November 08, 2007

Rod Jetton offers explanation-7 months late

In an article in the Springfield News-Leader today Kathleen O'Dell reports that Republican House Speaker Rod Jetton has finally broken his silence in regard to a provision Jetton added to a lengthy bill. The provision made it easier to incorporate as a village in Missouri and the day after the change in the law went into effect (August 28, 2007) Robert Plaster, a Lebanon businessman and Jetton acquaintance, began the process of incorporating land he owned in Stone County. Plaster's plans for a development on his land had been rejected in the past as had his attempt to incorporate as a village.

By making it easier to incorporate as a village, developers will be able to bypass a county's planning and zoning laws and other land control ordinances. It is through such laws that residents are allowed to voice their concerns over the negative impact a development might have on their land and the community as a whole.

There was no debate over this change in the law and it is likely that most of the members of the house and senate had no idea about the change. The change was added to a 300 plus page bill which contained numerous changes to various laws. Jetton offered no explanation for his proposed change and after fellow Republican Mike Wood and residents of Stone County began to question Jetton's role Jetton went silent. Jetton refused to answer any questions from his constituents, other residents of Missouri and the media.

The change proposed by Jetton is not the only change to a law that was slipped into Senate Bill 22. In St. Charles County a developer's attempt to vacate a county road so that houses could be built on the land was thwarted when a Judge correctly ruled that the road was not "useless" as required by the law in that over 800 vehicles a day were using the road. Since the developer was unable to take a public road for his own personal use under existing law, the developer went to Republican Sally Faith and other builder friendly legislators to get the law changed. Again, without any debate, our elected representatives changed existing law regarding the vacation of public roads (Section 228.110). While this change was no doubt made to help out the well connected developer in St. Charles County it will effect residents statewide.

These type of changes to the law are made all the time and, like in the case of Plaster and his attempts to incorporate as a village, we do not learn of them until it is to late. With the technology that is available today there is no excuse why the State of Missouri cannot set up a user friendly system to make it easier for legislators and the public to keep track of what is going on in Jefferson City.

So 7 months after he slipped the change in to the village law, Jetton sends out an email explaining his reasoning. Does this make any sense? Even if you believe Jetton's explanation shouldn't he have told us this before the proposed change so we could have had a debate?

So what can be done in the future? I suggest the following:

  • Whenever a bill is introduced it must include a plain English statement as to what the bill will do as well as answers to the following questions:

  • Why? Tell us why we need to change the law or need a new law, what problem will this remedy?

  • How? Tell us how you became aware of this problem and how your bill will fix the problem.

  • Who? Tell us who brought this problem to your attention and who might support your bill and who might oppose it.

  • What? Tell us what you expect your bill to accomplish.

These answers should be short and concise and required from the sponsor(s) of any bill or of any amendment to a bill. We could easily make this information available online and allow for a comment section for the general public. If our representatives had to do this at least we wouldn't have to wait for a bill to become law before we are told why a new law is good for us.

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