With fights over tax cuts and budgets out of the way, the Missouri General Assembly appears poised to spend its final week focusing on some familiar topics: guns, abortion and voting rights.
Measures to restrict enforcement of federal laws, triple the waiting period for an abortion and to ask voters to mandate photo IDs at the polls are among the hot-button proposals expected to eat up some of legislators’ precious floor time during the final five days.
But arguably the most important items still awaiting legislative action this week will deal with school transfers and a proposed transportation sales tax.
Lawmakers continue to huddle over the school-transfer issue, which stems from the massive costs of shuttling students from unaccredited school districts — most notably, Normandy and Riverview Gardens in St. Louis County — to accredited districts nearby. The House and Senate have passed different bills, and a conference committee is trying to come up with a compromise. But it’s unclear if there’s enough legislative time left to reach a deal.
House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, said in an interview Friday that he viewed the transfer bill as the top issue facing the General Assembly during its final week, and that he was cautiously optimistic.
"It is one step away from completion and we owe it to the children of this state to provide them an opportunity for a great education, no matter where they live," Jones said. "It think it's very probable that this can happen."
Time also may run out on a proposed ballot measure to ask voters to approve an increase in the state’s sales tax to pay for transportation improvements, particularly along Interstate 70. The House and Senate approved different versions. The House is expected to take up the Senate bill this week.
Republicans have been circulating talk that House Democrats might walk out during the vote, as a protest over last week’s override of Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of an income-tax-cut bill that will reduce state revenue by an estimated $620 million when fully phased in.
However, a spokesman for House Democrats denied any such plan. “It’s not going to happen,’’ said Democratic spokesman Marc Powers. A walkout "has never been discussed.”
Meanwhile, Nixon must act by Tuesday on a massive bill revamping the state’s criminal code. Because Nixon has signaled concerns about some parts of the bill, legislative leaders already are talking about organizing another override attempt by Friday, if necessary. However, some Democratic legislative leaders reported late last week that governor appears to have decided against a veto. It was unclear if he would sign the bill, or simply allow it to go into law without his signature.
Jones said that even with various issues outstanding, he viewed this session — his last as speaker — as "an historic session,'' particularly because of the override of Nixon's veto of the tax-cut bill.
Guns, abortion and voting
For years, the conservative-dominated General Assembly often has devoted time to proposals to guarantee gun-rights, restrict abortion, and regulate voting. This year is no different.
Republican leaders in the House or Senate expect to spend some time this week on bills that would:
- Triple the state’s waiting period for abortions to 72 hours, from the current 24-hour mandate. The measure has passed the House, but an expected Senate filibuster could kill its chances.
- Allow medical personnel to decline to perform medical procedures that violate their conscience.
- Bar enforcement of federal gun laws that are deemed to be infringements of gun rights and allow Missourians to sue law enforcement authorities who enforce such laws. Now before the Senate, the bill would not call for jail time for federal law-enforcement personnel. It is a scaled-down version of a measure killed by the Senate last session.
- Set up some days before an election in which voters could cast their ballots early for any reason. The latest measure would allow such early votes only during business hours about a week before a statewide election. The measure is aimed at countering an initiative-petition proposal that would expand early voting to evenings and weekends.
- Ask voters in November to amend the state constitution to require voters to show photo identification at the polls. The measure does not get specific about the types of IDs; legislative leaders in the past have sought to limit them to certain government-issued IDs. The constitution change is necessary because the state Supreme Court tossed out a state photo-ID requirement in 2006, saying it violated the state constitution.