Celebrating TAFP

It has taken only 20 or 25 years or so to realize something was missing from Missouri Senate procedures this year. It’s a motion to “Truly Agree to and Finally Pass” a bill. The House does it. The reason the phrase is not heard in the Senate, says Senate Secretary Terry Spieler, is that the Senate just doesn’t do it, which explains why I hadn’t been hearing it. For a mere quarter-century, give or take a few years since moving over from coverage of the House to the Senate , the person sitting in the Missourinet chair at the Senate press table had not noticed the absence of that phrase. (Slap forehead and utter a Homersimpsonesque sound here).

But why not? Terry probably knows that, too. She knows everything about how the Senate is supposed to operate. She’s been in the job since 1982, longer than any legislative officer in state history. Truthfully, if it wasn’t for her, the Senate wouldn’t know how to run itself. In these term-limited times, presiding officers often don’t know how to preside. But that goes with the general standard in the Senate because most members too often show little mastery of the the basic art of making a motion unless they’re led through it by the presiding officer who in turn is led through it by Ms. Spieler.

Getting back to the point—

When a bill is passed by the House and works its way through the process and is approved by the Senate and sent to the Governor for signature or veto, the Senator makes motion to “third read and pass” the bill. It sounds so routine, so pedestrian, so—-so un-triumphant. But in the House, to send a bill to the Governor is to “Truly Agree and Finally Pass” that sucker. Nothing ho-hum about it.

Understand that getting a bill through the legislature is no small feat. Members of the House and the Senate introduced 1,517 bills, 64 joint resolutions and God only knows how many concurrent resolutions (many of them telling the federal government how to run itself, of course) and just plain chamber resolutions. The Senate passed 101 of its 484 bills and two of its two dozen joint resolutions. Only 195 of the 1,033 bills and only eight of 40 joint resolutions introduced in the House made it to the Senate.

Total: 296 of 1,517 bills and ten of 64 joint resolutions got through. Some of the bills and resolutions were duplicates or were amended onto bills that passed, so those numbers are a little soft. Nonetheless, getting a bill passed is a significant achievement. House members have a motion that celebrates that achievement–Truly Agreed to and Finally Passed. It’s so important that House summaries of actions on bills print the abbreviation in capital letters: TAFP. Maybe it should even have an exclamation point after it. TAFP!

In the Senate, where dignity and decorum prevail–at least in comparison to relative chaos in the House–the members don’t have that celebratory motion. They just third read the bill. No capital letters. No exclamation point. Nothing that recognizes the accomplishment. No exclamation point for Senators. Just another day in the office.

Every legislative session leaves dessicating husks of legislation along its arduous road to adjournment. “Third read and passed” says “well, okay, we’re done with that one.” TAFP is a celebration

Kerfluffle

This is Bob Priddy reporting from Kerfluffleland.

A Kerfluffle is a fuss and a fuss is a matter of worrying over trifles.

Governor Nixon got his Fruit of the Looms in a big knot yesterday afternoon when reporters didn’t ask him questions about what he wanted to talk about, just after he had read a stemwinder of a Medicaid expansion speech to a rotunda full of folks who thought his words were golden.

His message in the rotunda was similar to the message he’s been preaching all over the place about the need for the legislature to approve Medicaid expansion.  So what he was doing was hardly new–or news.

What was new –and what was news–was that the speech came shortly after he had told the Revenue Department to quit scanning and keeping records of people with concealed weapons permits.  That’s been an increasingly important issue as the legislature questions the operations of the department’s Motor Vehicle Division and the division’s collection and retention of a lot more private information than ever before demanded to get a driver’s license or any other kind of state identitification card. In recent days when he had paused long enough for a reporter to ask him about the increasingly strident accusations of misdeeds by his Department of Revenue, he wandered through a set statement that amounted to saying nothing was wrong.

When reporters kept trying to get a clear understanding yesterday of what he had done with his CCW order and why he had not done other things or why he decided only people with concealed weapons permits should not have those documents scanned and kept, he began to sputter and charged the entire senate committee inquiry into deparatment operations was a “kerflulffle” designed to take attention away from Medicaid expansion.  He sputtered a few other things about CCW permit holders and then bolted for his office with the intrepid Phill Brooks trying to ask another questions.

 AUDIO: Nixon

There are plenty of people, however, who think the whole revenue department document scanning and retention operation is something more than a trifle.  There are those in the capitol, particularly those who have pronounced Medicaid expansion a dead issue despite the governor’s tub-thumping for it, who might argue that the Medicaid rally was a kerfluffle  intended to take people’s minds off privacy invasion concerns.  One person’s kerfluffle is another person’s cause for war.

We’ve been around long enough to know the capitol is stuffed with kerfluffle from January to mid-May.  My isue is a crisis. Yours is kerfluffle.

Accessibility has never been a priority for this administration.  Managing the message HAS been a priority.  In Jay Nixon’s case, it’s always preferable to read a speech than to answer questions about what he’s doing and why.

So Nixon does something that alters the actions of his revenue department.  But it’s only one action on one of the issues that has Republican legislators in both chambers in a mini-froth accusing the department of violating public privacy and state laws.

