As the NFL winds down and enters its final playoff games, a political battle in Missouri legislature is evolving over online fantasy games.
In his State of the State address, Gov. Jay Nixon called on lawmakers to regulate and tax the industry.
"Let's work together to protect kids and consumers, by reining in the billion-dollar daily fantasy sports industry. Let's get real: this is gambling, kids are playing and it's completely unregulated," Nixon said in his speech on Wednesday night, Jan. 20.
Nixon's statement came shortly after one legislator sponsored a bill to completely exempt gambling involving online fantasy-team sports from state laws regulating gambling. The bill would exempt fantasy sports contests, like the two largest daily fantasy sports companies DraftKings and FanDuel, from gaming and gambling laws.
"I look at it as a sport. I play fantasy sports. I don't consider it gambling. It's not like you are playing roulette. You study players and who you are playing against. I would compare it to the stock market," said the bill's sponsor -- Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob.
Nixon charged the legislative effort was being driven by lobbyists.
Missouri currently has four lobbyist listed that are representing by DraftKings and/or FanDuel. Fitzpatrick said he has communicated with lobbyist from DraftKings and FanDuel as well as the gaming industry.
Jeremy Kudon, a spokesperson for FanDuel and DraftKings, released a statement stating: "The governor is entitled to this opinion and we appreciate his recognition of the tremendous popularity of daily fantasy sports. We have faith in the legislative process and look forward to continued engagement with elected leaders like Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, who are taking thoughtful and appropriate action to ensure that the many of thousands of Missourians who plan daily fantasy sports can continue to enjoy the contests they love."
Nixon's speech left the door open to legalizing the games, but with conditions. "If you're going to legalize it, we must regulate it and tax it like we do casinos."
Missouri is one of the highest-taxed casino jurisdictions in the country according to the Missouri Casino Industry's website. Last year, Missouri generated an average of $513 million dollars in casino taxes. The tax includes a 21 percent gaming tax. Casino taxes are the fifth largest source of income in Missouri, behind income, sales, and corporate taxes.
A Missourian would have to present a government-issued photo ID to vote under a legislative package quickly passed by the House and sent to the Senate Thursday, Jan. 21.
In 2009, Missouri adopted a photo-ID requirement, but it was struck down by the state Supreme Court as violating the state's Constitution.
The legislative package now before the Senate would submit to Missouri voters a constitutional amendment to authorize the legislature to require a government ID with a photograph of the voter to vote.
The second part of the package would implement the requirement, but only if Missouri voters approved the constitutional amendment.
The vote was largely along party lines.
Republicans historically have argued that requiring a photo identification helps avoid voter fraud. Democrats argue it imposes an additional barrier to voting by elderly and lower-income voters who are less likely to have a government-issued photo ID such as a driving license.
St. Louis Senator Jamilah Nasheed said Nixon should have addressed more on the issues in Ferguson.
Nixon had a few sentences in his address dealing with the issues involving Ferguson.
Nasheed also criticized him for not referring or thanking the Ferguson committee.
"People not gonna wanna live there, they're not gonna want to play there, they're not gonna want to work there if we have a high murder rate and if we have a high crime rate," Nasheed said.
Nasheed said there is a direct correlation between prisoners not having the resources they need to reenter into society and violence they do.
Unlike prior years, Gov. Jay Nixon did not demand campaign contribution limits during his call for ethics reform.
Rather Nixon's speech echoed legislation already moving in the legislative process.
"I want to thank Speaker Richardson for pushing forward on this issue," Nixon said. "But we're a long way from the finish line."
Since in office, campaign contribution caps had been on the forefront of Nixon's ethics reform plan.
However, Nixon's demanding call for spending caps met fierce Republican opposition.
Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-St. Louis County, criticized Nixon's Address for not being more demanding with ethics reform.
McCreery said campaign contribution limits are her constituents' number one concern.
She said her constituents told her no progress can be made without imposing spending caps.
"I think that many of us here in both the senate and the house know that our constituents and our voters demand that we look at sensible, realistic campaign contribution limits," McCreery said.
Republicans, however, have argued that special interests can find ways to get around contribution limits.
