State Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said his bill restricting university appointments is meant to prevent potential conflicts of interest the public might see as unethical. The Senate gave first-round approval Wednesday to the bill, which bars the University of Missouri System's Board of Curators from appointing the governor who named them to the board as president.
Some senators, however, think the bill goes too far. Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, said he’s worried the bill could be going after a problem that doesn’t exist.
“These curators were confirmed by this chamber to do an honorable job and now we’re saying we don’t trust you to do that job so we’re going to put a provision in place that says you are bound not to select the person you might think do the best job?” Holsman said.
Others, such as Sen. Joseph Keaveny were worried it would keep out some qualified applicants.
“Is the pendulum swinging too far?” Keaveny, D-St. Louis, asked Schaefer.
But Schaefer defended his bill.
“We’re (the Senate) discussing a whole lot of things on bills in here that some of them are an ethical problem and some of them really aren’t, but they create the appearance of an ethical problem and I would say this falls flatly in that category,” Schaefer said.
Earlier this session, Schaefer criticized Gov. Jay Nixon for appointing too many lawyers to the board. The Senate confirmed three nominees earlier this month, all lawyers who earned their law degrees at the University of Missouri. A fourth and the only African American, St. Louis attorney Mary Nelson, was rejected by the Senate appointments committee.
“Eight lawyers out of nine total curators? At some point, there needs to be a broader professional diversity of professional backgrounds on there,” Schaefer said at the time.
Wednesday’s debate, though, focused mostly on whether the bill addresses an actual problem.
“Binding curators from choosing the best person for the job is not in the best interest of the state,” Holsman said.
Schaefer later pointed out it wouldn’t prevent a former governor from becoming UM system president; he or she couldn’t be president until a majority of the board members had been appointed by someone else.
No governor in the state’s history has been appointed UM system president.
Nixon has also not commented on his future plans after his term as governor.
The bill, Senate Bill 110, will have one more vote before it moves over to the House.
Follow Ray Howze on Twitter: @RayHowze