Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
Lobbyist Money Help
By Phill Brooks
«RM75»«FC»COL250.PRB - Bloated Whales and Discordant Elephants
As I watched over the final weeks of Missouri's legislative session, visions of two very large animals kept coming to mind -- elephants and whales.
Elephants are huge animals that walk together in herds with strong social bonds and a structured order of authority.
The elephant also is the symbol of the Republican Party. With the GOP holding the governor's office and huge legislative majorities, you would think they could get their way by working together as do real elephants.
But Missouri's GOP elephants were discordant this year.
In the final weeks of the legislative session, a Republican filibuster blocked a Republican senator's bill to require disclosure of donors to a secretly funded Republican governor's organization attacking Republican legislators.
Maybe Missouri's GOP should adopt a feline cat as it's image. My own cats regularly tussle among themselves.
The image of a bloated whale came to mind as Missouri's House took small, mice-like, Senate bills and bloated them into legislative whales.
Actually, that is a bit unfair to whales. While huge, all the parts of a whale are connected. But that's not the case with some of these legislative whales.
How can you find a connection in a Senate bill that originally dealt with local port authorities that became bloated by the House to deal with nuclear reactors, tax breaks for aluminum smelters, automatic electric rate increases, county nuisance ordinances, city bond issues and child social media protections?
More importantly, these legislative whales violate the state Constitution affirmed in a unanimous 1994 Missouri Supreme Court decision that a bill cannot deal with more than one subject.
Some legislators have argued that it ultimately does not matter because it's just a ploy to force the Senate to take up the single-issue bills that had stalled in the Senate.
When those bills get passed, the bloating parts of the whale bill can get dropped, returning the bill to it's original, single purpose.
Besides, some argue, even if the bloating amendments are not dropped, they usually are issues the chamber already had approved. And adding popular amendments gains votes to an original bill that might not have the votes.
But the Missouri Supreme Court disagreed.
Essentially, the state's highest court held that the internal legislative process does matter: "the constitutional provision serves to defeat surprise within the legislative process. It prohibits a clever legislator from taking advantage of his or her unsuspecting colleagues by surreptitiously inserting unrelated amendments into the body of the pending bill."
The court decision went on to note that the one-topic provision was designed to prevent "log rolling" in which a legislator is forced to cast a vote on two completely different issues.
What if a legislator wants to restrict schools demanding a child's social media passwords in a whale bill, but does not want to cast a public vote for nuclear power expansion or business tax breaks?
The Supreme Court reaffirmed its judgment of whale bills 18 years later when they threw out a major law toughening campaign contributions along with other unrelated provisions in the bill including requiring the state administration give each legislator a key to the Capitol's dome.
The decision again was unanimous.
There is another aspect to these legislative whales -- it costs money to challenge them. More than one lobbyist has noted to me that unconstitutional bloated bills can survive if there's nobody willing to foot the expense to bring the issue before the courts.
The legislative whale and elephant came together in the final weeks of this year's session when the Senate's GOP elephants failed to march together and stalled action on House-passed bills.
That led a frustrated House to turn single-topic Senate bills into whales in an effort to put pressure on the Senate to get to work.
These bloated whales have become more common since term limits. I suspect some legislators may not be aware of the breadth of the Missouri Supreme Court's single-subject decisions.
That reflects another attribute of elephants that Missouri's legislative elephants are missing.
Real elephants, it is said, never forget. But like some Senate Republicans, elephants sometimes bellow.
[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.]
Missouri Digital News is produced by Missouri Digital News, Inc. -- a non profit organization of current and former journalists.