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Government, Politics & Issues

Wrapping up Missouri's 2011 legislative session

(UPI/Bill Greenblatt)
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon briefs reporters on various subjects after the end of the 96th General Assembly at the State Capitol in Jefferson City on May 13, 2011.

Now that the dust has settled on a rather contentious 2011 legislative session, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon is denying reports that he’s about to call a special session to deal with unresolved issues. 

The two most glaring are the Aerotropolis proposal and a major overhaul of the state’s tax credit system, and those bills were just a few examples of the contentious issues that lawmakers had to wrestle with this year.

Tax Credits, Aerotropolis, Abortion & Acrimony

Just minutes after the curtain fell on the regular session, reporters began bombarding the governor and legislative leaders over whether lawmakers will be called back to Jefferson City later this year.  Nixon says that won’t happen as long as there’s no agreement on tax credits.

“My criteria for these are things that will make a significant impact, economically [and] quickly," Nixon said. "And that there’s broad consensus…not broad consensus, there is consensus…we’re not gonna call folks into a special session to have a taxpayer-funded debating society, we come in to get things done.”

And right now, there’s virtually no consensus on tax credits, an issue that’s long divided House and Senate Republicans.  Speaker Steven Tilley and other House GOP leaders favor no caps on incentives as a way to spur economic growth, while a group of fiscally conservative senators wants to rein them in and place them under legislative oversight. 

In fact, the Senate’s tax credit proposal would have placed four-year sunsets on all of them.  But it also included $360 million in tax breaks designed to turn Lambert Airport in St. Louis into an international air cargo hub. 

Senate President Pro-tem Rob Mayer admits that there was lingering hostility from last month’s battle over redistricting.

“Most definitely, most definitely…I believe that from that point on, the relationship with the House had worsened, and certainly the redistricting created a lot of acrimony between the two bodies,” Mayer said.

Mayer says that acrimony was partially responsible for the House and Senate sending identical late-term abortion bills to the governor, instead of negotiating one compromise version.  House Speaker StevenTilley downplayed the difficulties, but he also called the Senate’s way of doing business “dysfunctional.”

“The fact is, is that they have a few senators that run the show over there beyond the will of the entire body, but that’s why I like the House," Tilley said. "So when you’re dealing with a group of people that do not want to have a bill, it’s pretty tough to come to a resolution.”

Local Control & Nuclear Power

The St. Louis Police Local control bill fell victim to the rivalry, as the Senate refused to allow a vote on the bill unless it got its way with tax credits.  Another bill that didn’t make it across the finish line was the nuclear plant measure.  It would have allowed utility customers to be billed for the cost of a site permit for a second nuclear reactor at Ameren Missouri’s Callaway County plant. 

Opponents believe it would have been a first step toward repealing a voter-approved law that bars utility companies from billing customers for construction costs of new power plants while they’re being built.  A compromise bill landed in the Senate with about a half-hour left in the session. 

Several senators, including Democratic Floor Leader Victor Callahan, objected to the timing and ate up the clock.

“These special interests who tee something up, that we’re supposed to pass something under orders from them, that they’ve worked out in the last two hours, is absolutely outrageous," Callahan said. "Are my ratepayers going to be impacted? By how much? Are the elderly going to be impacted by this? I don’t know!”

Other Bills Passed, Failed & What's Next for Nixon

Other bills that failed include one that would have expanded charter schools beyond St. Louis and Kansas City, and another that would have extended the texting-while-driving ban to motorists over the age of 21. 

Some of the bills that passed could prove tricky for the governor:  The two competing late-term abortion bills, drug testing for some welfare recipients, and lowering the concealed-carry gun permit age from 23 to 21. 

David Robertson is a Political Science professor at the University of Missouri – St. Louis and spoke about Nixon's next steps.

“Governor Nixon is going to have to decide on that fine line between taking a number of actions that could make the base of his support angry in the Democratic Party, versus taking positions that aid his Republican opponents,” Robertson said.

Although he’s made no formal announcement, Governor Nixon told reporters last year that he plans to run again.  As for House and Senate Republicans, Robertson says it’ll take time for their self-inflicted wounds to heal. 

Whether they’ll heal in time for a potential special session this year remains unknown.

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