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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of May 11, 2015

Missouri's 2015 legislative session concluded Friday, May 15, with a Senate unable to work because of a Democratic filibuster and the House staggered by the resignation of its speaker after reports of a scandal involving a college intern.

On Thursday, the day before the last day of the session, Rep. John Diehl announced his resignation after the Kansas City Star reported sexually suggesting text messages with a college intern working for the legislature.

That stopped all action in the House for the day as Republicans sought to regroup.

On Friday, they got to work after hearing a short address of apology by Diehl and election of a new speaker, Rep. Todd Richardson who had been the House majority leader.

In the Senate, the Democratic filibuster along with the refusal of the Republican majority to force votes on pending issues led that chamber to call it quits three hours before the mandatory 6pm adjournment.

The chamber had been unable to deal with any bill for most of the week. But early Friday afternoon, Democrats relented and allowed passage of a bill needed for the state to avoid losing more than $3 billion in federal Medicaid funds.

Senate Republicans got nothing of their major agenda out of the deal.

Democrats were angry at a Senate move earlier in the week that shut off their filibuster on the Right to Work bill that would prohibit employers requiring their workers to join unions.

When Republicans voting to stop the filibuster, they passed the bill to the governor.

But Gov. Jay Nixon said he would veto the bill and in both the House and Senate the measure passed with far fewer votes than would be required for an override in the September veto session.

As a result of these last-week legislative quagmires, much of the legislature's work was accomplished earlier in the session.

The got a budget passed early enough that they could override any vetos before the session adjourned. Nixon chose to sign every dime of spending and even praised the legislature for early action on the budget.

They passed restrictions on welfare and the overrode the subsequent veto of the governor.

Republican lawmakers and the governor highlighted a measure that will impose lower limits on how much money of a city's budget can be financed by municipal court fines.

But there was a long list of bills that ended up in the legislative trash can that had been priorities cited by various legislative leaders and the governor including a gasoline tax increase, restrictions on special interest money going to public officials and creating a statewide systems to monitor drug prescriptions.

But it was the failure of the legislature to deal with the issue most directly related to the Ferguson protests that had gained international attention for Missouri that got the most attention on Friday.

Both the House and Senate had passed versions of the bill that would add restrictions as to when a police officer can use lethal force.

Among a long list of bills dealing law enforcement that black legislators and Democrats had filed such as body cams, sensitivity training and independent investigations of poilce shootings -- the lethal force restriction bill was the only issue that had a chance in the final week.

But with the Senate filibuster blocking action on any bills, there was no way to get the bill into a House-Senate conference committee to work out the differences.

After the session, legislative leaders argued that the bills dealing with unaccredited schools and restricting municipal court fines addressed problems in minority communities that were highlighted by Ferguson.

Limits on lobbyists was stalled in a House-Senate conference committee because of a disagreement about lobbyist gifts.

Both chambers had approved a requirement for a "cooling-off" period before an elected official could work as a lobbyist. But the House approved limits on how much a lobbyist could give to a government official which the Senate had not included in its version.

Neither version had limits on campaign contributions that Democrats, including Nixon, had demanded.

On some of the failed issues, Nixon and legislative leaders argued that some progress had been made.

The Senate leadership made the gasoline tax increase for transportation funding a priority issue in the final days. It brought the governor to legislative offices to lobby for the measure.

But it faced filibuster threats from Republicans who demanded the measure be submitted to the voters for final approval. And, it fell far short of providing the funds the Transportation Department said is needed to avoid deterioration of state roads along with closing unsafe bridges.

If it had passed, it would have provided only about ten percent of what the department has said it would need -- but it was small enough of a tax increase that it would have avoided a constitutional requirement that large tax increases be submitted to Missouri voters.

Gov. Jay Nixon had a stern message to legislators about ethical behavior when he delivered his evaluation of the General Assembly's 2015 legislative session.

Nixon did not name former House Speaker John Diehl who resigned after reports of sexually suggestive text messages with a legislative college intern, but Nixon's reference to the issue was clear.

"The state Capitol should represent the best of Missouri, a place where public servants carry out the people's business transparently and ethically and where young men and women learn about how their government works without fear of harassment, intimidation or other inappropriate conduct."

Nixon went on to virtually issue a challenge to legislators.

"Now that the session has come to a close, members of the General Assembly face a choice of whether the past few days will simply reinforce the low expectations many Missourians already have for the legislative process or whether these events will serve as a wake-up call to do better and act in ways that will make Missourians proud."

Missouri's new House speaker had made the issue a top priority a day earlier.

