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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of April 7, 2014

Families and medical professionals urged lawmakers to approve a measure that would authorize the use of hemp extract to treat epilepsy.

The measure, heard by the House General Laws committee on Tuesday, April 8, would allow the Agriculture Department to cultivate hemp and extract the oil to be sold to patients suffering from epilepsy.

According to testimonials, CBD oil has few to no side effects, something that cannot be said for legal medications that June has already tried.

Ginny Jesse's daughter June is epileptic and suffers from daily seizures. She spends most of her time in hospitals and therapy sessions, which prevents her from living a normal childhood. June has been prescribed 11 different medications to treat her epilepsy, and none have worked. Hemp oil extracts is one option, but it is not legal in Missouri.

"In addition to being safe, CBD oil is showing to be effective. The anecdotal evidence of patients and families is that CBD oil results in remarkable seizure control with improvements of quality of life," Jesse said.

Hemp oils have been legalized in states like Colorado to treat epileptics, and have produced promising results.

The measure was approved in committee.

Gov. Jay Nixon announced $22 million in education budget cuts during a press conference on Thursday, April 10, blaming the legislature and a decline in Missouri gambling. 

According to the governor, the General Assembly failed to make up for shortfalls in lottery and gaming revenues, and decided to only include half of the governor's suggested $44.1 million in the 2014 supplemental budget. The shortfall arises because Missourians are gambling less, so there is less gambling tax revenue going to education.

"Unfortunately, despite our clear and repeated warnings about the consequences, the General Assembly has once again failed to make funding for education a priority," Nixon said during the press conference held in his Capitol office.

Relatively speaking, the $22 million cut is not a lot of money. It accounts for less than one percent of the overall education budget.

The House budget chair, Rep. Rick Stream, R-St. Louis County, expressed surprise over Gov. Nixon's discontent, citing that the governor had not once personally approached him about the issue.

"If we took another $22 million and put it into this year's funding, we would have to take that $22 million out of the general revenue that we've applied to the fiscal year 2015 budget," Stream said .

Nixon originally projected a 2.8 percent growth in this fiscal year compared to last year, but his administration reported last week that net general revenue collections have only increased by 1.7 percent in the past nine months.

Without any alterations, the Missouri Ways and Means Committee voted to pass an income tax cut bill onto the House Rules committee.  Legislative staff estimate the bill would cost the state $620 million in tax collections. 

The Republican-backed bill would reduce the maximum tax rate on personal income by one-half of a percent over a period of years, beginning in 2017. But, the bill's sponsor, Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County, said the cut will not go into effect until the state's general revenue exceeds the amount of money collected the previous year by at least $150 million.

Those in opposition to the bill said it benefits only the state's highest incomes.

There was an attempt early in the session by Gov. Jay Nixon and Kraus to form tax cut legislation that worked for both parties. But that compromise effort fell apart when a Republican amendment added on in the Senate created a larger tax cut.

Nixon announced Thursday afternoon that the bill would be too costly to the state.

The bill now awaits a hearing with the House Rules committee.

Democratic Floor Leader Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Jackson County, openly married to a woman, is sponsoring a measure that would prohibit discrimination of individuals based on their sexual orientation. 

The bill would add "sexual orientation" and “gender identity” to the state's enumerated list of outlawed reasons to discriminate against someone.

The list currently includes race, gender, religion and disabilities.

John Scott for the Secretary of State said people do their best work when they feel comfortable in their workplace.

Some who testified in opposition to the measure said including sexual orientation to the list would create more lawsuits. Others questioned how you could prove if someone was gay or lesbian.

"The chamber does not support any legislation that will create a new protected class in the Missouri Human Rights Act and would expose our members and Missouri businesses to increased liability in the courts," Jay Atkins, for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry said.

Bev Ehlen for a right-wing conservative group said the free market is working and the legislature should not create laws to regulate it.

Justus did not agree.

