JEFFERSON CITY — Lawmakers are making another attempt to create a Department of Defense that would put Missouri’s National Guard directly under control of the governor.
Legislation to do so passed last year but was vetoed by Gov. Mike Parson. The governor didn’t object because of the idea, according to his veto letter, but because doing so would require a statewide vote and lawmakers didn’t take the necessary steps to send the matter to the ballot.
The Senate Seniors, Families, Veterans and Military Affairs committee heard a bill Wednesday that would move the National Guard out from under the state Department of Public Safety and directly under the governor.
Right now, the National Guard is led by the adjutant general who goes through DPS to get to the governor.
The sponsor for Senate Bill 198, Sen. Bill Eigel, R-St. Charles, said this change would create a direct connection between the governor and the National Guard.
“This way the National Guard branch, in particular, doesn’t get caught up with some of the politics of being a part of a much larger organization,” Eigel said.
Eigel said the bill would need to be accompanied by a proposed amendment to the state constitution in order to be put into effect. Voters would then decide the amendment’s fate.
Eigel said these changes would bring Missouri further in line with 40 other states who organize their National Guard troops in similar ways. That’s the same situation with House Bill 60 and House Joint Resolution 6, which both aim to create a Department of Defense, in line with the 48 states in the country that already have it. Massachusetts and Missouri are the only states without one.
“This legislation would transfer our adjutant general from the Department of Public Safety to his own department, which would be titled the Missouri Department of Defense,” said Rep. Adam Schnelting, R-St. Charles, sponsor of both bills.
He said the change would not require additional tax dollars because it would be a transfer of funds from one department to another. The Office of the Adjutant General has a proposed budget of $22.4 million for fiscal year 2022, and that’s the amount that would be transfered to the new Department of Defense.
The main advantage, Schnelting said, would be cutting out the middleman and providing a proper chain of command during natural disasters. Like SB 198, HB 60 would allow military forces to answer directly to their commander in chief, the governor.
Larry Crowder, executive director of the Missouri National Guard Association and retired full-time guardsman, endorsed the bill during the hearing.
“It takes a great amount of time to get the tasks that you require through the governor’s office from the Department of Public Safety down to the soldiers on the ground,” he said.