Legislative Report: VETO SESSION CALM IN HOUSE, DISORIENTED IN SENATE

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The Missouri General Assembly met Wednesday, Sept. 15, for its annual Veto Session, resulting in no overturned legislation. Governor Mike Parson (R) this year had vetoed line items in 12 appropriations bills and four other omnibus bills. In the end on Wednesday, none of the Governor’s vetoes were overridden.

The House of Representatives did vote to override vetoes in sections of HB 4, allotting $150,000 for tax refunds for certain businesses; HB 11, providing three percent raises for Children’s Division workers; HB 12, providing $300,000 to fund a Lincoln County program that focuses on crimes against children; and HB 19, providing $700,000 in stabilization funds for a Community Improvement District in Columbia.

When the bills arrived in the Senate, heated discussion was triggered when Sen. Mike Moon (R-Ash Grove) made a motion to override HB 4, a bill that was originally handled in the Senate by Sen. Dan Hegeman (R-Cosby), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe (R), who was presiding in the chamber, did not recognize Sen. Moon’s motion. “The Senate follows a process that has been long established that the handler of the bill is the person responsible to make that motion,” Lt. Gov. Kehoe said.

What followed was four hours of debate, led by Sens. Moon, Bill Eigel (R-Weldon Spring), and Bob Onder (R-Lake St. Louis), criticizing Lt. Gov. Kehoe’s actions as a member of the Executive Branch. The theatrics were ended when Sen. Hegeman decided to bring up the bill, adding he was against the override, and the motion to override failed 15-13.

Later, Majority Floor Leader Sen. Caleb Rowden (R-Columbia) called the actions by some Senators a “clown show” and “disrespectful to this chamber.”


HOUSE MAJORITY CAUCUS SELECTS DEAN PLOCHER AS SPEAKER-ELECT
Missouri Republicans in the state House of Representatives have unanimously elected Rep. Dean Plocher (R-St. Louis) as the choice for Speaker of the House to take office in January 2023. He will continue his Majority Floor Leader role through the end of 2022 and will need to be formally voted as Speaker in January by the next legislature.

“I want to thank the majority caucus for their unanimous support and their confidence to lead us forward in these historic times,” Rep. Plocher said. “The work we have before us is both challenging and important. Missourians expect us to pass commonsense bills that protect our freedoms and preserve the Missouri values that have made our state great.”
Rep. Plocher has represented House District 89 in St. Louis County since he won a special election in 2015. He is manager of his own law firm in Clayton.

HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE HEARS ABOUT VACCINE MANDATE

On Wednesday, Sept. 15, the House Judiciary Committee met to gather testimony about President Joe Biden’s proposed COVID vaccination mandate that has been announced. In his opening remarks, Rep. David Evans (R-West Plains), committee chair, said Speaker of the House Rob Vescovo (R-Arnold) had asked the Judiciary Committee to focus on recent executive actions at the federal level dealing with mask use and vaccination mandates. The hearing was to “give a voice to the heartfelt concerns about government-mandated vaccines,” Rep. Evans said. Persons who cannot take the vaccine because of health conditions, persons who have religious objections. Those voices should be heard, he said.
(Note: President Joe Biden announced on Sept. 9 that all staff at U.S. private-sector firms with 100 or more employees will have to ensure staff are fully vaccinated or tested regularly. The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is in charge of formulating and enforcing the rule, which will be rolled out in the coming weeks. The mandate already faces Republican political opposition and promised legal challenges.)
Here are abbreviated comments from the 90-minute House Judiciary hearing by witnesses who were invited to testify on Sept. 15:
Jorgen Schlemeier, representing the Missouri Assisted Living Association and the Missouri Hotel and Lodging Association:
Such a mandate will have practical effects on businesses. The first reactions from his clients about the vaccine mandate were not “this is illegal” or “we don’t like mandates.” The big issue will be, the goal of the rule fails, he said. The vaccine mandate would not achieve its intended purpose. It is an “employee’s market” right now. People are not just changing jobs. People are moving thousands of miles away for what they want to do because the jobs exist. A vaccine mandate simply makes that person want to take another job. He said 90 percent of employers who employ fewer than 100 people are today looking for workers. The Missouri Assisted Living Association sees the possible forced vaccine as a public safety issue. Even without a vaccine mandate, assisted living employees are moving to other jobs. The ability for a senior resident to move “back home” is simply not possible. It will leave such seniors without enough staff to care for them. Having no staff and having the ability to maintain staff are serious problems.
Ray McCarty, representing the Associated Industries of America:
Representing employers’ view on the federal government mandate. Currently, there is a very real problem to find employees. If employers do require vaccines, they take that risk on their own. It’s a decision that each business needs to make. McCarty said AIM will fight any kind of mandate that would affect and cost employers. Employers should make that decision if they want to take risk. What’s the next mandate that will be coming down? It’s time to say No, McCarty said.
Nikki Strong, representing the Missouri Health Care Association:
She agreed with and reiterated much of what Jorgen Schlemeier said. It is not right nor is it wrong to take the vaccine, she said. The MHCA represents about 350 long term care facilities located throughout the state. When testing was mandated in our facilities, those facilities started losing employees quickly, she said. The healthcare system is burned out, she said. To put this additional strain on healthcare workers, whether taking the vaccine or taking a test, will decimate our workforce. The Biden mandate was first announced a few weeks ago, solely to affect nursing homes. That announcement had an extraordinary response from nursing homes. People are truly conflicted in what they want to do. We can’t run a nursing home without staff. We must have staff 24/7 for care. She is concerned that nursing home facilities may shut down across the state. The mandate will have a significant impact. The association reached out to individual members, and 33 percent (91 facilities) said they expect to lose 50 percent of their staff. There is no “one size fits all” answer to this problem. She said about 85 percent of long term care residents and about 40 percent of staff have been vaccinated. The threat of a federal vaccine mandate has almost created a pushback by employees, she said. They were able to vaccinate beginning 9 months ago. The federal mandate, likely to become effective in mid- to late-October, will apply to employees of all healthcare providers who receive funds through Medicare and Medicaid. Facilities that don’t comply may be threatened with Medicare and Medicaid funding cuts. Unvaccinated independent contractor staff members who work at long term care facilities could be adversely affected, also, she said.
Kara Corches, representing the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industries:
She said the Chamber does believe, on the record, that vaccination is the way to control the COVID pandemic. However, the Biden Administration overreach with vaccination and testing requirements is opposed by 75 percent of Chamber members. Eighty percent say the vaccination decision should be left up to individual businesses. The new mandate has a chilling effect on business. Missouri businesses are experiencing major labor shortages.
There were other witnesses during the hearing, and Chairman Evans said the topic will be taken up again by the committee.