“While I would love for the free market to be able to take care of this, you’re always going to have an employer who does something for the wrong reasons,” Justus said. “And, this tool needs be available for those people being discriminated against.”

A several-hour medical malpractice debate hit the Senate floor Wednesday, April 9,  and lawmakers have not yet reached an agreement on the fate of patients and doctors.

Two Democratic Senators expressed support about capping medical malpractice damages unrelated to "economic" damages. However, they disagreed with Republicans on what amount the cap should be.

The measure would cap pain and suffering damages at $350,000.

Sen. Joseph Keaveny, D-St. Louis City, suggested an amendment to the measure. His amendment would change the cap to one million dollars, and adjust the cap at the beginning of each year based on the previous year’s cost of living.

Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, said he thinks one million is too high and would drive doctors away from Missouri.

Sen. Scott Sifton, D-St. Louis County, said doctors should be able to do what they need to do without looking over their shoulders worried about litigations.

“While caps aren’t going to alleviate all of that concern, they are going to hopefully empower doctors to air on the side of doing what they think they need to do for the patients,” Sifton said. “Understanding that sometimes they’re going to be wrong and medical mistakes do happen.”

Missouri set the $350,000 cap in 2005, which did not account for inflation.

"By not capping non-economic damages you do limit the ability the jury has," said Sen. Brad Lager, R- Maryville. Lager proposed an amendment to impose a pain and suffering award cap at $500,000, decreasing that number by $50,000 each hour of debate after his proposal.

The Missouri Supreme Court ruled the cap unconstitutional in 2012.

The measure passed through the House in March, and discussion in the Senate has been stalled.

The Missouri House narrowly gave first round approval to a measure allowing workers to not pay union dues to their employer.

The measure sponsored by Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, would prohibit employers from requiring a worker to join a union or pay union dues as part of their job.

Burlison said this bill is necessary for worker freedom.

"We believe that workers in our state deserve a right to choose what's in their best interest," Burlison said. "It's just not right that in today's world, anyone should have a government-created monopoly that supplies them members and revenues without their choice."

Minority Leader Rep. Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis City, gave a fiery floor speech in which he said this law was bad for workers and their families.

"You've picked a fight with working families across the state and I promise you that everyone is ready," Hummel said. "We didn't start this fight, Mr. Speaker. You did. But you can be sure we're gonna damn well finish it."

Lawmakers gave the bill first round approval with a 78-68 margin.

The bill is currently 4 votes short of the required amount to ultimately pass the House.

After the vote, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon praised members who voted against the bill and criticized those who support the leglislation.

"At a time when we should be focused on policies that create jobs and move our state forward, this misguided political maneuver would take us backward by undermining workers and weakening our economy," Nixon said.

Rep. Rory Ellinger, D-St. Louis County, passed away after a battle with liver cancer early Wednesday morning. He was 72.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle commented on Ellinger’s death.

House Democratic Leader Rep. Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis City, said Ellinger was well respected and will be remembered.

“You know I think he is going to be known and remembered as the liberal lion of the Missouri House,” Hummel said. “I think that everyone feels like they did not have the chance to properly say goodbye.”

In the Senate, while talking g about medical malpractice, Sen. Scott Sifton, D-St. Louis County, lost his train of thought and blamed it on Ellinger’s passing.

“Forgive me I am thinking of Representative Ellinger as I stand here,” Sifton said. “Our House colleague who we lost this morning.”

On Facebook Rep. Mark Parkinson, R-St. Charles, offered his condolences.

“It's very hard to hear the news about Rory Ellinger. We rarely agreed, but he embodied the passion and dedication to service that every member of the General Assembly should have. Brigit and I are praying for his loved ones during their time of loss and mourning. Rest in peace, Rory,” he wrote.

Lawmakers sprung into action when hearing of Ellinger’s failing health and put his final bill on the fast track to passage which was signed into law by Gov. Jay Nixon in Ellinger’s hometown of University City last week.