In 2008 when contribution limits were in effect, wealthy investor Rex Sinquefield set up and financed dozens of separate committees which turned around and made contributions to the campaign of Chris Koster for attorney general.
Republicans argue that stronger disclosure requirements are more effective.
During his State of the State address Gov. Jay Nixon endorsed a offered one solution to the state's infrastructure problems: a gas tax.
"Roads aren't free. Last time I checked, nobody was giving away concrete and asphalt," Nixon said.
Nixon, however did not provide any specific details in his speech, but he did cite a Senate bill that would raise the gasoline tax by 1.5 cents per gallon.
"With gas prices the lowest they’ve been in more than a decade, now is the time to get this done," Nixon said.
Nixon made indirect reference to the plan to raise the sales tax to generate revenue for highways that Missouri voters defeated in August 2014.
"I've been clear about my position, if you use the roads you should help pay for them," Nixon said. "What I don't support is taking the money that should go to schools, law enforcement and mental health, and using it to patch potholes,"Nixon said.
The chair of the House Transportation Committee expressed disappointment Nixon did not present a more comprehensive funding solution.
"Well, I was disappointed that the only solution he had was through raising taxes," said Rep. Glen Klokmeyer, R-Odessa. "He was talking about giving 30 million here and 50 million here, and you know 30 million here and 50 million here. But none of that is going to MoDot."
Klokmeyer criticized Nixon for presenting a budget with major funding increases for the Social Services Department including Medicaid, but not similar increases for transportation.
"I'm extremely disappointed that his 'Christmas list' didn't include MoDot," Kolkmeyer said. "Sounded kinda like Bernie Sanders up there in all the social programs he's wanting to support the state, but taking care of our failing infrastructure was not one of them."
Early last year, the Transportation Department announced it had sufficient funds to fully maintain less than one-fourth of the state's highways and bridges. Legislative staff estimate the 1.5 cent gasoline tax proposal would raise less than $32 million of the approximately $500 million the Transportation Department estimates is needed to fully maintain the state highway system.
During his last State of the State address, Gov. Jay Nixon renewed his calls for issues that have failed in past years, but also added a few new ones.
Nixon began by noting he was in his last year as governor and concluding a three-decade career in government as state senator, attorney general and now governor."Thirty-two years ago, I was a young Jefferson County lawyer beginning a campaign for the state Senate, asking people to believe in my passion, my work ethic and my vision," Nixon told a joint session of the General Assembly on Wednesday night, Jan. 20.
"The people of my home county gave me their votes and an opportunity for a life in public service that has brought me to this moment."
Nixon spent much of his speech talking about the changes and economic growth in Missouri during his past seven years as governor.
"I think we heard more of a victory lap tonight than we did any kind of real recipe for how we move the state forward," said House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff. "We'll look at opportunities where we can work with the governor in the days ahead, but I think tonight's speech was certainly focused more on where we've been."
But Nixon did present lawmakers with a list of issues for them to consider.
He again called on legislators to toughen laws governing politics, special interests and lobbyists.
"The people of Missouri are nobody's fools," Nixon said. "They understand a donor who writes you a fat check expects something in return."
However, Nixon left out any specific reference to the issue he has pushed in past years -- reinstating limits on campaign contributions.
Nixon called on lawmakers to increase funding for transportation. He offered no specific plan, but mentioned a bill before lawmakers that would raise the gasoline tax by 1.5 cents per gallon.
As he did in the prior year, he talked about issues raised by the unrest in Ferguson, but the only specific proposal he made was to address the law governing when a police officer can use lethal force.
He noted that the agency providing mandatory police training had revised their standards to include provisions on how to address mental health, racial and cultural issues while policing, but they do not address police use of deadly force.
There were a few surprises in Nixon's legislative proposals.
He called on lawmakers to make it illegal to discriminate in employment, housing and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation.
"No one should be discriminated against because of who they love," the governor said. "It's unacceptable that Missourians can still be fired for being gay. That's wrong. That's not who we are, and it must change."
Nixon also took on the online gambling industry. But rather than calling for a ban online fantasy games, he called for taxing and regulating the games.
