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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of May 9, 2016

Missouri's legislature concluded its 2016 annual session at 6pm Friday with a stamp of Republican unity, but also division.

They placed on this year's election ballot a proposal to authorize the legislature to impose a government-issued photo ID to vote.

They expanded fire arms rights including the right to carry concealed weapons in some locations without a permit.

For yet another year, they rejected expanding Medicaid eligibility for higher income Missourians.

They imposed restrictions on liability lawsuits.

The legislature overrode the governor's veto of a bill to lower the legal target for funding public schools.

They also overrode the governor's veto of a resolution that blocked an administration rule to set minimum salary levels for home health care workers.

But on a few issues, the Republican-controlled legislature departed from what one might consider traditional GOP positions.

Despite the party's philosophy against tax increases, the Republican controlled legislature approved taxing the profits from Missourians generated by online fantasy sports games.

They also approved a modest expansion of Medicaid by approving a phased-in increase in the maximum assests elderly and disabled recipients can have and still qualify for the program that provides health care coverage for the lower income.

Legislative staff estimate as many as 10,000 Missourians ultimately would qualify for Medicaid under the proposal.

Although the blocked family planning funds to Planned Parenthood, numerous other bills to restrict abortions or donation of fetal tissue failed to pass.

The Republican-controlled legislature also approved a measure to expand the right for some criminals to have their convictions blocked from public access.

The legislature approved a measure to restrict when police can use deadly force.

But divisions among Senate Republicans blocked other efforts.

The divisions appeared the night before the session's last day when two Republican senators joined Democrats in voting against overriding the governor's veto of a bill that would have required annual approval from a state or local government worker to deduct union fees from the worker's salary.

Despite a commitment to ethics reform by Republican legislative leaders in January, one of the key provisions -- a lobbyist gift ban -- was blocked in the Senate by opposition from some Republican members.

However, the legislature did send the governor a bill to require a six-month delay before a departing state official could become a Missouri lobbyist. Another bill clearing the legislature would ban a state official working as a paid consultant for another official. Both bills were signed into law by the governor.

A House-passed plan to tax cell phones and Internet-based phone services to fund 911 emergency services also died in the Senate. A vote was put off after three senators won approval to exempt their counties from the bill.

A major lobbying push by the utility industry for rate increases was derailed by Senate filibusters. The proposal would have facilitated rate increases to finance infrastructure improvements such as electric distribution systems.

Critics charged the provisions would be an end-run around consumer protections from review by the state's Public Service Commission.

A filibuster by one of the Senate's two physicians -- Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, blocked the bill to create a statewide database of persons who have narcotic prescriptions. Schaaf argued there were insufficient protections to protect patient privacy of information in the database.

A Senate-passed measure pushed by Senate GOP leaders to submit to voters a motor fuel tax for Missouri's highways died in the House without a full chamber vote.

In one of their last acts of the 2016 legislative session on Friday, May 13th, the Missouri House passes a controversial "stand your ground" bill.

The bill states that a person may use deadly force in self defense or the defense of others against a person that unlawfully enters a property.

"The reason I keep standing up against this bill, cause I'm pro second amendment, I would defend my families life without hesitation. And I know other people would do the same. And I know other people who would use this law to justifiability murder," said Rep. Randy Dunn-D, Jackson County.

The hearing of the bill fell on the same day as George Zimmerman's online audict in which he auctioned off his weapon used in the killing of Trayvon Martin. The shooting took place in Florida in February of 2012. Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder upon the "stand your ground," law in Florida.

The bill passed with a vote of 114-36. It now moves to Gov. Jay Nixon's desk where it is up to him whether or not the bill will become a law.

In a end of session Republican party press conference, Missouri House Speaker Rep. Todd Richardson-R, Popular Bluff, said that the 2016 session was, "incredibly productive and in some cases historic."

"Voter ID is something we have been working on for a long time in this state, in bringing integrity back into this states election process was really historic and we are proud to have gotten that done," Richardson said.

