Sater Report: Safeguarding the Public’s Trust

The public expects and deserves honest service, and public employees are, and should, be held to a high standard. Most public employees take their jobs seriously and understand the importance of protecting the public’s trust.

Unfortunately, some have abused their positions for personal gain. Just last year, Mark Brixey, former director of the Missouri State Bookstore, was convicted of stealing more than $1.3 million from the university.

In 2011, an ambulance district administrator in Northeast Missouri pled guilty to stealing more than $41,000. In 2010, an employee of the Missouri Veterans Commission pled guilty to stealing more than $90,000 that should have been used for our veterans. These are just a few of the cases. There are many, many more.

These individuals all abused the public’s trust and stole from the very people they were supposed to be serving. They had something else in common though – to my amazement, there was no Missouri law prohibiting these individuals from receiving their public pensions.

That means after committing criminal acts against taxpayers, they could take advantage of retirement benefits funded by those same taxpayers.This loophole in our state law is completely inconsistent with our shared belief in personal and fiscal responsibility and, to correct it, I filed Senate Bill 550 this past session.

The purpose of my bill was to prohibit retirement benefits for a public employee if convicted of the following crimes: felony stealing, receiving stolen property, forgery, counterfeiting, and bribery of a public servant. These address the most serious crimes of stealing and those that have resulted in a serious erosion of public trust.

A public employee would only lose their pension if the crime is related to their official job duties and does not apply to crimes committed outside of work. We ran out of time before we could consider my stand-alone SB 550 but I was able to amend it onto House Bill 1217, which passed and is now awaiting the governor’s signature. Being a public employee it is more than a job, it is a responsibility.

The people are placing their trust in you and counting on you to represent their morals and values. I am proud we made this change to our law and are now better protecting our public employee retirement system, the taxpayers’ investment and, most importantly, the public’s trust.

Agriculture is so important to our local economy and to the people I represent. It is also important to me and that is why I sponsored two pro-agriculture bills this past session. The first was Senate Bill 591. Many of you may know that $1 on every head of cattle sold in the state goes to the Beef Checkoff program. Fifty cents goes to Cattlemen’s Beef Promotion and Research Board for national promotion and research efforts and 50 cents remains in state to promote Missouri beef.

Right now, state law prohibits Missouri cattle farmers from voting on any changes to the state checkoff program. My bill simply repeals this law, puts the decision in the hands of cattle farmers, and lets them decide how they want to structure this program. We have a strong agricultural tradition and if we want Missouri to continue to be a leader in cattle production, it is important we promote the beef industry in our state and give the industry the ability to best decide how to accomplish that goal.

The other bill I sponsored was Senate Bill 671, which extends liability protection to livestock operations for the inherent risks of working with livestock. We all know livestock can be unpredictable, and our common sense tells us to be careful and not do anything that would put ourselves in harm’s way with these animals.

Not everyone uses their common sense though. I have heard of customers at a stockyard or individuals at a livestock fair getting hurt because they jumped in a pen with a bull or went somewhere they weren’t supposed to be. The business owner then gets stuck with the bill or gets sued.

There are protections in the bill if the livestock operation is intentionally putting people at risk or acting outside law. This bill was based on existing protections in state law for equine (horse) operations and is a common-sense fix to our law.

Senate Bill 591 was one of the first bills to pass the Senate this year and did so unanimously (32-0). Unfortunately, it got bogged down in the House after a number of other bills were added to it. Both bills ended up rolled into larger agriculture bills, Senate Bill 506 and House Bill 1326, that included other provisions such as the large animal veterinarian student loan program and the Missouri Dairy Revitalization Act.

Both bills passed the last week of session but were vetoed by the governor just this week because of language in the bill that would have transferred supervision of captive deer from the Missouri Department of Conservation to the Missouri Department of Agriculture. Lawmakers will meet in September at the annual veto session to consider action on all the governor’s vetoes.

As always, I welcome your ideas, questions and concerns about Missouri government. You may contact me at the State Capitol as follows: (573) 751-1480, david.sater@senate.mo.gov or by writing to Senator David Sater, Missouri State Capitol, Room 433, Jefferson City, MO 65101.

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