His final proposal defines women’s rights when it comes to breastfeeding while on jury duty.

The Missouri House passed and sent to the Senate, a constitutional amendment that would raise the state sales tax by one penny per dollar to fund various transportation projects.

The proposal would require statewide voter approval in order to take effect.

The measure's sponsor -- Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair -- said the state needs to pick up the slack where the federal government is not.

"Without being able to count on the federal government coming through on a new funding transportation bill, we got to take things into our own hands," Hinson said.

Supporters have warned that the state lacks sufficient funds to maintain existing state highways.

Although approved by a GOP-controlled House, 38 Republicans voted against the measure -- including the House Speaker.

In 2013, a filibuster on the legislature's last day blocked a final vote on a similar measure.

Lawmakers attacked Missouri's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education while discussing a bill that aims to intervene earlier in provisional and unaccredited schools.

Rep. Jeanie Lauer, R-Jackson County, sponsored a bill that would send performance improvement teams to individual schools as soon as test scores failed to meet DESE requirements for accreditation.

Under a measure passed in 2013, DESE currently intervenes after a school has reached an unaccredited status. Lauer said this does not work, and compared it to dealing with a struggling employee a business environment.

"You don't wait until you're ready to fire the employee to put them on a performance improvement plan," Lauer said.

Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-St. Louis County, criticized DESE's involvement in creating legislation to improve failing districts.

"They haven't engaged with the sponsor of this bill, they wiped their hands of this whole process," Montecillo said. "This morning instead of being here, they're tweeting about Common Core."

Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, sits on the Senate Education Committee and serves on her school board. She said her district is fully accredited on paper, but the district's APR scores have stayed consistent with provisional accreditation for several years. She said DESE assigned an area supervision team to advise her district, but in four years on the school board, the senator said DESE's team has never visited her district.

"While we're supposed to be getting guidance, and while we already have teams, DESE has dropped the ball," Chappelle-Nadal said.

The House Education Committee took no immediate action on the bill.

Students from unaccredited school districts would be able to transfer to nonsectarian private schools with public funding under a measure heard by legislators.

The bill, which has been approved in the Senate, was heard by the House committee on Elementary and Secondary Education Tuesday, April 8.

Opponents of the bill argued that if private schools are going to be funded with public money, they need to be held to the same performance standards as public schools.

"I do not believe school choice is beneficial to students. We need to get serious about educating students where they're at," said Mike Lodewegen with the Missouri Association of School Administrators. "Moving students out of those schools doesn't do anything to help those students that are left behind."

Proponents of the bill argued that poverty stricken students in these unaccredited districts need more options for a quality education.

"I think we already have school choice for rich kids because their parents can determine where they're going to buy their house," Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City said. "They have that accountability to be able to move. So is their no accountability to allow the parents to say no, we don't think this school is write for our child."

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

The state Board of Education would be required to develop and recommend new academic performance standards in place of the federal Common Core standards under a measure approved by the Missouri House.

Legislators debated Tuesday, April 8, a bill that would prohibit the State Board of Education and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education from adopting and implementing the Common Core Standards developed by the Common Core Standards Initiative.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Kurt Bahr, R-St. Charles, presented an amendment to his bill, because he said the initial bill was too harsh, meant to force the debate of Common Core. His amendment would require the State Board of Education, by October 1, 2014, to create "work groups" composed of education professionals to develop and recommend new academic performance standards that will take the place of the common core standards.

The amendment would create separate work groups for English language arts, mathematics, science, and history and governments. For each of the four subject areas, two work groups, one for grades kindergarten through grade five and one for grades six through twelve would be formed.

The work groups would be required to recommend new standards to the State Board of Education by October 1, 2015, and the approved standards will be implemented beginning in the 2016 school year.

