Capitol Report, March 4, 2011

In Legislative News, Missouri Press News On
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This is the weekly Capitol Report from the State Government Reporting Program of the Missouri School of Journalism. Use it as you wish; no further permission is necessary.

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Audio report from Alysha Love for the week of Feb. 28 [Entered: 03/04/2011]

Audio report from Alysha Love for the week of Feb. 28

[ Get the audio file at]

+ House votes to restrict funeral protest in wake of Supreme Court ruling [Entered: 03/03/2011]

One day after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled funeral protests are protected free speech, Missouri’s House voted to restrict protesting.

Nearly 90 percent of representatives voted to make it a crime to protest within 500 feet of funeral ceremonies. Another of the bill’s restrictions prohibits protesters from picketing two hours before
and after funerals. If passed, it would be a crime in Missouri to violate these restrictions.

Rep. Jeanette Oxford, D-St. Louis, was one of the few to vote against the measure and criticized her colleagues for voting for the bill.

“If we’ll go back to our districts and we’ll work with our constituents to help them understand that what we’re doing here is protecting the Constitution when we vote no, our constituents are grown-ups and they’ll understand that,” she said.

Oxford urged her fellow lawmakers to protect free speech, even if it is unpopular.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Ward Franz, R-West Plains, said the bill would protect grieving families.

“It’s a simple idea to allow families to mourn the loss of a loved one in peace and to give them a chance to have some closure in a very difficult time,” Franz said to overwhelming approval from the House.

The high court ruled against a group who said funeral protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka inflicted emotional pain on them. Just two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar Missouri law restricting funeral protesting.

Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, said the U.S. Supreme Court ruling has very little to do with this bill.

“That case yesterday dealt with a civil lawsuit where an individual was suing the Westboro Baptist
Church not for breaking a law, but for intentional infliction of emotional distress,” Colona said.

The bill will go to the Senate next.

Get the radio stories here. [ ]

Get the roll-call vote [ ] .

+ Senate leaders put off vote to extend unemployment benefits [Entered: 03/03/2011]

The Missouri Senate adjourned before noon on Thursday [March 3] without making a decision on extending unemployment benefits for more than 20,000 Missourians without jobs.

The plan calls for the state to accept $81 million in federal money. This money would extend the maximum length of jobless benefits from 79 to 99 weeks for Missourians.

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, opposes the bill, saying Missouri lawmakers need to send a message to Washington.

“You have the federal government stealing from this generation and generations to come by spending money they don’t have,” Lembke said. Lembke also said that nearly two years of jobless benefits is too long.

Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, is the sponsor of the bill and said people collecting unemployment would much rather have a job.

“For those who have a job, it’s pretty easy to say that’s too long, but when you’re suffering and can’t find a job, that’s tough,” Pearce said.

Lembke filibustered the issue on Tuesday [March 1], saying more time on unemployment leads to fewer
applicants for jobs.

“We’ve got people saying we have jobs, but if you extend that, the people that generally work in our industry will not come back to work,” Lembke said.

Other GOP Senators said they are concerned about out-of-control federal spending, but both Republicans and Democrats said if Missouri turns down the money, it will be given to other states instead.

Republican leaders say they will meet over the next week to discuss the bill. The extended benefits for an estimated 23,000 Missourians will run out April 3.

Get the radio stories here. [ ]

+ Mo. House overturns voter-approved minimum wage law [Entered: 03/01/2011]

By a near party-line vote, Missouri’s House voted Tuesday [March 1] to put a cap on the minimum wage law that Missouri voters approved five years ago. Most of the House Republicans voted in support of the change, not one Democrat voted to approve the measure.

In 2006, 76 percent of Missouri voters approved a measure to raise minimum wage and tie it to the inflation rate. The House-passed bill would prohibit Missouri’s minimum wage from exceeding the federal level. Both are currently set at $7.25, but because Missouri uses the consumer price index to set its minimum wage, the state’s level could increase past the federal level if the cost of living increases.

Rep. Sylvester Taylor, D-St. Louis County, said employees will be at a disadvantage if the measure passes.

“If you don’t take care of your workers, what message are you sending to your workforce?” Taylor said.