After his selection by House Republicans on Thursday, May 14, to be their candidate for speaker, Todd Richardson said he already had talked with some members about concerns involving interns and would make it an immediate issue after the session had adjourned.

After a tumultuous week, the Missouri legislature adjourned on Friday, May 15 and then both parties in the House held their annual-end of session news conferences.

At the news conference, House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, touted what the House accomplished this year.

"We were able to send to the governor's desk what I think is a very solid education transfer and education reform fix, a budget that invests in education more than we have ever before." Richardson said.

He also praised the legislature as a whole for passing municipal court reform.

"I think it goes without saying that the municipal court reform legislation in Senate Bill 5 was one of the true highlights of the session," he said.

House Democratic Leader Jacob Hummel of St. Louis said passing municipal court reform was good, but said all cities needed to be treated equally.

"[It] made some important and needed reforms, but by treating St. Louis County differently, we've put the constitutionality of the bill in question," Hummel said.

But legislative leaders left some key priorities unfinished.

One of those topics is transportation funding.

When pressed how many more bridges need to close before the legislature acts, Richardson instead talked about the 2016 session.

"Transportation funding is going to be a priority for this legislature to address in the next session," he said. "We are having a good team that's going to work on what those proposals are going to be and we'll be ready to come forward with solutions in January."

When asked about the transportation funding shortfall, Gov. Jay Nixon expressed some disappointment.

"I was hopeful this year that we could get done the incremental step that I thought had a chance to do it," Nixon said. "Sen. Libla's [gas tax increase] bill laid out an initial framework to get going."

Another subject lawmakers did not address was ethics reform.

Missouri is the only state in the nation without any limits on campaign contributions, lobbyist gifts, and lawmakers immediately becoming lobbyists upon leaving office.

Richardson said he thought the House worked diligently to pass a bill.

"I think the House worked very hard to craft what we thought was a meaningful ethics bill and ultimately we weren't able to get a conference committee report signed by both chambers and up for debate," he said. "I think taking the approach of taking some single-subject ethics bills that are smaller and passing them early in session and trying to get as much across the line as we can."

The final issue is the use of deadly force.

The House added an amendment Friday, which meant it had to go back to the Senate, but because of the stalemate, the bill was never brought up for final passage.

Despite the failure to pass, Hummel said the bill was a good one.

"I think that public perception was that something needed to change," he said. "I don't know that [the bill] was sufficient, but it was a step in the right direction."

The the legislative session came to close three hours early for the Senate. For the first time in decades, the Senate adjourned before their 6 p.m. deadline.

This comes after days of Democrats filibustering in protest of the right-to-work legislation that passed Tuesday. The deadlock ended when the federal reimbursement allowance for Medicaid was passed unanimously.

Following adjournment, several senators shared their thoughts on the overall session.

Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, cited House Bill 42 as a highlight of the session. The bill deals with the transferring of students in unaccredited school districts. And Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, noted Senate Bill 5, which reforms the municipal court system, as another achievement.

Democratic Floor Leader Joseph Keaveny, D-St. Louis City, said he was proud Democrats were able to block the voter ID bill, the reduction in unemployment benefits, and the employment discrimination bill.

"For our caucus, it's not so much what we accomplished," Keaveny said. "It's what we stopped."

Despite the list of accomplishments both Republican and Democratic senators listed off, one senator expressed her disappointed with the outcome of the session on the Senate floor.

"What we gave up on are the bills that deserved to be debated," said Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County. "And every single media person out there deserves to talk about on their front page the waste of this legislative session."

Chappelle-Nadal was referring to the deadly force bill that had been passed earlier in the day by the House. She said the real victim of the deadlock between Senate Republicans and Democrats this week was the deadly force bill.

House Speaker John Diehl, R-St. Louis County, officially resigned from his position as Speaker of the House and as state Representative Friday, May 15.

His resignation comes just two days after a Kansas City Star story revealed he exchanged sexually-charged text messages with a college freshman who was working at the Capitol as part of an internship program.

Diehl gave his final speech before he exited the House chamber for the final time.

"I know I've made a mistake, I'm truly sorry," Diehl said in his speech to the House. "I am truly sorry to this body and letting everyone down, but as I said on the first day I was up here, we're going to hold ourselves to a high standard and that starts here."

Soon after Diehl left the chamber, the House elected Majority Leader Todd Richardson as the next Speaker.

Richardson was elected by a voice vote of the House and made a very short speech.

"Today is not a day for speeches and today is not a day for rhetoric," Richardson told House members. "Today is the day we get back to work and that's what we're going to do."

