Rep. Curtis Trent is not one to shy away from a fight, but the Springfield lawyer and state representative knows that there are plenty of ways to win. He’s taken on several varied bills and duties in his two years, with one of those being one of the most pivotal moments in the history of the state.
This past session, Trent found himself sitting on a special investigative committee looking into allegations against former Gov. Eric Greitens, joining the committee later on in the process.
Trent said it was hard work trying to catch up, but in the end, the committee all had one goal: to get the entire story, and make the most accurate reports and do everything the right way in the most objective way possible.
Trent ended up spending just a few weeks working on the committee, due to Greitens’ decision to step down, but Trent speaks highly of the committee members and their work over long hours with such a sensitive subject.
“During the middle of session, I’m sure their own legislative priorities had to have suffered, but you wouldn’t have known it from looking at their output,” he said. “They still worked hard on a lot of bills and accomplished a lot, and I think that says a lot about the professionalism and integrity of those committee members.”
But as a legislator, Trent says he’s become more comfortable in his role as time has passed.
“I think it’s one of those things where the longer you do it, the better you get at it and better understand it,” Trent said. “I’ve got a fairly good understanding, but it’s also one of those scenarios where the more you know, the more you don’t know. So you’re constantly learning and growing.”
Trent has taken on some rather hefty bills in his two years in the Missouri House of Representatives, two of which have really caught the attention of the media and his colleagues.
The first one was Trent’s handling of HB 1880 in the last legislative session, better known as the rural broadband bill. The bill had two components to it, with the first being a statement from the legislature to show their intent of pushing forward rural broadband, while the other sought to protect rural co-ops as they tried to use existing broadband capabilities to be used for residential and commercial use.
“The nature of their connections, the cable that they use, has a lot more capacity on it than they actually need for their systems,” Trent said. “So they wanted to be able to open that excess capacity up for internet service providers or other entities that might want to utilize it. It would help cover some of their operating costs and also provide a nice opportunity to get high-speed internet to places that it might not otherwise be available.”
This all came to a head when the companies began getting sued over the issue of land easements, but Trent’s legislation sought to clarify the issue and enable the companies to go forward without additional penalties against them.
Trent’s work on the bill lasted nearly the entire legislative session in 2018, and the representative from Greene County said there were several times when he believed the bill to be dead in the water.
“There was actually quite a bit of work to it, but it passed with healthy margins in both chambers,” Trent said. “Those margins kind of masked how difficult it was because there were at least two points where I thought the bill was dead, being held up in other fights and falling prey to the process.”
But the other piece of legislation he has ardently been pushing is best known as Hailey’s Law, named for the young girl, Hailey Owens, from his district that had been abducted and murdered.
“There was an issue at the time with the speed at which the AMBER Alert was issued,” he said.
It was hours before the alert was issued, though police had responded to the call of a kidnapping in minutes.
Trent’s legislation would integrate AMBER alerts with the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s communications service, allowing it to interact with all law enforcement agencies. But it would also require the AMBER Alert Oversight Committee to meet on a regular basis.
For Trent, it’s an important bill for several reasons. Firstly, it would speed up the process of getting information out in the case of an AMBER Alert, which law enforcement officials will often explain that in these scenarios, every second counts.
Secondly, it would seek to keep these types of systems as up-to-date with the latest technology as possible.
But the final reason for Trent is more personal. He hopes that it serves as a memorial to Owens and that it helps prevent such another tragedy.
“There’s no way to see alternate futures, but the chances for a better outcome would have gone up,” he said. “So it’s a bill that is very important to me, for public safety, and to create a legacy for this young girl, and I’m happy that everyone, including the police and Highway Patrol, has been great about trying to make the improvements occur.”
And though the bill received bipartisan support, it has yet to cross the finish line, mostly because of technical issues such as conflicting legislation between the state’s two legislative chambers or running out of time.
Trent also was the House handler of then-Sen. Mike Kehoe’s civil servant reform bill, which he believes will be a boon for state employment in years to come.
“It’ll be some time before we see the full impact of those reforms, but I think it will enable state government to become more efficient and be beneficial for state employees,” he said. “It’s my hope that as the state government becomes more efficient, state employees could see a benefit in terms of their own pay and benefits from these changes.”
This appeared in the fall 2018 edition of the Missouri Times Magazine, available in Jefferson City at the Capitol, Tolson’s, Cork, and J. Pfenny’s, and online here.
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.