"Let’s get real: this is gambling, kids are playing, and it’s completely unregulated...If you’re going to legalize it, we must regulate it and tax it just like we do casinos," Nixon said.
Nixon also presented a budget spending plan that includes large increases for social services programs, particularly Medicaid that provides health care coverage for the lower income.
The Social Services Department would see a 25.7 percent increase in General Revenue funds under the governor's plan for the budget year that will begin July 1. He also called for a $271 million increase in the department's budget for the current budget year.
The Senate Appropriations Committee chair -- Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia -- immediately questioned the size of the increases.
Gubernatorial candidate John Brunner said his administration would be more collaborative following Gov. Jay Nixon's final State of the State address.
Brunner said Nixon has not been visible or accessible to members of the legislature as he retold a story from a legislator who told him he has only seen the governor in an elevator.
According to Brunner, Nixon's level of success can be seen in the number of veto overrides that have occurred during his administration.
"He has more veto overrides than any governor in Missouri history," Brunner said. "And you have overrides when you're not leading from the front."
Brunner said that, despite his core Republican values, he knows that everyone has to have a voice in the process in order to ensure collaboration and progress.
"There's good ideas from everywhere, but you have to get engaged," Brunner said.
He added that engagement and being "visible" would address the discontent that resulted in protests on the University of Missouri's campus in the fall and the ultimate departure of Tim Wolfe as UM System president.
Nixon did not include the protests in his address.
Brunner also addressed what he called a "big disconnect" between the Missouri Nixon described and what he has heard across the state.
"I heard some college students right behind me say, 'Gosh, I have to go down and get one of those jobs the governor's talking about,'" Brunner said.
After hours of bipartisan debate over whether to require government-issued photo ID to vote, the House has finished first-round approval of voter identification legislation.
If approved by Missouri voters, the Missouri Constitution will be amended to require proof of citizenship and residency in order to vote.
St. Louis County Democrat Genise Montecillo argued against the ID requirement.
"We were all elected, we're here because people went to the polls and voted for us so we, more than anybody should be standing up to make sure that every Missouri citizen is able to cast their ballot," Montecillo said.
Republicans argued the ID requirement would prevent voter fraud, while Democrats say the requirement disenfranchises some Missouri residents.
St. Louis County Democrat Joe Adams says the legislation would take away from the rights of Missouri citizens.
"Our state Constitution has one of the strongest protections of rights of the citizens of the state of Missouri. What this resolution does is chip away at those rights," Adams said.
Good Samaritans who break into locked cars in order to rescue children locked inside would have lawsuit protections under a measure presented to the House Civil and Criminal Proceedings Committee Wednesday, Jan. 20.
"Essentially what we want is to provide people the opportunity to extend the good Samaritan law to these types of situations," said Rep. Elijah Haarh, R-Springfield, the sponsor of the bill.
The legislation is modeled after an existing law in Tennessee.
Haarh said Missouri ranks 13th in heat stroke deaths of children each year.
He said the bill is meant as a preventative measure.
Though there have been no legal suits on this matter in Missouri, there have been suits in other states.
Members of the Civil and Criminal Proceedings Committee almost unanimously agreed that the intent of the legislation is noble, but some argued the multi-step process outlined in the bill leaves bystanders vulnerable to technical liability.
The bill, if passed as outlined, requires individuals to attempt to contact law officials and to leave a note on the dashboard when trying to rescue a child.
Rep. Gina Mitten, D-St.Louis County, said the list of required steps is so extensive that those who try to do the right thing may be held unfairly responsible for doing so.
Rep. Nick Marshall, R-Parkville, said the bill could have an adverse effect by potential encouraging people to become too involved in the lives of others.
Tempers flared between representatives from urban and rural districts during a discussion of a property tax increase on agricultural land in the Missouri House on Wednesday.
The bill would strike down the State Tax Commission's proposed increase on agricultural and horticultural land, which would take effect in 2017.
The resolution declares that the commission's proposed increase is "beyond the level which the General Assembly considers to be fair and reasonable."
Several representatives from rural districts cited the weather unpredictability and recent crop shortages to argue against the property tax increase.