HOUSE, SENATE ELECTIONS COMMITTEES DEBATE VOTER PHOTO ID
On Tuesday, Sept. 14, the House Elections and Elected Officials Committee met primarily to discuss requiring Missouri voters to show their photo identification when voting at the polls. During the 2021 legislative session, House Bill 334 (Simmons, R-Washington) would require a voter photo i.d. or the voter could cast a provisional ballot. “No one would be turned away from voting,” Rep. Simmons said of his legislation. HB 334 did not pass.

Madeline Malisa of the Foundation for Government Accountability testified about the importance of voter photo i.d. “Proving that you are who you say you are, is just common sense,” she said, noting some 36 states have some form of voter i.d. Several states require the last four digits of a voter’s social security number to be written inside absentee ballot envelopes, she said.

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft (R) said he supports voter i.d. in state law without turning away anyone seeking to vote. He said state government assists about 1,000 Missourians annually to acquire a state photo i.d. at no charge to the individual.

Others testifying during the hearing in support of voter photo i.d. included a resident of Warsaw who said photo i.d. is needed when multiple voters in the same community have the same name. Robert Oakes of Gladstone testified that showing a driver’s license when voting is practical and speeds up the voting process at the polls. Shane Schoeller, County Clerk of Greene County, noted it would be much easier for a person to make a counterfeit paper document for identification than trying to counterfeit a state-issued photo i.d. card. David Stevens of Warrensburg warned that cyber-attacks are possible on our state’s electronic election systems and voter registration data.

Testimony from the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition and from the ACLU of Missouri focused on concerns of more restrictive voter i.d. requirements that have been introduced in past legislative sessions. Denise Lieberman of the MVP Coalition said Missouri already requires identification for voters to cast ballots, and it works. She said the Secretary of State’s outreach program, Show It to Vote, is insufficient.

Lieberman said to improve Missourians’ accessibility to voting, state law changes should be made in:

  1. No excuse absentee voting.
  2. Voter registration modernization by automating the act of updating a person’s information through the Missouri Department of Revenue.
  3. Access to early voting.

Later Tuesday afternoon, the Senate Interim Committee on Elections met to discuss the initiative petition process and voter photo i.d. Those witnesses who testified during the House hearing also testified in the Senate hearing.

Madeline Malisa of the Foundation for Government Accountability promoted a 60 percent affirmative voting threshold to pass an initiative petition rather than a simple majority of votes. And, she said, signature gathering to place initiative petitions on the statewide ballot should be 10 percent of registered voters in each congressional district for constitutional issues and 5 percent in each congressional district for statutory issues. Malisa also criticized Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg who reportedly contributed $400 million from his nonprofit to assist local election offices in the U.S. during the 2020 election. Some Missouri counties received “Zuckerbucks” for the election.

Sen. Barbara Washington (D-Kansas City) said Malisa is “an outsider coming to confuse our voters and our constituents. We don’t have those issues in our state.”

During his Senate testimony, Secretary of State Ashcroft said the 2020 general election in Missouri “was the safest election we’ve had.”

Shane Schoeller told the Senate committee that county clerks invite transparency in elections. In Missouri, voting equipment from four vendors is certified by the secretary of state’s office before the equipment can be used by county election officials, he said. Before an election there of pre-tests, then post-tests, then audits and sometimes re-counts after elections. Regarding private funding for elections, Schoeller suggested the state should define how that money can be used. He also suggested if ballot drop boxes are instituted in the state, requirements should be outlined in state statutes or in regulations so that all counties will follow the same process with drop boxes.

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