JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – As promised, Sen. Gary Romine’s legislation seeking to address the gubernatorial appointments process has made some progress this week, with the Senate Committee on Government Reform hearing arguments on the bill early Wednesday morning.
Romine’s bill, SB 794, was discussed on the Senate floor one week ago, while the Missouri Senate filibustered attempts to give approval and consent to some of the appointments made by Governor Eric Greitens.
The bill, Romine told his colleagues, “would go a long way to correct the abuses of this Governor of appointing and removing people.”
And in Wednesday’s hearing, Romine echoed that sentiment.
“This bill is a response to some of the concerns we had this summer regarding the State Board of Education being appointed, asked to resign, and so forth,” he said. “This bill makes sure that if someone is appointed by the Governor in the interim, they will have the opportunity to serve and make most of the decisions placed before them based on their own understanding and conscience without fear of retribution.”
That bill would change several things regarding the processes of making appointments:
It would require the Governor to inform the Senate, in writing, of any appointments made while the legislature is not in session, and states that no appointee can be sworn in until that notification would be made. It also states that the Governor cannot withdraw or rescind that appointment except for charges of malfeasance, misfeasance, or nonfeasance in office.
It also makes modifications to the State Board of Education, stating that at no time will more than two members be classified as “independent.”
It requires that each member of the Board is sworn in during open session, and that to establish a quorum, there must be five members who have “received the advice and consent of the Senate” and that no official actions may be taken unless a majority of such votes therefor.
It also repeals a provision authorizing the Governor to make a temporary appointment to the Board if a vacancy arises while the legislature is not in session.
In the event that the Board cannot act, the State Treasurer would distribute funds and appropriations to school districts as necessary.
Sen. Ed Emery spoke about his interviews with some of the appointees, and whether there had been any discussions of whether they had been instructed by the Governor on how to handle the Board of Education and what to do with former Commissioner Margie Vandeven, saying that they had told him that neither the Governor nor his staff had imposed on them.
“You have to consider that when there are ten appointees made, and are asked to resign or are withdrawn, to finally to get to a number needed to oust the commissioner, you can draw a pretty concise conclusion,” Romine replied.
“Sure, I just think that personally talking to those people is probably better than drawing conclusions,” Emery said.
Sen. Bill Eigel said that the bill’s intent was not to remove the authority of the Governor, but really more to “protect the Senate’s role in advising and consent”, noting that he had also had discussions with the nominees and that none of them reported receiving a litmus test from the Governor’s Office.
“My only comment is that, given that the Governor had to make ten picks to fill the positions, perhaps he should have had a litmus test,” Eigel said, drawing chuckles from the committee and audience.
Eigel did question the provisions regarding the party requirements, saying that he was concerned that it made enrollment in a political party one of the standards or qualifications for public appointees.
“Most of the boards have that balance so as to not become a politically driven board or commission,” Romine said.
Speaking in favor of the bill, Mike Lodewegen of the Missouri Association of School Administrators said it was obvious that the process needed review.
“Right now, we don’t even have a functioning state school board,” he said.
“This process is broken.”
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.