During the press conference, Richardson reflected on the session and all that representatives both Democratic and Republican have accomplished. Richardson mentioned passing voter identification bill, submitting a balanced budget, economic reform, and education bills as some highlights of the session.

He went on to say that he was most proud of the House, "putting in some valuable welfare reform."

Richardson also said that there were a few bills that didn't make it across the finish line, but would be a top priority next year. One of those bills the lobbyist gift ban, which passed out of the House but did not make it out of the Senate.

"That bill will be the first bill out of the House of Representatives next year and we are going to look at every tool we have to put a meaningful gift limit into law and I hope that's by statue, and if it's not we will be willing to explore changes in the rules to do it," Richardson said.

Thanks to two Republican senators, the Republican-controlled Senate sustained the Democratic governor's veto of a measure that would have required annual approval to withhold union fees from government worker paychecks.

The vote came shortly after midnight, Friday morning, on the last day of the legislative session that adjourns 6pm the next night.

The 22-10 vote fell one vote short of the two-thirds needed to override the governor's veto.

The two Republicans voting to sustain the governor's veto were Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, who originally had voted for the bill earlier in the year and Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, who had not voted when the bill originally passed the Senate.

Gov. Jay Nixon's victory is not completely assured. Either one of those two Republicans can make a motion to reconsider the vote before the legislature adjourns.

Missouri's House sent the governor a bill that would add further restrictions on how much of city budgets can be financed from municipal fines.

Last year, the legislature put into law a limit on how much of a city's budget could be financed by minor traffic fines. This year's years bill would to extend that limit to all municipal court fines.

The bill now before the governor also lowers the cap on the fines one can incur for violations.

For a minor traffic violation, the maximum fine would be lowered $300 to $225.

The limit on other violations would be based on whether it was a first offense within a 12 month period. For that, the maximum fine would be $200, but $275 for a second offense with in a year. The third offense maximum fine would be $350 and $450 for the fourth offense within one year.

Although the measure passed by overwhelming margins in the House and Senate, there was a note of criticism.

Rep. Courtney Curtis, D-St. Louis County, said he felt the bill was not doing enough to prevent conflict-of-interest issues that arose through the previous legislation.

He said the new bill does just as much to protect the salary of lawyers, who have profited from municipal fines, as it does Missourians.

“I would appreciate it if no one would say that we are truly protecting the people with this bill. True protection would have come in being more harsh on the lawyers that have served in these capacities all these years that have reaped I'd have to say it has to be millions of dollars from these municipalities all these years.”

Curtis urged the Supreme Court to take measures to prevent such conflict-of-interest issues.

But Cornejo said the bill was a step in the right direction in clarifying the legislation.

“This is a common sense bi-partisan work to hold people accountable,” Cornejo said. “People can still be put in jail if they fail to show up in court, but we’re not going to allow these excessive fees and fines to continue.”

On the last day of the legislative session, lawmakers also sent the governor a measure to prohibit local government from imposing a quota on tickets police officer must issue.

Missouri voters will have the opportunity to decide later this year whether the state legislature should have power to require a Missourian present a photo ID to vote.

The House passed Thursday, May 12, a constitutional amendment to give the power to require a photo ID.

The measure will appear on the November ballot unless Gov. Jay Nixon places it on the August primary ballot.

Democrats argue that voter identification requirements would disenfranchise minorities, elderly and disabled.

Rep. Brandon Ellington, D-Jackson County, said the bill falsely assumes identification to be easily accessible to all.

"That shows the fact that you don’t understand the difference between a privilege and a right,” Ellington said. "It's a privilege to have an ID, it's a privilege to have a bank account, it's a privilege to have resources at your fingers in which you can have all your corresponding documents."

But Rep. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, said a companion measure to implement the amendment if it is approved includes provisions to provide cost-free government photo IDs.

Brattin said that bill also would allow individuals without identification to vote if they sign an affidavit confirming their identity.

“Not only will the taxpayers being paying for that and you’ll also be having one provided for you,” Brattin said, “but you’ll also be casting the same ballot.”

Althought Ellington, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, said he was concerned that the bill would unfairly disenfranchise black and other minority communities, another black lawmaker said he would not vote for the resolution if this were the case.

