Senate majority leader threatens special session over Department of Revenue controversy

By Alexander Mallin

JEFFERSON CITY — After weeks of grilling the Missouri Department of Revenue on its licensing procedures, state lawmakers threatened Thursday to delay the department’s budget if it doesn’t provide answers.

The department entered into a contract with Morpho Trust U.S.A. to implement its new “central issuing” licensing system mandated through the federal Department of Homeland Security. The company scans documents like birth certificates and passports and sends them to a state-controlled Jefferson City Data Center.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said Thursday that several constituents had recently notified him that the department has been giving old state-owned identification processing equipment to Morpho Trust for disposal as a part of its contract with the group.

Schaefer said that violates state law about how state agencies dispose of old property.

“I think its hard to explain to the public that their money was used to buy this equipment which is now being taken out and destroyed, so we can use more of their money to buy new equipment,” Schaefer said.

But a spokesman for the Department of Revenue said Thursday in an email that the equipment being removed from the fee offices is not state property.

Schaefer began investigating the department weeks ago when a Stoddard County man filed a lawsuit alleging the department had been harvesting gun owners’ personal information and making it accessible to the federal government and some third-party vendors.

The lawsuit said such a practice would violate a statute that prohibits any residents facial recognition, fingerprints and eye scans to be kept in a federal database.

“Prior to the creation of that database, with all your personal information, photo and everything else, that risk didn’t exist,” Schaefer said. “Yet (the department) now with its change in procedure is creating that risk, and never told the public, or told us in the Legislature or the appropriations process that they were doing it.”

Schaefer said he can’t simply take the department for its word as the allegations have continued to pile up.

“What they’ve done is a violation of at least probably three state laws,” Schaefer said. “And so we’re going to have to get to the bottom of that and then the question comes up, can you trust the agency with more of the publics money when you see what they have been doing in the past?”

The court in Stoddard County had issued a temporary restraining order earlier this month to block license offices from turning over the personal information of Missouri gun owners. But on Wednesday the court reversed its ruling saying that there wasn’t any evidence that the information sharing was actually happening.

The department has repeatedly denied the allegations in legislative hearings, but Schaefer didn’t appear satisfied and he had the Senate issue a subpoena to the department earlier this week for more information on its program. The department has until April 2 to respond to the subpoena.

Less than an hour after the Missouri House passed its version of the state budget, Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard said to Schaefer the Senate would delay allocating funds to the department until it starts being transparent.

“If we have to go into special session on their budget we will go through the budget process,” said Richard, R-Joplin. “But we will not go through their budget until you are satisfied with their answers.”