JEFFERSON CITY - Several hot-button issues popped up today as lawmakers began their final week in the Capital. Two major bills were sidetracked by contentious debate in both chambers.
In the Senate, the chances for a major tax cut took a hit as Senators found no common ground on how much - or what - taxes should be reduced. GOP leaders have proposed tax cuts they estimate at $390 million, while Gov. Carnahan proposes a $180 million in tax relief.
Senate President Pro Tem Ed Quick, D-Liberty, conceded Monday that lawmakers may reach no consensus at all - forcing the state to issue income tax refunds required by the Hancock Amendment.
"I can't express my frustration when you have this Christmas tree of tax cuts - there's no way you can make any sense out of it," said Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia.
In the House, a welter of amendments sidetracked a bill to reduce prison overcrowding. The bill would reduce sentences for some nonviolent offenders - but a number of other proposals returned to the House floor as amendments.
Internet Registration of Sex Offenders
Lawmakers moved to make the identities of sex offenders more accessible. Rep. Brian May, D-St. Louis City, proposed putting the names and addresses of sex offenders on the web.
But Rep Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, had serious concerns about cases of mistaken identity. Graham said a friend of his learned his address was in the Missourian - mistakenly listed as a sex offender's residence.
"What regress do people have? (in cases of mistaken identity)" Graham asked.
Rep. Quincy Troupe, D-St. Louis City, asked why sex offenders were being given different treatment than drug offenders. "One commits sex crimes," he said. "The other one causes them (to be committed)."
But May said sex offenders have a higher recidivism rate - and their crimes are more severe. "There's a distinction between someone who steals your car and someone who sodomizes your five-year-old son," he said.
The House adopted the amendment on a voice vote.
Smoking in Prisons
A proposal requiring the Corrections Department to ban smoking in prison buildings drew still more fire in the statehouse.
"You want to have a riot? Then tell prisoners we'll take away your cigarette," said Festus Democrat Rep. Mark Abel, a smoker.
But Rep. Craig Hosmer noted that prisoners were being given special rights - state employees can't smoke indoors.
"We don't allow prison guards to smoke, but prisoners can," he said.
But one lawmaker said prisoners should smoke more. "We should encourage heavy smoking in certain elements of the prison population," said Rep. Mark Elliott, R-Carl Junction.
Elliott said Missouri would get a more cash from tobacco companies - if more prisoners got sick or died.
Hosmer said banning smoking would making it easier to get prisoners off other drugs - and remove the possibility of lawsuits stemming from second-hand smoke.
"We need to think about the health of the inmates, too," Troupe said.
Some lawmakers felt smoking restrictions would lead to prison unrest and threaten guards - but others felt guards shouldn't have to deal with secondhand smoke.
The smoking ban was kept on a 88-58 vote, but divided Columbia's lawmakers - Vicky Riback-Wilson and Tim Harlan favored the ban, while Graham supported its removal.
Death Penalty Moratorium Shot Down
Citing discriminatory and arbitrary sentencing, several lawmakers urged a moratorium on the state's death penalty - until a study was conducted on its imposition. The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Bill Boucher, D-Kansas City, would've suspended the death penalty until July 2000.
"This is a back door attempt to eliminate the death penalty," said Rep. Kelly Parker, D-Salem. Death penalty opponents should be honest about their intentions, Parker said.
An impassioned exchange took place after Rep. Louis Ford, D-St. Louis City, asked Parker how he justified advocating the death penalty - while opposing abortion. Parker noted that those condemned to die had already been before judge and jury. "They've had justice," Parker said. Opponents were just trying to "put a cog in the wheel of justice," he added.
Shortly after, Troupe rose to note that "there's been a cog in the wheel of justice for all of my life - and for many of my people. There's no justice in this country unless you're rich." Troupe said the death penalty discriminates against minorities and the poor.
"We need a moratorium until we can have a fair way," of instrumenting the death penalty, Troupe said.
Boucher's amendment failed 109-32. Reps. Harlan and Wilson voted in favor - while Graham voted against.
Lawmaker wants to declare English "common language" of state
Another tempest arose when Rep. Ken Legan, R-Halfway, proposed recognizing English as the common language of the state. Legan said he thought it was important new immigrants learned English. But the idea drew heated response from some Democrats.
"It's very discriminatory," Wilson said. "It inhibits our ability to provide people translation in court cases and driver's licenses," she said.
The amendment was defeated 80-75 - with Graham, Wilson and Harlan voting no.