JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri General Assembly ended its legislative session Friday with House members continuing their tradition of tossing papers in the air when the gavel banged at 6 p.m., senators paying tribute to their Democratic leader and Gov. Mel Carnahan claiming a victorious session full of legislation designed to benefit children.
"It was a session of new opportunity," Carnahan said at a press conference afterward. He cited child care and Medicaid expansion as examples of bills that focus on Missouri's children.
The governor was flanked by Rep. Steve Gaw, D-Moberly, and Sen. Bill McKenna, D-Barnhart, the Senate president pro tem, who was serving his last year as a senator -- the first victim of term limits.
"I really feel the Lord sent this man to us at a time when we needed it and brought us together and we accomplished some things that I never could have believed we could have done this year," said Sen. John Schneider, D-St. Louis County, in tribute to McKenna during the closing minutes of the Senate session.
Republicans, however, said the legislature's work was "good news and bad news."
"The good news is there was a clean-up of major bills the GOP was involved in," said Rep. Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City, the top Republican in the House. "The bad news is state government continues to explode in both size and growth."
Here is a summary of the session's highlights.
DAYCARE AT SCHOOL
Child care was the first of Carnahan's priorities to pass the legislature this session. The $21 million program would provide care and education for pre-kindergarten children through the public schools. Participation for the schools would be voluntary.
The bill expands Medicaid coverage to 90,000 more children by raising the income level families can earn and still qualify for the program. Families with incomes up to three times the federal poverty level could qualify if their employers don't offer insurance or if the costs are 133 percent or more of what state employees pay. Some families will have to pay premiums at rates similar to what state employees pay.
A surplus in the state's budget forced lawmakers to cut revenue. Lawmakers passed a package with $90 million in tax cuts. The biggest item was raising the state income tax deduction from $400 to $1,200. Taxpayers will also be able to deduct $1,000 for each elderly dependent.
The Democratic floor leader of the Senate delayed debate long enough to kill a bill outlawing partial-birth abortions.
Sen. Ed Quick, D-Liberty, said he didn't bring the measure up because he was trying to keep the chamber on schedule.
The bill's handler, Sen. Ted House, D-St. Charles, blamed Quick for not bringing up an issue which he said the majority seemed to support.
"I'm bitterly disappointed," House said.
In a preliminary vote the Senate passed the bill.
Anti-abortion lobbyists said they weren't entirely disappointed with this session. Last week the legislature passed a budget that prohibited state funding of abortion clinics.
Proponents hope the desegregation bill will help facilitate an end to the lawsuit in St. Louis.
The state has been sending desegregation money there and to Kansas City because a federal court found unequal education in the two districts. The Kansas City lawsuit has been settled and payments to that school district will end in June 1999.
Debate focused on differences in costs to educate students in rural versus urban schools, accountability and student achievement. Charter schools will be allowed in Kansas City and St. Louis. All school districts will receive more transportation funds.
Carnahan, House and Senate members all supported a measure to indefinitely commit sex offenders. The bill would let the Missouri Health Department indefinitely institutionalize sex offenders even after they had finished their prison sentences.
Critics called this a constitutional violation.
A bill that would allow Missouri voters to decide if the state should allow concealed weapons is on its way to the governor.
Senators from St. Louis held up the legislation up with a short filibuster. They ended their protest out of respect for McKenna.
If Carnahan signs the bill, the April 1999 ballot would include a question on whether concealed weapons should be legal in the state.
The bill sets up a licensing process and fee if the referendum is passed.
The legislature passed a bill that would strengthen monitoring procedures of chemicals used to produce methamphetamine and increase penalties against dealers and producers.
At the beginning of the session Carnahan said the fight against meth would be one of his priorities.
The legislation had bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate.
Critics said the chemicals targeted by the bill are common and would be difficult to monitor.
The threat of a filibuster forced an amendment be stripped from a bill that would have allowed student curators to attend closed board meetings. Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, had sponsored the amendment.
Missouri switches from a caucus to presidential primary state under the last bill the House passed before it adjourned. The election will be held in April, to coincide with municipal elections.
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