“There’s no way I would be supporting this if it disenfranchised people who look like me,” said Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-St. Louis County. “We need to trust the words of our colleagues here, our colleagues in the Senate, the work that's been done on this issue to ensure that everyone who is an eligible voter can cast a vote and have it be counted in the state of Missouri.”

The Missouri Senate voted to allow a lobbyist to spend up to $240 per week on meals for a legislator.

The amendment was added by the Senate Wednesday, May 11, to a House-passed bill that would impose a ban on lobbyist gifts to legislators and other state officials.

The Senate amendment's sponsor -- Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Franklin County -- said the House-passed plan for a total ban would not clear the Senate.

But Schatz also voiced his own opposition to a gift ban on lobbyists.

The people that come up here, that enjoy interacting with folks at the Capitol, having a prohibition on gifts would prohibit them from being able to do some of those things, that's ridiculous," Schatz said.

But other senators defended a lobbyist ban on gifts.

"When taxpayers already give us $103 a day in per diem for meals and lodging, why, especially during session when we're already being given taxpayer funding for meals, should we have an explicit permission slip to get meal money from lobbyists," asked Sen. Scott Sifton, D-St. Louis County.

The crumbling transportation infrastructure of Missouri has led to about 50 fewer construction projects each year by the state's transportation department.

"As the construction budget gets smaller every year, projects in the STIP (a list of transportation projects to be completed over five years), must reflect only the most essential transportation needs," said then-Interim Director Roberta Broeker in a press release.

Senator Mike Kehoe said he would focus on funding transportation after being announced as the Senate Majority Floor Leader.

"I think the transportation issue is the state's priority," said Kehoe in September. "I don't think it's just mine. As those issues come up, and if the caucus continues to believe it's a priority like I believe they do... I think transportation will continue to be at the front of what we talk about."

There is a proposed gas tax increase that passed the Senate but has not made it to the House floor. The deadline to pass bills is Friday.

On Friday, May 13, the 2016 legislative session will come to a close.

This session, 22 representatives and three senators will take their seats in their chambers for the last time in regular session.

Due to legislative term limits, legislators can only serve eight years total in the chamber.

During their last week, some representatives and senators reflected on their years serving in the General Assembly.

"There's so much to learn, so much to do," Rep. Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage, said. "You're just working away and then you take that final election in 2014 you realize that now you're coming up here in 16... you're two days away from the final gavel going down and it's really a sense of accomplishment."

"It seems like just yesterday I was trying to find out where my office is," Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis City, said. "You know the thing that I'm going to miss most about being a representative here is actually the friendships that I've made over the years, whether they're Republicans or Democrats. It's almost as if we've been in the same class together for eight years and now we're graduating and moving on to our next stage of life."

"This last week is bittersweet," Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, said. "I've really enjoyed being a senator and before that a House member. There's a lot of things I'll miss but some things I'm not going to miss so it's a logical time to draw this to a conclusion so I'm really happy about my service."

Pearce said he thinks term limits are not good for legislators, because of the learning curve associated with the lawmaking process.

"It takes quite a while to learn this process and I think that by churning people in and out quickly I think it hurts the overall function of government," Pearce said.

Elderly and disabled Medicaid recipients would be allowed to possess more assets under a measure sent to the governor in the legislature's final week..

Currently, a Medicaid recipient is allowed to possess no more than $1,000 in assets. A person is disqualified from the health-coverage program if that limit is exceed.

Under the measure, the asset limit would be increased in stages over a series of years starting at $2,000 in 2018 and eventually reaching a limit of $5,000 in 2021. After that, the asset limit would be adjusted on the basis of cost-of-living increases.

"We're trying to help people become more self-reliant...less dependent on others, more self-reliant, to be able to stay in their homes longer," said the Senate handler of the measure, Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield.

Dixon said Missouri has the lowest asset limit for Medicaid in the nation. It has not been changed since 1968. Excluded from the limit are assets such as the recipient's home, life insurance, burial property and funeral trusts.