Richardson is poised to serve the remainder of his time in the legislature as Speaker. He is eligible to run for reelection in 2016.

The House passed their version of the lethal force bill Friday, May 15 just hours before the deadline for the legislature to adjourn.

However, the House amended it and sent the bill back to the Senate, which is deadlocked.

Tuesday, a majority of Senate Republicans shut off debate on a controversial "right-to-work" measure by using a rare parliamentary move known as the previous question.

That shut off debate on right-to-work and forced a vote on the measure, which passed.

Since Wednesday, multiple Democrats have engaged in a filibuster, which has shut off debate on any legislation.

The deadly force bill is one of those bills that needs to be passed by the Senate before it can head to the governor.

A bill relating to deadly force use by police officers written by Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, is part of a bigger deadly force bill package that passed the House Friday.

She took to the Senate floor and expressed her anger that it cannot be brought up until the Senate stalemate is broken.

"Every single one of us were elected to serve the people of Missouri and when we allow for politics or lobbyists to get in the way of what we are trying to achieve, we are not doing the best for the state of Missouri," Chappelle-Nadal said.

The legislature must adjourn at 6 p.m.

A closed-door caucus of House Republicans Thursday night selected their majority floor leader to be the next speaker of the Missouri House.

Selected by Republicans is Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff.

The full House is expected to formally elect Richardson to the position on Friday.

Todd Richardson is the son of a former GOP House floor leader -- Mark Richardson who later served as speaker from 1995 to early 1997.

Ironically, the elder Richardson was the GOP candidate against the last House speaker who had resigned facing a scandal.

Mark Richardson was the candidate for House speaker in 1996 when a continuing federal corruption investigation led to the resignation of Bob Griffin who subsequently was convicted.

The elder Richardson came close to the highest House position when a split among Democrats in electing a replacement for Griffin prevented any candidate getting a majority.

Eventually Democrats unified around their Democratic candidate -- Steve Gaw.

House Republicans met behind closed doors Thursday afternoon in a session where members said the resigning House Speaker, John Diehl, expressed his apologies and said he could not put them through the consequences of remaining in office.

The House then returned to session, only to promptly adjourn until Friday -- the last day of the legislative session. Like the Senate which adjourned earlier in the day, neither chamber voted on or even debated a single bill on Thursday.

The remaining two top House leaders -- House Majority Leader Todd Richardson and House Speaker Pro Tem Denny Hoskins went behind closed doors.

When asked who would be in charge of the House and how it would be announced, "We're going to talk about that now," was the response from Hoskins as they began their meeting.

Other Republicans said the GOP caucus would meet later in the evening to pick their candidate for House Speaker who would be elected on Friday.

Just 11 hours after he said he was not stepping down as House Speaker, John Diehl was a no-show when the House began what turned out to be a short 10 a.m. morning session.

Presiding over the chamber was the Speaker Pro Tem, Rep. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg.

After procedural opening ceremonies, House Majority Leader Todd Richardson put the House into recess until 2 p.m. as "we continue to wait on our friends on the other end of the building to get down to some business today," he said. 

Less than an hour later, the Senate adjorned for the day after Democrats resumed their filibuster of Wednesday that blocked any action on legislation.

The Senate now has just one day left before the 6 p.m. Friday mandatory adjournment of the annual session.

A day-long Democratic filibuster stopped the Senate from doing anything except to approve the previous day's journal.

Democrats voiced anger that Republicans had shut off their filibuster the previous day in order to get a vote on the Right to Work bill that prohibits requiring union membership to hold a job.

So, they vowed to stop the Senate from doing anything else.

Ironcially, the bill they filibusters is a key Democratic issue. The bill would avoid billions of dollars in cuts later this fall to Medicaid that provides health care coverage for the lower income.

Democrats argue that Gov. Jay Nixon can call a special session later this year to deal with the Medicaid issue.

House Speaker John Diehl met with reporters late Wednesday night after nearly 11 hours behind closed doors after a Kansas City Star story that he had been sex-texting with a female college freshman who had been working as a legislative intern.

Diehl refused to discuss details of the relationship or the length of time the relationship existed.

Rather, he limited his comments to essentially the same as a written statement he had issued earlier in the day.

"For the poor decisions I made, I apologize. I have apologized to my caucus, to people in my life that are important to me. It was a, it was very regrettable. It was a stupid thing to do and I'm sorry."

Diehl called them "poor decisions."

Although refusing to answer most of the reporter's questions, the St. Louis County Republican said he intended to serve out the remainder of his term as speaker that will end after the 2016 elections. And he said he intends to remain in the statehouse for the final two days of this year's session. And he denied having sexual relations with the intern.

