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Government, Politics & Issues

With budget out of the way, Missouri legislators may take on controversial issues in final week

Missouri Statehouse
File photo | St. Louis Public Radio
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The Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City

The Missouri General Assembly is heading into its final week with an unusually short to-do list.

That’s because a number of issues, including a new state budget, were approved early. 

When legislators return Monday, Republican leaders had first planned to tackle the budget-item vetoes that Gov. Jay Nixon issued Friday afternoon. But the governor only vetoed one item, because of a technical error that's unlikely to generate an override. Instead, legislators will try to fix the problem.

That repair is likely among the few must-do actions before this session ends at 6 p.m.  Friday.  The new budget takes effect July 1. (For an explanation of what is in the budget bills, see How the General Assembly's budget differs from the governor's proposals)

Missouri’s $26.1 billion spending plan includes an $84 million increase for K-12 schools, an extra $5 million for early childhood education, and an additional $12 million for universities and community colleges that's based on student performance.

Nixon also commended lawmakers for expanding managed care for Medicaid recipients statewide.

“But we’re gonna do it in a careful, transparent, and responsible way,” Nixon told reporters Friday.  “Let me be very clear:  under no circumstances will we implement this expansion at the expense of vulnerable Missourians, like those with severe mental illness, or include populations with special needs, like Missourians with disabilities and seniors.”

Nixon did not make any cuts in the budget, but he did veto a drafting error in HB 10 that contained the wrong start date for the next fiscal year, and he objected to language in HB 2 related to teacher evaluations and school accreditation.  He also criticized Republican lawmakers for cutting $90 from various social service programs.

Although Nixon made no line-item vetoes or temporary cuts like in years past, he says it was not because of the new constitutional amendment that gives lawmakers the authority to override any budget cuts he would have made.

“Spending is what you do, eventually, through the executive branch, whether it’s me or whoever,” Nixon said.  “That didn’t change by any of that and the fundamental responsibilities didn’t change…no, I’d have to say it has not changed my view of things or the conduct of my responsibilities.”

What to look for during last week of 2015 session

The lack of pending "musts" means that legislators will have time to deal with controversial issues that often have been skirted in the final weeks of previous sessions. 

That's particularly true in the state Senate, where Senate leaders already have announced that two touchy matters will be on their agenda as soon as Monday:

  • Right to work, which passed the Missouri House weeks ago. The anti-union measure would bar labor and employers from requiring all workers to pay dues if a majority vote to join a union.
  • Photo ID requirements for voters.  The General Assembly has tried several years to get a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot that would require voters to show government-issued photo IDs before casting a ballot. Separate implementation legislation also would be needed; Nixon vetoed one such bill several years ago.

Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said the two issues are among his top priorities for the final week.
But state Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, predicts that bringing up “right-to-work” could be risky for Senate leaders, and any other pending legislation.

“There’s two ways that could go,’’ he said during an appearance on St. Louis Public Radio’s “Politically Speaking’’ podcast, set to be available for listening Monday on the station’s website.

“Either it just fizzles,” Schaaf said. “Or it could blow up the Senate.”

Opponents of the legislation include all eight Democrats in the GOP-controlled Senate, but also a few Republicans.  They are expected to filibuster if the bill is brought up, meaning that other legislation – or even ordinary Senate business – could be blocked.

Richard and his allies accused Democrats of delaying consideration of unrelated legislation on Friday, as a preview of their tactics if "right to work" is brought up.

Labor has long opposed the measure, dubbing it “right-to-work-for-less’’ and contending that such a law would lower Missouri wages. Backers say right-to-work would make the state more competitive, economically.

Some of the state’s major business groups support right-to-work, but Nixon has pledged to veto it. It’s unclear if either the state House or Senate has the votes to override such a veto.

Major bills vetoed, or signed into law

Nixon also has vetoed a bill, HB 150, that would reduce unemployment benefits when the jobless rate dips below 6 percent.  It's unclear if legislators will attempt an override during their final week.

The General Assembly already has overridden two Nixon vetoes this session. The bills to become law despite his opposition include:

  • SB24:  Changes the lifetime limit on Temporary Assistance to Needy Families to 3 years 9 months from the current 5 years. Recipients must be employed or seeking employment or lose half of their benefits for up to 10 weeks, must have a job to be eligible for SNAP, or food stamps. Two percent of TANF funds will go to alternatives to abortion programs, ones that encourage "healthy marriages" and "responsible fatherhood." See Nixon criticizes legislative veto override, which will cut welfare benefits Jan. 1
  • A bill that bars former school superintendents from running for school board in the district where they had served.

Among the bills that already have passed and are on the governor's desk:

Bills that already have been passed and signed include:

  • SB239: the bill places caps of $400,000 on damages for personal injury and $700,000 for a catastrophic injury – death, paralysis or loss of vision for example – in a medical malpractice lawsuit. It also includes a clause to increase the limits by 1.7 percent each year. See Caps on medical malpractice lawsuits signed into law
  • HB384: The so-called tax amnesty would allow people behind on their state income taxes to pay them off without additional penalties or interest. See Missouri lawmakers send tax amnesty bill to Nixon

Follow Jo Mannies & Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @jmannies  @MarshallGReport

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