Busy day at Missouri Capitol as 2016 session nears homestretch: voter ID, fuel tax, personhood | St. Louis Public Radio

Busy day at Missouri Capitol as 2016 session nears homestretch: voter ID, fuel tax, personhood

May 3, 2016

Several high priority bills moved forward as lawmakers work to push their agendas over the last remaining hurdles before Friday the 13th arrives — which this year happens to be the final day of the 2016 legislative session.

Here's a quick rundown of what got accomplished Tuesday.

Photo ID passes Senate

After a nearly two-month-long fight, the Missouri Senate has passed legislation to require voters to show photo identification at the polls.

House Bill 1631 would allow people without a photo ID to vote if they bring an alternate form of identification and sign a statement, under penalty of perjury, that they are who they say they are. It passed 24 to 8, exactly along party lines.

Credit File photo | Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

A few hours before the vote, a Senate committee reviewed the financial impact of the revised proposal, which now has an estimated price tag of $10.59 million. That amount would cover the "cost of issuance of non-driver licenses for voting purposes."

But Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, said the added documents may cost the state even more than that estimate.

She asked the committee to table the measure for further review, but was denied by the Republican majority.  Committee members instead sent the measure back to the Senate floor. Nasheed had planned to ask another committee for an official review of the cost before an official Senate floor vote. 

"We are getting together a challenge to the fiscal note ... which would request an official review by the Joint Committee on Legislative Research," said Nasheed in a statement after the committee hearing.

That challenge did not come together soon enough.

House Bill 1631 is back in the hands of the Missouri House, which must accept the changes or ask the Senate to negotiate a final version that would require another round of votes.

Its companion bill, a proposed constitutional amendment to allow for a photo ID requirement, is still awaiting passage in the Senate.

Lawmakers have a week-and-a-half to pass both bills before the 2016 session ends.

No pay raises for home health care workers

For the first time this year, lawmakers have overridden one of Gov. Jay Nixon's vetoes.

The Nixon administration had sought to implement a pay hike agreed upon by home health care workers, but state lawmakers passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 46, a measure blocking the pay hike.

Nixon vetoed the resolution, but on Tuesday that veto was overridden by the House. Republicans and a few Democrats argued that the legislature alone has the power to authorize pay raises.

"It could've been simple," said Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-St. Louis. "The governor could have put this line item in the budget, and we could have had this discussion through the budget process. … It's a slippery slope when we start to pick and choose which rules we're going to follow and which rules we're not going to follow."

Most Democrats, though, blasted Republicans for opposing the pay increase.

"This is the lifeblood for people who are working in a very un(der)paid industry," said Margo McNeil, D-Florissant. "We do a great disservice to the people in our own districts who are struggling, struggling, to make ends meet as they take care of our loved ones, our seniors, our disabled, those who can't help themselves."

The House voted to override the veto by a 119-36 vote.

The Senate overrode Nixon's veto last month, 24-8, so the increase for home health care workers is dead for the year.

House endorses 'personhood' amendment 

The Missouri House has given first-round approval to a proposed constitutional amendment that would grant unborn fetuses "personhood" status. That means they would receive the constitutional right of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. 

Rep. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

With less than two weeks left, House Joint Resolution 98 has a long way to go before it's finalized in statute. Its last stop would be the November ballot, where the people of Missouri would decided whether or not to add the amendment to the state's constitution.

Opponents say the measure wouldn't just restrict abortions. It would ban birth control.

The proposal states that "unborn human children at every stage of biological development" will be granted constitutional rights. Rep. Stacey Newman, D-Richmond Heights, says that language will hurt more lives than it can save. 

"We women have been depending on birth control for the past 60 years to be able to plan our families and to ensure that not each of us are sitting here with 20 children at home," Newman said during the floor debate. "This is the modern world … 99 percent of all women depend on [birth control] to plan their education, their economic life, their marriage, their family."

Newman said the resolution could also restrict infertility treatments. 

"These unintended consequences, by enshrining them in the constitution, have real, long-term effects and this is exactly why this same measure has failed in so many other conservative states," said Newman.

Democratic lawmakers said it could also increase stigma against women who miscarry, as well as disregard the health of a mother with life-threatening complications in the very first stages of pregnancy.

Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, says the federal Constitution prohibits state governments from banning contraceptives, so the measure will have no effect on birth control access in Missouri. 

"What this amendment does is it puts Missouri in the position to be the most pro-life state in the country," said Barnes.

According to the sponsor, Rep. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, if HJR 98 is sent to voters in November, they will be answering this question:

"Should the Missouri Constitution be amended to protect pregnant women and unborn children by recognizing that an unborn child is a person with a right to life which cannot be deprived by state or private action without due process and equal protection of law?"

It needs another House vote before heading to the Senate.

Fuel tax hike amended

A Missouri House committee has passed a proposed fuel tax increase already passed by the Senate, but not before making a few changes.

First, House members added language to Senate Bill 623 that would gradually raise the tax on natural gas designated for vehicle use, so that it would be equal in percentage to the tax on gasoline and diesel fuel. Rep. Bart Korman, R-High Hill, sponsored the amendment.

House transportation committee meets to vote on a proposed fuel tax increase.
Credit Marshall Griffin|St. Louis Public Radio

"We set an equivalent calculation in there," Korman said.  "I wanted to make sure it was as simple as possible."

He also sponsored the other amendment, which would include any new types of fuel that would be used to power cars and trucks in the future, and would tax that fuel at the same rate as gasoline or diesel.

"So when the technology would come through, the Department of Revenue, when they do the licensing and stuff, would be able to say what they (would) fit in that category," Korman said.  "If you remember years ago, in 1985, there was this movie called 'Back to the Future,' and there was a Mr. Fusion (in Doc Brown's DeLorean); this would take care of Mr. Fusion."

The additions mean that the measure would eventually have to go back to the Senate, assuming it's passed by the full House in time.

Senate Bill 623 would increase Missouri's gasoline and diesel tax to 22.9 cents a gallon, up from 17 cents a gallon.  It would also bypass Governor Nixon's desk and go directly before voters in either August or November.

Follow Marshall Griffin and Mallory Daily on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport  @malreports