Capitol Watch: Bucking broncos and one balking governor
The Kansas City Star
Stop the presses!
Fasten your seat belts for this news. We’re actually seeing some progressive legislation move in the Missouri legislature.
A measure that passed the House as part of a larger judiciary bill narrows the sentencing disparity for trafficking of powder cocaine and crack cocaine.
Unduly harsh punishments for even small quantities of crack cocaine have contributed to the high incarceration rate of African-American males. The Sentencing Project, a national group, published a report last year showing that Missouri has the highest disparity of any state.
Under current law, someone would have to be convicted of selling 75 times as much powder .cocaine to receive the same sentence as someone charged with selling crack cocaine. A defendant convicted of selling six grams of crack cocaine faces a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence same as someone convicted of selling 450 grams of powder cocaine.
That policy has destroyed lives and families and overcrowded the state’s prisons. The House bill, which passed with broad support, requires trafficking of 28 grams of crack to warrant a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence.
Although parts of the judiciary bill need work, the disparity correction is a pragmatic move that the Senate should endorse and send to the governor. It’s also a brief respite from the usual craziness. (See below.)
Another week, another veto by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.
The latest nixed a procedural bill updating the state’s banking code. The GOP governor didn’t like the portion that would have enabled an independent board to appoint regulators, rather than his office.
Brownback, who relishes control, said the change would impair “efficient and uniform” management.
Legislators are still scratching their heads, so to speak, over Brownback’s veto of a bill concerning licensing exams for barbers. He also scratched a bill transferring control of an oil and gas depletion trust from the state to county governments. That had passed the legislature without a single vote of opposition; the governor’s veto is presumed to be a shot at Senate President Steve Morris, the moderate Republican whose district would have benefited from the change.
And that’s just the small stuff. The legislature has yet to vote on big issues such as redistricting, tax reform and school finance.
We should note that Brownback has signed a number of bills, including a recent one to designate Clyde, Kan., as the official home of the Kansas Watermelon Festival.
This was the Missouri legislature at work this week:
The House passed a bill guaranteeing citizens the right to conduct and participate in rodeos. We can all breathe a collective sigh of relief.
A bill making it illegal to film, tape or videotape activities at livestock operations or farms without the owner’s permission passed the House. It would also be illegal to get hired or otherwise get access to an agricultural operation under false pretences.
Dubbed the ag-gag bill, this gives cover to business owners who engage in abusive and unethical practices. It’s unnecessary legislation, unless it’s to protect someone who is doing something wrong.
By a vote of 108 to 44, the House passed a bill declaring the federal Affordable Care Act to be unconstitutional and that anyone who attempts to enact it in Missouri will be subject to criminal penalties.
We thought it was the U.S. Supreme Court’s job to declare laws unconstitutional, but the bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Kurt Bahr of St. Charles, apparently knows otherwise.
All of these bills have yet to be heard in the Senate, which is gearing up for the mother of all budget fights. So they may fall by the wayside. But they certainly give Missourians cause to wonder why it is necessary to send 163 members of the House to Jefferson City for five months of this sort of posturing.