Republicans, including the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jerry Nolte, R-Gladstone, said lowering minimum wage would create jobs. By eliminating the inflationary increases, businesses wouldn’t need to pay higher labor costs
and could maintain jobs for low-skilled workers, he said.

“Those of you who are voting on this bill, go home this weekend, go to your small businesses, look them in the eye and ask yourself, ‘Can I tell them how I voted on this bill? Can I tell them that I am standing with them to create jobs?'” Nolte said during House debate.

Allowing Missouri’s minimum wage to increase above the federal rate and that of surrounding states would
make doing business in Missouri less attractive for employers, said Republican Floor Leader Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County.

“None of the bordering states which we compete economically with and competitively with
have this (inflation rate) provision,” he said. “It is an anomaly.”

All 57 House Democrats joined with four Republicans to vote against the bill. They said lowering the minimum wage would cost Missouri thousands of jobs and hurt families that live below the poverty level. Rep. Mike Colona, D-St Louis, said Republicans don’t care about the voice of the people.

“House Republicans today told the people of Missouri that their opinion as expressed at the ballot box doesn’t matter,” Colona said.

The minimum wage issue is one of three proposals pushed by Republicans in the legislature to change proposals approved by Missouri voters.

Legislation to repeal restrictions on dog breeders, which voters approved last fall, has advanced in the legislature. Lawmakers also have proposed a plan to force Missourians to foot the bill for AmerenUE to pursue a permit to build a second nuclear reactor in the state.

“Some things are passed by the voters and I think we should respect that,” said House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville. “But if there’s unintended consequences that we feel like the residents in our district didn’t understand or didn’t realize were going to occur, we have an obligation as their representative to fix it.”

Get the radio stories. [ ]

Get the perfection roll-call vote. [ ]

Get the 3rd reading roll-call vote [ ] .

+’s Senate votes to limit lawsuits against employers. [Entered: 03/04/2011]

Missouri’s Senate gave first-round approval Wednesday [March 2] to a measure that would impose a cap on lawsuit discrimination awards against employers.

The measure would impose a cap on awards based on the size of number of persons employed by the company with a top of $300,000.

The proposal also would impose a burden of proof on the employee to demonstrate discrimination.

Get the bill, SB 188 [ ] .

Get the
radio stories on a similar Senate bill [ ] .

+ President could be forced to prove citizenship to get on Missouri’s ballot [Entered: 03/01/2011]

A bill that would require all presidential candidates, including President Barack Obama, to prove their citizenship to Missouri’s Secretary of State before getting placed on the state ballot was heard by the House Elections Committee Tuesday [March 1].

Former Secretary of State GOP candidate Mitch Hubbard said Missouri should check the federal
government and enforce proof of citizenship.

“Hawaii, during the years our president was born, issued short-form birth certificates to people who were born in Hawaii … but because it had just recently become a state, they also issued short-form birth certificates to people who were not born in Hawaii, but who were living there as children at the time,” Hubbard

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Lyle Rowland, R-Cedar Creek. He said no one on the federal level is checking the Article II Constitutional qualifications of candidates. He said the Missouri Secretary of State should require presidential citizenship documents, like those required by candidates for other offices.

Rep. Joe Fallert, D-Ste. Genevieve, said federal law under the Constitution already prevents unqualified citizens from running for president.

“If federal law would say you have to be a citizen of the U.S. to do this, why do we have to double check?” Fallert asked. “I’m just curious because it’s like we’re a solution looking for a problem because federal law would preempt this already.”

Naturalized citizen Hector Maldonado was born in Mexico. He said when running for the U.S. Senate last year, he had to provide proof of citizenship to the Missouri Secretary of State, and thus wants presidential candidates to have to do the same.

“This next coming election, if I choose to do so, I can run for U.S. President, and no one’s going to stop me until I actually hold office … but by then, it’s too late,” Maldonado said.

House Elections Committee members said they do not know when the bill will be heard again.

Get the radio stories here. [ ]

+ Lottery privatization an option for Senate committee [Entered: 03/02/2011]

The Missouri Lottery will begin talks with the state Senate in April about moving control of the lottery from the government to the private sector.

