Hard times keep getting harder for Missouri House members. First their leader told them they couldn’t hold any more committee meetings at country clubs. Now Speaker John Diehl has banished lobbyist-provided food from committee meetings altogether.
It’s rough, all right, but other groups have it rougher. Read on.
Worst week in a capitol
Kansas teachers, hands down. Gov. Sam Brownback cut $45 million from the funds that school districts had anticipated receiving this year. A Senate committee recommended slashing even more. A different legislative committee wants to restrict teachers’ collective bargaining rights to just pay and hours worked.
Then there’s Senate Bill 56, being pushed by Republican Mary Pilcher-Cook of Shawnee, which would make teachers liable for prosecution if they exposed minor children to material deemed “harmful.” That’s a hazy area that some educators fear could include classics such as “Huckleberry Finn” and “Red Badge of Courage.” Sex education classes would be fraught with peril.
Hey Kansas, you want to attract the best and brightest teachers to your classrooms? Here’s a tip: Stingy pay, inadequate job protections and the threat of being busted on misdemeanor charges for doing one’s job is not your smartest recruiting strategy.
University talking heads ran into trouble on both sides of the state line.
In what is very likely the stupidest bill proposed in either legislature so far this year, a Kansas measure seeks to stop professors and other employees of state colleges and universities from using their official job titles on newspaper opinion pieces or letters-to-the-editor if the work concerns a Kansas officeholder or an issue pending before a public body.
In the bullying style typical of the Kansas Legislature, House Bill 2234 directs the governing boards of universities and colleges to draft policies telling employees not to fully disclose their identities. Though the bill doesn’t name an individual sponsor, legislative staff told the Garden City Telegraph it was initiated by Virgil Peck, a Republican from Tyro.
Kansas lawmakers as a group are control freaks, but this bill is obnoxious and likely unconstitutional.
Over in Missouri, Tim Wolfe, the president of the University of Missouri system, has been touring the state pointing out that Missouri ranks near the bottom of the states in spending for important things like higher education and health, and consequently it appears at the top of the lists for conditions like hunger, poverty and low educational attainment.
Wolfe’s tour, and an editorial about it in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, irked Sen. Eric Schmitt, a Republican from Glendale. “I think it is appalling the University of Missouri president is so opposed to people keeping more of their own money,” said Schmitt, and suggested that Wolfe mind his own business.
Schmitt, who is already running for treasurer in 2016, misses the point. A well-educated and healthy population is very much the business of a state university system president. And state investment in the health and education of citizens generally means higher salaries down the road and more money in people’s pockets.
Missouri ethics update
A Senate committee debated a measure that would require lawmakers to cool their heels for two years before taking jobs as lobbyists. But the sponsor, Republican Ron Richard of Joplin, said he would kill his own bill if anyone succeeded in amending it to require limits on campaign contributions.
Some lawmakers argued in favor of capping or even banning gifts from lobbyists. But Sen. Bob Dixon, a Republican from Springfield, deflected that with a novel argument. Allowing unlimited gifts from lobbyists, he reasoned, gives voters an opportunity to judge their lawmakers’ character by checking to see how much largess they accept.
Hmmm. We never looked at it quite like that.
With lobbyists feting Missouri lawmakers to the tune of about $1 million a year, we suspect many legislators aren’t especially worried about passing this particular character test.