Earlier in the day, House Democratic leaders called on Diehl to resign. In a formal statement, they said "Speaker Diehl owes the House of Representatives and the people of Missouri a complete and public explanation of his actions involving a young Capitol intern."

The Democratic Caucus chair began collecting signatures for a motion to oust Diehl as speaker if he does not resign.

Diehl spent most of Wednesday behind closed doors of his office meeting with groups of Republican legislators and then with the full House GOP caucus.

Few Republicans were will to discuss the situation, although one did say that some members thought Diehl should step down.

House Speaker John Diehl issued a brief statement Wednesday afternoon taking "full responsibility for my actions and am truly sorry to those I let down."

However, Diehl did not provide any details of his activities, except to to say "I also regret that the woman has been dragged into this situation."

The Kansas City Star had reported hours earlier that Diehl had engaged in sexual-content text message with a college student who was working as a legislative intern.

Diehl's statement did not directly confirm the newspaper story nor explain the nature of his relationship with the intern.

Although, Diehl said "The buck stops here. I ask for forgiveness."

Diehl's statement was issued as he stayed behind closed doors of his office meeting with a parade of Republican legislators including a group of women lawmakers.

One Republican said the caucus was divided as to whether Diehl should remain as speaker.

The House Democratic Caucus chair was circulating a petition calling for a House vote to oust Diehl as speaker and conduct an investigation.

A measure barring employers from requiring their employees to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment is heading to Gov. Jay Nixon's desk.

The House passed the measure Wednesday, May 13 after fervent opposition from Democrats and even some Republicans.

Passage in the House came less than 24 hours after Senate Republicans forced a vote by shutting off a Democratic filibuster.

Bill sponsor Rep. Eric Burlison says Missouri is missing out on the economic benefits of being a right-to-work state.

"Freedom to work is necessary if Missouri wishes to regain competitive standing with the states that surround us," Burlison said.

Rep. Bob Burns, D-St. Louis County, criticized Republicans for taking on unions.

"Is it the fact that you want to take away what we like, what we make out living for, which I started in 1966 in the union job right out of high school?" Burns asked.

Rep. Karla May, D-St. Louis City, added to Burns' comments.

"This is an attack on middle class America," May said. "That's all this is and it's been a Republican agenda since Ronald Reagan."

The House passed right-to-work by a 92-66-2 vote and it now heads to Nixon's desk where it will almost certainly be met by his veto pen.

The petition is in response to a Kansas City Star article citing sexually explicit text messages between House Speaker John Diehl and a female college intern.

The petition calls for a vote to remove Diehl as speaker along with a full investigation of the allegations.

The petition is being circulated by the House Democratic Caucus chair -- Rep. Genia Mitten, D-St. Louis County.

Diehl has been unavailable for comment.

House Speaker John Diehl refused comment about a story by the Kansas City Star that he had engaged in graphic text messaging with a college intern working in the statehouse.

The Star's story does not identify the student nor the sources of its information that included photos of the text messages.

Diehl presided over the House for a bit of time Wednesday before going to his office behind closed doors.

Missouri Southern State University had pulled its four interns from the legislature a couple of weeks earlier without explanation.

In the aftermath of Senate approval of Right to Work legislation, Democrats engaged in a string of parliamentary procedures that blocked the Senate from taking any meaningful action.

They even filibustered approval of the journal put together by Senate staff that outlines what the Senate did the day before.

Then, they blocked a vote on a measure Democrats normally would support -- continuing a measure that assures more than $2 million in extra funds for Medicaid that provides health care coverage for the lower income.

Senate Republican leaders showed no indication they would try to shut off the Democratic filibusters.

The Missouri Senate was paralyzed Tuesday evening by Democrats following the decision by Senate Republican leaders to end debate on so-called, "right to work" legislation.

That bill later passed by a vote of 21-13 after Democratic Sen. Scott Sifton filed several motions to adjourn, leading to several brief recesses so staff could untangle Sifton's motions.

Sifton and Senate Democrats then threatened to hold-up all legislation before the Senate in the final three days of session as a result of the decision by Senate Republicans to cut-off debate regarding the legislation.

"You're gonna see how hard it can be made to get business done in the Senate when people insist on being unilateral." Sifton said.

Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, sponsored the bill and said the underlying legislation was worth the controversial motion.

"This is for the people of Missouri," Brown said. "This is an economic development bill for all points of Missouri. I don't care what anyone says."

The legislation now heads back to the House.

