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Shields tells Rahn: Drop public opposition to motorcycle helmet bill

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 22, 2009 - Missouri Department of Transportation Director Pete Rahn is getting a bit of a slap-down from state Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph.

Shields takes issue with Rahn's call this week for Gov. Jay Nixon to veto a bill that would allow motorcycle users to ride without a helmet, as long as they are over 21 and not on an interstate.

According to theAssociated Press, (a hat tip to Combest) Nixon has been flooded with e-mails lobbying for and against the measure. (The AP says the pro-no-helmet camp was outsending the opponents, 7-1.)

In a statement, Shields said that Rahn "has overstepped his bounds as an un-elected bureaucrat when it comes to the helmet law.

“The last time I checked, laws are written by the people’s elected representatives to the state House and Senate, and the governor then has the power to approve or veto the laws they pass that represent the will of the people,” Shields said. “I am alarmed that an appointed bureaucrat would use taxpayer money to pay for polling and then hold a press conference while on the clock to oppose a specific piece of legislation.”

Still, Shields sought to soften his jab with a bit of praise. "I appreciate that Pete has taken us from a sub-par state to one that is now recognized for smoother, better roads,” Shields said.

“That is why I encourage him to refocus his efforts on continuing to build and improve Missouri's roads, bridges and transportation infrastructure, because this is the second instance this year where he has veered off-track by misusing taxpayer dollars in an effort to lobby elected officials.”

The first instance, said Shields, was lobbying in the Capitol by state Transportation Department employees on behalf of stricter seatbelt laws. The department had acknowledged that the employees were doing so on state time.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.