Missouri lawmakers have until Friday to wrap up priorities

Sunday, May 8, 2011 | 6:00 p.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — Time is nearly up for Missouri Republican leaders seeking to complete their legislative priorities in their first year with a historic majority in the state Legislature.

The annual legislative session ends at 6 p.m. Friday, which gives Republican leaders five working days to negotiate deals and win final approval for numerous bills.

GOP leaders said they planned in the final week to focus on economic development efforts, approving a requirement for drug testing of cash welfare recipients and imposing new restrictions for late-term abortions.

Other issues awaiting resolution this week include a new push to require a government-issued photo identification to vote, an extension for a state prescription drug program that would otherwise expire, changes to the workers' compensation system and a new date for Missouri's presidential primary election.

Lawmakers also could remove state control of the St. Louis Police Department for the first time since the Civil War, revise proposed limits for lawsuits over farm-related nuisances — after a previous version was vetoed — and extend on a ban on texting while driving to all people instead of just those 21 years old and younger.

House Speaker Steven Tilley said progress generally slows near the end of the legislative session only to break free in the days before the looming Friday evening deadline.

"We've got a lot of loose ends that we need to tie up, but I think we've set the table for a productive last week," said Tilley, R-Perryville.

Already, lawmakers have knotted a couple of the thorniest issues facing them this year.

Lawmakers dispatched an emotional debate about regulations for Missouri's dog-breeding industry by approving in the last week of April a deal negotiated by Gov. Jay Nixon's administration.

And this past week, the Legislature wrapped up congressional redistricting legislation by overriding Nixon's veto and enacting a map that merges two Democratic congressmen into the same St. Louis district to consolidate Missouri's nine current congressional districts into eight.

However, legislative leaders said they still hope to approve additional economic development legislation.

Some Republicans also have set their sights on allowing drug tests for recipients of aid through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program if the state suspects they are using illegal drugs. The legislation has cleared both chambers, and lawmakers must decide to accept one of the versions or negotiate over the differences.

Abortion legislation focuses on late-term procedures and would remove the exception to Missouri's law banning the abortion of viable fetuses unless it is "necessary to preserve the life or health of the woman."

Instead, the measure would allow abortions of viable fetuses only when the woman's life is endangered or when a continued pregnancy would pose a "substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function" of the woman.

According to the state health department, of the 6,881 abortions performed in Missouri in 2009, 63 were on fetuses at least 21 weeks old and none were reported as being viable.

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