Even if lawmakers in the lower chamber are able to pass the legislation, Gov. Jay Nixon has repeatedly said he would veto any right to work bill.

Session ends Friday at 6pm, according to the Missouri Constitution. 

In a 109-53 decision, the Missouri House overrode Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of a bill that will cut unemployment benefits by reducing the number of weeks an out-of-work Missourian can receive benefits from 26 weeks to 20 weeks.

Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, the bill's sponsor, said Missouri has borrowed money from the federal government at least five times after the state's unemployment fund was drained, borrowing close to $1 billion.

During a floor debate, Fitzpatrick told Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, the bill cannot guarantee Missouri will not have to go back to Washington to borrow money or raise taxes to cover unemployment costs, but it makes it significantly less likely.

Democratic representatives said this legislation will take money from Missouri's workers.

"We're talking about taking money from the working folks," said Rep. Joe Runions, D-Jackson County. "I mean, how many of you have gone on unemployment? Believe me, $280 [a week] is not going to help you. It's terrible. It can't pay the electricity or the gas and put food on the tables."

Rep. Brandon Ellington, D-Jackson County, asked the House if passing this bill was the legacy they wanted to leave behind for the session.

"I don't have the poorest district in here," said Ellington. "Every day I come in here, and y'all vote to cut the throats of the people y'all are supposed to represent."

But for Republican representatives, the bill promoted fiscal responsibility.

"The middle class, the working poor, all of that is dependent not upon the government, but upon a thriving, private sector, job creating economy that allows them the freedom to work and to find employment and to do exactly what the other side of the isle says they want to do, to work and support their families," said Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia.

In his veto letter, Nixon said the bill would disproportionately impact areas of the state with unemployment rates higher than the statewide average.

A Senate committee approved legislation that moves Missouri closer to becoming a Right to work state.

In a hearing of the Senate Small Business committee, senators heard heavy opposition to make Missouri a Right to Work state.

Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, is the chairman of the committee. Many of Parson's calls for testimony in support of the bill went answered.

One of the testimonials in support of Right to Work included Missourians Right to Work representative Greg Johns.

"It's proven that our union membership will build if we have a right to work law in the state of Missouri."

Terry Nelson, a representative of the Carpenters' District Council of greater St. Louis and Vicinity, does not share his views.

"If you take the opportunity away from me and my union to negotiate reasonable living wage plus benefits again I say shame on you!" Nelson said. "Let the general public decide what needs to be done. Do not put shackles on the arms of the unions by not allowing us to do what we do best and that's to have a partnership with the people we survive with."

People in the hallway outside the packed hearing room were heard applauding and cheering after opposing comments were made on the bill.

The committee voted 5-3 in support of the legislation sponsored by Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield.

The House approved the bill in February.

If Missouri becomes a Right to Work state, it will be the nation's 26th state to adopt Right to Work legislation.

The bill now advances to the floor of the Senate, where senators have until May 15 to vote on the bill.

The House passed a bill that would require public schools in Missouri to implement stronger anti-bullying policies.

The bill also provides educators the opportunity to participate in a suicide prevention course.

"It starts at a very early age, kindergarten, sometimes even preschool, when a child is picked out, girl or boy," said Rep. Bob Burns, D-St. Louis County, who has served on a board of education for twelve years. "They can be bullied through their whole career and I can see how it does drive some children to suicide."

Rep. Sue Allen, R-St. Louis County, is the sponsor of the bill and said she has been trying to get the bill passed for eight years.

"It's a good tool that we have to try and address bullying in schools," said Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis City, "To make sure that educators have the tools they need to identify those folks who are being bullied and give them the resources and support that they deserve."

The bill would also require schools to print their anti bullying policy in the student handbook and publicize it.

The bill now heads to the Senate for final passage and then to the governor.

Get the bill.

Things are tense in the Missouri House as the final week of session begins.

Last week, certain senators on both sides of the aisle vowed to slow down the legislative process in the last week of session if certain bills were blocked.

On Monday the House defeated a bill sponsored by Sen. Gina Walsh, D-St. Louis County, because she threatened to stall the process.

"My question we are going to have to decide this week is if we are going to honor those that are killing all bills, or proceed on," said Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington after verifying Walsh was the bill's sponsor was.

The bill would have created an "American Smokeout Day" in Missouri, which would be a day designed to warn the public about the side effects of tobacco use.

Rep. Joshua Peters, D-St. Louis City, was the handler of the bill in the House.

"Keep in mind that you can vote against it now for what the gentleman across the aisle just said, but keep in mind you are voting against a senator's bill and your bill is going to have to go over there eventually," said Peters. "I'd hate for anything to happen to your legislation."