Nixon decided to let reporters crowd around in a corner of the rotunda for a few precious minutes after his big speech and went off in a huff when the reporters didn’t want to talk about another Medicaid expansion speech but instead start asking why he did one thing but not another; what was his reasoning for doing what he did, and does he think more action should be taken.  There was no time and apparently no inclination for a quieter, more organized discussion with reporters in his office of Medicaid or of the revenue department.  So he got urinarilly agitated and stalked away because reporters preferred to ask him about what was new–and news.

Bob Priddy, from somewhere in Kerfluffleland.

Jay Carr could have kept all of this from happening

But he didn’t.  Because Jay Carr is not a person.  And if he was a person, he would have been ignorant of the seeds of controversy that were planted a while ago.  But if he had been a person and if he had known of a lawyer’s conversation with a client, this whole investigation of Revenue Department records retention practices and the growing ripples from the investigation might not be creating the Kabuki theatre production that is diverting attention away from the mundane happenings in legislative chambers as this session enters its final weeks.

Kabuki seems to be an appropriate description.  It’s a dance-drama performance. Those who have watched the drama build during the last month have seen a lot of dancing to go with it.

And Jay Carr, which is legislator-speak for JCAR, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, could have stopped all of this before it started.  But Jay Carr never had the chance.   Because nobody told Jay Carr that something had not been done. And if you know nothing about the  nothing that was done, you can’t do anything.

There could be Hell to pay when Jay Carr and his friends learn something about nothing being done.  That became a key piece of information that came out this week in the investigation of new Revenue Department procedures for issuing driver’s licenses and other state ID cards.

The root of all of this was exposed last Wednesday night, the 10th, when Jackie Benboom, the head of the motor vehicle licensing in the department, met with the Senate Appropriations Committee and was  confronted with the state administrative rule (12CSR10-24.448 for those who are fascinated by such things) requires that proof of lawful presence in this country has to be SHOWN to the clerks at the license office.  But nothing in the rule says anything about scanning and retention of documents.   Benboom said she’d been advised by the department’s lawyer that the rule did not need to be changed to require scanning and saving.  That brought General Counsel Trever Bossert to the microphone to maintain, “the scanning and the retention is an internal procedure.  Doesn’t change what an individual is required to bring to the office.”

Senator Kurt Schaefer of Columbia (committee chairman): “Right.  But isn’t the point of a rule, and as Chapter 536 specifically states, the purpose is to notify the public of standards of general applicability and things that they’ll have to comply with when they come forward to do stuff?” When Bossert agreed, Schaefer asked, “You decided not to promulgate a rule?”

Bossert: I think that is correct.

Schaefer: Still think that’s a good idea?

Bossert: …There are certainly pros and cons.

Mr. Bossert had just spilled some of his blood in the water.  And the committee sharks recognized it.

Later, Bossert was called back by Senator Ryan Silvey of Kansas City, who wanted to know what the “cons” are.

Bossert: I suppose the cons of promulgating a rule would be the, you know, mainly the administrative burden of bringing the rule up.

Silvey: So the administrative burden of having oversight, because the promulgated rule goes through Jay Carr which the members of the House and Senate have an opportunity to review and weigh in on, so that’s too big of a burden that somehow, now the administrative hurdle of going through Jay Carr and the action of the administrative process supersedes the notification of the public of this change?

Bossert: I can’t tell you why the previous director determined that she didn’t need to promulgate a rule.

Silvey: But you advised her that it wasn’t necessary.

Bossert:  I think I probably did.

Before the night was out, the committee had eliminated all funding for the motor vehicle licensing operations and specifically cut out the line for Bossert’s salary.

The problem with writing a new rule and running it through the administrative rules system is that the process takes time.  And the members of the House and Senate who are Jay Carr would have reviewed it.  They probably would have thrown a fit and killed the rule.

But Jay Carr never saw the rule.  There was no rule. Now we have some legislators suggesting it’s time for the Governor to step in and start lopping off some heads because of what they perceive as evasion and lack of cooperation.  Legislators who continue to bore into this issue have complained frequently that they are unable to get clear, simple, straight answers to their questions.  Governor Nixon, who has appointed many of the heads that critics would like to see in a basket, did nothing to quiet the situation  when a reporter caught him off-guard during a tour of tornado sites in eastern Missouri on Thursday and asked him if he knew state information had gone to the federal government.  He stumbled badly: “Like I say, we, we, we comport ourselves with the law and I’m not, I’m, I, I,  I won’t…..uh…(pause)…y’know (pause)  uh, We are, uh, (pause) we are following the laws as written by the, by, by the, by, in our state and the federal level, uh,  and, uh, you now,  I signed a law a couple of years ago saying , saying, what we’d do, and we’ve following those. so I, I uh you know, so I,  I will only say, as is our usual (pause) process and procedure we follow the laws and will continue to.”   But Senator Schaefer and some of his colleagues are quick to insist that some laws have not been followed.

Now,  Schaefer vows the show is about to hit the road, an action not without some peril. The value of the performances in the Capitol lies in the participation of the people responsible for the policies and actions in question as well as those investigating and alleging.  A road show that will be heavy with investigators and those doing the alleging runs the risk of taking the effort beyond policy and into politics and there are skeptics who think it is walking a fine line now.  It is hard to see how far all of this will go.

Regardless, all of this might not have been possible if Jay Carr had been consulted at the start.