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The Legislative Session's Last Week
Missouri's legislature concluded its 2016 annual session at 6pm Friday with a stamp of Republican unity, but also division.
They placed on this year's election ballot a proposal to authorize the legislature to impose a government-issued photo ID to vote.
They expanded fire arms rights including the right to carry concealed weapons in some locations without a permit.
For yet another year, they rejected expanding Medicaid eligibility for higher income Missourians.
They imposed restrictions on liability lawsuits.
The legislature overrode the governor's veto of a bill to lower the legal target for funding public schools.
They also overrode the governor's veto of a resolution that blocked an administration rule to set minimum salary levels for home health care workers.
But on a few issues, the Republican-controlled legislature departed from what one might consider traditional GOP positions.
Despite the party's philosophy against tax increases, the Republican-controlled legislature approved taxing the profits from Missourians generated by online fantasy sports games.
They also approved a modest expansion of Medicaid by approving a phased-in increase in the maximum assets elderly and disabled recipients can have and still qualify for the program that provides health care coverage for the lower income.
Legislative staff estimate as many as 10,000 Missourians ultimately would qualify for Medicaid under the proposal.
Although the legislature blocked family planning funds to Planned Parenthood, numerous other bills to restrict abortions or donation of fetal tissue failed to pass.
The Republican-controlled legislature also approved a measure to expand the right for some criminals to have their convictions blocked from public access.
The legislature approved a measure to restrict when police can use deadly force.
But divisions among Senate Republicans blocked other efforts.
The divisions appeared the night before the session's last day when two Republican senators joined Democrats in voting against overriding the governor's veto of a bill that would have required annual approval from a state or local government worker to deduct union fees from the worker's salary. The override motion fell one vote short.
Despite a commitment to ethics reform by Republican legislative leaders in January, one of the key provisions -- a lobbyist gift ban -- was blocked in the Senate by opposition from some Republican members sought to allow some lobbyists gifts to continue.
However, the legislature did send the governor a bill to require a six-month delay before a departing state official could become a Missouri lobbyist. Another bill clearing the legislature would ban a state official working as a paid consultant for another official. Both bills were signed into law by the governor.
A House-passed plan to tax cell phones and Internet-based phone services to fund 911 emergency services also died in the Senate. A vote was put off after three senators won approval to exempt their counties from the bill.
A major lobbying push by the utility industry for rate increases was derailed by Senate filibusters. The proposal would have facilitated rate increases to finance infrastructure improvements such as electric distribution systems.
Critics charged the provisions would be an end-run around consumer protections from review by the state's Public Service Commission.
A filibuster by one of the Senate's two physicians -- Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, blocked the bill to create a statewide database of persons who have narcotic prescriptions. Schaaf argued there were insufficient protections to protect patient privacy of information in the database.
A Senate-passed measure pushed by Senate GOP leaders to submit to voters a motor fuel tax for Missouri's highways died in the House without a full chamber vote.
In one of their last acts of the 2016 legislative session on Friday, May 13th, the Missouri House passes a controversial "stand your ground" bill.
The bill states that a person may use deadly force in self defense or the defense of others against a person that unlawfully enters a property.
"The reason I keep standing up against this bill, cause I'm pro second amendment, I would defend my families life without hesitation. And I know other people would do the same. And I know other people who would use this law to justifiability murder," said Rep. Randy Dunn-D, Jackson County.
The hearing of the bill fell on the same day as George Zimmerman's online audict in which he auctioned off his weapon used in the killing of Trayvon Martin. The shooting took place in Florida in February of 2012. Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder upon the "stand your ground," law in Florida.
The bill passed with a vote of 114-36. It now moves to Gov. Jay Nixon's desk where it is up to him whether or not the bill will become a law.
In a end of session Republican party press conference, Missouri House Speaker Rep. Todd Richardson-R, Popular Bluff, said that the 2016 session was, "incredibly productive and in some cases historic."
"Voter ID is something we have been working on for a long time in this state, in bringing integrity back into this states election process was really historic and we are proud to have gotten that done," Richardson said.
During the press conference, Richardson reflected on the session and all that representatives both Democratic and Republican have accomplished. Richardson mentioned passing voter identification bill, submitting a balanced budget, economic reform, and education bills as some highlights of the session.
He went on to say that he was most proud of the House, "putting in some valuable welfare reform."
Richardson also said that there were a few bills that didn't make it across the finish line, but would be a top priority next year. One of those bills the lobbyist gift ban, which passed out of the House but did not make it out of the Senate.
"That bill will be the first bill out of the House of Representatives next year and we are going to look at every tool we have to put a meaningful gift limit into law and I hope that's by statue, and if it's not we will be willing to explore changes in the rules to do it," Richardson said.