"Price trends are uncertain in livestock sales and crop production in the next couple of years and I believe, as my constituents do, that the timing is not right for a tax increase," said Rep. Patricia Pike, R-Adrian.
Representatives from urban districts argued that even with the tax commission's proposed increase, the property tax burden still falls on Missourians living in residential areas.
Rep. Deb Lavender, D-St. Louis County, argued her constituents are paying more in property taxes than Missouri farmers, and these taxes fund public schools in rural districts.
"All of the ag. property in the state, grades one through eight, pays 1.79 percent of the total burden of property taxes," Lavender said. "Again this is schools, sewers, county roads, ambulances, fire districts and libraries."
But Rep. David Wood, R-Versailles, said the agricultural property tax has no effect on residential districts.
"I am straightening out your misinformation because there is no way this bill affects the foundation formula and amount the school district receives," Wood said. "In terms of school districts and how this affects your residential district, it is zero."
The resolution now goes to the Senate.
Without a dissenting vote, the House Government Oversight Committee approved a near complete ban on lobbyists providing anything of value to state officials.
The committee vote comes after the House has approved a related package of ethics bills to delay when a legislator could become a lobbyist after leaving office and tighten financial disclosure laws.
Missouri is the only state in the nation with no limit on how much a lobbyist can spend for a public official and no limit on campaign contributions that any one source can make to a political candidate.
House and Senate leaders have made ethics issues a top priority after the resignation of two senior lawmakers following allegations of inappropriate behavior with female college interns working for the legislature.
The lobbyist gift bill is not a complete ban. It would allow wining and dining of legislators or on public officials if the entire group were invited to participate.
A Republican senator presented the bill to the Senate General Laws Committee to repeal the death penalty.
And then the GOP Committee chair voiced his opposition to executions. With two Democrats opposed to the death penalty, those two Republicans would constitute a majority on the committee.
The committee chair -- Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph -- said his opposition arose because of what he saw as the unfairness when Gov. Mel Carnahan commuted a death sentence at the request of a pope who had been visiting Missouri.
"The fact that the death penalty is not fairly applied, and as long as that can happen, then I'm going to be opposed to the death penalty," Schaaf said after the committee hearing.
The bill's sponsor told the committee he was motivated by his pro-life, anti-abortion values.
"It seems to me that if I'm going to be a pro-life person and defend human life, I need to defend not just the earliest stages of life, but also all the way to natural death," said Sen. Paul Wieland, R-Jefferson County.
But Cole County's prosecutor, Mark Richardson, told the committee that without the death penalty, there would be no effective deterrent for an inmate convicted of murder to commit another murder in a state prison in his county.
"Throwing the death penalty off the table is something that as prosecutor of Cole County I would be forced to tell the victim's family of a murder of a young man say that started as a corrections officer who's murdered in prison that we will just send that inmate right back to prison that he came from," Richardson said.
The committee debate divided two Roman Catholics on the committee and the Senate's two physicians.
Wieland, the bill's sponsor is Catholic. Schaaf, the committee chair who voiced his support for the bill, is a physician. But one of the committee Republicans voicing support for the death penalty is both a physician and Catholic -- Sen. Bob Onder, R-St. Charles.
The committee chair said the committee would hear further testimony on the measure next week.
Tighter ethics restrictions and disclosure requirements would be imposed on public officials under a package of four bills passed by Missouri's House Thursday, Jan. 14.
The measures would require a "cooling off" period before a Missouri elected official could become a lobbyist, restrict working as paid political consultants while in office, shorten the deadline for reporting when someone paid for out-of-state travel and require biannual rather than annual financial disclosure reports by public officials.
The ethics package was made a top priority for legislative leaders in the aftermath of resignations of two lawmakers after reports of inappropriate conduct involving female college interns.
The measures cleared the House after just six legislative days.
Democrats, however, argued the measures were not strong enough.
One complaint was that the requirement for a delay to become a lobbyist would not apply to legislators in their current term in office, instead only for those elected or re-elected in November.
"This is a disappointingly small step. People are tired of politicians proposing changes that don't apply to themselves. This should apply to us," said Rep. Steve Webber, D-Columbia, during the initial House debate on the proposals.
