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Hawley challenges federal regulations, defends his home in Columbia

Josh Hawley
File photo | Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley plans to be in court today to support a federal lawsuit that challenges former President Barack Obama’s order to expand the nation’s overtime rules to cover about 4 million more workers.

It’s the second time Hawley has targeted the federal government since he took office Jan. 9 – and in line with his campaign pledge to challenge any federal action that he believes is illegal or against Missouri’s interests.

“We’re particularly focused on these 11th hour or midnight regulations that the Obama team tried to push through,” Hawley said in an interview Tuesday.

Hawley, a Republican,  is referring to a flurry of executive orders that the Obama administration fired off before it was replaced at noon Friday by new President Donald Trump.

Hawley’s latest action involves an amicus brief that he’s filing in support of a lawsuit filed earlier by more than a dozen states opposed to the expansion of the overtime rule. Hawley calls it federal overreach.

A judge has blocked implementation of the rule, which was to go into effect before Obama left office. It would have required overtime for workers paid under $913 dollars a week. That ceiling amounts to just over $47,400 a year, or more than double the existing automatic overtime limit of $23,660 a year.

Hawley said that during his campaign, and since his election, he’s been flooded with complaints from businesspeople about the proposed overtime expansion.

“The administrative costs for small business are huge,’’ he said, contending that some had planned to cut jobs or reclassify some workers so  they wouldn’t be subject to the overtime rule.

Hawley asserted that some workers also would be harmed because, after being salaried for years (and not eligible for overtime), they would have to keep track of their hours.

Trump is expected to oppose the overtime expansion, which could result in his administration declining to challenge the judge’s order.

That’s fine with Hawley. The expanded overtime rule “is totally unauthorized. It is unconstitutional,” Hawley said.

“The Obama administration just made this up essentially out of thin air and we have filed a brief here challenging it in order to say, ‘No you can’t do this. It hurts the people of Missouri. Hurts the businesses of Missouri and we’re going to stand up to it.’ ”

Hawley said Missouri is among four states filing the supportive briefs. He faulted former Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, for not joining the original suit. (All of the originating states had Republican governors when they went to court.)

Hawley earlier had gone to court to oppose new federal regulations on coal that he says would “drive the cost of coal through the roof.”

Hawley is a former clerk on the U.S. Supreme Court. He expects to get involved in more court fights shortly against federal regulations, rules and laws that he believes are improper and possibly unconstitutional.

Denies breaking state law with Columbia home

Meanwhile, Hawley says he is confident he is not violating state law because he resides in Columbia, and not Jefferson City. 

Some Democratic critics point to the law’s requirement that the attorney general “shall reside at the seat of government,’’ which is defined in the state constitution as Jefferson City.

Those critics contend that Hawley must move to Jefferson City or resign.

Hawley says his legal staff has examined the law and believes there is no problem.  He and his family live on a large lot in the southern outskirts of Columbia. His home is about 20 miles from Jefferson City. 

Hawley accused his critics of engaging in “a political ploy’’ to divert attention from his recent activities to revamp and redirect operations in the attorney general’s office.

He said the residency law was written well over 100 years ago. Jefferson City was designated as the new state capital in 1821 and incorporated in 1825.

He said he’s the first Missouri attorney general is over 100 years to hail from central Missouri close to Jefferson City, noting that others generally came from Kansas City or St. Louis, and had to relocate.

Koster, his predecessor, had an apartment in Jefferson City, as well as an apartment in St. Louis. The attorney general long has had offices in the Wainwright state office building downtown.

“My view is not that I am asking for special treatment,” Hawley said. “My view is that I am complying with the statute and I want to fully comply with the statute.”

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.