Changes proposed for independent state departments

Sunday, February 24, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Most state departments are run by directors appointed by and beholden to the governor. However, a handful are overseen by commissions or boards that enjoy varying levels of independence from gubernatorial directives.

A proposed constitutional amendment would put all state departments on an equal footing in terms of oversight by the governor.

The measure, sponsored by state Rep. Kate Hollingsworth, D-Imperial, would abolish the panels that run five departments -- transportation, labor and industrial relations, higher education, elementary and secondary education and mental health.

The commissions or boards overseeing those departments contain varying numbers of members who serve terms of varying length. When there are openings, the governor appoints new members, who are subject to Senate confirmation.

However, that is the last input the governor and lawmakers have in naming departmental leadership. Department directors are in most cases picked by the panels.

Under Hollingsworth's proposal, all department directors would be named by the governor and confirmed by the Senate.

The House Fiscal Review and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on the measure last week. If the proposal clears the General Assembly, Missouri voters would decide on the change in November.

SEMO students lobby

Four Southeast Missouri State University students were among the more than 50 college students from around the state who visited the Capitol this week to lobby against proposed budget cuts for higher education.

Luke Dalton, a senior from Mount Vernon, Ill.; Brian Whitehead, a sophomore from Boaz, Ky.; Nathan Wilde, a sophomore from Arnold; and Adam Schaefer, a freshman from St. Louis visited with lawmakers from around Missouri. The four are members of the Student Association of Missouri, which organized the lobbying effort.

"These budget cuts do hurt people -- the students who will have to pay higher tuition," said Dalton. "Cutting higher education and increasing tuition is a short-term solution that creates a long-term problem."

Gov. Bob Holden recommended 10-percent reductions in the operating budget of all public, four-year institutions.

"We think it is important lawmakers know that students are aware of this problem and that there are students out there that care," said Schaefer.

One word

Republican lawmakers rallied in favor of a one-word change in state law that they said would help reduce workers' compensation costs for employers.

Under current law, a worker can seek benefits if his employment is "a dominant substantial factor" in an injury. The change would require work duties to be "the dominant substantial factor" in an injury for workers' compensation purposes.

Proponents of the change said existing law allows employees who are injured outside of work but later aggravate that injury on the job to collect benefits, costing employers through higher insurance premiums.

"If we penalize employers for things that have nothing to do with their employees' jobs, we will lose more Missouri jobs," said state Rep. Steve Hunter, R-Joplin.

Cut the chase

Law enforcement groups are behind a pair of identical House bills that would provide stiff punishments for motorists who attempt to outrun police.

The bills would make fleeing a police officer a class D felony, which carries a maximum punishment of five years in prison. At present, the crime is only a misdemeanor.

State Reps. Ralph Monaco, D-Raytown, and Gary Burton, R-Carl Junction, as the sponsors.

"What we have right now is a pretty serious situation," Monaco said. "Suspects have the motivation to flee if they know all they'll face is a misdemeanor."

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608

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