Ethics, tax credit focus of final day of 2010 legislative session
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Ethics, tax credit focus of final day of 2010 legislative session

Date: May 14, 2010
By: Andrew Denney and Jeremy Essig
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's governor gave state lawmakers a mixed review at a news conference immediately after the General Assembly adjourned its 2010 session.

He praised the legislature for mandating health insurance coverage for autism, agreeing to his college tuition budget freeze proposal and for stronger drunken driving laws.

But he faulted legislators for what he termed a "watered-down" ethics bill and for failing to pass a jobs bill.

"It's frustrating that these bills didn't make it past the finish line," Nixon said.

In addition, plans to reform the state's tax credit system and reduce budget expenditures by downsizing or merging government departments will not appear on Gov. Jay Nixon's desk as he prepares to make further cuts from the budget the legislature sent to him weeks ago.

The Missouri Senate spent the better part of its final day of session on a bill designed to create tax credits aimed at the Ford Motor Company to keep it from shedding jobs at its plant in Claycomo.

But a group of fiscal conservative Republicans in the Senate stalled a vote, demanding that any business tax break package include scaling back other tax credits that cost the state about $500 million per year.  Nixon had supported stronger controls on tax credits, but the idea had been declared dead by House Republican leaders including House Speaker Ron Richard, R-Joplin.

Sen. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville, who presides over the county where the plant is located, said the company currently has no committments to continue their operations in Claycomo after the end of next year, when they are set to finish a line of sport utility vehicles being produced there.

The tax credit plan for the company was proposed as an amendment to bill dealing with taxes on automatic teller machines by Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles.

A contigency of Senate Republicans had opposed plans to increase tax credits incentives for businesses and to expand their operations in the state, and some of the same senators filibustered the passage of the bill throughout the day.

After Republicans, and then Democratic senators, held closed-door sessions with the governor, the Senate approved the tax incentive amendment designed for the Ford plant.  But that vote appeared to be more for show than substance since Dempsey immediately put the bill itself aside without calling for the final vote necessary to pass the bill out of the Senate.

The amendment was adopted with a 24-9 vote in the last few hours of the session, but that left scant time to pass the full bill and send it to the House for approval. The passage of the plan was contingent upon a proposal to enact savings from the state's retirement plan which languished in the House.  

Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Jackson County - who voted against the measure - called the plan the "special treatment" for a specific company.

"When governments make decisions about the allocation of private capital resources, govenment will inevitably make bad decisions," Bartle said. "We'll buy too many guns and not enough butter."

Ethics Bill

By an overwhelming margin of 153-5, Missouri's House passed an ethics bill approved by the Senate the previous evening.

The bill would ban the transfer of money between political action committees and candidate committees, allow the Ethics Commission to conduct its own investigations if approved by all six members of the commission and make it a crime to lie to the ethics commission, punishable by a year in prison.

Rep. Tim Jones, R-Eureka, - the handler of the bill in the House -  described the bill as an "aggressive and meaningful ethics proposal."

This is "one of the most impressive ethics packages in this country," Jones said.

But Nixon called it a "missed opportunity" for not including provisions he had recommended to limit campaign contributions, ban legislators getting paid by their colleagues for political consulting and imposing a waiting period before a government official could become a lobbyist.

Rep. Jason Kander, R-Jackson County, who had proposed his own ethics bill before the legislative session began, said he supported the bill, but warned members against "breaking their arms" to pat themselves on the back for passing "comprehensive" ethics reform.

"This is the beginning of ethics reform," Kander said, adding that he supported the bill because it created a foundation from which future reform could be built.

The Chairman of the House's ethics committee, Rep. Kevin Wilson, R-Neosho, also lamented the loss of a number of provisions which came out of his committee, but did not make the final bill.

"Do not under any circumstances say this is comprehensive ethics reform," Wilson said, who had earlier described the bill as "ethics lite."

Republican Majority Leader Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, earlier agreed that the final bill did not go far enough, and promised to work on further ethics measures during the 2011 legislative session.

In a raucous debate on the bill lasted just under an hour, Minority Leader Paul LeVota, D-Independence, was ruled out of time by the chair following a conversation with Rep. Jeff Roorda in which Roorda said Democrats were responsible for any ethics reform being passed. 

Following the ruling, both LeVota and Roorda could be seen talking with Tilley while all three gestured their arms at each other. LeVota was later allowed to finish his remarks calling the bill "a move in the right direction," but arguing that the bill was not comprehensive ethics reform.

During Jones' closing remarks, Democrats yelled "out of time," and Jones was eventually cut off by the Chair.

Abortion

Earlier in the day, the House also passed a measure adding new provisions on abortion providers.

Under the new measures, women seeking an abortion would be required to wait 24 hours before receiving an abortion, and during that time doctors would be required to provide women the option of viewing an ultrasound and literature describing health risks associated with abortion.

Rep. Bryan Pratt, R- Blue Springs, urged support for the measure, but lamented the loss of provisions which were contained in an earlier abortion bill he sponsored and was approved by the House earlier in the session.

Under Pratt's earlier legislation, it would become a crime to coerce someone into having an abortion. The earlier legislation would have also required doctors to report to a prosecutor anyone under the age of 18 who was seeking an abortion.

Pratt said the current bill, even without his earlier provisions would "decrease the number of abortions in the state of Missouri."

The abortion measure had been substantially weakened in the Senate to avoid a filibuster.

Rep. Beth Low, D-Kansas City, spoke in opposition to the measure and described the bill as a "charade."

"Abortion is going to continue," Low said, "so long as there are unwanted or unhealthy pregnancies."


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