This week, my ethics reform legislation, Senate Bill 11, was debated on the Senate floor and perfected. For obvious reasons, ethics reform is a hot-button issue for lawmakers, not just in Missouri, but across the country. The primary goals of SB 11 are to create greater transparency of lobbyist gifts, tighten up existing laws on who and what has to be reported and ban out-of-state expenditures on travel, food and beverage, and entertainment.
While a number of amendments to SB 11 were offered, it was important to me the language of this legislation not become weighted down with provisions that would likely kill the entire bill or I did not feel were appropriate for the Legislature to resolve. In terms of progress, SB 11 makes balanced and meaningful steps will put us further down the path of where we want to be.
Another measure proposed this session is Senate Bill 140, which provides defendants in tort actions shall only be held severally liable and not jointly. Under Missouri’s current law, if there are multiple parties found at fault in a civil lawsuit and one of those defendants is found to be at least 51 percent at fault, that defendant can be held accountable for 100 percent of the total damages; this is what’s known as joint and several liability. If it seems unfair, that’s because it is.
For many, it stands to reason that if you are found to be 55 percent at fault, you should only be held accountable for 55 percent of the damages. Unfortunately, joint and several liability means you could find yourself on the hook for 100 percent of the damages. While this may seem unpalatable to an individual, it’s especially unappealing to businesses, which are much more attractive targets for trial attorneys since they typically have significant financial resources and assets.
This type of system inherently encourages lawsuits against businesses, which creates a legal environment that is not business-friendly and discourages economic growth and job creation. Senate Bill 140 aims to correct this unfair practice by making it so each defendant in a lawsuit would only be responsible for the amount of damages that equals the percentage they are found at fault.
In other news, as some of you may have heard, the EPA recently announced if states do not agree to adopt sweeping new policies that would sharply increase energy costs, they would have their federal highway funding cut off. Sound familiar? It should, since this same tactic was attempted during the Obamacare debacle.
Originally, Obamacare sought to penalize states choosing not to expand Medicaid by stripping them of all their federal Medicaid funding. In their decision to strike down the provision, the U.S. Supreme Court wrote: “In this case, the financial ‘inducement’ Congress has chosen is much more than ‘relatively mild encouragement’—it is a gun to the head.” Clearly the EPA was not paying attention, since they’ve decide to employ this same tactic to coerce states into adopting unwanted policies.
It’s not hard to see what’s going to happen here: the EPA’s empty threats to strip states of all their highway funding will be struck down, just as the Medicaid threats were struck down under Obamacare. I can’t help but think, federal agencies would be better served by respecting the U.S. Constitution and states’ rights, rather than bullying states to get what they want and wasting time and taxpayer money.
On Wednesday, I was pleased to meet with students, parents and faculty from the 32nd District. The students are currently participating in the State Historical Society of Missouri’s premier educational program, National History Day in Missouri. This innovative program lets students (grades 6 through 12) explore the past in a creative, hands-on way. They become experts on a historical subject of their choosing, while conducting extensive research to produce a documentary, exhibit, paper, performance or website.
Statewide, more than 3,000 students participate each year. Nearly 600 compete in the state contest at the University of Missouri in Columbia, and top finishers advance to represent the Show-Me State in the Kenneth E. Behring National Contest in the D.C. area. In my district, I am proud to say Phoebe Watson of Joplin North Middle School; Quinn Lasley of Carthage High School; and Elijah Paden of Carthage High School participated and won awards.