The second week of session began with our traditional second week items like passing our House Rules and Committee Assignments and ended, unfortunately, with having to deal with an ethics issue of one of our members.
I am excited about my Committee assignments. I kept most of the Committees that I had last term with Budget, General Administration Appropriations, DNR/Conservation and a new one, Ways and Means. I am proud and humbled that Speaker Vescovo has the confidence in me to appoint me as Vice-Chair of DNR/Conservation and General Administration Appropriations. These are all very busy committees requiring a lot of hard work, especially in this budget cycle. I welcome the challenge and cannot wait to get to work. This year more than any other will require innovative and creative solutions to the budget issues facing the State.
Unfortunately, we were forced to deal with an ethics violation by a member this week. A member of the St. Louis contingent was accused of having an inappropriate relationship with an intern. This behavior is specifically prohibited by House rules and we receive mandatory training on the subject of harassment every year. His violation occurred only 8 days after he had that training. The Ethics Committee recommended Censure for his punishment, which amounts to removal from committees, leadership positions, and a fee of over $22,000. He also is not allowed to supervise or direct any employee of the House. He was also alleged to have committed perjury during the investigation and tampered with witnesses. An amendment was offered that would have required expulsion because of seriousness of the charge and the added accusation, but it failed. Both I, and fellow Pulaski County Represented Hardwick voted against expulsion and for Censure. There we several reasons for this: The evidence was clear that he had violated the House rule prohibiting inappropriate relationships between members and staff, and even though it was, apparently, consensual, that behavior is strictly forbidden. The evidence was not so clear on the other charges. While I believe that the Ethics Committee took the other charges seriously and they were concerned enough to include them in their report, they obviously had some of the same concerns that I had as to the lack of corroborating evidence. This is not to say that the Committee did not believe the witnesses. It is simply that due process is a cornerstone of our justice system and there must be, in my mind, a preponderance of the evidence or the tried and true: “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard. While our deliberations were not subject to normal court rules or procedures, and the Constitution gives the House wide latitude in dealing with these things, I have to believe that the framers did not intend for us to ignore all the words in our Constitution that proceed that authority. The accused member had, as an option, the right, I think, the moral obligation to resign, and he did not. He embarrassed the Body and brought shame on the House, himself and his family.
If you have any comments or questions about this or other legislation, please do not hesitate to get in touch with my office.
Representative Don Mayhew, a Republican, represents parts of Phelps, Pulaski and Crawford counties in the Missouri House of Representatives.