Politics & Issues | St. Louis Public Radio

Politics & Issues

Missouri House of Representatives members speak on the house floor on the last day of the legislative session.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

On a special edition of Politically Speaking, St. Louis Public Radio links up with KCUR’s Statehouse Blend to review the ins and outs of the 2019 session of the Missouri General Assembly.

St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum and Rachel Lippmann joined KCUR’s Samuel King and Brian Ellison to talk about the final week of the legislative session. That’s when the Legislature sent abortion restrictions to Gov. Mike Parson.

Tamsen Reed in front of the Webster University communications department building. May 17, 2019.
Kae Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 10:45 a.m., May 21, to reflect new witness statements — The first time Tamsen Reed heard the rumors was over a text message from a soon-to-be roommate. Almost immediately, she began to feel trapped.

The rumors kept piling on. She’d hear them in her university classrooms. Once, a stranger shared them with one of Reed’s housemates, not realizing they lived together. Another time, a date brought them up to Reed.

Missouri Attorney General and senatorial candidate Josh Hawley speaks to supporters at a campaign event in Chesterfield on Oct. 29, 2018.
File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley is introducing legislation that would allow internet users to effectively opt out of having certain data shared with websites.

It’s the GOP senator’s latest salvo in his advocacy against large technology companies, a posture that’s brought Hawley national praise and criticism.

HCI Alternatives in Collinsville is one of 53 medical cannabis dispensaries licensed by the State of Illinois
File Photo | Wayne Pratt | St. Louis Public Radio

While the state will license medical marijuana dispensary facilities, it’s up to cities to set the rules on where they can locate in their towns.

The amendment voters approved last fall to legalize medical marijuana has some provisions regulating the location of dispensaries, labs, cultivation centers and testing facilities. That includes a minimum of 1,000 feet from schools, day cares and places of worship.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson speaks to news reporters on the last day of the legislative session in Jefferson City on Friday.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Gov. Mike Parson just finished up his first legislative session as governor. And by any objective measure, it was a good one for the GOP chief executive.

He wanted the Republican-controlled Legislature to approve his ideas around workforce development and transportation spending, and those lawmakers followed through. He was also able to deal with warring factions within his party, most notably six conservative senators that at times held up his priorities.

Members of the Missouri House throw paper in the air on May 17, 2019, to celebrate the end of the legislative session.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri lawmakers sent legislation banning abortion after eight weeks to Gov. Mike Parson, the culmination of an emotional and contentious week that ended with many of the GOP governor’s priorities accomplished.

And while legislators Friday also finished a bridge-repair bonding plan and proposal to institute term limits for statewide officials, they fell short on overhauling the state low-income housing tax-credit program and another measure undoing a new state legislative redistricting system.

The Riverfront Times' Doyle Murphy joined Friday's talk show.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

A lot of money has gone missing at local colleges and universities lately. A former administrator at Washington University was indicted for allegedly embezzling $300,000. A former University of Missouri employee admitted to stealing $781,000, and just a few weeks ago an employee of St. Louis Community College was accused of embezzling $5.4 million.

Another recent case, involving a former academic administrator at Webster University, got the Riverfront Times’ Doyle Murphy asking a question that is at the heart of the justice system every day: What constitutes just punishment?

Murphy’s latest feature for RFT digs into this question and many more, juxtaposing Deborah Pierce’s sentence (to pay back the $375,000 she stole from Webster University and write a journal for 60 days) with the sentences handed down in other specific crime cases in the region.

State Rep. Doug Richey, R-Excelsior Springs, listens in the House chambers Friday afternoon. May 17, 2019
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

The 2019 regular session of the Missouri General Assembly wraps up today in Jefferson City. Many legislative priorities for Gov. Mike Parson, including new abortion restrictions, bridge repair and the low-income housing tax-credit program remain on the to-do list.

Here’s how this is going to work: we’ll update from Jefferson City with the latest news and insights. The most recent news will be on top, meaning you can get a whole recap of the day starting at the bottom.

Members of the senate walk onto the floor of the House chambers ahead of this year's State of the State address.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

After a week that featured titanic battles over high-profile legislation, Missouri lawmakers are heading into the final day with a lot on their plate.

The unfinished business set for Friday includes final passage of abortion legislation that’s made national headlines, as well as a bill to overhaul the low-income housing tax-credit program.

Members of the Missouri House listen on May 16, 2019, as state Rep. Bruce Franks, D-St. Louis, announces his resignation.
Rachel Lippmann I St. Louis Public Radio

State Rep. Bruce Franks will step down from his St. Louis-based seat, citing a need to deal with his anxiety and depression.

The Democrat said he still wants to make his mark on St. Louis’ politics, even though he’ll no longer be in elected office. He’s also hoping his spotlight on mental health will resonate.

