JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The latest victim in ongoing push vs. shove taking place in the Missouri Capitol is Rep. T.J. Berry’s HB 306.
The bill, which sought to address concerns about conflicts of interest in Missouri’s weigh station industry, was defeated in the Missouri House by a vote of 60-82 on Thursday afternoon. The intent of the bill, according to its sponsor, was to prohibit employees in the Missouri Department of Transportation and Highway Patrol from sitting on the boards of companies they help regulate.
The issue truly came to light when the news broke that an FBI inquiry was looking into state regulators who sat on the board of HELP, Inc., which currently has a lock on the Missouri market. Until recently, state departments had not granted other entities except for help bids on the project.
Rep. Glen Kolkmeyer, R-Odessa, spoke against the bill, outlining his opposition for a number of reasons. His primary argument against the bill lies with the perceived conflicts of interest. He argues that having state workers on the board ensures that the state has a voice, rather than just the nonprofit.
“You have private property on state property, and I don’t have a problem with someone from the state looking after our interests,” Kolkmeyer said.
He also points to the fact that the issue that first caused the concerns to rise has been rectified; Missouri has awarded contracts to both HELP Inc. and Drivewyze, which he says makes the issue a moot point.
“I think it was a bill that was looking a problem vs. there wasn’t a problem,” Kolkmeyer said. “At this point, Drivewyze has been given the agreement, the agreement has been signed with Drivewyze, and at that point, as far as I’m concerned, the bill is dead.”
Berry says that he knows that the high emotions played the deciding factor in the defeating of his bill. He says that he intends to file the bill again next year, but says that he expects to expand it to a broader scope, rather than just MoDOT and Highway Patrol.
“What we’ve lost is an opportunity to stand up and say that potential corruption should not be accepted in government with regulators sitting on boards,” he said after the vote. “Next year, I’m sure the bill will be not-industry specific, and it will deal strictly with boards, and I think we will get that passed.”
Missouri is not the only state with officials on the board, further, HELP is not the only board that state officials sit on.
“I will be proposing that Missouri regulators cannot be able to sit on not for profit or for profit boards that they are regulating,” Berry said. “It may be harder to push through because there are potentially many conflicts of interest, but from an intellectual standpoint, I think that it is a clear argument.”
The defeat of HB 306, however, remains a win for HELP, Inc., who issued this statement following the House vote:
“On behalf of HELP Inc., I salute the Missouri General Assembly for its defeat of a special interest bill to weaken Missouri’s truck safety standards,” Karen Rasmussen, President & CEO of HELP, Inc. said. “Hopefully all weigh-station bypass providers will live up to their commitment to operate in full compliance with State law as HELP has done for 15 years.”
“Missouri Trucking Association members are pleased with the defeat of HB 306. Much of the media coverage of the bill missed the major concerns of our members which were the continued safe operation of our weigh stations and the security and privacy of their data,” Tom Crawford, the president of the Missouri Trucking Association, said. “We applaud members of the House who were able to see through the rhetoric to the problems contained in the bill, and past the efforts to destroy the reputations and integrity of our dedicated public officials who are doing their job and enforcing our state laws.”
But the bill may not necessarily have died on the House floor because of its legislation. Instead, what may have killed the bill, more than anything, was drawing the connection between the bill and Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St.Joseph, who made waves on Wednesday by getting every House consent bill removed from the Senate’s calendar.
“The senator from the St. Joe district, the Schaaf district, has the companion bill,” Kolkmeyer said while speaking on the House floor Thursday afternoon. “Mr. Speaker, with everything going on in the senate today and this week, why are we helping forward anything on the senator from St. Joe’s agenda?”
When asked if he believed that the arising issues surrounding the actions of Schaaf played any role in the defeat of HB 306, Berry says he knows it did.
“I was a casualty, not of the subject, but of the building and people’s emotions over what happened on the other side of the building in the Senate,” he said.
Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.