Missouri's Senate joined the House in voting to nullify a Tax Commission plan to increase assessment of some categories of farm land.
The Senate vote Thursday, Jan. 28, followed passage of the resolution in the House the previous week.
The Tax commission's plan would have raised the assessment values by five percent for the four of the highest grades of farm land.
The eight grades are based on the productivity of the land, as opposed to non-agriculture land which is assessed based on the land's value rather than productivity.
Under Missouri law, the Tax Commission sets the productivity assessment value every two years.
The assessment figures take effect unless rejected by the legislature.
The Tax Commission's rejected plan would have covered assessments for 2017 and 2018.
The senator who handled the resolution in the Senate -- Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar -- argued that decreasing farm size and the age of farmers, higher taxes will discourage the next generation of Missouri farmers.
"The average age of a farmer in the state of Missouri is 58 years old, which means it's very difficult if you're a young man or a young woman and you want to get into the business of agriculture, it's very difficult to do that, the investments you have to make," Parson said during the Senate debate.
Parson said it was unfair to single for a tax hike only the most productive land which he said represents about 35 percent of all of Missouri's agricultural land.
Critics, however, argued rejection of the assessment change would block additional funds for local public schools.
The state Senate continues to criticize how the University of Missouri has handled a communications professor who attempted to block the media from recording a protest.
Republican state legislators are not pleased with Melissa Click's continuing employment. Over 100 representatives and senators signed a letter asking the University of Missouri to fire her.
St. Louis County Democratic Senator, Maria Chapelle Nadal argued that the biggest issue facing the university is not Click, but rather the racial climate on the campus.
"What we really need to deal with is the history of prejudice and racial bias on the campus of Mizzou."
Yet Republican Senator Eric Schmitt, also from St. Louis County, said the issue is on the minds of Missourians.
"Because of that incident, a lot of people across the state, including taxpayers, have lost confidence in the leadership at the University of Missouri."
Melissa Click is currently going through the tenure process and will keep her job until that is finished and possibly longer, according to Interim Chancellor Hank Foley.
It would be tougher sue a farmer for cattle running loose under a measure heard by the House Civil and Criminal Proceedings Committee Wednesday, Jan. 27.
The measure would require that a farmer would have to have been negligent before being responsible for damages caused by trespassing livestock.
Currently, Missouri law states that livestock owners are strictly liable for any damages to another's property, even if the animals got out because of someone other than the owner, or because of a natural disaster, said the bill's sponsor -- Rep. Joe Don McGaugh, R-Carrollton.
"This is an issue that plagues our members quite frequently," Shannon Cooper from the Missouri Cattlemen's Association said. "This just updates the laws and tries to put the blame where it should be."
Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin, raised concerns about how property owners can collect damages if the livestock owner cannot be held liable without negligence.
"If you don't have an insurance scenario...you're going to go to court," White said.
He said this means innocent people in the situation would be forced to hire an attorney and incur court fees.
The debate over gay rights came before the Missouri Senate Progress Committee Wednesday, Jan. 27..
The bill would add sexual orientation and gender identity under the state's law that prohibits discrimination in various areas such as employment.
"The overall atmosphere regarding this bill nationwide, I believe has allowed us to get to a point where Missouri can take a step forward and accept this," said the bill's sponsor -- Sen. Mike Keaveny, D-St. Louis.
Keaveny chairs the Progress Committee -- the only Senate committee with a Democratic chair and a Democratic majority of committee members.
In addition to employment, the discrimination law also covers housing practices, various types of financial transactions and public accommodations.
More than 15 witnesses testified in support of the bill including representatives from the attorney general’s office, Planned Parenthood and members of PROMO, a Missouri organization focused on promoting LGBT equality.
"We know based on the study, but also based on calls that we receive at our office across the state, that people face discrimination in employment and housing and public accommodations," said PROMO Interim Executive Director Steph Perkins.
The study Perkins referred to was a 2013 study done by the Missouri Foundation for Health. The study found that one in seven LGBT Missourians had faced an adverse job reaction because they are gay or transgender.
Four people spoke in opposition of the bill, including general counsel for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, Brian Bunten.
"Until the discrimination standard is changed from the contributing standard, to the motivating standard, we cannot support any more protected classes to the list on the MHRA. That's our position," Bunten said.
Missouri's Supreme Court chief justice gave state lawmakers a report on changes made in Ferguson's court system following the protests in the summer of 2014.
"Let me be clear," Breckenridge said. "We are committed to ensuring every individual in every case in our system of justice is treated with respect and every case is adjudicated fairly and impartially under the law," Chief Justice Patricia Breckenridge said in her State of the Judiciary address to a joint session of the legislature on Wednesday, Jan. 27.
Breckenridge addressed the U.S. Department of Justice released a report that said there was racial disparity in the handling of cases in the St. Louis County juvenile division.
During her speech, Breckenridge addressed this report.
Breckenridge said the Judiciary is considering the Justice Department's criticisms and appropriate solutions.
During her speech, the Chief Justice emphasized that the Supreme Court is dedicated to restoring trust.