The hearing has been requested by the Senate’s president pro tem, Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter.

The committee’s chair — Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County — said he moved back a hearing on privatizing the lottery because none of the vendors working with the lottery are willing to testify until after they are finished with the lottery. Lembke is the chairman of the Senate Governmental Accountability Committee, which is to hold a hearing on lottery privatization once the process begins next month.

“The lottery has to be kind of reserved with their comments since it might affect some of the [answers]. My concern and interest in the lottery is I’m looking at all areas of state government to find out how we can become more competitive,” Lembke said.

Lottery Executive Director May Scheve said it was difficult to comment on the issue because the Missouri
Lottery is currently ascertaining the opinion of state vendors on the matter; privatization was only recently brought up by the Senate’s
Rebooting Government initiative.

“We really haven’t engaged in conversation with the Senate,” Scheve said. “But beginning in April we will work with the Senate to provide as much information as we can.”

Lembke called the proposed hearing a “fact-finding mission” because there is not much previous information for the committee to look at. He also said that researching ways to change government procedure is important to help lawmakers learn how to take better care of the state.

“If we can be better stewards as to the way we manage resources, then that means more money goes to education, which is where the lottery is earmarked to go,” Lembke said. “There really hasn’t been that much to compare it to, so we don’t have that much data, so this is just a fact-finding mission.”

Get the print story here. [ ]

+ Proposed bills look to criminalize texting while driving, regardless of age [Entered: 03/02/2011]

Legislation to expand the texting while driving ban was met with conflicting opinions in a House committee hearing Wednesday [March 2].

The House Crime Committee heard three bills to criminalize texting while driving, regardless of age. In 2009, Missouri’s legislature passed a ban on texting while driving, but limited the bill to those under age 22.

Of the three bills discussed, two would make text messaging while driving a primary offense, allowing an officer to stop a driver solely for texting. The remaining proposal calls for a secondary offense; if passed, a
driver would need to commit another infraction, such as speeding or improper lane usage, before being penalized for texting.

Col. Ronald Replogle, superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, spoke in favor of the primary offense legislation. Replogle said the highway patrol wrote 66 distracted driving tickets in 2010, which includes actions like eating, changing the radio station or using a cell phone.

“When you [send a text message] behind the wheel of a car, you are just as dangerous as a drunk driver,” Replogle said.

But the sponsor of the limited approach, Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, said making texting while driving a primary offense would effectively create a “criminal defense lawyer’s dream.”

Colona said he’s concerned with the difficulties officers could have proving probable cause for pulling over a driver under suspicion of texting and the possibility of profiling. Colona called his proposal “the most workable alternative” to a primary offense law.

Rep. Nick Marshall, R-Platte City, said he was unsure the legislation balanced public safety with constitutional concerns. Marshall said he was worried constituents would feel government was “too involved” and harbor feelings of animosity.

“We don’t want to go out and hassle people that are doing legal activity,” Marshall said.

The committee took no immediate action on the proposals.

Get the print story here.[ ]

+ House votes to repeal corporate franchise tax [Entered: 03/2/2011]

Lawmakers in the House followed the Senate’s example by voting to eliminate the corporate franchise tax Thursday [May 3].

Rep. Jerry Nolte, R-Gladstone, who sponsored the bill, said removing the corporate franchise tax would foster
corporate growth and business interest in the state.

“This puts us in a bad competitive situation with others, and in fact the state of Kansas has just eliminated their franchise tax,” Nolte said. “For those of us living on the west side of the state, we know how competitive [business] is.”

House Democrats, such as Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, spoke against the proposal, saying that Missouri could not afford the loss in revenue that abolishing the corporate franchise tax would cause. Webber said the
loss in revenue would have to be made up for by cutting away at the budget.

“The folks we really do hurt by voting for this are kids because that money has to come from somewhere, and as we look at the budget there is no place to take $80 million out of the next couple of years’ budgets besides
programs that affect kids,” Webber said.

Department of Revenue officials estimate that the corporate franchise tax brought in about $87.5 million in
revenue last year.

Get the print story here. [ ]

Get the radio stories here. [ ]

Get the 3rd reading roll-call vote [ ] .

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