Rep. David Wood, R-Versailles, also offered an amendment that would require the Department of Elementary and Secondary education to pilot the assessments formed by the work groups in the 2014-2015 school year. He said this will ensure the proper implementation of the new standards and allow time for the students and teachers to adjust.

Rep. Ed Schieffer, D-Troy, said he has spoken to superintendents in four different counties and they are all saying the Common Core program has to be saved. He said they don't want it "thrown out the window."

"They've spent too much time, too many hours, too much money to at least start implementing Common Core," he said.

Both amendments were approved.

No direct opposition to the bill was presented during the House debate.

The bill was approved by the House and now moves to the Senate.

From young girls to elderly men, hundreds of individuals from all walks of life were present for a rally on Women's Lives to protest legislative proposals to restrict abortion rights.

"My body, my choice," is just one of the many chants that could be heard from the East side of the Capitol Tuesday, April 8, as Missourians gathered to rally for pro-choice rights.

The primary speaker at the rally, Susan Talve, a rabbi from Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis, said over 30 bills have been filed this legislative session that seek to restrict women's health care.

One such bill would triple the mandatory waiting period for abortions.

Elizabeth Read-Katz, of Columbia, said she received an abortion at age 27 after finding out her child had a chromosomal defect that was not compatible with life.

She said her mind would not have been changed by a three day waiting period, and that it would have only made the process more agonizing.

Kevin Elmer, R-Christian, the sponsor of the bill that would prolong abortion waiting period, said the bill would simply provide women with more time to think about this major life decision.

Talve said legislators should focus on expanding Medicaid instead of endangering women's health with restrictions on choice.

Missouri House members passed a measure that would affect child support for students enrolled in higher education institutions.

The bill requires a child who is enrolled in a vocational or higher education institute to receive passing grades each semester while enrolled in at least 12 credit hours in order to remain eligible to receive child support benefits.

The current law requires a child to complete 12 credit hours, without passing grades as a factor.

If the child does not complete 12 hours of credit with passing grades and the court does not find any extenuating circumstances or if the child fails to provide documentation of their grades to the noncustodial parent within 30 days, then child support must be terminated.

The parent support obligation should continue until the child finishes school or until they reach the age of 21, whichever comes first.

Rep. Gina Mitten, D-St. Louis County, opposed the bill.

"The way that I see your bill, it amends it to a way that makes it even more difficult for children who happen to not graduate until high school until their 18th birthday to complete college," Mitten said.

Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, disagreed.

"If a child is flunking out of college, the noncustodial parent is no longer going to send a monthly payment to the custodial parent, which in many cases never actually at that age sees its way to the child him or herself but instead stays with the custodial parent," said Barnes. "The bill right now is a good bill. It encourages parents who are custodial who have kids in college to get those kids passing college classes."

The bill will now move to the Missouri Senate.

Getting caught with pot does not equal time behind bars under a bill given first-round approval by the Missouri Senate.

The measure would change the state criminal code. One revision would keep first-time marijuana offenders with less than two ounces of pot out of jail. The bill aims to downgrade the offense to a class D misdemeanor and would give a financial penalty of anywhere between $250 to $1,000.

Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Greene County serves as Senate Judiciary Committee Chair. He suggested current jail time is already being waived by judges.

"People aren't going to jail for these offenses now," Dixon said. "But this way we're not potentially involving the public offender and those tax dollars. This $250 minimum fine may get their attention more."

Bill sponsor Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Jackson County, said the bill makes the state's criminal justice system more effective and efficient.

""It was a consensus document between public defenders and prosecutors who say that these are the appropriate penalties for the crimes that we have on the books in the state of Missouri," Justus said.

The measure found no opposition in its first-round approval and was approved my the Senate. It now moves to the House for debate.

This represents an eight-year effort by the Missouri Bar Association to revise state laws assessing criminal penalties.

Randy Aulbur, a Central District Maintenance Engineer for the Missouri Department of Transportation, said the department had to spend more money this winter to deal with the bitterly cold weather and storms.

