Last year’s version of the bill prompted allegations of pay-to-play politics
By TIM ROWDEN
Jefferson City – Bumping into chairs and grunting as he propped a package of shingles made by Joplin-based TAMKO Building Products against a chair in a House hearing room last month, State Rep. Mark Ellebracht (D-Liberty) came armed with an obvious argument against gutting the state’s consumer protection law, the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act.
He brought a stack of TAMKO shingles.
Five minutes into the hearing, Ellebracht directed the room’s attention to Exhibit A.
“If you turn to your right immediately, you’ll see a stack of TAMKO shingles,” Ellebracht said, according to Tessa Weinberg of the Kansas City Star. “Can you see the state of disrepair that those packages are in when they came from the warehouse that they were purchased from?”
TAMKO is owned by GOP mega-donor David Humphreys, the primary backer of the bill who also happens to be facing a class-action lawsuit alleging the company sold shoddy shingles to consumers who ended up with leaky roofs but were rebuffed when they tried to collect on the promised 30-year warranty. TAMKO has argued that it cannot be sued in court because of a binding arbitration clause on the shingles’ packaging that requires customers to use private mediation to settle their claims.
Humphreys also backed last year’s so-called “right-to-work” (RTW) legislation and the campaigns of Missouri Governor Eric Greitens, Attorney General Josh Hawley and a number of corporate-owned, anti-worker candidates in the Missouri Legislature.
(RTW will appear on this year’s August or November ballot as Proposition A. Vote No on Prop. A to protect your pay and defeat RTW.)
The bill eviscerating consumer protections, House Bill 2089 (HB 2089), is sponsored in the House by Rep. David Gregory (R-St. Louis).
Supporters say House and Senate versions of the bill would prevent frivolous lawsuits against businesses. Opponents say it would make it more difficult for Missourians to seek recourse.
In the case of TAMKO, the bill would cause the arbitration clause printed on the packaging to apply not only to a roofing company that purchases shoddy shingles, but to homeowners who purchase a house built with those shingles.
“I cannot begin to imagine how they believe that arbitration clause being enforced against a third-party homebuyer is in any way fair,” Ellebracht said, according to the Star. “They (homeowners) don’t even see the shingles when they come off the truck. The only time they see the shingles is when they’re hammered on the roof of their house.”
Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard (R-Joplin) has introduced similar versions of the bill since 2015, shortly after the class action lawsuit against TAMKO was filed.
Richard carried the Senate version last year, when questions about a pay-to-play scheme arose after Richard received a $100,000 check from Humphreys six days after filing the legislation.
Sen. Caleb Rowden, (R-Columbia), is sponsoring this year’s Senate version (SB 832). It passed out of a Senate committee last month and is currently on the Senate’s informal calendar, meaning it can be brought up at any time.
Meanwhile, the suit against TAMKO is still pending.
Last May, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from Humphreys, thereby allowing the lawsuit against TAMKO to proceed in Jasper County.
That caused Humphreys, who has made a career out of attacking workers and attempting to stiff consumers, to threaten to move his business out of state if he couldn’t get what he wanted.
The threat prompted Mike Louis, president of the Missouri AFL-CIO to ask, “When is he leaving?” and “Can we help him pack?”
Humphreys never took him up on the offer, and nothing came of the threat.