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Monday, February 20, 2012

Missouri House Ignoring Constitution: Supreme Court Decision is a Wake Up Call

---from Missouri First:

At least twice in the last three weeks red flags have been raised about the lack of respect the Missouri General Assembly has for the Constitution.

First the chairman of an influential committee – the committee responsible for beginning the process of doling out many millions of public dollars to private parties – publicly declared that her committee has no responsibility to evaluate the constitutionality of legislation it considers.

Then, this last week, the Missouri Supreme Court chastised the House and the Senate for their neglect of constitutional responsibilities. Let's take a look at what the Court had to say before we go back to the committee chairman.

Klebba v. Missouri was a challenge to the the 2010 “Ominbus Ethics Reform Bill” (SB 844). Here's the history of that bill:

SB 844 came from the Senate as a one page bill “relating to contracts for purchasing, printing, and services for statewide elected officials”. It was originally a consent bill.
The House General Laws Committee passed it on to the Rules Committee as one page.
When the main ethics bill fell apart and House leadership needed another “vehicle” for the ethics language, the Rules Committee sent SB 844 back to General Laws. (04/28/2012)
Then all in one day, the General Laws Committee amended it with 65 pages, it was sent back to Rules and then on to the whole House. About an hour later, with Rep. Tim Jones handling the bill, the whole body was expected to take it up and vote for its passage. With no time to really determine what was in the bill, they did just that in a party-line vote. (05/06/2012)
Citizen activists complained that the bill contained unconstitutional provisions and that it was unconstitutional in form. Among the unconstitutional provisions was one that would have made class D felons out of anyone who “Attempts to influence any elected official other than an elected official who represents the legislative district where the person resides” if they didn't register as a lobbyist and file the required reports.
In a conference committee including members of the House and Senate, at the insistence of citizen activists, the most offensive language was removed, but the bill was still unconstitutional in form.
Now, 21 months later, the Missouri Supreme Court unanimously ruled that SB 844 was, indeed, unconstitutional because of its multiple subject omnibus form, the fact that it departed from its original purpose, and because it violated free speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The Klebba decision should be a clear message to the men and women the People send to Jefferson City to represent them: Start respecting the Constitution!

In his concurring opinion, Judge Zel Fischer made that abundantly clear as he pointed out the many recent cases involving the “original purpose” and “single subject” requirements of the Constitution. He wrote, “[the number of cases] continue[s] to rise annually... because the legislature frequently ignores these clearly expressed constitutional provisions.” (Emp. added)

He concluded his opinion with an admonition to the Court which also impugned the General assembly. “...because [the court] has encouraged a lack of legislative accountability and transparency and has permitted the legislature to thwart the will of the people by openly violating clear and express procedural provisions of the Missouri Constitution.” (Emp. Added)

It's disconcerting to think that our legislators are “openly violating” the Constitution as they pass laws that affect the lives of our families, but now some of them are no longer even pretending to be constrained by that document.

At the January 31st public hearing for the Freight Forwarder's bill (HB 1476, part of the China Hub bill), four citizen activists testified against the measure. Among other things, these citizens called to question the constitutionality of the targeted subsidies in the bill.

During his 5 minutes of testimony, Ron Calzone was repeatedly interrupted by Chairman Anne Zerr and told that his comments were not germane and that her committee had no responsibility to consider the constitutionality of bills before it. She implied that it was their job to enact legislation and let the courts sort out the constitutionality.

That's a scary proposition for more than one reason! First, if legislators don't have to worry about the constitutionality of legislation, what does their oath to “support the Constitution of the United States and of the state of Missouri” actually mean?

Chairman Zerr's comments were doubly disconcerting when you consider the great deference the courts usually give to the legislative process. Here's a typical statement of the standard of review from the Missouri Supreme Court when statutes are challenged: “This Court's review must begin with the recognition that laws enacted by the legislature and approved by the governor have a strong presumption of constitutionality.” (Emp. added) JACKSON CTY. SPORTS COMPLEX AUTH. v. State, 226 SW 3d 156 - Mo: Supreme Court 2007

In simpler terms, what we have is legislators, like Rep. Anne Zerr, saying, “The courts will do it.” and the courts saying, “The legislature already did it.”, and then there's often no one actually making sure the Constitution is upheld and the People's rights are defended.

The People of Missouri can't let this great shirking of legislative responsibility go unchallenged. We must demand that our representatives uphold the Constitution first and foremost.

Rep. Zerr has been asked to issue a memo to her committee retracting her statements from the January 31st hearing and instruting them to, indeed, consider the constitutionality of bills, but she has declined.

The issue has been brought to the attention of Speaker Steve Tilley's office, and his staff has refused a request for him to clarify the responsibility his committee chairman have to consider the constitutionality of bills. The Speaker's spokesman replied that the Speaker doesn't like to micro-manage the committees. So much for leadership.

CALL TO ACTION: Citizens from across the state should call, write, email and fax Rep. Anne Zerr and Speaker Steve Tilley and demand that they establish clear policy that supports the Constitution, as their oath of office requires. Memos should be sent to all committee chairs.

Letters to editors, blog posts and calls to radio shows are also in order. If our representatives can continue to ignore the Constitution, the People are left with little recourse.

Rep. Anne Zerr
Phone: (573) 751-3717
MO House of Representatives
201 West Capitol Avenue
Room 300
Jefferson City MO 65101

Speaker Steve Tilley
Phone: (573) 751-1488
MO House of Representatives
201 West Capitol Avenue
Room 308A
Jefferson City MO 65101


excagirl said...

I am just confused about the years, you have them voting in the future in that article. It is unfair to blame the Freshmen Representatives if the bill was voted on prior to 2011. So I wanted to make it clear that the 75 new Representatives had nothing to do with this.
And the Governor wants a new bill right away.

Ruth said...


I can see how my post might be confusing. The point of the post is to say that some representatives have passed bills that are unconstitutional and they are considering bills that in the future could be ruled unconstitutional.

But their job is to uphold the Missouri and U.S. Constitutions!

I agree, if something was passed prior to someone's election, they had nothing to do with it. But every representative has an obligation to consider whether a bill is constitutional before he or she votes for it. Would you agree?