Missouri House Ignoring Constitution
Supreme Court Decision is a Wake Up Call
At least twice in the last three weeks red flags have been raised about the lack of respect the Missouri General Assembly has for the Constitution.
First the chairman of an influential committee – the committee responsible for beginning the process of doling out many millions of public dollars to private parties – publicly declared that her committee has no responsibility to evaluate the constitutionality of legislation it considers.
Then, this last week, the Missouri Supreme Court chastised the House and the Senate for their neglect of constitutional responsibilities. Let's take a look at what the Court had to say before we go back to the committee chairman.
SUPREME COURT RULES AGAINST GENERAL ASSEMBLY
Klebba v. Missouri was a challenge to the the 2010 “Ominbus Ethics Reform Bill” (SB 844). Here's the history of that bill:
Now, 21 months later, the Missouri Supreme Court unanimously ruled that SB 844 was, indeed, unconstitutional because of its multiple subject omnibus form, the fact that it departed from its original purpose, and because it violated free speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment.
COURT'S MESSAGE TO LEGISLATORS
The Klebba decision should be a clear message to the men and women the People send to Jefferson City to represent them: Start respecting the Constitution!
In his concurring opinion, Judge Zel Fischer made that abundantly clear as he pointed out the many recent cases involving the “original purpose” and “single subject” requirements of the Constitution. He wrote, “[the number of cases] continue[s] to rise annually... because the legislature frequently ignores these clearly expressed constitutional provisions.” (Emp. added)
He concluded his opinion with an admonition to the Court which also impugned the General assembly. “...because [the court] has encouraged a lack of legislative accountability and transparency and has permitted the legislature to thwart the will of the people by openly violating clear and express procedural provisions of the Missouri Constitution.” (Emp. Added)
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE CHAIR IGNORES CONSTITUTION
It's disconcerting to think that our legislators are “openly violating” the Constitution as they pass laws that affect the lives of our families, but now some of them are no longer even pretending to be constrained by that document.
At the January 31st public hearing for the Freight Forwarder's bill (HB 1476, part of the China Hub bill), four citizen activists testified against the measure. Among other things, these citizens called to question the constitutionality of the targeted subsidies in the bill.
During his 5 minutes of testimony, Ron Calzone was repeatedly interrupted by Chairman Anne Zerr and told that his comments were not germane and that her committee had no responsibility to consider the constitutionality of bills before it. She implied that it was their job to enact legislation and let the courts sort out the constitutionality.
PASSING THE BUCK
That's a scary proposition for more than one reason! First, if legislators don't have to worry about the constitutionality of legislation, what does their oath to “support the Constitution of the United States and of the state of Missouri” actually mean?
Chairman Zerr's comments were doubly disconcerting when you consider the great deference the courts usually give to the legislative process. Here's a typical statement of the standard of review from the Missouri Supreme Court when statutes are challenged: “This Court's review must begin with the recognition that laws enacted by the legislature and approved by the governor have a strong presumption of constitutionality.” (Emp. added) JACKSON CTY. SPORTS COMPLEX AUTH. v. State, 226 SW 3d 156 - Mo: Supreme Court 2007
In simpler terms, what we have is legislators, like Rep. Anne Zerr, saying, “The courts will do it.” and the courts saying, “The legislature already did it.”, and then there's often no one actually making sure the Constitution is upheld and the People's rights are defended.
THE PATRIOT'S RESPONSE – CALL TO ACTION
The People of Missouri can't let this great shirking of legislative responsibility go unchallenged. We must demand that our representatives uphold the Constitution first and foremost.
Rep. Zerr has been asked to issue a memo to her committee retracting her statements from the January 31st hearing and instruting them to, indeed, consider the constitutionality of bills, but she has declined.
The issue has been brought to the attention of Speaker Steve Tilley's office, and his staff has refused a request for him to clarify the responsibility his committee chairman have to consider the constitutionality of bills. The Speaker's spokesman replied that the Speaker doesn't like to micro-manage the committees. So much for leadership.
CALL TO ACTION: Citizens from across the state should call, write, email and fax Rep. Anne Zerr and Speaker Steve Tilley and demand that they establish clear policy that supports the Constitution, as their oath of office requires. Memos should be sent to all committee chairs.
Letters to editors, blog posts and calls to radio shows are also in order. If our representatives can continue to ignore the Constitution, the People are left with little recourse.
See Call To Action at the bottom of this message.
Oath of Office
Every senator or representative elect, before entering upon the duties of his office, shall take and subscribe the following oath or affirmation: "I do solemnly swear, or affirm, that I will support the Constitution of the United States and of the state of Missouri, and faithfully perform the duties of my office, and that I will not knowingly receive, directly or indirectly, any money or other valuable thing for the performance or nonperformance of any act or duty pertaining to my office, other than the compensation allowed by law." The oath shall be administered in the halls of the respective houses to the members thereof, by a judge of the supreme court or a circuit court, or after the organization by the presiding officer of either house, and shall be filed in the office of the secretary of state. Any senator or representative refusing to take said oath or affirmation shall be deemed to have vacated his office, and any member convicted of having violated his oath or affirmation shall be deemed guilty of perjury, and be forever disqualified from holding any office of trust or profit in this state.
Article III Section 15 - Missouri Constitution
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