The state administration estimates more than 10,000 additional persons would be qualified for Medicaid when the asset limit increase was fully implemented. However, Dixon disputed those numbers.

Final approval of the measure came Tuesday, May 9, when the Senate accepted without a dissenting vote the House version of the bill.

The Senate, however, by a party-line vote rejected increasing the income limits for Medicaid to 138 percent of the federal poverty limit for adults.

"Medicaid is broken and it is costing the state more and more dollars every year," argued Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County. "Why would we want to expand a broken program?"

Last year, legislative staff estimated the expansion would make more than 300,000 Missourians qualified.

Missouri's current income limit is about $4,500 per year. Under the proposed increase, it would rise to more than $32,000.

A 5.9-cent increase for Missouri's gas tax was approved by the House Select Committee on State Government.

The measure would increase the tax from 17 cents to 22.9. If passed by the legislature, the bill would also require a majority vote of Missourians.

The bill's supporters say new revenue is needed to support the state's transportation department.

"This is a first step," said Rep. Joe Adams, D-St. Louis County. "I hope we can take more steps in the future to improve transportation in this state."

The opposition said Missourians should expect efficiency before new taxes.

"I want to make sure that we're operating as efficiently as we can with MoDOT and other areas of state government before we go back to the people and ask for more money," said Rep. Kirk Mathews, R-St. Louis County.

The measure was amended to include an equivalent tax on all types of fuel sources in Missouri by 2025, as well as phase in other types of fuel's taxes to the new, larger tax.

Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, proposed a gas tax hike that was defeated last year. The measure would have taxed non-diesel fuel at 18.5 cents, while diesel would have been taxed at 20.5 cents. That tax hike did not pass through either chamber.

The bill passed, 8-0, and must pass the House and the Senate in the same form to go to the people. The legislative session ends this Friday.

Last Week

The Missouri House overrode the governor's veto of a decrease in education funding goals.

Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the bill Wednesday, May 4. The Senate overrode his veto 25-7 later that day, and the House followed with a 113-43 vote.

The measure will decrease the goal for K-12 public education funding each year and install a cap on how much the funding can grow. The goal was created to make public schools more equal.

The state's local public schools are currently underfunded by $656 million, leaving each student $700 short of funding on average, according to the Missouri Budget Project.

Nixon said lowering the goal for education funding would, "...result in a broken promise to our local schools and the students they educate and cannot receive my approval."

Supporters said the funding goal has become so large that it is now unattainable.

"The money is simply not there," said Rep. Becky Ruth, R-Festus. "It is phantom money."

The measure will become law by the end of 2016.

A proposal for a constitutional amendment to define life at conception in Missouri passed the House.

The measure would allow Missouri to deny abortions as far as the federal Constitution permits. It does not have an exception for rape, incest or health of the mother.

Supporters said a child should be protected at all stages of its development.

"We snuff out the life of a unique human individual for the sake of convenience," said Rep. Mike Moon, R-Lawrence County. "I say that's wrong."

Those against the measure said the House was interfering too much into women's health.

"The women of the state of Missouri don't need this body to tell them what life means," said Rep. Deb Lavender, D-St. Louis County.

The proposal passed the House on a 110-37 vote. It must pass the legislature and a vote of the people to become law.

Missouri senators said that the bill to change the state's school funding formula would help everyone since the original formula was not fully funded.

Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St.Louis County, said legislators had negotiated with Gov. Jay Nixon, and they thought they found a better formula than before.

"Here is my opinion when you are trying to make a compromise you show good faith," Chappelle-Nadal said. "If nothing else you have your word and he did not keep his."

In his official veto, Gov. Nixon said that he could not pass the bill because it would break promises made to local schools. Nixon also said that the bill would provide legislators with an excuse not to pay for adequate school funding.

Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, said he thought Nixon was using St. Louis residents as pawns.

"I have to tell you it's truly remarkable that this governor who failed the people of Ferguson to grandstand and veto a bill with Ferguson as a backdrop," Schmitt said.

Chappelle-Nadal also said that Nixon contributed the schools being underfunded, not just the Missouri legislature. 

