Missouri Activist Sues Over Illegal Conduct by the General Assembly – Again Could save state from flawed civics exam requirement
Jefferson City, MO, May 9, 2017 – A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Senate Bill 638, passed by the Missouri General Assembly in 2016, was filed in Cole County circuit court on May 9th.
The lawsuit claims that the General Assembly ignored the constitutional limits to their legislative authority. The Missouri Constitution includes clauses that prohibit legislators from changing the purpose of a bill or including multiple subjects in one bill. The lawsuit claims lawmakers violated both provisions, and that it is illegal to make substantive changes to a bill’s title.
The lawsuit is asking the court to strike down the entire bill.
The plaintiff in the challenge is Ron Calzone, a political activist and one of the founding directors of Missouri First, Inc., a think tank devoted to promoting constitutional governance. Although not an attorney, Calzone filed the suit “pro se” (Latin, “for oneself”), in part to demonstrate that the abuses by the General Assembly are so blatant that even a non-lawyer can succeed in legal challenges against some of their bills.
Calzone won a similar case in 2016. He had challenged SB 672 (2014) on the same grounds as the case filed today. A Cole County judge not only agreed with the lawsuit’s claims about the unconstitutional procedures used to pass that bill, but the landmark decision also struck down the entire bill. (Read about it here.) Past court opinions on procedural challenges usually preserved the original part of the bill.
In spite of the Court’s February 2016 admonition to legislators, they continued to pass bills in violation of the Missouri Constitution. Senate Bill 638 was one of 21 such bills Missouri First tracked last year. Calzone plans to challenge more of those 21 bills later this month.
Flawed Civics Exam Requirement
SB638 was originally introduced by Senator Jean Riddle to create the “Missouri Civics Education Initiative”. It required, as a condition of high school graduation, that all students in public, charter and private schools in Missouri pass an examination on the provisions and principles of American civics. The examination “shall consist of one hundred questions similar to the one hundred questions used by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services that are administered to applicants for United States citizenship.”
Bills with a likelihood of passing act like avalanches picking up other bills as amendments as they gain mass and momentum on their way toward passage. SB638 jumped from a 4 page bill on this limited topic to one of 58 pages that was an omnibus bill about elementary and secondary education including sections on charters, dyslexia, remediation and gifted education in Missouri schools.
At the time the legislature was debating SB638 state statute already required students to pass “an examination on the provisions and principles of the Constitution of the United States and of the state of Missouri, and in American history, American institutions, and American civics.” [RsMO 170.011] The one hundred questions in Riddle’s bill would either be in addition to those needed to assess the above required areas, or to supplant questions on those topics called out above and included in the Missouri History and Social Studies Learning Standards.
SB638 allows districts to use “any online test to comply with the provisions of this section,” (emphasis added) with no requirement to demonstrate that such a test was valid and/or reliable.
The vague and arbitrary guideline to administer a test “of 100 questions” “similar to” the naturalization exam makes clear that this bill was a feel good bill from the start with little consideration of what standards the state has directed teachers to teach, or whether the assessment would be meaningful in the end.
If Calzone’s suit is successful this section of statute will also be struck. Then the state could begin to develop a quality civics exam that is aligned to our new History and Social Studies standards being implemented this fall.
05/09/2017 – Lawsuit Filed
Case: CALZONE v. Missouri General Assembly
List of defendants:
1. ROBERT TODD RICHARDSON, Missouri House of Representatives Speaker
2. RONALD F RICHARD, Missouri Senate President pro tem
3. MIKE CIERPIOT, Missouri House of Representatives Majority Floor Leader
4. MICHAEL L KEHOE, Missouri Senate Majority Floor Leader
5. MARGIE VANDEVEN, Commissioner, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
6. JENNIFER TIDBALL, Acting Director of the Department of Social Services
7. JOSHUA D. HAWLEY, Mo. Attorney General
Nature of Legal Action:
This action is for a declaratory judgment by the court that Senate Bill 638 is unconstitutional due to procedural infirmities and void, and an injunction to prevent the enforcement of any of its provisions.
What was SB 638’s original purpose / subject?
“relating to civics education”
Initial Bill Title:
“AN ACT To repeal section 170.011, RSMo, and to enact in lieu thereof four new sections relating to civics education.”
What purpose / subject(s) did the bill evolve into?
“relating to elementary and secondary education”
Final Bill Title:
AN ACT To repeal sections 160.400, 160.403, 160.405, 160.410, 160.415, 160.417, 160.545, 161.216, 162.073, 162.261, 162.531, 162.541, 162.720, 163.031, 167.131, 167.241, 170.011, 170.310, 171.021, and 173.750, RSMo, and to enact in lieu thereof twenty-nine new sections relating to elementary and secondary education, with an effective date for a certain section.
The Purpose of SB 638 Was Changed By Amendments And the Purpose of the Finally Passed Version Was Not the Same as the Introduced Version in Violation of Missouri Constitution Article III Section 21
The Finally Passed Version of SB 638 Violates The Single Subject Rule in Missouri Constitution Article III Section 23
The Title for SB 638 Was Changed in Violation of Missouri Constitution Article III Section 21