Missouri lawmakers start filing bills for 2012 session

Thursday, December 1, 2011 | 7:20 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri lawmakers on Thursday suggested shortening their annual legislative session and changing how voters elect governors and lieutenant governors.

Thursday was the first day lawmakers could begin submitting legislation for the 2012 session, and dozens of measures were filed in the House and Senate. Along with proposed constitutional amendments cutting the length of the legislative session and requiring candidates for governor and lieutenant governor to run on a single ticket, proposals included bills focused on payday loans and tax breaks to help residents construct storm shelters.

The storm shelter tax break would allow individual income tax deductions for the cost of building the shelters. Rep. Terry Swinger, who has sponsored similar legislation in previous years, said storm shelters can save lives, citing last May's deadly tornado in Joplin and a 2006 tornado in southeastern Missouri.

"By providing a tax break for storm shelter construction, more Missouri families will be able to protect themselves from severe and potentially deadly weather," Swinger, D-Caruthersville, said.

The Missouri legislative session starts Jan. 4 and ends in mid-May. Filing legislation early gives favored ideas a small head start.

In the Senate, proposals would have voters jointly choose a governor and lieutenant governor starting in 2016, creating a single ticket similar to the national vote for president and vice president. Missouri currently holds separate elections for each office, and the state's governor and lieutenant governor can be political rivals.

Sen. John Lamping proposed a constitutional amendment to cut several weeks out of Missouri's annual legislative session starting in 2015. Instead of ending in mid-May, lawmakers would adjourn in late March. The shorter session would require approval from voters.

"If we reduce the legislative session by six weeks, it will not only save taxpayers money by lessening the per diem amount that is paid to legislators, but hopefully doing so will also encourage other individuals interested in state government to run for office and serve the public," Lamping, R-St. Louis County, said.

Another measure proposed by Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, would bar state officials from creating a "state-based health benefit exchange" without approval from lawmakers or voters.

This fall, Missouri insurance officials backed off plans to spend federal money to start preparing for a state-run "health insurance exchange" that would allow people to shop for insurance policies through an online marketplace. The federal health care law gives states until 2014 to set up an insurance exchange or have their online marketplace run for them by the federal government.

Several senators have said they preferred that Missouri not use the federal money and wait to determine if the federal government follows through on the law to set up its own system.

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