Thanks to two Republican senators, the Republican-controlled Senate sustained the Democratic governor's veto of a measure that would have required annual approval to withhold union fees from government worker paychecks.
The vote came shortly after midnight, Friday morning, on the last day of the legislative session that adjourns 6pm the next night.
The 22-10 vote fell one vote short of the two-thirds needed to override the governor's veto.
The two Republicans voting to sustain the governor's veto were Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, who originally had voted for the bill earlier in the year and Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, who had not voted when the bill originally passed the Senate.
Gov. Jay Nixon's victory is not completely assured. Either one of those two Republicans can make a motion to reconsider the vote before the legislature adjourns.
Missouri's House sent the governor a bill that would add further restrictions on how much of city budgets can be financed from municipal fines.
Last year, the legislature put into law a limit on how much of a city's budget could be financed by minor traffic fines. This year's years bill would to extend that limit to all municipal court fines.
The bill now before the governor also lowers the cap on the fines one can incur for violations.
For a minor traffic violation, the maximum fine would be lowered $300 to $225.
The limit on other violations would be based on whether it was a first offense within a 12 month period. For that, the maximum fine would be $200, but $275 for a second offense with in a year. The third offense maximum fine would be $350 and $450 for the fourth offense within one year.
Although the measure passed by overwhelming margins in the House and Senate, there was a note of criticism.
Rep. Courtney Curtis, D-St. Louis County, said he felt the bill was not doing enough to prevent conflict-of-interest issues that arose through the previous legislation.
He said the new bill does just as much to protect the salary of lawyers, who have profited from municipal fines, as it does Missourians.
“I would appreciate it if no one would say that we are truly protecting the people with this bill. True protection would have come in being more harsh on the lawyers that have served in these capacities all these years that have reaped I'd have to say it has to be millions of dollars from these municipalities all these years.”
Curtis urged the Supreme Court to take measures to prevent such conflict-of-interest issues.
But Cornejo said the bill was a step in the right direction in clarifying the legislation.
“This is a common sense bi-partisan work to hold people accountable,” Cornejo said. “People can still be put in jail if they fail to show up in court, but we’re not going to allow these excessive fees and fines to continue.”
On the last day of the legislative session, lawmakers also sent the governor a measure to prohibit local government from imposing a quota on tickets police officer must issue.
Missouri voters will have the opportunity to decide later this year whether the state legislature should have power to require a Missourian present a photo ID to vote.
The House passed Thursday, May 12, a constitutional amendment to give the power to require a photo ID.
The measure will appear on the November ballot unless Gov. Jay Nixon places it on the August primary ballot.
Democrats argue that voter identification requirements would disenfranchise minorities, elderly and disabled.
Rep. Brandon Ellington, D-Jackson County, said the bill falsely assumes identification to be easily accessible to all.
"That shows the fact that you don’t understand the difference between a privilege and a right,” Ellington said. "It's a privilege to have an ID, it's a privilege to have a bank account, it's a privilege to have resources at your fingers in which you can have all your corresponding documents."
But Rep. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, said a companion measure to implement the amendment if it is approved includes provisions to provide cost-free government photo IDs.
Brattin said that bill also would allow individuals without identification to vote if they sign an affidavit confirming their identity.
“Not only will the taxpayers being paying for that and you’ll also be having one provided for you,” Brattin said, “but you’ll also be casting the same ballot.”
Althought Ellington, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, said he was concerned that the bill would unfairly disenfranchise black and other minority communities, another black lawmaker said he would not vote for the resolution if this were the case.
“There’s no way I would be supporting this if it disenfranchised people who look like me,” said Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-St. Louis County. “We need to trust the words of our colleagues here, our colleagues in the Senate, the work that's been done on this issue to ensure that everyone who is an eligible voter can cast a vote and have it be counted in the state of Missouri.”
The Missouri Senate voted to allow a lobbyist to spend up to $240 per week on meals for a legislator.
The amendment was added by the Senate Wednesday, May 11, to a House-passed bill that would impose a ban on lobbyist gifts to legislators and other state officials.
The Senate amendment's sponsor -- Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Franklin County -- said the House-passed plan for a total ban would not clear the Senate.
But Schatz also voiced his own opposition to a gift ban on lobbyists.
The people that come up here, that enjoy interacting with folks at the Capitol, having a prohibition on gifts would prohibit them from being able to do some of those things, that's ridiculous," Schatz said.
But other senators defended a lobbyist ban on gifts.
"When taxpayers already give us $103 a day in per diem for meals and lodging, why, especially during session when we're already being given taxpayer funding for meals, should we have an explicit permission slip to get meal money from lobbyists," asked Sen. Scott Sifton, D-St. Louis County.
