Recent Missouri Supreme Court Opinion Upholds Legislative Amendment Process

Recent Missouri Supreme Court Opinion Upholds Legislative Amendment Process

Have you ever intently followed legislation that you supported—an education bill, for instance—only to find out that another education-related proposal you didn’t like had been added to the bill as an amendment?  While this can be frustrating to the observing citizen, it certainly is not unusual and most often is appropriate under the Missouri state constitution.  That was the subject of the Missouri Supreme Court’s recent combined opinion in Calzone v. Interim Commnr. of Dep’t of Elem. & Secondary Educ. and Calzone v. Director of Dep’t of Agric., issued October 1, 2019.

Applicable Constitutional Provisions

The Missouri state constitution prevents the Missouri General Assembly from amending a bill during the legislative process “as to change its original purpose.”[1] This provision is intended to guard against hasty legislation and to prevent the passage of amended statutes that blind legislators to their effects.[2] But the provision was not designed to hamper “the normal legislative processes in which bills are combined and additions necessary to comply with the legislative intent are made,” so long as the subject matter of the changes is germane. This means that the general or overarching purpose—not the small details—must be maintained.[3]

The state constitution also contains a single-subject requirement: “No bill shall contain more than one subject which shall be clearly expressed in its title.”[4] This prevents legislators from inserting clauses—through “skillful maneuvering”—that cause the legislation to be made up of very diverse measures that do not fairly relate to the same general subject (perhaps because certain measures on their own wouldn’t have garnered enough support).[5] Like the original-purpose clause, the single-subject requirement is not intended to cripple the legislative and amendatory process. A strict interpretation of the clauses would lead to many more separate acts, even if they related to the same general subject. Instead, a bill meets the single-subject requirement so long as “the matter is germane, connected, and congruous.”[6]

2016 Laws Challenged in Lawsuits

The Calzone opinion dealt with challenges to two pieces of legislation.  According to its original title, Senate Bill No. 638 (2016) related to “civics education.” In the legislative process, additional school-related provisions were added to the bill, with new curriculum and program offerings (including measures to assist dyslexic students), charter-school certification, school-board governance, and expansion of the A+ program for students at nonpublic schools. The final title, as enacted, described the statutory sections as “relating to elementary and secondary” education.

According to its original title, Senate Bill No. 665 (2016) related to “the establishment of a fee structure for sellers electing to use the AgriMissouri trademark associated with Missouri agricultural products.”  The bill went through various amendments in the legislative process. Legislators added provisions concerning agricultural tax credits, the AgriMissouri and Farm-to-Table programs, and the petroleum inspection fee used to fund oversight activities by the state Department of Agriculture.  The final title, as enacted, described the statutory sections as “relating to agriculture.”

In the lawsuits, the plaintiff claimed that the substantive amendments during the legislative process changed the original purpose of each bill and that the final bills violated the single-subject requirement.  The plaintiff additionally alleged that the title changes during the legislative process defeated the purpose of these constitutional provisions.  He argued that the bill’s original purpose is established by the bill’s title and contents at the time the bill is introduced.

The Missouri Supreme Court disagreed. The court held that the legislation did not violate the original-purpose clause. Regarding a title, the court examined the constitution and relevant precedents and found that a title, although playing a part in the original-purpose analysis, (1) is not actually part of the bill; (2) the constitution does not require that the original purpose be stated in the title; and (3) the title may properly be changed throughout the legislative process. More specific to the challenged laws, the court found that SB 638’s earliest title and contents demonstrated that its purpose was to promote education in Missouri and that the amendments, while extending the scope of the bill, were in fact germane to education. Similarly, the earliest version of SB 665 would’ve promoted Missouri’s agricultural industry and modified programs administered by the agriculture department. The amendments were germane to agriculture and thus were appropriate.

Takeaways from 2019 Calzone Opinion

Consistent with past precedent, the Court continues to broadly interpret the procedural limitations found in the original-purpose and single-subject clauses so as to uphold a law’s constitutional validity whenever possible. The court rarely invalidates legislation based on an original-purpose challenge.  During the legislative process, legislators may amend legislation to include additional provisions, so long as the amendments are relevant and germane to the general subject and purpose of the bill.

The court continues to interpret the words “one subject” to mean that the subjects must be “germane, connected, and congruous.” The court noted that it would strike down as unconstitutional legislation that contained multiple subjects that were not fairly related to, or lacked a natural connection with, the bill’s general purpose. But the bills in question (SB 638 and SB 665) were not of that type and thus were constitutional.

The 2019 Calzone opinion adds clarity to the jurisprudence on these constitutional clauses. Previous opinions had analyzed the provisions together, making it seem as if the provisions were interchangeable. Here, the court analyzed the sections separately, thus providing greater delineation of their meanings.

Conclusion

It’s easy to understand why you might at times get frustrated with the amendment process in the legislature, especially when a provision you like gets saddled with a provision you dislike (even if it is germane).  The Missouri Supreme Court in Calzone recognized that constitutional guard rails must remain in place to keep legislators and the public informed of the pending legislation’s subject matter and to prevent legislative “log-rolling.” Yet the court also saw the need for balance. An overly strict interpretation of the procedural limitations—one that would allow amendments only if they related to the exact (instead of the general) subject matter and purpose—would be problematic.

By design, legislators have only a limited time each year to pass legislation. To mandate only very narrow bills would mean that legislators would have even less of a chance to pass legislation that is important to their constituents. A new legislator or one in the minority party would have even less of a chance to get things done. The legislative process would also become even more inefficient. As the Court opined, if the procedures were too rigid such as to require “many separate acts relating to the same general subject,” the same “mischief intended to be remedied” could result, causing legislators and the public to be misled and ill-informed.[7]

For legal representation or advice regarding legislative or regulatory processes, political or election law, or legal challenges to legislation, please contact Kevin Corlew, (816) 472-4600.

 

[1] Mo. Const. art. III § 21 (emphasis added).

[2] See Calzone, slip. op. at 8.

[3] See id. at 8-9.

[4] Mo. Const. art. III. § 23.

[5] Calzone, slip op. at 16.

[6] Id. at 17.

[7] Calzone, slip. op. at 17.

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