Missouri General Assembly heads into final week with fewer matters than usual on its plate
Barring another sex scandal, the Missouri General Assembly could be facing a low-key final week.
The thinner-than-usual final schedule reflects, in part, legislators' success this year — and last — in passing the state's bloc of budget bills early. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon was required to approve or veto by last Friday the state's planned spending for the fiscal year that begins July 1. He only used his line-item veto on two items on Friday; lawmakers overrode last week his earlier veto of their new school-funding formula.
Paycheck Protection and 'personhood'
Perhaps the biggest potential for turning calm seas into a storm is the continued effort to override Nixon's veto of the so-called "paycheck protection" bill. House Bill 1891 would require public employee labor unions to get written permission before withdrawing dues from workers' paychecks.
The override motion is in the hands of the Senate, where Democrats, including Gina Walsh of north St. Louis County, will likely try to block it.
"I just think it's a terrible way to treat working men and women across the state," Walsh said. "We're creating a bigger divide between the haves and have-nots … people just want to work and be left alone, and I think that this has nothing to with anything but money."
History could also repeat itself: Last year Democrats virtually shut down the Senate after the GOP majority forced a vote on making Missouri a right-to-work state. Walsh says the same thing could happen this year if there is a forced vote on paycheck protection, or on the so-called "personhood" constitutional amendment. That measure was passed by the House last week and is also in the Senate’s hands.
House Joint Resolution 98 would grant personhood to unborn fetuses. The effect would be to outlaw all abortions, embryonic stem-cell research and some forms of birth control. It is awaiting Senate action after narrowly passing the House last week. Similar measures have gone on the ballot in other states, and have been rejected.
President Pro-tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, told reporters last week that anything that has the potential of triggering a filibuster would likely be brought up near the end of the week, lessening the chance of other bills dying as a result.
Photo ID for voting
Meanwhile, a proposed constitutional amendment to allow for the existence of a photo ID requirement is still in the hands of the Senate. House Joint Resolution 53 is being carried in the Senate by Will Kraus, R-Lee's Summit.
"Statute changes belong in the statutes and constitution (changes) should be minimal, and that's what this is," Kraus said. "It puts (in) the guidance, but doesn't give us specifics."
The specifics are in the implementing bill, HB 1631, which has already been sent to Nixon. He’s expected to veto it.
There is also a proposed fuel tax increase awaiting action in the Missouri House, which would raise the tax on gasoline and diesel fuel by 6 cents a gallon. Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, hopes fellow Republicans in the House will allow it to come up for a vote.
The size of our (transportation) system hasn't shrunk, the problems are still there, and by not finding a way to fund them doesn't mean the problem goes away," Kehoe said. "The problem is still there, whether this particular method makes it through or not."
Senate Bill 623 was recently amended to include natural gas used for vehicles, so even if the House passes it, it would have to return to the Senate for another vote.
One bit of success so far this year has been getting ethics bills to the governor's desk. Nixon has signed three ethics measures so far, and called for lawmakers to send him more this week, including a proposed lobbyist gift ban. House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, wants the Senate to pass it early enough this week for the House to get one more chance to vote on it.
"We wanted a package of substantive and meaningful ethics bills, and so to the extent that we get something, a compromise, then it'll be a step in the right direction," Richardson said. "I'd just would like to see us get that bill back from the Senate and keep that bill moving through the process."
Prescription drug monitoring
Hopes look dim for legislation to create a prescription drug monitoring program in Missouri, the only state without one. The version favored by the House, HB1892, would allow doctors to access a database to check if patients are getting multiple prescriptions for the same medicine. The sponsor, Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, remains optimistic.
"I've been working (HB 1892) very hard in the Senate for the last several weeks, and so I'm very hopeful," she said. "I know we only have a week left, but I'm very hopeful that it will come up and (that) it will get a vote."
A dueling version in the Senate, SB 768, would instead hire state workers to check patient histories and block doctors from accessing the database. However, it's sponsor, fellow Republican Rob Schaff of St. Joseph, is a long-time opponent of creating a prescription drug monitoring program. He has promised to filibuster Rehder's bill if it's brought up on the Senate floor.
A number of gun-related bills are also waiting to be voted on, including proposals to allow conceal-carry on college campuses and to allow for permit-less open-carry. The conceal-carry process would not be scrapped, as earlier reported.
No scandals this final week, so far
Last year, the General Assembly’s last week turned into a raucous nightmare for legislators. The Senate was effectively shut down by Democrats angry over the use of a rarely used parliamentary maneuver — called “moving the previous question’’ — to end their filibuster of an anti-union bill. (Both chambers passed the measure, but not by the veto-proof majority needed. Nixon vetoed it, and the House failed to come with the needed override votes during the September veto session.)
The state House was roiled during last year's final week of session by last-minute disclosures that then-Speaker John Diehl, R-Town and Country, had been exchanging sexually salacious texts with a college-age intern. Before Friday’s adjournment, Diehl ended up resigning, and Richardson was chosen and sworn in as the new speaker.