"His words in the press release were that there would be millions of dollars that would be eliminated," Nadal said. "So what we said to that, it's kinda like it's a million dollars you never had? His logic is based on a fully funded formula which he's been part of not funding."

The bill would enact a new formula that would cut some of the St. Louis schools budget but would also help taxpayers.

The Missouri Senate overrode the veto by a 25-to-7 vote and the veto will be voted on by the Missouri House next.


The House voted to pass the Senate's version of a House voter identification bill.

The bill would require voters to show a government-issued photo ID at the polls.

Voters who do not have a photo ID would have to sign an affidavit that says they do not have a required form of identification, and that they are unable to obtain that form of ID.

Those who sign the affidavit will then be able to cast a regular ballot if they have a different form of identification issued by the state, the U.S. government, or a institution of high education, or a copy of a government document that contains the voters name and address, such as a utility bill or bank statement.

Republicans said the legislation cuts down on voter fraud.

Rep. J. Eggleston, R-Maysville, said that the bill will make sure every vote counts.

"What we're simply saying here is that everybody, both on the Republican side and the Democrat side, deserves to have their vote count," Eggleston said. "They deserve to be able to vote, but they also deserve to not have their vote canceled out by a fraudulent vote."

Democrats oppose the bill, saying it disenfranchises low income and elderly voters.

Rep. Karla May, D-St. Louis City, said Missouri lacks in progress.

"The people of this state and the people in this country is tired," May said. "Missouri has not progressed that far from the racist state that it originally was in the past, and to try to institute something like this to create this divide is beyond me."

Other Democrats argued the bill would cause discrimination at the polls.

Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-St. Louis County, said the discrimination argument is offensive.

"That is not only fact-free but is frankly offensive, not just to the members of this body that are proposing this legislation, but to every election authority out there in this state to insinuate that they would enforce this law in a discriminatory way," Dogan said. "That they would treat people differently based on race, based on age, based on disability to disenfranchise voters by having a double standard at the polls."

If signed by the governor, the issue will be sent to Missouri voters for approval.

The House voted to override the governor's veto on a bill that would require individuals to authorize union fees on their paychecks on May 4.

The bill passed in early March and was vetoed by the governor on March 18.

The bill would require that unions receive written permission from their members before withholding dues and would prevent unions from using fees for union contributions without the expressed permission of those contributing fees.

Speaker of the House, Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff said the bill protects workers by helping them make informed decisions about where their money is being distributed.

"What's in this bill is an opportunity to give members of labor organizations more information," Richardson said. "It's an opportunity for them to give their consent to what their union leadership is doing. And if the people that roam these halls don't want their members to have that information so be it but they need to be honest with their members, because what they're doing here today is they're telling people 'you shouldn't have that information.'"

But Rep. Karla May, D-St. Louis City, said there was "no need" for the bill which she said would attack laborers and unions.

"It's crap legislation, that's what it is," May said. "This is an attack on workers, this is an attack to weaken labor, weaken a persons right to organize to make decisions about their own paycheck. They can make decisions about their own paycheck - it's unnecessary."

Other Republican representatives, such as Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, and Rep. Delus Johnson, R-St. Joseph, sided with Richardson.

"Democracy is not being practiced in our unions, Mr. Speaker, and that's why we need to change this law," Johnson said.

But John Rizzo, D-Kansas City, said the bill was anti-labor.

"We continue to try to put a square peg into a round hole," Rizzo said. "How many times does this body have to speak, does this state have to speak to say this is not an anti-labor state. Period."

Rizzo said he believes the bill will be filibustered in the Senate and cause stalls of the passing of other house bills as the end of the session approaches.

The House overrode the governor's veto with a 109-47 vote in favor.

A bill that the House approved Tuesday, May 3rd would make it harder to get an abortion in Missouri.

The bill would recognize and protect life of an unborn at all eight stages of development, therefor making it harder to obtain an abortion in Missouri. This would recognize an unborn child as a human starting at conception.