Democrats also argued that the restriction on working as campaign consultants should apply to legislative staff as well as legislators.
But Republicans argued that some of the broader provisions Democrats sought would trigger court challenges and would raise the possibility of a repeat of legislative gridlock that has derailed ethics issues for the past several years.
"Our goal is not to have a conversation about ethics reform; our goal is to actually get something done," said House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Popular Bluff. "I'm tired of us talking about these things and never getting them done."
Richardson argued that keeping the bills narrowly defined made passage more likely.
The cooling-off period would prohibit legislators and statewide elected officials from registering as lobbyists until they had been out of office for one year after the term in which the person had been elected had expired.
The cooling off period also would be applied to officials appointed by the governor to positions that require Senate confirmation.
In addition, a legislator would be prohibited from soliciting a lobbyist for a paid position that would begin after the lawmaker leaves office.
However, the cooling-off requirement would not apply for during the current term of a legislator, only after re-election.
The restriction on working as a paid political consultant would cover both legislators and statewide elected officials, but not their staffers. The chair of the committee that approved the bill said that including staffers might cause the entire bill to be struck down by the courts.
The out-of-state travel reporting bill would impose a 30-day deadline for a public official to report when a third party had covered out-of-state travel or lodging expenses.
A number of other ethics measures are awaiting committee review. One would impose a total ban on accepting anything of value from lobbyists.
Democrats, including Gov. Jay Nixon, has called for reinstating limits on how much any one person or organization can contribute to a candidate's campaign. But that proposal has met with stiff resistance by Republicans.
Legislation to reimpose the requirement for a government-issued ID to vote was sent to the full House Thursday by the House Select Committee on State and Local Government.
House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, said he expected the House quickly take up the measures.
One of the measures would place on the statewide ballot an amendment to the Missouri constitution that would authorize the legislature to require a photo ID.
The other measure would impose the requirement that a voter present a government-issued ID that included a photograph. That bill would take effect only if Missouri voters approve the constitutional amendment.
The measure would allow a voter without a photo ID to cast a provisional ballot. It also would require that a person without a government-issued photo ID could get cost-free ID from the state.
Missouri initially imposed the photo ID requirement in 2006. But the legislative effort was struck down later that year by the Missouri Supreme Court which held the legislature did not have the constitutional power to require a photo ID.
Republicans have argued that requiring an ID with a photo would help prevent election fraud.
Democrats argue the requirement would impose an unnecessary barrier to voting and adversely effect elderly, the lower income, and others who are less likely to have photo IDs.
The photo ID requirements likely would not take effect until after then 2016 elections.
The constitutional amendment is slated for the November ballot unless the Democratic governor put it on the August primary ballot.
An earlier effort by the legislature that would have taken effect for this year's elections was struck down by a Democratic circuit judge who held the ballot description included in the measure was inaccurate.
Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce's decision was issue early enough in 2012 that the legislature could have revised the ballot description. Lawmakers, however, took no action.
Missouri lawmakers are proposing the state modify its law prohibiting compliance with the federal REAL ID requirements for acceptance of driving licenses as IDs.
Missouri legislative attention to the issue was triggered by a warning from the federal Homeland Security Department that the state's current driving license will not be accepted as identification required to enter some government facilities such as military bases.
The department also warned that eventually, Missouri licenses would not be accepted to board an airplane.
In 2009, Missouri's legislature passed a law prohibiting the state Revenue Department from complying with the federal requirements for storage of personal information about persons with driving licenses.
On Wednesday, Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, filed legislation that would give Missouri drivers the option to pick whether to have federally compliant license or one that requires collection of less information.
"I think that this is a solution that provides freedom for everyone to decide for themselves what level of participation they want to have with their government," Silvey said to his Senate colleagues when he introduced the bill.
In the House, one measure has been introduced to authorize a non-driving identification card that would comply with the federal REAL ID requirements. Another bill simply would repeal the prohibition on the Revenue Department from complying with the federal law.
Thousands of unemployed Missourians would see their unemployment benefits cut under a case heard by the Missouri Supreme Court Wednesday, Jan. 13.
At issue is the constitutionality of the Senate's vote to override the governor's veto of a bill that reduces the number of weeks of benefits during periods of low unemployment.