The result of this spending will affect MoDOT’s budget in the long run. But, Aulbur said the affects will not be seen until the next fiscal year or even the one after that.

“It’s not something you would see immediately,” Aulbur said. “It’s something that gets spread out over time. Our budgets in the future will be affected based on the way our weather patterns are.”

Holly Dentner, a spokeswoman for MoDOT, said the winter weather had the same affects on the whole state of Missouri.

He said MoDOT is on track with maintenance projects like patching and striping highways.

For this spring, Aulbur said rain is the main factor that MoDOT has to worry about.

“[We] just try to maximize how much you can do in the window of nice weather,” Aulbur said. “And, so we’ll just continue to work toward that.”

A new measure in the Missouri legislature would redefine misconduct in the workplace that may disqualify a person from getting their unemployment benefits.

Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County, says he read Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto letter on a similar measure last legislative session and made the necessary changes.

One of those changes stipulates that an employee cannot be fired over a rule that is not fairly or consistently enforced.

LeadingAge Missouri is an association that represents senior service providers across the state.

CEO Denise Clemonds said most appeals for unemployment benefits win, and one judge wrote a dissenting opinion for an elderly abuse case.

“Telling a resident to shut up is never acceptable under any circumstance,” Clemonds said.

“Leaving a resident soaked in his own urine is never acceptable, that this employee knew and understood and was capable of taking care of this resident but chose not to,” she said. “This particular employee received unemployment once they were fired.”

Richard Craighead represents United Steelworker’s District 11 and testified against the measure for the Missouri AFL-CIO.

“We don’t want this going into the personal lives of employees and being fired or denied unemployment for something that happened (of work),” Craighead said.

Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, admits he was one of the plan’s biggest opponents last session, but appreciates the changes Kraus made this year.

The bill has been passed in the Senate and now awaits debate in the House Rules committee.

Last Week

Missourians would be able to sue federal agents for infringing on their Second Amendment rights in a measure passed by the House, Thursday April 3.

Both the Senate and House have now passed bills that seek to nullify federal gun laws. The Senate version of the measure includes the misdemeanor penalty for federal employees who enforce federal gun laws in Missouri.

Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a similar bill presented last year due to its infringement on the U.S. Constitution's Supremacy Clause, which gives precedence to federal laws over conflicting local government laws.

Rep. Doug Funderburk, R-St. Peter's, the sponsor of the vetoed bill, made adjustments to the bill presented during this session.

The bill also includes measures that would allow designated teachers to carry guns on school grounds, after completing the required training requirements set by the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission for school protection officers.

The measure was passed by the House and will now move to the Senate.

After heated opposition from a few Missouri Democrats, the Missouri House sent the "paycheck protection" bill to the Senate.

The bill would require consent from public employees for a labor union to withhold earnings from their paychecks. It would also require the labor union to receive the consent of the employee to use dues and fees to make political contributions.

Twenty republicans opposed the bill, and not a single democrat voted yes.

After the bill's sponsor, Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, said she had spoken with three public employees about the legislation, Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-St. Louis County, said she personally spoke with at least 30 public employees who strongly oppose the bill.

A few other Democratic representatives said the bill treats public employees as if they are not intelligent enough to opt out of union dues on their own.

Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, attacked Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, and Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, because of a bill that would put limits on campaign contributions and gifts from lobbyists.

Nasheed said Missouri citizens have become cynical about the government and how it utilizes its money.

"You [Chappelle-Nadal] don't care about individuals -- the body of constituents throughout the state of Missouri becoming more cynical each day because of what they see happening here," Nasheed said.

Chappelle-Nadal said she wants to be able to give gifts from lobbyists such as baseball tickets to her students if she feels like it.

She said it makes a difference if the gifts are recorded and kept open to the public to see where money is going.

Nasheed requested the measure be laid over and put on the informal calendar to stop the heated fight from continuing on the Senate floor.