In one town in the Metro East, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, police are forcing landlords to evict tenants who have called for help during an overdose because they have heroin or other controlled substances in their rental property.

Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway announces her office will audit the government of St. Louis County , the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership and the St. Louis County Port Authority. May 15, 2019
Chad Davis | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 5:23 p.m., May 15, with statement from St. Louis Economic Development Chariman Karlos Ramirez — Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway announced Wednesday that her office will accept the St.

Sens. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, and Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, speak on the Missouri Senate floor on May 15, 2019. Both senators are against legislation that would substantially restrict abortion.
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 6 a.m. May 16 with Senate passage — Missouri is a step closer to having some of the strictest limits on abortion in the country.

The measure approved by the state Senate early Thursday bans abortion after a heartbeat can be detected, usually around six to eight weeks. There is no exception for rape or incest and there are also complete bans on abortion if a fetus is diagnosed with Down syndrome, or based on race or gender.

St. Louis County Councilmembers congratulate Hazel Erby for her tenure as councilwoman. Erby served on the county council for about 15 years. May 15 2019
Chad Davis | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis County Council is looking into eliminating pensions for county officials who commit a felony.

The proposal came from Councilman Tim Fitch, R- St. Louis County, who said it would apply to those who pleaded or are found guilty of a felony while in office.

The proposal comes a few weeks after former County Executive Steve Stenger pleaded guilty to federal public corruption charges. He resigned as county executive in late April. Fitch said the proposed legislation could affect Stenger’s pension.

Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, speaks on the Senate floor Tuesday about his economic development legislation. The Senate passed Hough's bill after a 28 hour filibuster.
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

A nearly 28-hour filibuster of what is usually a simple procedural step ended Tuesday night with a big win for Missouri Gov. Mike Parson.

Over the objection of a group of six Republicans, the state Senate approved a major economic development package that extended a tax credit for General Motors, which is considering a $750 million expansion of its plant in Wentzville. Also included is a program to fund training for adults in “high-need” jobs, and a deal-closing fund that allows for up-front tax breaks to companies considering expansion.

State Sen. Cindy O'Laughlin, R-Shelbina, helps delay action in the Senate on May 13, 2019 as part of a dispute over incentives for General Motors.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 12 p.m. Tuesday with comments from Gov. Parson:

A state incentive package aimed at getting General Motors to expand in Missouri is running into a major roadblock in the state Senate, threatening to derail some of Gov. Mike Parson’s priorities with less than a week left in the legislative session.

Six Republican senators who object to the expansion of job-training aid and a fund that would help finance the closing of economic development deals led a filibuster Monday on what is generally a quick procedural step to begin the day. That prevented any other work from getting done, as the filibuster, which began around 2:30 p.m., stretched into the night and early Tuesday morning.

Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio

The ACLU of Missouri and the state’s public defender system have reached a deal meant to ensure that low-income defendants are properly represented when they go to court.

The agreement made public on Monday sets maximum caseloads for the state’s 500-plus public defenders, and allows them to turn down cases to stay within a time limit that is based on how much work should be spent defending different types of crimes. It also makes it clear that defendants must be screened quickly to see if they qualify for a public defender.

St. Louis Alderman Jack Coatar
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

Alderman Jack Coatar joins St. Louis Public Radio’s Rachel Lippmann and Jason Rosenbaum in talking about what to expect in the next few months at the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.

Coatar represents the city’s 7th Ward, which includes neighborhoods like downtown St. Louis, Soulard, Lafayette Square and Compton Heights. He was elected to a full term on the board in 2017 after winning a 2015 special election.

St. Louis County council member Lisa Clancy expresses her support for Sam Page before voting for him as county executive Monday night.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Members of the St. Louis County Council are mulling whether to prohibit the rejection of tenants because of how they earn their money.

Councilwoman Lisa Clancy introduced legislation to add source of income to the county’s fair housing codes. Currently, property owners cannot discriminate or turn anyone away from applying on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation or religion.

John Rallo (left), who allegedly received county contracts in exchange for campaign contributions to Stenger, leaves federal court with his attorney Friday afternoon.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 5:15 p.m., May 10 with Sheila Sweeney's guilty plea — Two people who figured prominently in the political corruption scandal that brought down former St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger have been charged as well.

John Rallo, an insurance executive who allegedly received county contracts in exchange for campaign contributions to Stenger, was charged Friday with bribery, mail fraud and honest services fraud, the same charges that Stenger pleaded guilty to last week. Sheila Sweeney, the former head of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, pleaded guilty to covering up the scheme, and not telling law enforcement about it.

The Missouri General Assembly beat the Friday evening deadline to pass the $29.7 billion state budget, but took the long way there, with the Senate’s final vote coming at just after 2 a.m.