Crowds gather outside the Senate committee room where "Right to Work" legislation was heard
  Gubernatorial candidate Mike Parson bans recordings of "Right to Work" hearing, then recants. 05/11/2015

Small Business Committee Chair Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, initially banned journalists from audio recording a hearing on "Right to Work" legislation that would ban all-union shops.

Parson later recanted on his ban after protests by the KMOX statehouse correspondent -- allowing KMOX, St. Louis public radio and the Jefferson City News Tribune to record the hearing.

Reports on Twitter indicate Parson also banned video recordings of the hearing along with still photos, including photos taken on smartphones.

Parson recently announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for governor. 

The Senate currently is facing a lawsuit by Progress Missouri challenging the policies of Parson and two other committee chairs to restrict video coverage of their hearings.

KMOX Correspondent Phill Brooks said Parson's decision to try to ban audio recording was the first he had experienced in more than four decades covering Missouri's statehouse.

Last Week

Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed only one wording mistake in approving the legislature's $26 billion spending plan.

There was not one dollar in spending reductions.

"The budget provides recording funding for the best economic development tool there is -- public education," the governor said.

The governor's approval comes after he suffered a series of overrides to budget-spending cuts last year.

This year, the legislature's Republican leadership accelerated the budget process to give them the opportunity to override any vetoes before their May 15 adjournment.

During the course of the year, Nixon has revised upward his estimate of how much revenue the state would collect to fund the budget.

The budget Nixon signed contains stronger provisions designed to prevent the governor from raiding agency funds to finance the operations and staffing of his own office.

Missouri Democrats vowed to slow down the legislative process in the final week while Republicans threatened to hold off a vote on a major welfare-spending bill if Democrats block votes on key GOP issues.

"I wouldn't define it as slow, I would define it as deliberative," said Senate Democratic Leader Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis. "This time of year, this is when bad things sneak into bills."

Keavney's comments came after long-winded questioning by Democratic members prevented a final vote on a bill that includes a package of various tax breaks.

Republicans recessed the Senate to caucus and emerged threatening to not take up a bill to continue more than $2 billion in federal funds for Medicaid that provides health care coverage for the lower income if Democrats block votes on their priorities.

GOP leaders cited as priorities for getting to a vote in the final week of this year's session a measure that would prohibit requiring workers to join unions to keep their jobs and a measure to require a government-issued photo ID to vote.''

"You know what, there's priorities on both sides of the aisle. If mine don't make it, nobody else's is going to either," said Senate Republican Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin.

Asked if he was hold the medical funding bill hostage, Richard was blunt.

"We're going to do our stuff first, which is my stuff, which is 'Right to Work.' That's first," Richard said in reference to the bill to ban requirements for workers to join unions or pay union fees.

With only a week left in the legislative session, the Senate discussed the issue of increasing the fuel tax again. Although the Senate gave first-round approval to one bill that would increase the fuel tax a week ago, the issue was not brought to a vote again.

Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, called on the Senate to take action.

"We have got to get our head out of the sand and get a transportation policy moving forward, or we're going to be talking about this a lot," Libla said.

Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, said increasing the fuel tax isn't the only solution for fixing Missouri's roads and bridges.

Republicans are split over the issue of increasing the fuel tax. 11 Republicans voted "yes" last week and 13 voted "no."

The House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday that would lower the amount of money that cities can make from traffic fines and court fees.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, would cap revenue from traffic fines at 12.5 inside of St. Louis County. Everywhere else in Missouri, the cap would be 20 percent.

With bipartisan favor, the bill passed through the Senate with huge support on Wednesday.

House Speaker John Diehl, R-St. Louis County, supported the restrictions, criticizing the way St. Louis municipal courts have operated.

"Government ought not to exist and fund itself by fining and imprisoning its citizens to collect money," said Diehl.

Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis County, also favored the bill.

"It's going to be a little painful for some of our municipal courts," said Colona. "But it's not going to be that difficult for municipal courts that are doing business the right way to make the adjustments."

Some lawmakers aired concerns about the disparity between St. Louis County's cap and the cap for the rest of the state. But ultimately, the bill passed through the House by a vote of 134-25.

The bill will now move onto the governor's desk either to be vetoed or signed into law.

Some lawmakers are saying Gov. Jay Nixon did not uphold a promise he made in his State of the State address in January.

In the address, the governor promised to have more of a presence at the Capitol.

"Now, I’m willing to do my part," Gov. Nixon said. "Rumor has it that I don’t spend enough time on the third floor. I hear you ... and I’ll be coming around more often."

Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, said he "hasn't see him at all" and that Nixon "hasn't been very involved."

"In fact, even when things came up to override, I haven't heard from him like 'Please don't override' or 'Thanks for not overriding' or anything like that," LeVota said. "So, I think he has continued his very hands off approach to the legislature."

He said Nixon's absence is making lawmakers' jobs harder.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, spoke along the same lines, saying he hasn't seen much of the governor either.

"I think I had two meetings with him, which is probably two more meetings than I had with him over the budget last year," Schaefer said. "But, he really hasn't been that engaged other than the past two days."

Governor Nixon's office did not respond to a request for comment.

A Missouri senator said he would filibuster any appropriations bill that would allow Gov. Jay Nixon to issue bonds for the construction of a new St. Louis Rams Stadium.

Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, stated he would stop any bill that would allow bond money to be given to the stadium in St. Louis if it was not first voted on by the legislature or the people of Missouri.

Schaaf specifically called out Gov. Nixon, Jim Shrewsbury of the Regional Sports Authority, David Peacock a member of Gov. Nixon's task force on stadium reconstruction and others.

"This is my statement to anyone who is listening," Schaaf said. "If all those people think that they can reissue bonds to build a new sports stadium in St. Louis without either the vote of the people or a vote by this general Assembly or a succeeding one, as long as I'm here and as long as I, myself can stand up I will filibuster the payment of those bonds."

Another bill that would prevent Nixon from extending any existing bonds to build a new stadium without first having the approval of the legislature or a vote of the people has been passed by the Senate, but is now stalled in the House's Select Committee on Budget.

Schaaf said by extending existing bonds, Gov. Nixon puts the state more and more into debt.

Schaaf also asked Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, if he would join him in his promise to filibuster.

"I personally would not be supportive of making that payment either," Silvey said. "I'm not saying that I would stand here today and commit to filibuster two or three years from now should it happen, but I'm also reserving that right."

Missouri's governor vetoed a measure that would reduce unemployment compensation coverage during periods of high employment.

Currently, an unemployed worker can get up to 20 weeks of benefits after losing a job.

The measure that cleared the legislature would reduce the maximum number of weeks if unemployment fell below nine percent with one week less of coverage for each one-half percentage point below nine percent.

The maximum reduction in coverage would be capped at 13 weeks if unemployment reached six percent or less.

In his veto letter, Nixon charged the measure would harm both unemployed workers and the economy.

"Unemployment benefits not only provide a safety net for workers, they also provide an important boost when the economy is struggling, as those workers buy food, clothing and other essentials," Nixon wrote in his veto letter.

In a statement criticizing Nixon's action, the state Chamber of Commerce noted that Missouri is the only state that has had to borrow funds from the federal government because unemployment compensation claims had exceeded payment businesses are charged to cover the program.

Nixon vetoed a similar bill last year. An effort to override that veto was defeated in the House.

This year, passage of the bill fell short of the two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate that would be required to override the veto.

Senate passage came after a lengthy and emotional Senate debate about whether the measure helped children in unaccredited districts or drained public education funds for educational businesses.

The main provision of the measure would restrict students from transferring out of unaccredited schools to other districts. The unaccredited Normandy School District in St. Louis came close to bankruptcy last year because of the legal requirements it pay tuition to schools where their students had transferred.

The measure also includes provisions designed to improve educational services for students in the unaccredited districts.

"It is no longer acceptable for us to turn our backs on those students and just to say that's too bad that through the unluck of being born in certain zip code that the students are destined to be in a district that has failed them," said Senate Education Committee Chair David Pearce, R-Warrensburg.

But critics attacked provisions that would allow school district funds to be diverted to online virtual courses run by private companies and charter schools.

"It's exactly what it was designed -- kill the public education system, let the profiters come in and have their for-profit business with their charter schools," said Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence.

Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, complained the measure would allow diversion of education funds to charter schools in Kansas City area districts that are not unaccredited.

"It's going to siphon off the money that we use that's 92.5 percent accredited," Holsman said.

"This is more to me more of a charter-school expansion, virtual school expansion bill," said Sen. Jill Schupp, D-St. Louis County.

Last year, Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the unaccredited school bill citing a provision that could have led to unaccredited school district funds helping pay the tuition for students to attend private schools.

The latest measure now before the governor would switch state accreditation from an entire district to schools within a district. A student in an unaccredited school would not be allowed to transfer out of the district if there were an accredited school within the district.

Also, the measure would give accredited school districts rights to refuse to accept students from unaccredited districts based on class-size limits.