The crumbling transportation infrastructure of Missouri has led to about 50 fewer construction projects each year by the state's transportation department.
"As the construction budget gets smaller every year, projects in the STIP (a list of transportation projects to be completed over five years), must reflect only the most essential transportation needs," said then-Interim Director Roberta Broeker in a press release.
Senator Mike Kehoe said he would focus on funding transportation after being announced as the Senate Majority Floor Leader.
"I think the transportation issue is the state's priority," said Kehoe in September. "I don't think it's just mine. As those issues come up, and if the caucus continues to believe it's a priority like I believe they do... I think transportation will continue to be at the front of what we talk about."
There is a proposed gas tax increase that passed the Senate but has not made it to the House floor. The deadline to pass bills is Friday.
On Friday, May 13, the 2016 legislative session will come to a close.
This session, 22 representatives and three senators will take their seats in their chambers for the last time in regular session.
Due to legislative term limits, legislators can only serve eight years total in the chamber.
During their last week, some representatives and senators reflected on their years serving in the General Assembly.
"There's so much to learn, so much to do," Rep. Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage, said. "You're just working away and then you take that final election in 2014 you realize that now you're coming up here in 16... you're two days away from the final gavel going down and it's really a sense of accomplishment."
"It seems like just yesterday I was trying to find out where my office is," Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis City, said. "You know the thing that I'm going to miss most about being a representative here is actually the friendships that I've made over the years, whether they're Republicans or Democrats. It's almost as if we've been in the same class together for eight years and now we're graduating and moving on to our next stage of life."
"This last week is bittersweet," Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, said. "I've really enjoyed being a senator and before that a House member. There's a lot of things I'll miss but some things I'm not going to miss so it's a logical time to draw this to a conclusion so I'm really happy about my service."
Pearce said he thinks term limits are not good for legislators, because of the learning curve associated with the lawmaking process.
"It takes quite a while to learn this process and I think that by churning people in and out quickly I think it hurts the overall function of government," Pearce said.
Elderly and disabled Medicaid recipients would be allowed to possess more assets under a measure sent to the governor in the legislature's final week..
Currently, a Medicaid recipient is allowed to possess no more than $1,000 in assets. A person is disqualified from the health-coverage program if that limit is exceed.
Under the measure, the asset limit would be increased in stages over a series of years starting at $2,000 in 2018 and eventually reaching a limit of $5,000 in 2021. After that, the asset limit would be adjusted on the basis of cost-of-living increases.
"We're trying to help people become more self-reliant...less dependent on others, more self-reliant, to be able to stay in their homes longer," said the Senate handler of the measure, Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield.
Dixon said Missouri has the lowest asset limit for Medicaid in the nation. It has not been changed since 1968. Excluded from the limit are assets such as the recipient's home, life insurance, burial property and funeral trusts.
The state administration estimates more than 10,000 additional persons would be qualified for Medicaid when the asset limit increase was fully implemented. However, Dixon disputed those numbers.
Final approval of the measure came Tuesday, May 9, when the Senate accepted without a dissenting vote the House version of the bill.
The Senate, however, by a party-line vote rejected increasing the income limits for Medicaid to 138 percent of the federal poverty limit for adults.
"Medicaid is broken and it is costing the state more and more dollars every year," argued Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County. "Why would we want to expand a broken program?"
Last year, legislative staff estimated the expansion would make more than 300,000 Missourians qualified.
Missouri's current income limit is about $4,500 per year. Under the proposed increase, it would rise to more than $32,000.
A 5.9-cent increase for Missouri's gas tax was approved by the House Select Committee on State Government.
The measure would increase the tax from 17 cents to 22.9. If passed by the legislature, the bill would also require a majority vote of Missourians.
The bill's supporters say new revenue is needed to support the state's transportation department.
"This is a first step," said Rep. Joe Adams, D-St. Louis County. "I hope we can take more steps in the future to improve transportation in this state."
The opposition said Missourians should expect efficiency before new taxes.
"I want to make sure that we're operating as efficiently as we can with MoDOT and other areas of state government before we go back to the people and ask for more money," said Rep. Kirk Mathews, R-St. Louis County.
The measure was amended to include an equivalent tax on all types of fuel sources in Missouri by 2025, as well as phase in other types of fuel's taxes to the new, larger tax.
Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, proposed a gas tax hike that was defeated last year. The measure would have taxed non-diesel fuel at 18.5 cents, while diesel would have been taxed at 20.5 cents. That tax hike did not pass through either chamber.
The bill passed, 8-0, and must pass the House and the Senate in the same form to go to the people. The legislative session ends this Friday.
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