The continuing debate over Medicaid health care expansion caused a rare blowup within the Republican caucus of Missouri's Senate.

The fight was over a proposal offered by Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis County, to require statewide voter approval before the administration could implement expansion for more lower-income adults.

That raised objections from Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, who argued that flexibility should be retained for the legislature to address the issue in future years.

"I apologize for bringing it out of the lofty philosophy of sound bites and trying to fit it into actual, practical policy," Silvey told Lamping.

Silvey's comments came in response to Lamping charging that Silvey was taking the easy way out by not standing up to pressures for Medicaid expansion.

"It's time for you to take the hard stand and say no. You're taking the pragmatic stand, the easy stand," Lamping charged.

The increasingly hostile interchange ended when the Senate leadership promptly recessed the Senate one-half hour early for lunch.

The Senate took no immediate vote on Lamping's idea.

Lamping is among a group of GOP senators who have vowed repeatedly that Gov. Jay Nixon's call for Medicaid expansion for adults making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level would not pass the legislature this year.

His amendment had been offered to a broader bill that would make major structural changes in Medicaid including requiring more recipients to have health services controlled by managed care organizations.

Education leaders from across Missouri spoke against a bill that would stop the implementation of Common Core at a hearing Wednesday, April 2, that required an overflow room to accommodate attendants.

Willard District Instructional Coach Carolyn Nixon said the measure would undermine the work her district has invested to meet the educational standards under Common Core.

"I fully embrace the new standards," Nixon said. "I think we've done things the right way this time. Why should we defy the work that our teachers have done and slap them in the face?"

Missouri adopted the program's standards in 2009. They are set to be fully implemented during the 2014-2015 school year.

Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, expressed concerns regarding how each district would meet the higher standards.

"This appears to be a vast, one-size-fits-all experiment," said Emery.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill and plans to continue Common Core discussions at their next hearing.

The Republican Party is closer to choosing a city to host its next presidential nominating convention and one Missouri city is a finalist.

Kansas City is still in the running to host the 2016 convention after the Republican National Committee (RNC) reduced the field from eight to six cities.

The City of Fountains joins Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver and Las Vegas as finalists.

The RNC detailed what steps are next for those cities.

"A small team of RNC staff will visit the six cities for a more in-depth and technical look at financing, convention venues, media workspace, and hotels," Site Selection Committee (SSC) chairman Enid Mickelson said in a statement.

Phoenix and Columbus, Ohio were eliminated from contention today.

The House gave initial approval to a bill Wednesday, April 2, that gives students in public schools the right to exercise their religious beliefs in school.

Known as the Missouri Student Religious Liberties Act, the measure prohibits public schools from discriminating against any student based on any religious viewpoint.

Rep. Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, urged the House to approve the proposal so Missouri can catch up with other states and "send a clear message about what rights our schoolchildren have."

He also said this would provide a uniform standard for schools to follow.

"What we're trying to do here is basically give the school districts a clear guide as to what they can do and what they must allow the schoolchildren [to do]," Haahr said.

Rep. Judy Morgan, D-Jackson County, voted against the bill because she says the bill is redundant.

"I just really don't think there's a need for it," Morgan said. "I think these rights are already guaranteed in our Constitution."

The bill has two other noteworthy provisions.

First, it allows students to express their religious beliefs in their homework assignments and other assignments and the measure prohibits school districts from punishing or awarding points on that assignment based solely on the student's religious viewpoint.

Second, the measure allows students to wear clothing or jewelry that conveys a religious message.

The bill was given initial approval by a bipartisan majority of 128 representatives. 20 voted against it.

The Senate General Laws Committee heard passionate testimony Tuesday, April 1, in support of a bill that would allow the use of marijuana to alleviate dire medical conditions.

The bill would change Missouri law and require those in possession of marijuana to have a registry identification card such as qualified patients and primary care givers. To qualify, a person must have a debilitating condition and must use marijuana within their home.