Nicknamed the 'Right to Life,' after the Missouri pro-life organization, the bill limits abortions even in cases of rape, incest and when the mother’s life is danger.

"Do we want that on our heads? To decide if a child grows up without a mother? To decide if a husband loses his wife?" asked Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-St. Louis County.

Heated debate on the bill went on for over an hour.

"Life and how we view it is the most important thing we will ever do. Life is life," said Rep. Tila Hubrecht, R-Dexter.

Hubrecht also said that she had a risky pregnancy in the past and asked the doctor, "to save the baby no matter what the cost," before she went under anesthesia for an emergency C-Section.

The measure needs one more vote to move to the Senate.

The Senate would only have until Friday, May 13 to decide on the bill.

If the bill passes the Senate, Missouri's voters will have the opportunity to vote on the resolution in November.

A series of filibusters Tuesday, May 3, blocked Senate action on bills that would allow utilities to automatically raise their rates without prior approval by the state's public service commission.

The debate began in the morning on a bill dealing with water company rates. After opponents blocked action on that bill, a bill on natural gas company rates was brought up and encountered a similar filibuster. Finally in the evening, the Senate adjourned at 9:40pm after a bill was filibustered that dealt with electrical rates.

Proponents argued that rate increases were needed for the privately-owned utilities to upgrade their distribution infrastructure -- smart metering, water pipes, gas pipes and electrical transmission systems.

Proponents argued that because utility income is based on consumption, increased energy efficiency has reduced revenue available for infrastructure improvements.

The sponsor of the electric-rate proposal noted that the legislature has failed to address that issue for the last several years.

"For the entire time that I've been down here in 12 years, we've continually talked about how do we make it better, how do we make sure that we have a modern are we going to address the infrastructure needs around the utilities and every year there was this massive fight," said Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City.

But opponents argued the proposed changes would reduce consumer protections in order to provide benefits to profit-making utility companies.

"I have nobody over the last two years when there was a downturn in retail subsidize my retail business for two years," said Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Franklin County. "It just galls me that we're going to try to do that for utility companies -- a monopoly that has guaranteed or a rate on return that is protected."

For all three measures, the utility-rate provisions were included in substitutes offered when Senate debate began that were not in the House-passed versions. The water-utility bill, for example, began as a bill that was limited to the issue of fluoridation.

The electric-utility measure also would allow lower rates for electric-intensive industries. That provision is designed to allow a lower rate for the bankrupt aluminum smelting plant in southeast Missouri, Noranda.

The aluminum company consumes about 10 percent the energy produced by Ameren in Missouri. Supporters warned that, if Noranda ceased operation, it would lead to higher rates for other consumers.

But that provision also met with opposition.

“It will have a bad impact on our consumers,” said Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington. "It will have a bad impact on the average citizen and small business."

A six-cent increase for Missouri's gas tax was approved by the House Transportation Committee.

The measure would increase the tax from 17 cents to just under 23. If passed by the legislature and governor, the bill would also require a majority vote of Missourians.

The bill's supporters say new revenue is needed to support the state's transportation department.

"I wish it could be more," said Rep. Bob Burns, D-St. Louis County.

The Missouri Department of Transportation plans to use $110 million a year from its cash reserves, according to the Joplin Globe.

The opposition said Missourians should expect efficiency before new taxes.

"I want to make sure that we're operating as efficiently as we can with MoDOT and other areas of state government before we go back to the people and ask for more money," said Rep. Kirk Mathews, R-St. Louis County.

Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, proposed a gas tax hike that was defeated last year. The measure would have taxed non-diesel fuel at 18.5 cents, while diesel would have been taxed at 20.5 cents. The tax hike did not pass through either chamber.

The bill must go to the House next for approval.

The Republican-controlled senate gave preliminary approval to a photo ID requirement that has an escape clause.

It would let a person vote without a photo ID if they show some other type identification and sign a statement.

Senate Democrats split on the issue.

Some argued it was a Republican compromise to the original bill that would have blocked anyone from voting without a government-issued photo ID.

But others argued it still would restrict voters.

The measure awaits a final senate vote to send the idea back to the House.