In my hurried glance at the Senate committees last week, I missed the most interesting part – Sen. Rob Schaaf was snubbed, the only returning senator who did not receive a chairmanship.
I had assumed that he would ascend to chair the Health Committee. Schaaf is the only doctor in the chamber (excluding animal doctor Sen. Dan Brown).
Folks I spoke to thought that the move by Pro Tem Tom Dempsey was a reaction to Schaaf’s performance on the Senate floor last year. Schaaf was seen as persistent obstacle. Together with Jason Crowell, Jim Lembke, Sens. Brian Nieves and Will Kraus, he helped sink a fair number of pieces. Crowell and Lembke are gone. But perhaps Dempsey is using Schaaf as an example against any would-be “No Coalition” from forming.
It’s said that Schaaf opposition to Kevin Engler’s drug-tracking bill was particularly irksome. Every other state in the country has some version of the bill. Schaaf opposed it on civil liberty grounds, fearful of a big government database.
One person thought it wasn’t Schaaf opposition as much as his unwillingness to seek a compromise. In this view every senator doesn’t have a veto. Rather they can express reservations and expect reasonable accommodations to their concerns, but they can’t plain stop a bill which the overwhelming majority of the body wants to pass.
For the soft-soften, slow-to-anger Dempsey, it was a sharp jab at the start of the legislative session. Rather than give Schaaf a committee chair and then use the possibility of yanking it as leverage, Dempsey is going the opposition direction. He’s withholding the chairmanship with the implication that if Schaaf behaves himself, he can earn a chairmanship in the future.
“Behaving” here means expressing concerns to bill sponsors beforehand instead of launching a floor attack, and it means negotiating for a compromise in good faith.
Dempsey, just elected to his second term, has four years of the pro tem position ahead. In other words, without some reconciliation, Schaaf has four years in the wilderness.
As I wrote in the “Who Won the Week,” the Missouri Hospital Association must have exhaled an enormous sigh of relief that Schaaf won’t hold their legislative priorities in his hand. He may still oppose them, but his hand is weakened.
Some Senate Committee Thoughts
First, there’s the belief that Dempsey is rationalizing the legislative flow. Instead of some education bills going to General Laws and others to Education, the thinking is that they will all go to Education. Instead of some utilities bills going to Commerce and others to Emerging Issues, with Emerging Issues gone, they’ll all go to Commerce. This should bring greater predictability to the process.
Sen. Mike Kehoe had Infrastructure added to his Transportation Committee. That presumably signals that the bonding legislation will be directed to his committee. That’s a big deal.
On Judiciary, as expected Sen. Bob Dixon got the chairmanship. It’s something that he’s not an attorney yet he’ll hold the gavel. Dixon is very reasonable, an open-to-discuss, humble kind of a guy. Those characteristic will be helpful as he navigates the coasts of his committee. He has non-lawyers who like to evoke the constitution with about as much knowledge on the matter as me (Sens. Ed Emery and Rob Schaaf), and four lawyers who know the nuances of the law and can cite Supreme Court cases (Sens. Kurt Schaefer, Eric Schmitt, Joe Keaveny, and Jolie Justus). The two groups don’t necessary speak the same language. Dixon may be cast into the role of translator as well as chairman.
On Education, could Sen. Ed Emery be the new Sen. Jane Cunningham? He looks like the school choice/free market hawk that Cunningham was. But to Sen. David Pearce’s benefit, it’s unlikely he knows all the ins and outs of education policy like Cunningham did. And he might not have the same steel in his back. We’ll see….
The interesting question for another year is: to what extent do the vice chairs indicate lines of succession for Pro Tem Dempsey?
Some New Senate Bills Filed
Sen. Jamilah Nasheed’s SB 125 weakens tenure in the St. Louis Public Schools. See it here.
Sen. Maria Chappelle Nadal’s SB 124 creates the offense of failing to stop illegal firearm possession. It’s a misdemeanor unless death or injury result in which case it becomes a felony. Also, it requires a parent or guardian to notify a school district, or the private or charter school, that he or she owns a firearm within 30 days of enrolling the child in school or becoming the owner of a firearm. See it here.
Sen. David Sater’s SB 128 prohibits the use of EBT card out of state. There have been articles in the newspapers about this. Read it here.
Nixon Reaches Out
For those watching Governor Jay Nixon’s slow shimmy from center-right to center-left, another slide came when he recently addressed the Senate Democratic Caucus. According to one participant, he sounded like a team player for the first time in a long time (ever?).
From the Pelopidas website:
Bill Guinther added Missouri Recycling Association.
Paul Harper added Missouri Department of Revenue.
Jewell D. H. Patek added Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, and Missouri Tow Truck Association.
Katherine Fox deleted Freedom of Road Riders Inc.
A Better Missouri with Governor Jay Nixon – $10,000 from American Petroleum Institute.
A Better Missouri with Governor Jay Nixon – $20,000 from OptiCare Vision Company.
Happy birthdays to Rep. Mike Cierpiot (the big 6-0), and Margaret Donnelly (59).