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Eventful Missouri legislative session comes to close

Saturday, May 17, 2008 | 3:15 p.m. CDT; updated 6:13 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY ­— The last day of the Missouri General Assembly was almost a legislative session in and of itself, as 70 bills passed on to the governor, at times with break-neck speed.

The legislature passed a number of important pieces of legislation on the final day of the session, including bills lifting campaign finance limits, a crackdown on illegal immigrants, limits on property tax increases and tougher laws regarding harassment on the Internet.

WHAT DID NOT PASS

Despite the long list of accomplishments, there were several proposals that got significant attention during the legislative session, but failed to win approval. Among them are:

— Insure Missouri: the governor’s proposal to expand health care coverage for the lower income. — Legislation that would mandate that Missouri voters produce photo IDs in order to vote. — Legalization of midwifery. — Abortion restrictions in a bill that would have mandated doctors to provide a variety of information to a woman seeking an abortion.



“We got a lot done,” Gov. Matt Blunt said at a news conference with Republican legislative leaders after the session.

“Naysayers said because it was an election year, because the Republicans are running out of steam, because the governor wasn’t running for re-elections that we wouldn’t accomplish anything,” Blunt said. “And on all those accounts, we proved them wrong with some very significant accomplishments.”

Democrats, however, cited lack of progress on the issues of health care and unemployment.

House Democratic leader Rep. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, criticized Republicans for frequently shutting off debate on the final day in order to rush through bills with limited discussion.

He voiced special criticism for the lifting of individual campaign contribution limits and said that Republicans had put a “for-sale sign at the front of the Capitol.”

Standing with the governor at his news conference, Republican legislative leaders had a completely different take on the session.

“We had a very productive session and we improved the lives of Missourians this session,” said Speaker Pro Tem Rep. Bryan Pratt, R-Jackson County. Pratt cited immigration and property tax bills and economic development as their major achievements.

There were, however, a few major issues that failed. The biggest was the failure of Insure Missouri, a plan that would have provided low-cost health coverage for as many as 200,000 uninsured Missourians and was Gov. Blunt’s top legislative priority.

Campaign contribution limits

With about an hour left in Missouri’s legislative session, the House sent to the governor a bill lifting individual campaign contribution limits, but not without a significant fight from the Democratic minority.

Supporters argue the current limits easily are evaded by special interests. The House sponsor, Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, called the current system a “money laundering operation.”

House Democratic Leader LeVota accused Republicans of raising an issue at the last minute of the legislative session that would aid their efforts in November.

In addition to lifting individual contribution limits, the bill sets forth more stringent guidelines for campaign disclosure reports and requires political action committees to disclose the name of their out-of-state donors.

Rep. Jason Holsman, D-Jackson County, raised an amendment that nearly killed the bill altogether. His amendment would have barred political campaigning in the Missouri Capitol, governor’s mansion and other state government buildings. Shortly before the end of the legislative session, passage of the seemingly popular amendment would have required the bill to be sent back to the Senate, likely killing the measure.

Holsman’s amendment narrowly failed by a party line vote of 79-74 and Republicans shut off discussion on the bill shortly afterward, setting up a vote.

The bill passed through the House by a vote of 83-72.

Illegal immigration

The legislation covered several areas. It prohibits employers from knowingly hiring illegal immigrants and imposes penalties on companies that violate state statutes regarding immigration status.

The legislation also bars illegal immigrants from receiving public benefits and reiterates federal immigration law.

Textbook support

Missouri’s legislature passed a bill that would give students easier access to more affordable textbooks.

The bill requires textbook publishers to provide more information to faculty about their books, including the cost of the book, variations between editions, and forms in which the text is available.

“I really relied on the students very heavily,” said Rep. Jake Zimmerman, D-St. Louis County. He said that the students from Truman State and the UM System were the motivation for this initiative.

“The bookstore is in favor of the bill,” said Michelle Froese, public relations manager at the MU bookstore.

She said that the more information the faculty has, the more it will benefit the students.

“It provides better information for the faculty,” she said. “They need all the information they can get.”

Zimmerman said that he got the most opposition from the publishing companies. “At the end of the day it took hours and hours of negotiation,” he said.

Cyber harassment

The measure was prompted by the suicide of St. Charles teen Megan Meier, who had been harassed on a social networking Web site. The bill would expand the definition of harassment designed to cover various communications on the Internet.

The legislature also passed a measure addressing identity theft. It would allow an identity theft victim to file a police report and impose a freeze on his/her credit report.

Property taxes

Limits on property tax increases would be imposed under a measure cleared by the legislature.

The proposal closes a loophole in a law that had been designed to prevent large property tax increases when there is an unusual increase in property assessments within a taxing district. The bill also expands property tax breaks for lower income elderly home owners.


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