Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
Mo. Digital News
Missouri Digital News
Lobbyist Money Help
By Phill Brooks
«RM75»«FC»COL240.PRB - Taking Care of Business
Missouri's legislature returns from its spring break with the theme for this year's General Assembly already set -- taking care of business.
Just weeks after the session began, lawmakers had passed and the governor promptly signed a ban on requiring a worker to join a union.
Also before the spring break, the legislature sent the governor the first of a package of bills sought by business to impose restrictions on lawsuits.
Other business measures quickly advanced for final passage in the final weeks of the session include other business lawsuit limitations, restrictions on the program that covers workers injured on the job, a bill to block St. Louis city from imposing a minimum wage higher than the state's, imposing limitations on discrimination lawsuits against employers, cuts in unemployment compensation and expanding limits on medical malpractice lawsuits.
There's an obvious reason for this bonanza of pro-business bills. For the first time in eight years, the Republican-controlled legislature does not have to deal with a Democratic governor who consistently had vetoed similar measures.
But other measures that lack GOP and business consensus face a more uncertain future in the weeks before the legislature's May 12 adjournment.
For yet another year, efforts to establish a statewide monitoring system for controlled-drug prescriptions have run into philosophical objections in the Senate with demands for stronger privacy protections for patient medical records.
A proposal to comply with the federal "REAL ID" requirements to assure Missourians can continue to board airplanes with state driving licenses has run into philosophical objections about the state bowing to the federal government.
A measure to restrict lobbyist gifts to public officials has stalled in the Senate just like it did last year.
This year, there's a new wrinkle. One legislator has proposed closing the door on a legal loophole that has allowed the actual source of some campaign contributions to be hidden.
If the idea of Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, gets offered as an amendment to the House-passed lobbyist gift restriction, it could be a fascinating challenge for Republican legislators whose Republican governor has been criticized for refusal to disclose the amounts special interests contributed to his inaugural and a nearly $2 million primary contribution from an organization SEALS for Truth that did not disclose the source of its money.
Another issue that could divide Republicans involves diverting some education money from traditional public schools to alternatives like charter schools and private on-line courses.
There was an indication of the party split when 32 House Republicans voted against the charter-school bill -- leaving it with just two votes to spare for passage.
One of the biggest issues facing the state has yet to have even a chamber debate -- dealing with the financial crisis facing the state's highway system.
The legislative silence is not surprising. One of the legislature's leading transportation proponents -- Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City -- predicted at the start of the session that unless Greitens came forward with a plan, little could be accomplished.
Kehoe's argument is that the political difficulty for solutions that could include toll roads and/or motor fuel tax increases are so great that it will require leadership from the governor who, so far, has not presented a plan.
But there is plan from the governor that will be one of the dominating issues for the legislature's final weeks -- the state's budget.
Greitens has proposed some of the deepest cuts seen in years in education and higher education.
He had little choice. Both the governor and legislative budget leaders agree that the state is going to face a severe revenue shortfall in the next budget year, as it has this year.
The reality of the financial problems was highlighted the graphic language Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Dan Brown, R-Rolla, when I asked him whether the magnitude of the cuts really were necessary.
Brown's response was that a person would have to be "smoking weed or something" to fail to realize the reality of the revenue shortfall.
That's the kind of laid-back levity that can have a calming influence as lawmakers enter the tense and hectic closing days of a legislative session.
[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and an emeritus faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.]
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