Missouri's House approved Tuesday, May 5, the final version of a bill that would restrict students in districts with unaccredited schools transferring to other districts.

The House passed a compromise conference committee report even though a little more than 25 percent of Republicans voted against it.

Rep. David Wood, R-Versailles, sponsored the bill and said this year's bill is much better than last year's bill which Gov. Jay Nixon had vetoed because it provided a means by which public education funds could be used to pay tuition for students in private schools.

"When I stood here [last year] and spoke on Senate Bill 493, there was a lot of it that I truly believed in, but there were some things that I still had issues with," Wood said. "This year as I stand here, I can say that I believe every part of this will work. It may not be the best solution, it may not be the easiest solution, but we have a pathway for this to work."

This year's bill, however, has provisions by which public education funds could be used for charter schools and online virtual education courses provided by private companies.

Rep. Bob Burns, D-St. Louis County, said the bill is the beginning of the end for an American institution.

"Charter schools and virtual education are the downfall of public education," Burns said.

The bill allows a parent to enroll his or her child in a virtual school if the child has attended at least one semester in an unaccredited school, or attendance centers in unaccredited or provisionally accredited schools in Missouri.

Rep. Mike Lair, R-Chillicothe, argued against the concerns by school administrators about diversion of public education money.

"You are responsible to the children of this state," Lair said.

Another provision of the bill is to accredit buildings schools by building, but not by district.That provides a means to keep a student within a district with an unaccredited school rather than requiring the district pay tuition for students fleeing to districts with accredited schools.

The bill divided Republicans with 33 GOP House members voting against the bill. The bill passed by an 84-73 vote and heads to the Senate.

By a near party- line line vote, the Missouri House voted to override Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of a bill that will impose restrictions on one of the state's major welfare programs, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF).

Nixon said the cuts would throw more than 3,000 familIes off the program starting in January 2016.

Rep. Diane Franklin, R-Camdenton, handled the bill in the House and said the bill sets out a plan to get people off welfare.

"It provides a structure for personal responsibility, a plan that can be developed to empower participants to achieve their goals and experience positive performance," Franklin said.

The bill would reduce the time recipients of TANF can receive the funds from 60 to 45 months.

Democrats said the bill was an attack on the poor.

"This is once again this body and this legislature passing on some of its members moralistic judgment of families who struggle to take care of their loved ones and family members," Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-St. Louis County said.

Rep. Mike Moon, R-Lawrence County, said the bill is a way to help people.

"The whole bill in and of itself is a direction that we need to go to let people know that we want to help, but they do have a responsiblity to help themselves by looking for jobs and I think jobs are available," he said.

The House's override of Nixon's veto comes just a day after the Senate overrode his veto by a straight-party line vote.   

By a straight party-line vote, Missouri's Senate voted to override Jay Nixon's veto of a bill that would impose cuts in the welfare program Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

The measure would cut the life-time limit for the program from 60 months to 45 months. It also would require recipients to have jobs, be in school or participate in programs to get jobs.

In his veto message, Nixon wrote the measure would cut 3,155 families from the program in January 2016 -- affecting 6,465 children of those families.

But the bill's sponsor -- Sen. David Sater, R-Cassivlle -- said the program was broken.

"Right now, this program is actually causing more of a dependency on government. And I want to stop that. I want to see families own their own self-sufficient."

Democrats charged the cuts would hurt families and their children.

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, questioned her Republican colleagues why they gave tax breaks for dairy farmers in the same year they voted for welfare cuts.

"Make me understand how we can give $3.2 million to dairy subsidies and say we don't want to subsidize the poor," she asked. Nasheed warned that cutting lower income off welfare could force them to engage in crime.

Nasheed argued the bill would drive some kicked off of welfare to crime. "If they have to go rob, shoot, kill, that's what many of those individuals may do," she warned.

If the House goes along with the Senate, it would be first veto of the Democratic governor overridden in 2015.

The House Criminal and Civil Proceedings Committee heard testimony on a Ferguson-related deadly force bill that would tighten restrictions on when law enforcement officers can use deadly force.

The law would only allow officers to use deadly force if a suspect poses a serious physical injury, attempt to escape by using a weapon or pose a serious threat to an office or another person.

Currently, officers in Missouri may use deadly force if they believe the force is necessary or suspect is suspected of committing a felony crime.

While no one testified against the bill, Sarah Rossi of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri said she had concerns about the bill.

"A police officer has to believe that the person fleeing with probable cause is going to cause serious bodily injury or death to a member of the public or the police they can't just commit a violent felony."