Missouri lawmakers target St. Louis' minimum wage hike on hectic last day of session
Forty-five bills to Gov. Eric Greitens later, the Missouri General Assembly adjourned Friday having dealt with some high-priority items like right to work, banning cities from raising their minimum wage, complying with a federal ID mandate and making it harder to sue for workplace discrimination.
But other sought-after bills fell by the wayside, including one that would have allowed Missouri to shed its status as the last state in the U.S. without a prescription drug monitoring program and another getting rid of lobbyist gifts to officeholders — something Greitens campaigned on.
Numerous lawmakers had criticized Greitens for lecturing them on ethics but then benefiting from a politically active nonprofit that supports his agenda. However, Greitens was bullish at Friday evening’s news conference.
“I think it’s very clear that we’ve had the most successful start of any conservative administration in a generation,” he said, adding later, “Career politicians will make a lot of excuses. But the fact is, they can easily vote to stop accepting gifts from lobbyists.”
There had been talk that Greitens would call a special session, but he said only that his team will meet over the weekend to discuss the potential of doing so. He also didn’t indicate whether he’d sign the workplace discrimination or minimum wage measures.
Republicans held both chambers and the governor’s office for the first time since ex-Gov. Matt Blunt was in office, and though some gave their party high marks, it was clear there was friction among the ranks.
When asked if the chaotic Friday — when the House and Senate saw mini-meltdowns in the afternoon — would affect how a special session proceeds, Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh said, “I can’t answer that, because we haven’t caucused.”
“You know the PQ [previous question] to me, it’s terrible,” the Democrat from Bellefontaine Neighbors said, referring to the motion to end a filibuster. “I don’t like to see it. But when people are calling points of orders or objecting and they’re not recognized for that, that really saddens me. Because we move to a place like all of us have served, in the House — where there’s complete chaos.”
Here’s a look at what happened on the final day of session, as well as a breakdown of what did and didn’t come to fruition since January.
St. Louis’ new $10-an-hour minimum wage, which had only been in place for a week, will die come Aug. 28 if Greitens signs the measure sent to him by the House on a 109-43 vote with about a half-hour left on Friday and after no debate.
The bill prevents cities and communities across Missouri from setting a rate higher than the state’s (currently $7.70 an hour), which is linked to inflation. That also means Kansas City will not be able to vote in August vote whether to raise its minimum wage to $13 an hour.
Supporters of the legislation say the market, not the government, should set the minimum wage. But Democrats had argued the bill denies local governments the right to decide what their citizens should be paid.
And St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson weighed in, saying in a statement that Missouri has "pre-empted cities from enacting laws on many issues, including guns, cold medicine and now our minimum wage. Every city and town in our state does not have the same issues, needs or economy." She added that she'll work to get a "minimum wage on the ballot since our state legislature won't address it."
St. Louis’ new ordinance had been held up in court since shortly after the Board of Aldermen approved it in 2015, but the state Supreme Court in February tossed out a 1998 state ban barring municipalities from approving a minimum wage higher than the state’s — effectively, the bill sent to Greitens.
If he signs it, it’s likely to end up in court.
Greitens turned the Capitol lights blue on Thursday night to signal his support for an Amber Alert-type system, and lawmakers heeded the call Friday morning.
The House voted 117-29 Friday to send him an omnibus piece of legislation that creates the system to send out notices by broadcast and social media whenever a law enforcement officer is assaulted.
Democratic Rep. Donna Baringer of St. Louis said Blue Alert could help police apprehend someone who hurt a fellow law enforcement officer, noting, “It's not ever meant for an individual to follow or pursue.”
But Democratic Rep. Peter Meredith of St. Louis said he was concerned the Blue Alert system would promote vigilante justice. "This would be the first time we use this alert system not to rescue someone in imminent danger like a child with an Amber Alert. But to actually hunt down a suspect. Someone who has not been found guilty in a court of law, who's innocent until proven guilty."
The original bill, to which the Senate tacked on several provisions, will make it a felony for someone who had been deported from the U.S. to re-enter Missouri and commit a violent crime. Supporters say it goes after the worst of the worst offenders, while opponents say it would contribute to a hostile environment against immigrants and that law-abiding immigrants could wind up being targeted.
Other provisions in the omnibus bill include tougher penalties for certain crimes if the victim is a police officer, and tougher penalties for such things as trespassing, property damage, and leaving the scene of an accident.
In-home care for seniors
What was a fight all week (and for 30 minutes in the House on Friday) ended up being the final piece of legislation sent to Greitens before the 6 p.m. deadline. At issue was how to protect 8,000 low-income seniors and disabled people who under the budget as sent to Greitens would lose access to in-home and nursing home care.
House Speaker Todd Richardson, a Republican from Poplar Bluff, took the unusual step of sponsoring a last-minute amendment Friday aimed at pressuring the Senate to go with the House approach. But Rep. Deb Lavender, a Democrat from Kirkwood who helped craft the Senate's version, shouted at House leaders, "How dare you!"