In a day dominated by tensions between the chambers, the House also made quick work of legislation that came up just Thursday that offers $50 million in tax incentives to General Motors. The automaker is considering a major expansion at its plant in suburban St. Louis.

St. Louis County Council member Hazel Erby speaks to reporters after an emergency council meeting Monday night.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated at 3:30 p.m., May 9 with comment from St. Louis County Councilman Mark Harder and a list of Councilwoman Hazel Erby's potential successors — St. Louis County Councilwoman Hazel Erby is resigning from her seat to join County Executive Sam Page’s administration.

The University City Democrat will be in charge of a department overseeing the county’s diversity and inclusion initiatives, giving her more authority over a public policy area she’s been engaged in for years.

Illinois lawmakers say they’re ready to move ahead with a major road construction program. It would mean tax and fee increases on gasoline, license plates and driver’s licenses.

Parson announced a new tax incentive plan for automotive manufacturers Wednesday. May 8, 2019.
Kae Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson is pushing an economic development plan intended to incentivize General Motors to expand its automotive plant in Wentzville.

If approved by state Legislature, the plan would make the auto manufacturer eligible for more than $50 million in state tax credits. Parson emphasized that the company’s expansion was only potential, and a GM spokesman told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the company won’t make any decisions until it has had more discussions with community officials and the United Automobile Workers union.

Parson visited Wentzville on Wednesday to publicize the plan. Parson also surveyed flooded farmland in St. Charles County during the trip.

Cori Bush (at left) and Amy Vilela both took on establishment Democrats during their respective 2018 congressional runs.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

It’s been about a year since New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other progressive women around the country were busy taking on powerful Democratic incumbents during the 2018 midterms. St. Louisan Cori Bush was one of them, and her challenge of longtime Congressman Lacy Clay fell short in the primaries. But she and the three other candidates whose campaigns are featured in the new Netflix documentary “Knock Down The House” say 2018 was just the beginning.

Bush and fellow progressive Amy Vilela, of Nevada, were both in St. Louis last week for the film’s premiere in select theaters including the Tivoli, and they spoke with St. Louis on the Air producer Evie Hemphill shortly afterward.

The Mississippi River during May 2019 floods. Taken from Malcolm W. Martin Memorial Park on May 7, 2019.
Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio

The Missouri side of the St. Louis metro area will have a new regionwide disaster plan next year come hell or floodwaters.

A local council of governments wants people concerned about flooding and other natural risks in their areas to comment on the plan before it is finalized in January.

State Auditor Nicole Galloway, right, slammed Carpenter for "mismanagement" -- and criticized her response to the audit.
File Photo | Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis County Council wants state Auditor Nicole Galloway to look into county government in the wake of Steve Stenger’s guilty plea on federal corruption charges.

That move came as St. Louis County Executive Sam Page announced that the county is getting back to the negotiating table with the owners of Northwest Plaza.

After only five months as the president of the St. Louis County NAACP, the national association suspended him for violating its bylaws.
Ashley Lisenby | St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis County NAACP is throwing its support behind the group’s suspended president even as the national association presses on with an investigation into the leader’s behavior.

“It is my hope that after John has his opportunity to prove the type of work he was doing, which was really good work, he can get made whole again and made president again,” interim president John Bowman said.

Washington University outgoing Chancellor Mark Wrighton (right) will lead an effort to implement Better Together's recommendations for a St. Louis city-county merger. He spoke at a press conference Jan. 28, 2019 at the Cheshire hotel.
File photo I Chad Davis | St. Louis Public Radio

When proponents of a city-county merger rolled out their long-awaited proposal in January, they thought they had everything in place for success.

They had more than five years of research, key political support and potential money from key donors like Rex Sinquefield to promote the plan to a statewide audience.

But things changed dramatically on Monday when the effort’s leader, Washington University Chancellor Mark Wrighton, acknowledged there would be no statewide bid to merge St. Louis and St. Louis County. It was a culmination of a frenetic period that saw the arrival of a multiracial, bipartisan opposition coalition to the merger — and immense criticism of some of the plan’s components.

A group known as Better Together is proposing a plan to merge St. Louis and St. Louis County. They're planning to get the measure on the 2020 ballot.
David Kovaluk | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 7:30 p.m., May 6 — Better Together is withdrawing its effort to merge St. Louis and St. Louis County through a statewide initiative petition, instead regrouping to focus its efforts on trying to get only city and county residents to approve a plan sometime in the future.

For now, it’s the end of an ambitious proposal that would have reshaped regional government — but also stoked opposition from across the political spectrum.

“I find that many people do not attend to things that they hear about until it’s right in front of them and confronts them,” said Washington University Chancellor Mark Wrighton, who was leading the effort to implement the merger plan. “And it’s evident that our community needs more education about what is necessary, the problems we face, and how best to solve them.”