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Gun fight continues in Missouri House, which votes to restrict state-federal cooperation

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 14, 2013 - By a vote of 118-40, the Missouri House has overwhelmingly approved a bill that bars state agencies from scanning or retaining any personal documents, such as a birth certificate, that are presented to obtain a driver’s license or nondriver ID.

But the House also went further, adding amendments to the bill (SB 252) that bar:

  • “any state agency or department, or contractor or agent working for the state” from sharing gun-related records with federal authorities.
  • any cooperation to “enable the federal government in developing a database or record of the number or type of firearms, ammunition, or firearms accessories that an individual possesses."

Another approved amendment allows people to sue the state for unlimited damages if they believe they have been harmed by the scanning and retention of the documents, which the state’s Department of Revenue has conducted since last fall.
"Sovereign immunity shall not be available as a defense for the Department of Revenue in such an action,“ the amendment says.

Although the bill already has been approved by the Senate, the additions would appear to require another Senate vote.

The bill’s chief House handler -- state Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff – said the amendments wouldn’t affect existing cooperation between state and federal law enforcement agencies.

But the opponents disagreed. State Rep. Margo McNeil, D-Florissant, said she feared some of the provisions amounted to making Missouri “a haven” for gun-wielding criminals.

House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, D-St. Louis, noted that the GOP backers generally seek to limit lawsuits, a fact that the bill’s supporters didn’t dispute. But this case is different, Richardson said.

The restrictions stem from the continued legislative ire over the Department of Revenue’s changes last fall in how it handles driver's licenses and concealed-carry permits. Republicans have been upset over the department’s scanning and retention of personal documents, which for a time also included concealed-carry permits when people sought to have their permit added as an “endorsement’’ on their drivers license.

A Stoddard County man has filed suit over the scanning of his concealed-carry permit.

Gov. Jay Nixon has ordered that concealed-carry permits no longer be scanned, but has defended the scanning and retention of other documents as a way to prevent people from fraudulently obtaining drivers licenses.

The fight over guns has spread to driver's licenses in general, with the state Senate and House approving a budget bill that cuts one-third of the Department of Revenue’s budget to force the agency to get rid of its current driver's license setup, in which a Georgia firm produces and mails them to residents.

Senate critics, in particular state Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, want Nixon to go back to the old system where locally run fee offices produced the licenses. The Department of Revenue says the change would cost the state $1.4 million more a year, and Nixon said it invites fraud.

Schaefer is among several Republican legislators who have linked the gun fight with their accusation that Nixon's administration is secretly cooperating with the federal REAL ID program aimed at preventing would-be terrorists from fraudulently obtaining drivers licenses. The Missouri General Assembly voted in 2009 to bar the state from complying with the federal mandate.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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