The measure also stipulates that voter approval would be required before the measure became law.

Delores Selvan a registered nurse passionately expressed her outrage over the state not allowing marijuana usage.

"I realize Missouri is a conservative state, but we are also the show-me state." Selvan said. "We can be the first state to produce Charlotte's web on a massive scale and save these children."

Charlotte's Web is a strain of marijuana used for relieving painful symptoms of epilepsy and cancer. Many that testified endorsed Charlotte's web saying it could help their family member's condition.

No direct opposition was voiced, but a representative of one medical association voiced concerns that marijuana had not been tested for treatment by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

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  • By a straight party-line vote, Senate Republicans passed an income tax bill that legislative staff estimate ultimately would cost the state $621 million per year in lost tax revenues.

    The bill's sponsor -- Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County -- had sought to work out a deal with Gov. Jay Nixon on a bill Nixon would sign.

    The original compromise Kraus presented to the Senate included Nixon's demands for major education funding increases and cuts in tax breaks for real estate developers before the income tax cuts would take effect.

    But faced with opposition from fellow Republicans in the Senate, Kraus abandoned his compromise package and went back to a straight income tax reduction without the governor's provisions.

    While praising Kraus' efforts to work out a bi-partisan package, a couple of Senate Democrats attacked the no-compromise alternative.

    "Now is not the time to be giving 620 - 650 [million dollars], whatever the final tab for this bill ends up being, to lose this revenue when we already cannot fund the obligations we have. It's not wise fiscal policy," said Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City.

    But Kraus argued each year of the phased-in tax cut would not occur unless there had been a significant growth in tax collections in a prior year.

    "This bill is a people's tax cut. This is a bill that sends taxpayer dollars back to the people, put more into the economy and will grow the economy," Kraus told the Senate.

    A day before the Senate vote, Nixon attacked the bill in language similar to that he used in defending his veto of a similar tax cut bill in 2013.

    "Once again, the choice facing member of the General Assembly is clear: they can invest in good schools and create good jobs or they an support reckless fiscal experiments, but they cannot do both," Nixon was quoted as saying in a statement emailed from his office.

    The bill now goes to the House.

    The Senate approved a measure that would give them access to alcohol at special events in the Capitol.

    Opponents argued that selling alcohol would send a negative message to Missourians about their government.

    Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, said the bill would allow for a wider variety of personal choices in the way citizens celebrate.

    "I don't believe that the government needs to tell people whether they can have another beer or wine if they come to a 100th anniversary celebration event," Kehoe said.

    The bill was approved in the Senate and now moves to the House.

    Tax increases on productive land values would be capped at 2 percent under a measure heard by Missouri lawmakers.

    The House Agricultural Policy committee heard the measure Tuesday, April 1, that would change the occurrence of land productivity assessments from every two years to every four years, as well as cap the rate of a tax increase on agriculture land productivity values at 2 percent over the current values that are in effect.

    Currently, land productivity is graded on a 8 point scale, with 1 being the highest productivity land and 8 being the lowest. These values are based on soil surveys, soil productivity indexes, production costs, and crop yields.

    In 2014,  Hampton said the tax on agricultural land productivity values increased to about 5 percent for the best grade and about 4.6 percent for the lowest grade.  

    The tax increases can be prevented by the legislature if both houses act within the first 60 days of the year. This year, however, they failed to do so, resulting in the increase.

    The measure would also prohibit an increase in the tax when 25 percent or more of all counties within the state have been declared by the President or the governor to be affected by a natural disaster in the preceding four years.

    The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

    Missouri's House gave first-round approval to a measure Tuesday, April 1, that declares invalid any federal law infringing on constitutional rights regarding firearms.

    The House removed a provision in the original bill that would have made it a crime for a federal government employee to enforce a law or regulation that interfered with Second Amendment firearms rights. The bill, however, would allow civil lawsuits against government workers seeking to enforce firearms restrictions.

