.

"We were one of the few states on the country that did not have that direct chain of command between the governor and the adjutant general," he said. "It was important to correct that. Unless you've been in the military, you don't understand the chain of command."

"The addition of a new department won't hurt the state," said Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville. Maybe the change streamlines some communications. But he questioned the necessity of the change.

"The role of the National Guard has greatly increased over what it was 20-30 years ago," Veit said. "From the outside looking in, I have that concern that we just created another agency. I believe in smaller government. If you add another agency or cabinet post, you add to government."

A concern, he said, was that another cabinet post means more administrators. He said he worries that if government expands, there will be calls for more executives and their supporters.

Lt. Col. Lindsey Decker, the director of public affairs at the Missouri National Guard, said the change will not affect how the Guard provides services.

"The Missouri National Guard has a strong and successful history of collaborating with local, state, and federal agencies to develop training, coordinate plans and synchronize processes," a National Guard statement said. "These relationships will continue under this new department -- the Guard will remain an outstanding teammate, working together to solve problems."

Most importantly, the statement said, the Guard will continue to prepare and stand ready for its dual mission supporting the governor when disaster hits Missouri and supporting federal operations under the president of the United States.

Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, said the removal of the National Guard from the Department of Public Safety will make both departments stronger.

"The National Guard will now be in a position to deal more directly with their issues and needs," he said in a statement to the News Tribune. "This will also free up the Department of Public Safety to concentrate more wholly on law enforcement and fire protection."

Lawmakers expressed concerns about passage of Amendment 3, legalizing recreational marijuana.

Veit said the initiative petition creating the amendment was flawed and may end up hurting veterans.

The Veterans Commission was supported by medical marijuana, and fees for use cards, which have been required by the state.

Recreational users won't need a card, so those fees won't come in anymore.

And the new law allows for the Legislature some sway in where revenue generated by marijuana will go, such as into alternative energy, so that can pull money away from veterans as well, Veit said.

Griffith, who is the chair of the House Veterans Commission, said if lawmakers are offered choices of where the tax money goes, revenue may go somewhere else.

Additionally, because anyone might have the ability to grow marijuana, there is a real risk of sales going to the black market, Veit said.

He said he also has to explain to people that getting a record expunged doesn't destroy the record. In cases where somebody conducts a background check on a job applicant, if the applicant erroneously says he or she has never been convicted because they think the conviction has gone away because their record was expunged, they may come across as lying to the employer.

It would have been better to legalize recreational marijuana through statute than through a change to the state Constitution, Griffith said. If lawmakers had legalized recreational marijuana, faults in the law would more easily be repaired.

Missouri is not set up to handle recreational marijuana, Veit said. There isn't a test available to show how much it is impairing someone's abilities, he said.

Good or bad, the state isn't ready for recreational marijuana, he said.

"If we had unintended consequences, we could correct them," Griffith said. "If it's in the Constitution, and there are flaws in it, it is a very lengthy process to take it back to the people."

Bernskoetter said Missourians spoke on the issue of marijuana legalization. For both medicinal and recreational use, the state's laws were changed by a direct vote of the people. Efforts among lawmakers didn't go anywhere.

"My focus now will be on making sure kids are made aware of the dangers of the drug until they are old enough to make informed decisions about it and to make sure that the tax revenue from marijuana goes to support the programs it should," he said.

Amendment 1 would have given the state treasurer the ability to get the state a better rate of return on investments, according to Griffith.

"We owe it to our taxpayers to be able to do that," he said.

On Amendment 4, Veit said he had specific concerns.

The state has no business taking steps involving the Kansas City Police Department, he said. The department, including its finances, should be under local control.