The legislature passed the bill in 2015 early enough that the governor had to act on the measure before the session had adjourned.
The House promptly overrode the governor's veto. But the Senate did not take up the override motion until the fall veto session.
A filibuster by Senate Democrats in the legislature's final week on an unrelated issue had stalled action on any legislative issues, including the unemployment compensation veto. Republican leaders chose not to force any votes and effectively did nothing of substance in the final days of the session.
The cased filed by two unemployed workers argues that Missouri's Constitution limits an override vote to the regular session if the governor issued his veto before the final five days of the legislative session, which was the case with the unemployment benefits bill.
However, the attorney general's office argues the Senate does have power to take up the measure during either the regular session or the veto session.
If the Supreme Court invalidates the veto override, an unemployed worker could collect benefits for up to 20 weeks.
But with Missouri's current low unemployment rate, those benefits would be cut to 13 weeks.
The state Labor Department a 4.7 percent unemployment rate for November, the last period for which unemployment figures are available.
The benefit reductions take effect the first of this year. The department reports more than 15,000 workers filed unemployment claims in the first full week of January.
Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis County, called the House Committee on Children and Families' hearing about Planned Parenthood a farce.
The acting director of the Department of Health and Senior Services -- Peter Lyskowski -- spoke at the hearing to discuss licensing of abortion clinics.
Members of the committee questioned Lyskowski on the accountability process behind the transfer of fetal tissue.
The issue surfaced last year over an edited video purporting to show the discussion about the sale of fetal tissue featuring a senior director of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Since then, the video has been discounted by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, who found no evidence that Planned Parenthood's St. Louis clinic mishandled fetal tissue.
Newman said the hearing was held because it is an election year and there is no fault in the department's current accountability process.
"Tell me why we're spending more taxpayer time and money to address things that have already been debunked."
Newman also took issue with the non-medical terminology being used throughout the hearing, calling it inappropriate.
She said there is no reason that her committee should be using such casual language in a professional environment.
"We're talking about medical procedures which basically are human lives, and were talking about pathology, again they're all expected to use medical terminology."
Newman compared the language used by the committee to the non-medical terminology used to inflame the abortion issue and incite violence.
"There is no reason, even after I asked point blank, my own committee today to use accurate medical terminology, they refused, as you saw. Again, they are more interested in inciting than they are responsible."
Rep. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, said that the process used by the Dept. of Health and Senior Services in accounting for fetal tissue needs some work.
"How can we make sure there is not black market of human remains?"
Committee chair Rep. Diane Franklin, R-Camdenton, said that they will have to check in with the Health Department over the summer to see if the process in place for reporting abortions is yielding the reports they would expect.
Several bills have been introduced this session that would change the procedures when it comes to handling fetal tissue in abortion clinics.
The House Government Oversight Committee pass and sent to the full House a measure that would require a legislator wait at least six months after leaving office before the lawmaker could become a lobbyist.
The bill had been fast-tracked by legislative leaders.
The committee chair -- Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City -- said a full House vote could come later in the week.
But one Democrat on the committee said the bill did not go far enough.
Rep. Gina Mitten, D-St. Louis County, said the bill should require a full year cooling off period.
Instead, the bill requires that there be one regular session of the legislature before a former state lawmaker could register as a lobbyist in the state.
For a legislator who served out his term of office, that would mean the lawmaker could register as a lobbyist at the end of May after the legislative term had ended at the start of January.
"It is the tiniest of possible steps that the majority party could take on this issue," Mitten said. "It is incomplete and it is being sold as a bill of goods that is not correct."
Democrats, including Gov. Jay Nixon, have called on the legislature to re-impose voter-approved limits on campaign contributions. But Barnes said he did not know when that bill would come before his committee.
Barnes noted his committee had taken up the first round of ethics bills on the earliest day possible for committee hearings.
"On the very first day we can hear bills, we passed four substantive ethics bills," Barnes said.
Other measures approved by the committee would require bi-annual rather than annual financial disclosure reports by public officials, shorten the deadline for reporting legislative trips financed by special interests and prohibit legislators working as paid political consultants for other candidates.