Lavender had been the architect of the Senate version which called for rounding up $35 million in unspent money from dozens of state bank accounts in order to cover the health care costs for one year. Richardson said he questioned the legality of the idea. But right before 6 p.m. Friday, enough House members voted for the Senate bill and sent it to Greitens. Lavender apologized on the House floor for losing her cool earlier, and wept after the final vote.
West Lake Landfill
The Missouri House voted 65-79 (12 voted present) on Friday to kill off a bill that would have set up a special fund to buy out roughly 90 homeowners who live near the contaminated West Lake Landfill. The Superfund site is overseen by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, stores contaminated waste from the atomic bomb production during World War II. The neighboring Bridgeton Landfill is under the state’s jurisdiction and has an underground smoldering fire that some fear could spread to West Lake.
What happened to the prescription drug monitoring bill?
Earlier in the week, main House bill sponsor Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, said she’d agree to the Senate’s demands of both mandating physicians to take part in the prescription drug database and requiring all patient information to be purged after six months, even though she believed the latter would make it harder to spot drug abuse.
Her initial bill would have made the database optional for physicians but kept the records permanently.
But it didn’t come up for a vote, and several cities and counties in Missouri already have set up their own drug monitoring databases, which help combat the state's opioid crisis.
Bills that made it to Greitens and/or have been signed
Missouri all but removed itself from the short list of states that hadn’t yet complied with the 2005 federal REAL ID law by sending Greitens a bill Thursday to resolve that. Missouri residents will be able to choose between a compliant ID or a noncompliant ID, but the free voter ID will not be compliant. A compliant ID allows residents to board airplanes and get into federal courthouses and military installations come Jan. 22, 2018.
The measure requires an ex-employee to prove that the main reason he or she lost a job was race, sex, age or national origin, not just one of a few factors. Rep. Joe Don McGaugh, R-Carroll, said Monday that the bill is needed to counter "judicial overreach" that’s allowed too many people to sue for alleged discrimination. But Democrats and the state chapter of the NAACP argued would allow legalized discrimination and return Missouri to the days before civil rights reforms.
Right to work
Missouri became the nation's 28th right-to-work state in February, when Greitens signed a bill that bars unions and employers from requiring workers to pay dues. It takes effect in August. Supporters say will help bring jobs to Missouri, but organized labor says the legislation will lead to lower wages and have an uncertain impact on economic growth.
Greitens signed a bill last month that deregulated ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft across Missouri. The rules require each company to pay a $5,000 licensing fee, which will go to the Missouri Department of Revenue, and set up separate contracts with airports. Individual drivers would have to have liability insurance and submit to background checks, but wouldn’t be required to obtain a chauffeur’s license.
What else did not make it?
Lobbyist gift ban
Hermann Republican Rep. Justin Alferman, who sponsored the bill to ban lobbyist gifts, told The Associated Press that there's no way the bill will pass before the deadline. Greitens had pledged during his campaign to ban all lobbyist gifts.
The legislation to tighten regulations on abortion providers and set a U.S. precedent regarding the notification process for minors who want to have abortions did not come up during the final week of the session.
Two measures that would have curbed unions’ power didn’t make it in a session that saw right to work be signed into law. Prevailing wage would have let cities and counties could set hourly wages for public construction projects that are lower than what labor unions say people should be paid. And the so-called paycheck protection bill would have barred public employee labor unions from withholding dues from public-sector workers’ checks without their yearly written or online permission. It also barred dues from being used for political purposes without an employee’s permission.
Education Savings Accounts
A tax credit program — called education savings accounts, or ESAs — that foster children, children with disabilities and children of military personnel could have used for private school tuition. The measure also would have required individual schools, not school districts, to be accredited by the state; expanded the school transfer law to allow students to attend charter and virtual schools; and allowed students to transfer to either public or private nonreligious schools outside an unaccredited school district.
Greitens has the chance to enshrine "Old Drum" as the state dog. The dog was shot in 1869 near Warrensburg. And for those who like to drink at the airport, a bill on the governor’s desk will let you carry an alcoholic drink throughout the terminals at St. Louis-Lambert Airport and Kansas City International Airport instead of staying at the place you bought it.
The 2017 session is notable for the smaller number of bills sent to the governor’s desk: only 71. By comparison, 138 were sent to former Gov. Jay Nixon last year.
Senate President Pro-tem Ron Richard said he can’t remember there was such a large number of unfinished bills.
“You almost needed a pack mule to haul that (unfinished) calendar to the floor,” he said. “I hope (Senate) members are a little more selective next year about what they let out of committee so that we can be more deliberate.”
But Richard and other Republicans said the low number is a good thing, because it promotes smaller government.
Minority Floor Leader Gail McCann Beatty of Kansas City begged to differ.
“The overarching theme was pro-business and anti-people,’’ she said, adding it could have been worse “were it not for the GOP’s total dysfunction.”
Richardson told reporters after the session ended that he wanted to focus on accomplishments, not any failures, citing right to work, lawsuit changes and more money for public schools.
“These are common-sense reforms, they’re real results and I’m proud of our caucus,” he said.
Krissy Lane contributed to this report.