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Government, Politics & Issues

Five statewide propositions headed for victory

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Nov. 5, 2008 - All five statewide propositions on the Missouri ballot were headed for victory Tuesday night, led by a lopsided victory for the constitutional amendment requiring that official government business be conducted in English.

With nearly 93 percent of the state's precincts reporting, Amendment 1, on official English, was passing with more than 85 percent of the vote. Next in popularity was Proposition B, on home health care, with 75 percent of the vote.

Following those were Proposition C, on renewable energy, with nearly 66 percent of the vote; Amendment 4, about technical changes in the sale of stormwater bonds, with more than 57 percent of the vote; and Proposition A, on casino gambling, with more than 55 percent of the vote. All five of the proposals needed a simple majority to pass.

Proposition A probably generated the most attention during the campaign, with a heavy advertising presence in favor and a vocal grassroots campaign against. It would make several changes in the regulation of casino gambling, including elimination of the $500 loss limit; an increase in the taxes casinos pay; a freeze on new casino licenses; and a change in how gamblers are tracked when they step onto the casino floor.

Proponents of the measure have hit hard on the financial impact that that it would have: an estimated $100 million or more for the state's public schools and preservation of 12,000 jobs. They note that Missouri is the only state that limits gamblers' losses and the state is likely to lose revenue to neighbors like Illinois and, soon, Kansas if the limit remains in place.

Opponents point to past promises that gambling money would be a big help to the state's students and say those projections have fallen short, so they don't put much stock in the current proposal. They also question whether using casino money for education is the soundest way to pay for Missouri schools, and they want to keep the loss limit and the tracking system in place.

Proposition B dealt with the recruitment, training and retention of home health-care workers. It would create a council that would create a registry for such workers, who would have the right to form collective bargaining units but not the right to strike.

Proponents say that people who need home health care workers also need a quick, uniform way to find such workers, sometimes on short notice, and help guarantee that they are paid a wage that encourages them to stay in their jobs.

Opponents say that the council would not do anything that isn't available now. They say the ballot language wrongly implies that people would not be able to stay in their homes if Proposition B fails, and they worry that the unionization provision sets a bad precedent.

Proposition C would require investor-owned utilities in Missouri to generate a certain percentage of their power from renewable energy sources on a graduated scale, from 2 percent in 2011 to 15 percent in 2021. It would cap rate increases for customers at 1 percent.

Proponents of the measure say that such mandates are needed for utilities to be forced to turn to renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, biomass and hydropower. They say the requirements would help the environment and would also create jobs. Similar mandates are already in effect in 26 states.

While investor-owned utilities have not formally come out against the measure, they have raised questions about whether it is the wisest, most cost-effective way to increase the amount of energy from renewable sources. They say a law that took effect last year, with lower, voluntary targets, is a better approach.

Amendment 1 requires that "English shall be the language of all governmental meetings at which any public business is discussed, decided, or public policy is formulated." It was placed on the ballot by the Legislature.

Its sponsor, Rep. Brian Nieves, a Franklin County Republican, says it is a preventive measure: He knows of no government meetings conducted in Missouri in a language other than English, and he wants to keep things that way. The amendment would not prevent discussions from being translated into other languages, he says, but official business would have to be conducted in English.

Opponents wonder why an amendment is needed to correct a problem that doesn't exist, and they worry about unforeseen consequences. In an economy that is increasingly global, they say, instead of limiting the language in which official business may be conducted, Missouri should do what it can to be inclusive and deal with people worldwide, no matter what language they speak.

Amendment 4 dealt with technicalities surrounding the financing of stormwater control projects. It would make Missouri compliant with changes in IRS guidelines for the sale of bonds and should have no impact on taxes.

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