JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri is primed for an extremely busy week, so let’s break it down.
Governor Eric Greitens was indicted back in February on a felony invasion of privacy charge, and now, for the first time, a sitting governor in Missouri will stand trial for a felony crime.
The charge is based on the argument of whether the Governor took a nonconsensual and potentially compromising photograph of a woman he was having an extramarital affair back in 2015.
Under that charge, St. Louis prosecutor Kim Gardner will have to convince a 12-person jury that Greitens knowingly photographed the woman without her consent while she was in a state of partial or full nudity in a “place where she would have a reasonable expectation of privacy.”
Gardner also would have to show that Greitens distributed the photograph to someone else or transmitted the image. That part may be the easier condition to prove, as most smartphones with access to social media or the cloud could fall under that provision.
But the more difficult piece that the prosecution will be dealing with is that, according to the Associated Press, Gardner’s office has not discovered evidence that the photo exists, even after Greitens’ phone was examined.
And as the criminal trial for embattled Republican governor prepares to get underway this week, the actual start time is estimated to be pushed back to Wednesday, as the jury selection process has taken longer than expected.
But once the trial gets underway, all bets are off. Many in the legal world have speculated about what outcome is most likely, whether it be a hung jury or a conviction, but at the end of the day, conviction and impeachment are separate matters and a second trial is on the horizon for the Governor regarding felony computer tampering.
The governor has denied criminal wrongdoing but acknowledged having an affair. If convicted, he could face prison time, with the invasion of privacy charge carrying a maximum sentence of four years in prison.
UPDATE, as of 5 p.m., May 14, 2018: The felony invasion of privacy case against Missouri Governor Eric Greitens was dismissed Monday after the circuit attorney’s office stated they will seek a special prosecutor to handle the case.
What if he is removed?
While it’s complete speculation at this time about how the trial plays out, or whether impeachment charges come, the Missouri Senate has moved forward with a measure that would have a quick effect if Greitens is removed from office.
The Senate on Friday passed a measure that would allow a governor to appoint a lieutenant governor in the event that succession occurs. In short, the legislation passed Friday would give Lt. Gov. Mike Parson, who would succeed Greitens if he is removed, the power to appoint his replacement.
Sen. Rob Schaaf told colleagues while introducing the amendment to a House bill:
“I think that, at this time in history, we need to be prepared.”
This issue has been one of contention throughout the legislative session this year, as the state’s constitution and laws are unclear regarding how to fill a vacancy in the lieutenant governor’s office.
House Investigative Committee
For the first time since their establishment, the House Special Committee on Oversight is holding open meetings. They had three scheduled this week, the first of which was canceled due to a bad traffic accident on I-70 that left some members unable to attend.
Exactly what their meetings will regard is still to be seen, but some speculate that it could be making their conclusions, while others think the committee could potentially release another report.
The committee will also meet on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Meanwhile in the Legislature…
For the Missouri General Assembly, this week marks the end of the 2018 legislative session. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle remain hopeful of passing a number of bills before the deadline this Friday, but all eyes see are primed on the Missouri Senate, waiting to see if work will slow to a crawl as filibusters begin to take shape on several contentious issues. As of now 72 bills and resolutions have been finally agreed to and passed, with three being signed by the Governor
Here are some issues that could define the final week:
- Tax reform
Many are watching the Senate to see if changes to the state’s tax codes will be coming. While Sen. Bill Eigel’s bold tax reform package will not be crossing the finish line, due to being held up in committee, the senator has another shot at passing tax reform changes through the Senate committee substitute for Rep. Elijah Haahr’s HB 2540. The Senate version took the 400+ page bill and simplified it down to about a dozen pages, removing all provisions regarding transportation funding, so an increase to the fuel tax doesn’t seem to be in the cards this year. Sen. Andrew Koenig’s bill cutting individual and corporate tax rates could also move forward.
- Right-to-work and Labor issues
Here’s another issue where two legislative measures could play out: the Senate last week passed a resolution moving the right-to-work referendum vote from November to the August ballot. Most expect it will have little trouble moving through the Republican-dominated House. The House, meanwhile, has been speeding through an amendment to include right-to-work in the state constitution.
- Prevailing wage
Another potentially hot item will be changing the prevailing wage. Sen. Dave Schatz predicted that something would be done with it this year, the question is whether it would be a full repeal or a partial scaling back.
- Tort reform
Proponents of tort reform measures are meeting early this week, looking at how best to push forward with a number of legislative measures, ranging from joinder and venue to changes to the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (MMPA), arbitration, interpleader, punitive damages, and products liability. With a number of bills available, it’s almost assured that at least one comes up if not all.
The topic of joinder and venue has been a contentious one this session, with Sen. Munzlinger’s bill appearing three times on the floor but never passing out of the chamber. However, tort reform supporters believe this is the year it will pass, and think they can find a path forward without seeking the PQ.
The House managed to pass Rep. Justin Alferman’s HB 1303, which places a ban on lawmakers accepting gifts from lobbyists, back in January, and since then, it has passed a Senate committee. In addition to that, Sen. Jason Holsman’s SJR 27 would modify term limits and put a gift ban in place. That measure passed the Senate and has made it through a House committee. Both could pass in theory but will need a chance on their respective floors first.
The issue of utility rates has been a topic of much discussion, most of it fairly long and difficult. The Senate managed to pass Sen. Ed Emery’s SB 564, which would modify provisions regarding utility rates and their ability to recap costs to upgrade infrastructure. The Senate passed the bill with rate caps and other changes, but after the deal was struck and the bill passed, the senators opposing the bill wanted a second shot at it. Though they have the House version in their hands, sources say that conversations haven’t advanced much, and SB 564, which the House has held for months, will most likely see a vote this week.
- Historic preservation tax credits
The House and Senate have both passed legislation lowering the cap for tax credits for rehabilitating historic buildings from $140 million to $90 million in the form of Sen. Dan Hegeman’s SB 590. After receiving some amendments in the House, it simply needs a vote in the Senate to reach the Governor’s desk, but the question is whether opponents of the bill will stall it going forward with a filibuster.
- Sports Betting
A recently issued decision by the Supreme Court determined that a federal ban on sports betting is unconstitutional, which could open the door for sports betting bills this week.
- Sunshine Law
It was pretty easily passed by the House, but the bill seeking to give the Attorney General more authority in enforcing the Sunshine Law has yet to get a hearing in a Senate committee.
Other issues that could make an appearance include charter schools, changes to the Merit System for state workers, the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act, abortion, or even some gun legislation.
The deadline for session is officially 6 p.m. on Friday, though the chambers could adjourn earlier. The special session concerning Gov. Eric Greitens, however, will begin at 6:30 p.m. that evening. From there, the House Special Committee could introduce articles of impeachment or continue with their investigations, as the session gives them 30 days to work.
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.