Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway released an audit [pdf] titled: “General Assembly and Supporting Functions – Senate”.
….Despite recommendations in our two prior audits, the Senate continues to maintain the Senate Administrator’s Fund in a bank account outside the state treasury for the purpose of soliciting contributions from lobbyists to pay for meals provided to members and employees. Soliciting contributions from lobbyists gives the appearance of, and may result in, a conflict of interest. In addition, the Senate does not have authority to maintain the bank account and administrative duties related to the account are not properly segregated.
Senate officials solicited and received contributions totaling $6,500 from lobbyists during the 2 years ended June 30, 2015. The contributions were deposited in the Senate Administrator’s Fund and used to pay for meals provided to members and employees who worked late during legislative sessions. These meal costs totaled approximately $5,800 during the 2 year period. While the Senate discontinued using contributions for retirement dinners and gifts for outgoing members after the prior audit, Senate officials indicated they continue to believe meals should be provided when members and employees work late during session.
Actively soliciting contributions from lobbyists gives the appearance of, and may result in, a conflict of interest. The House does not provide meals to members and employees when they work late.
Senate personnel could not provide statutory or other authority to hold the bank account for the Senate Administrator’s Fund outside the state treasury. Article IV, Section 15, Missouri Constitution, and Section 30.240, RSMo, require state funds to be held and disbursed by the state treasurer.
The duties of preparing and making deposits and preparing bank reconciliations are not adequately segregated. These duties are performed by the Senate Administrator. To safeguard against possible loss or misuse of funds, proper internal controls require segregating the duties of preparing and making the deposits, and reconciling the bank account.
The Senate discontinue the practice of soliciting contributions from lobbyists, and direct the Senate Administrator to close the Senate Administrator’s Fund bank account and contact the State Treasurer’s Office regarding the proper disposition of remaining funds. Until such disposition occurs, duties should be adequately segregated….
….The Senate Administrator’s account was established to provide a convenient and efficient means of paying for state reimbursable meal expenses incurred during late evening Senate sessions. The account maintains a minimum cash balance and is used in lieu of General Revenue. All account activities are transparent, donations are reported by lobbyists to the Ethics Commission, and the detailed documenting of each dollar deposited and expended is now segregated from the review of the bank statement reconciliation. The segregation process was reviewed and revised in response to the SAO audit.
This is a challenging situation because the Senate understands why the SAO recommends closing the account; however, there is no apparent solution that works operationally for the Senate. When the Senate is in session, Senate staff are required to be present until session adjourns and the schedule is such that it’s difficult to predict when staff will work in excess of 12 hours. The Senate agrees to continue to review other ways to purchase meals as necessary….
Uh, don’t senators get a per diem on the days they are in session and present in Jefferson City? Yep, up to June 2015 it was $103.20 per day.
And the audit also addresses meetings and minutes of senate committees:
….The Senate did not adequately prepare or retain meeting minutes for two Senate committees in accordance with the Sunshine Law.
Meeting minutes of the Senate Administration Committee did not always include some required information. This standing committee controls the financial obligations and business affairs of the Senate, and meets monthly.
Meeting minutes for open and closed sessions of the Administration Committee did not always include the time, place, and members present or absent. Also, the minutes did not always properly document votes taken. For example, when voting to go into closed session, some minutes did not document the roll call vote of each member during the open session. Also, closed meeting votes were not always documented by roll call vote of each committee member. In addition, open meeting minutes did not always document the specific section of law allowing a closed meeting….
….Chapter 610 RSMo, known as the Sunshine Law, sets forth requirements for meetings of public governmental bodies. Section 610.020, RSMo, requires a journal or minutes of all open and closed meetings. The minutes shall include the date, time, place, members present, members absent, and a record of any votes taken. In addition, Section 610.015, RSMo, requires all votes be recorded, and if a roll call is taken, requires that the minutes attribute each “yea” and “nay” vote, or abstinence if not voting, to the name of the individual member. All votes taken in closed session are required to be taken by roll call. Also, Section 610.022, RSMo, provides that before any meeting may be closed, the question of holding the closed meeting and the specific reason for the closed meeting shall be voted on during open meeting and a record of the vote of each member should be documented.
The Senate Majority Caucus General Counsel asserts the Sunshine Law does not apply to Senate standing committees because the Senate has Constitutional authority to set the rules of its proceedings. The Sunshine Law, however, applies to all governmental bodies, which is defined under Section 610.010, RSMo, to include any legislative entity created under the Missouri Constitution or statutes. Under Section 610.011.1, RSMo, of the Sunshine Law, “It is the public policy of this state that meetings, records, votes, actions, and deliberations of public governmental bodies be open to the public unless otherwise provided by law. Sections 610.010 to 610.200 shall be liberally construed and their exceptions strictly construed to promote this public policy.” Additionally, the Senate Sunshine Law policy, adopted February 2008, states the Senate shall comply with the Sunshine Law and the Senate provides Sunshine Law notices for its Administrative Committee and for joint committees. Compliance with the Sunshine Law is necessary to create transparency and provide proper records of actions and decisions….
….Based on Article III, Section 18 of the Missouri Constitution, the Missouri Senate views the operation of legislative committees as a matter of proceedings committed to the legislative branch of government. This view is supported by current case law. However, the Senate will continue to strive to promote transparency in its internal legislative committee recordkeeping procedures….
Yep, it’s the Missouri Senate’s world, the rest of us only get to live in it