Lawmakers send business bills to Nixon as session hits halfway point.
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Lawmakers send business bills to Nixon as session hits halfway point.

Date: March 8, 2012
By: Jordan Shapiro
State Capitol Bureau
Links: HB 1219, HB 1740 and SB 451

JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri General Assembly heads off to spring break after passing a business agenda with many items still left to tackle this session.

The House and Senate sent two bills to Gov. Jay Nixon before they went on spring break that were both pushed by the Missouri business community. The legislation deals with changes to Missouri's workplace discrimination laws and worker's compensation.

Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said the first half of session was a "good start."

"I am pleased we were able to pass through the Senate three of our top priorities," Mayer said referring to changes in worker's compensation, workplace discrimination laws and a review of state administrative rules.

Speaker of the House Rep. Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, said the House had accomplished 70 percent of their legislative agenda already.

House Democratic leaders, however, had a different opinion of the legislative session so far.

"This has been the craziest 38 days I have ever had. There are a myriad of bad things," said Minority Leader Rep. Mike Talboy, D-Kansas City, referring to Republican priority legislation, including the workplace discrimination bill.

The changes to the discrimination law move the standard of proof from a "contributing factor" to a "motivating factor" for a defendant suing an employer.

While the House and Senate agreed on the workplace discrimination bill, the measure is likely to be vetoed by Nixon. The governor rejected a similar measure last year, but House and Senate leaders said by passing the bill early this session, they still had time to negotiate with Nixon.

"We hope this brings him [Nixon] to the table. We welcome his input," Tilley said.

Senate and House leaders both criticized Nixon's lack of involvement this legislative session.

"Obviously he has been quiet and not engaged," Mayer said.

Looming over the General Assembly, however, are major education issues that have so far lagged this session. The House and Senate have yet to debate major education bills that eliminate teacher tenure, expand charter schools and address the state's failing school districts in St. Louis and Kansas City.

In both chambers the major education issues have been combined into one large "omnibus" bill. Senate Majority Leader Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said the education package could "demand a lot of time" on the Senate floor.

"I would like to see something move forward on education out of the Senate," Dempsey said.

The Senate's version of the education package is sponsored by Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, and it would allow the unaccredited Kansas City district to be divided among the surrounding districts. The measure would also create a tax credit scholarship program for students living in a failing district to enroll in a private school. Rep. Scott Dieckhaus, R-Washington, is sponsoring the House version.

These changes are being leveraged with a fix in the state's school funding formula, which is currently underfunded according to state statute. Talboy said the approach to put all these education items together in one bill is flawed.

"When you take an all or nothing approach, the people usually end up with nothing," said Assistant Minority Leader Rep. Tishaura Jones, D-St. Louis County.

When the House and Senate return they will also have to debate the state's $24 billion operating budget. The budget must by passed by May 11.

Lawmakers return from their spring break on March 19 and the regular session ends on May 18.