"The Supreme Court recognizes that the vast majority of our municipal divisions function as they should, but we are committed to restoring trust in all our municipal divisions and changes have been made," Breckenridge said.
She listed improved access to information and a uniform fine schedule as some of the changes the Supreme Court has made.
Other changes mentioned in the address included a Commission on Racial and Ethnic Fairness, established in October, and new implicit bias training as part of the judicial education programs.
Though these were all changes made by the Supreme Court, Breckenridge gives credit to the Legislature for their help in changing the court system.
"The legislature has taken action in response to the problems demonstrated by events in Ferguson, and I know you are considering additional changes to the law during this session," she said.
Breckenridge said the legislature and judiciary should continue to work together to improve Missouri's courts.
A legislative committee heard from St. Louis area homeowners about their concerns from a burning landfill next to radioactive waste.
Their testimony came before the Senate Commerce Committee hearing a bill that would establish a program to purchase their homes.
The measure addresses a continuing burning landfill in St. Louis County's Bridgeton adjacent to radioactive waste.
One witness testified about the affects of how her son has now accumulated asthma and severely swollen tonsils from being in the area. Another witness testified about growing up in the area and how she is disappointed that the area has been contaminated and that she can no longer live there.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency announced in December it would construct a barrier at the landfill to avoid future problems. After the most recent heavy rains, EPA reported it is unlikely that radioactive material had been "transported," but that it was continuing to monitor the situation.
Under the bill before the Senate committee, homeowners living within a three mile radius of Bridgeton Landfill, West Lake Landfill, or Coldwater Creek could apply to sell their home at the market rate to the state Natural Resources Department.
Legislative staff estimate the measure could cost the state more than $70 million in the first full year of implementation.
The House Health Insurance committee heard continuing arguments for and against the implementation of a system that would track the acquisition and purchase of prescription narcotics.
The program would give pharmacists and physicians the ability to access patient information that allows them to make informed decisions about drug dispersement and addiction intervention.
"Addiction is treated on the front end," said bill sponsor Holly Rheder, R-Sikeston, at the Wednesday, Jan 27, hearing. "You have less people who are getting that far down the line that they need to use heroin and they can't stop it."
A lobbyist for the drug-manufacturing company Mallinckrodt told the committee that those who use insurance plans to fill prescriptions already have their information stored in data bases that are more accessible than the system the bill would create.
"I started checking where my prescription drug list is stored and I came up with 7 locations where my entire prescription record is stored all in private data bases none of which are double encrypted," Randy Scherr said. "Of all of my records if this were put in place I would only have one script which would be placed on a doubly encrypted system in the state of Missouri."
Others in opposition argue that a prescription drug monitoring program would not be as effective as changes in physician practices.
"They mentioned the need for ending the over-prescribing of prescriptions," said Jeremy Cady with the Missouri Alliance for Freedom. "Why aren't some patients sent to physical therapy to give a permanent resolution to their pain rather than a continuous regime of addictive drugs?"
Missouri is the only state in the country that does not have a state prescription monitoring program. In past years, the measure has been derailed over arguments as to whether to give police access to the records without court warrants.
The measure heard by the House Health Committee would require a court order for police to access a person's prescription record in the database. Any subpoena, however, would have to be limited to a specific case.
Dr. Stacey Daniels-Young, the director of COMBAT Jackson County, an organization that provides drug rehabilitation, said a prescription drug monitoring program may prevent younger individuals from using drugs like heroin.
"It is well documented by our treatment agencies that opioid obtained by street sales are most more likely to lead to heroin," Daniels-Young said. "Since these people are so young they don't know about the 70s and they don't know what the drugs can do to you. Law enforcement officials corroborate the proliferation of these."
A coalition of Republicans and Democrats voted to send to the full Senate a bill to repeal the death penalty in Missouri.
The measure passed with support from two Republicans and two Democrats on the seven-member committee.
The measure now heads to the Senate that has not had debate on a death-penalty repeal bill in decades.
The bill's GOP sponsor -- Sen. Paul Wieland, R- Jefferson County -- described the future of his measure in terms of a discussion in the Republican-dominated Senate.
"The death penalty isn't going to change without discussion. It's important we keep discussion open and allow everyone to share their opinions in order to make a change," Wieland said.
In addition to Wieland, had the support of the committee's chair -- Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph. The committees other three Republicans voted against the bill. The two Democrats on the committee voted in support.
JEFFERSON CITY - A Senate committee heard a plea from a convicted felon to let her criminal record be expunged.
"We've paid our price, should we continue paying?" Patty Berger asked the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing testimony Tuesday, Jan. 26, on three bills that would make it easier to get criminal records deleted.
The committee heard testimony on three bills to lower the restrictions on getting criminal records deleted.
Berger, from St. Louis, said she had been sent to prison several times for 18 felonies during a 20-year period, but has since changed her life -- saying she has been drug and alcohol free for 15 year and now close to earning a college degree.
Berger told the committee a state agency should handle expungements for all courts instead of paying a repeated fee in each court.