    The bill passed with 112 representatives voting in favor of the bill and 41 voting in opposition.

    Ameren Missouri wants permission to expand a coal-waste landfill in Franklin County.

    The utility company argues building an expansion to the current facility would cost consumers less. Without the expansion, Ameren Missouri would have to send their coal ash elsewhere, and all costs associated with outsourcing the waste would fall on ratepayers.

    Attorneys for the Labadie Environmental Organization and Sierra Club said in a statement the landfill could contaminate nearby ground water. They also said Ameren Missouri had not examined any alternate sites for the waste facility.

    Ameren Missouri's statement said the site is designed within EPA standards and would not cause environmental contamination.

    A Republican legislator sponsored a bill to expand purchasing powers for welfare recipients while a Democrat voiced opposition.

    The bill would allow people to use welfare cards to buy food in some liquor or convenient stores, but prohibits the purchase of alcohol, lottery tickets, tobacco products and adult material.

    Bill sponsor, Rep. Wanda Brown, R-Lincoln, said this bill gives people living in food deserts more purchasing power.

    "I have three counties, 2,100 square miles, with only six towns that have grocery stores," Brown said. "This lets them buy food at their local liquor store or convenience store."

    Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Jefferson County, said he is concerned about potential abuse and misuse of welfare cards in liquor stores.

    "Before we were keeping these folks out of here and away from the temptation, which is kind of what I thought the original purpose was," Roorda said. "If a liquor store wants to carry bread, for instance, and then ring up your bottle of Jack Daniels as bread, then the lines kind of blur."

    Brown responded that liquor store employees would break the law if they rang up banned purchases like alcohol as food.

    The measure was approved, with 118 representatives voting in favor of the bill and 35 voting in opposition. The bill now moves to the Senate.

    During his absence from the legislature, Rep. Rory Ellinger's measure to allow women to breastfeed while on jury duty has become law.

    Ellinger, D-St. Louis County, has been absent for the last few weeks as he continues to battle liver cancer. Rep. Judy Mordan, D-Jackson County, presented his bill to the Missouri House in his place Monday, March 31.

    The measure was signed by the governor Wednesday, April 3, making it state law.

    Ellinger proposed the measure after women in the Jackson County court house were fined for breastfeeding while on jury duty.

    A measure that would require voters to show photo identification prior to voting moved to the Missouri Senate following approval in the House.

    The bill was heard by the Senate Elections committee Monday, March 31.

    Adolphus Pruitt, from Missouri's branch of the NAACP, objected to the bill and said a report by the United States Accountability Office removed voter impersonation and voter fraud from its report due to lack of data.

    "Whether it's an intention to suppress minority voters and women voters, or whether it's unintentional the consequences are the same," Pruitt said.

    Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County, said he believes this is the only way to prevent voter fraud.

    The bill stipulates that student IDs, expired driver's license or non-active military IDs would not be acceptable forms of ID because they do not contain enough information.

    The measure would also exempt people 65 years or older from needing to show a photo ID.

    The House approved the bill earlier in the session. If approved in the Senate, the measure would be placed on a state-wide ballot for citizen vote.

    Sen. Mike Cunningham, R-Rogersville, is sponsoring a bill that would allow employers to look at a searchable database of employees who have filed workers' compensation claimsin previous jobs.

    The bill was presented to the House Workforce Development and Workplace Safety Committee on Monday, March 31.

    Under the measure, employers would be able to access the database in the pre hire process.

    Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a similar measure in 2013. But Cunningham said he believes he addressed the issues the governor had with the previous bill.

    Rep. Michael Frame, D-Jefferson County, asked if future employees could see the past workers’ compensation claims for a company. But, Cunningham said no.

    The bill was approved in the Senate with 24 Republicans in support and 9 Democrats in opposition. No action was taken on the bill in the House committee.