Missouri lawmakers adjourn legislative session

Missouri’s General Assembly went to work in January with the largest Republican majority in the state’s history.

The GOP holds a two-thirds majority in the Senate, and just shy of a two-thirds in the House.

Just a few hours before the Legislature’s adjournment Friday, House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, acknowledged the resulting conservative stamp on the 2011 agenda.

“I think we came into office with an historic Republican majority, filled with a group of good conservative people. But on the other side of the aisle, we had some conservative Democrats as well,” Tilley said.

Measures cleared by the Legislature included constitutional amendments and bills that would:

• Require drug testing of welfare recipients, HB 73

• Repeal and change restrictions on dog breeders passed by voters in November, SB 113

• Require legislative approval to implement federal mandates, HB 45

• Establish a right to pray in government buildings, HJR 2

• Place on the November 2012 ballot a constitutional amendment requiring photo identification to vote, SJR 2 and SB 3

• Impose additional restrictions on late-term abortions, HB 213 and SB 6

• Restrict nuisance lawsuits against farm operations, SB 187 and HB 209

• Restrict employee discrimination lawsuits against their employers, SB 188

• Phase out the corporate franchise tax, SB 19

• Reduce state-funded unemployment benefits from 26 to 20 weeks, although the bill also provided an additional 20 weeks of federal-funded coverage for the current year, HB 163

It presents a potentially difficult set of issues for Missouri’s Democratic governor, Jay Nixon, who already had one of his vetoes overridden by the Republican Legislature — the congressional redistricting bill that eliminates the district of Missouri Congressman Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis.

The governor also has vetoed the employee discrimination lawsuit limits, but signed both of the Legislature’s bills to change Prop B dog breeding regulations and to phase out the corporate franchise tax.

While acknowledging the conservative stamp, the House Democratic leader also praised the Republican leadership for the tenor of debate in the House chamber.

“We’ve been able to that while conducting the session much more cordially in the last four years and I’d probably say the last eight years,” said Rep. Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County.

Among other measures that cleared the Legislature were bills that:

• Expand the definition of the crime of human trafficking, HB 214

• Impose requirements for dealing with student athletes who suffer head injuries, HB 300

• Impose stronger requirements on schools for reporting sexual misconduct allegations, SB 54

• Impose consumer protections for extended-service contracts for autos, SB 132

• Expand court powers for protection orders involving domestic violence, SB 320

Just three hours before the end of the session, legislators all but declared dead the biggest business tax break plan for the state — the so-called China hub that would provide up to $360 million in business tax breaks to develop an air transport hub in St. Louis that would serve China and other international outlets.

The measure had been tied with Senate demands that the House also accept cuts in the states tax credit programs that cost Missouri more than $500 million in lost revenue each year. Negotiations went on until the early morning hours of the Legislature’s last day without agreement.

A bill that would’ve given St. Louis city control of its police department also failed in the General Assembly.

In addition, one of the major areas of inaction by the 2011 legislative session involved education. A fight between school districts frustrated efforts to fix the legal formula for distributing state funds to local schools.

The problem arises from language in the law that requires a minimum level of funding increase each year. With the downturn in tax collections, that minimum funding increase was not met last year and will not be met by the budget approved this year by the Legislature.

Lawmakers say that has left the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to determine the allocation distribution without clear legal authority.

Also stalled was an effort to address a state Supreme Court decision — in the case of Turner vs. School District of Clayton — that gave St. Louis city school students the right to attend any school in St. Louis County. Lawmakers were divided on whether to protect county schools from overcrowding, recognize the needs of students in the St. Louis city district that has lost its accreditation or to pursue a broader school-choice initiative pushed by some Republicans.

A last minute effort to expand charter schools was put aside on the night before the Legislature’s adjournment.

Tilley acknowledged that the lack of progress on education issues was his biggest disappointment for the session, but added that groundwork had been laid to address those issues in the 2012 session.

– Missouri Digital News