Another witness was Jennifer Bukowsky from Columbia who owns Bukowsky Lawfirm and works with ex-felons hoping to get their record expunged. She said bills working toward expunging criminal records are important because she knows qualified individuals who are unable to work and support their families because of past mistakes.
Bukowsky said that many of these ex-felons are unable to buy concealed weapons, preventing them from being able to defend their families, which she feels is "un-American."
Nobody testified against the bills.
Maximum municipal court fines would be reduced and cities would face tighter restraints on use of court fine revenue under a measure given preliminary approval by the Senate Tuesday, Jan 29.
The measure would lower the maximum fine and court costs that can be assessed by a municipal court from $300 to $200.
The measure follows the law passed last year that restricts how much of a city's budget can be financed by minor traffic fines. The law sets the final phased in limit to 20 percent of the city's budget with a lower limit of 12.5 percent for cities in St. Louis County.
The bill approved by the Senate would extend those caps to all fines collected by a municipal court.
Under current law and under the bill, excess revenue from fines exceeding the limit is transferred to the state Revenue Department for distribution to schools in the city's county.
The bill's sponsor -- Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County -- charged cities had shifted to stronger enforcement of non-traffic ordinances in order to avoid any cuts in their budgets as a result of last year's law.
"We don't a city should rely on money by charging roving bureaucrats going around neighborhoods peaking into peoples' homes for mismatched blinds, mismatched curtains, chipped paint, citing people for having a barbecue in their front yard," Schmitt told the Senate.
But Sen. Jill Schupp, D-St. Louis County, argued that unlike traffic fines assessed against persons driving through a community, the other violations covered by the bill are paid by local residents.
"These people have some kind of recourse because they have elections in their community."
Schupp also questioned Schmitt's claims as to the frequency of the ordinance abuses that Schmitt claimed.
A lobbyist gift ban was discussed by the Missouri state House of Representatives, and was later amended to include local elected officials.
Another bill was passed by the house to treat executive appointees as public officials in regard to lobbyists' expenditure reports.
The bills are part of a major push by the house to clean up the ethics of the state legislature.
Rep. Justin Alferman (R-Gasconade) said that the ethics bills are needed for all Missouri public officials to keep the state honest,
"Because if we are going to be living under those standards, all elected officials ought to be living under those standards."
Just hours after MU Communications Professor Melissa Click was charged with assault against a student, Republican senators launched into a lengthy attack for inaction against the professor.
"We're the laughing stock of the country," Sen. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown, proclaimed during Monday's Senate session.
Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said the university's failure to take action against Click was a reason for the decline in student applications for admission this year.
"This is not complicated. It's as simple as this. A professor causes third degree assault and in the process invites a mob to come and help her with more muscle,"
Schaefer said to his colleagues.
Click's action came as a student was attempting to record video of protesters in November on the day the university system president resigned.
On Monday, Jan. 25, Columbia's prosecutor announced Click had been charged with third degree assault. The interim chancellor at MU, Hank Foley, told reporters Click would not be dismissed, as more than 100 legislators had demanded in a letter signed last month.
Instead, Foley said the process for evaluating tenure would continue.
If Click is not granted tenure this spring, she normally would be given a one-year terminal contract.
But that approach did not satisfy the Republican lawmakers, one of whom warned there could be consequences in the university's budget request that is before the legislature.
"I think they need to understand that the appropriations process is a very important accountability tool," said Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County.
Two black legislators -- Sen. Kiki Curls, D-Jackson County, and Sen. Maria Chappell-Nadal, D-St. Louis County -- said a more important issue was the frustration of the black student protesters who had complained of racial problems at the university campus.
Missouri governor's large mid-year budget increase request came under question from the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Acting Budget Director Dan Haug cited less funding from the tobacco settlement payments and higher pharmaceutical prices among the main causes for the large spending increase requests for the remainder of the current budget year that ends June 30.
Gov. Jay Nixon has asked the legislature for more than $270 million in state funds for Missouri's welfare budget during the remaining few months of the current budget year.
Committee Chair Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said the mid-year budget increase would allow the governor to hide larger increases in Medicaid spending in later years.
"What the governor does is, and he's done this every year too, is mask his growth of Medicaid in the supplemental," Schaefer said, "Then six months later they carry that [the mid-year budget increases] over that new budget recommendation for the next year."
Schaefer suggested the governor could have purposefully withheld the amount needed in the supplemental during the budget's initial appropriations process.
"You could say that you knew all along from the very beginning what the number was you just were never gonna offer it in the regular props (appropriations) process because there's too much public discussion over a four month period so you just pull some of it back, wait till there's a supplemental when nobody's really watching and we only spend a week on it," Schaefer said, "Then you basically grow Medicaid by an awful lot of money that way."
Other senators voiced similar concerns about large mid-year adjustments in the budget.
"Quite honestly, I think the goal for every one of us in this room is to have zero supplemental budget this year, not just kick the can down the road and just say this is the way we budget. I think we all need to work on that, and to make sure that that's put in next year's budget," said Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg.
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.