April 20, 2014

Legislature will try to get criminal code rewrite to Gov. Nixon next week

State lawmakers who have spent years crafting an update to Missouri’s system of criminal laws and punishments hope to send Governor Jay Nixon (D) a bill next week.

Representative Stanley Cox (courtesy; Missouri House Communications)

Representative Stanley Cox (courtesy; Missouri House Communications)

House and Senate versions of that rewrite were passed last week, and lawmakers in both chambers met this week to discuss differences between those versions and reach a compromise. They plan to attempt to make those changes to the Senate bill (SB 491) in a House committee, and get it through both chambers and to the Governor next week.

“We have a bill which is satisfactory to the sponsors in both houses,” says Representative Stanley Cox (R-Sedalia), the sponsor of the House legislation.

One of the major differences between the two versions dealt with penalties for first-time possession of small amounts of marijuana. The Senate version would eliminate jail time for possession of less than 35 grams of marijuana, while the House version would maintain the current penalty of up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Senator Jolie Justus (courtesy; Missouri Senate Communications)

Senator Jolie Justus (courtesy; Missouri Senate Communications)

Senator Jolie Justus (D-Kansas City) says the two sides struck a “tentative” compromise.

“We kept it so that if you have 35 or less grams of marijuana and it’s a first-time offense it’ll be a Class-A misdemeanor which is what it is now, but if you have 10 grams or less of marijuana and it’s a first-time offense then it will be moved to a Class-D misdemeanor, which is not going to be subject to jail time. It will be fine only.”

In response to concerns about the size of the legislation expressed by Governor Nixon, Senate lawmakers had removed some 400 pages that reclassified certain felonies and added a fifth level of felony offense. Justus says that will be restored.

“When we sat down and worked it out with the House members, frankly, we realized that cutting that out was kind of defeating the purpose of what we’d set out to do in the first place without really addressing the Governor’s issues,” says Justus.

The proposal will still come out smaller than the House’s more than 1000-page bill, though. Cox says that’s because those from his chamber agreed to remove language dealing with weapons penalties.

“There were lots of issues with that,” Cox says. “We thought it best not to try to address that. Some of it had to do with other legislation passing through the legislature this year.”

The bill still won’t be broken down into smaller pieces based on subject matter, which is what Nixon had indicated he wanted. Justus says lawmakers don’t feel that can be done.

Nixon says the size of the bill leaves too much room for error, and he dismisses legislators’ position that the bill will be vetted after passage by the Missouri Supreme Court and its effective date has been pushed back to 2017, to allow time for changes if necessary.

Justus and Cox both say if necessary, they think the legislature could overturn the Governor if he were to veto the bill.

“Obviously we’ll take a look at the veto message if there is one,” Justus says.

If the bill is sent to Nixon it would be the culmination of years of work for both lawmakers.

“The closer we get the more nervous I get,” Justus tells Missourinet, but adds she is confident the bill has been thoroughly vetted starting with its drafting by a Missouri Bar committee, followed by five years of committee work leading up to full chamber consideration.

Cox agrees. “I feel confident that we’ll get it done this year.”

House early voting proposal advances to Senate on bipartisan vote

A proposed constitutional amendment to set an early voting period has passed the House with bipartisan support, despite some Democrats decrying the measure as a “sham” and misleading to voters.

Representative Tony Dugger (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Tony Dugger (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

It would allow nine days of early voting excluding Sundays ending the week before federal and state elections beginning with the 2016 General Election.

Representative Stacey Newman (D-St. Louis) asks if the bill is only meant to be a counter proposal by Republicans to an initiative petition that if passed would allow early voting for six weeks and require accommodation of voters on Saturday and Sunday for three weeks before federal or state elections.

“The question that pops in my mind is why is the most popular day of voting across the country … a Sunday, why is that purposely excluded in this amendment?” Newman asks. “The very day that men and women of every stripe, of every profession, the day that most working voters have off.”

“I’m telling you beware,” Newman says, “this is political attempt once again to convince us that the majority party here actually cares about increasing access to voters.”

Of the claim that his legislation is a “sham,” Representative Tony Dugger (R-Hartville) says, “I don’t think so. I mean, it’s clear what I’m doing.”

Dugger says Sundays during the early voting window were exempted to preserve it as a day off for those who would have to work if early voting continued on that day.

“Sunday is basically a day for families to get together. A lot of people attend church on Sunday, get together for lunch,” Dugger tells Missourinet. “We would literally be forcing thousands of people to go to work on Sunday because you’re going to have to have the Secretary of State’s Office open, you’re going to have to have every election authority’s office open in the state plus every [early voting] center.”

The proposed amendment was passed 126-24. It moves on ot to the Senate.

Legislature sends $620-million tax cut proposal to Governor

The legislature has sent Governor Jay Nixon (D) a proposed $620-million a year cut to income taxes, and Republicans are considering whether enough votes to override a veto are in reach.

House Speaker Tim Jones signs SB 509, the proposed $620-million a year tax cut proposal.  (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Speaker Tim Jones signs SB 509, the proposed $620-million a year tax cut proposal. (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Nixon has 15 days to act on the bill (SB 509). He could sign it, allow it to become law with no action, or he could veto it as many Republicans anticipate he will. 

Nixon called an evening media conference shortly after the House vote and didn’t say he would veto the bill, but hinted at it.

“On its face,” Nixon told reporters, “this year’s reckless fiscal experiment looks an awful lot like last year’s reckless fiscal experiment.”

Nixon vetoed a tax cut proposal last year and 15 House Republicans voted with Democrats to sustain that veto.

104 lawmakers voted for the tax cut proposal Wednesday, with one Democrat siding with Republicans. 109 votes would be needed to overturn a veto and 7 lawmakers were not present for the vote.

Backers say the legislation would let Missourians keep more of their paychecks and that would lead to a stronger economy. Nixon and opponents say the reduction in state revenue threatens state programs and services, particularly education.

The timing of the passage means that if Nixon vetoes it, lawmakers could have a chance to attempt a veto override before the end of the session.

‘Flimsy’ Republicans join caucus leadership ahead of debate of income tax cut (VIDEO)

11 of the so-called “flimsy 15″ stood with House Republican Leaders in an apparent show of caucus solidarity ahead of debate, and likely a vote on, Senate tax cut legislation this afternoon. 

The House has taken up Senator Will Kraus’ (R-Lee’s Summit) legislation, SB 509, for possible passage to Governor Jay Nixon (D).  It would cut income taxes by one-half percent over several years beginning in 2017. The “flimsy 15″ was what a pro-business lobbying group called 15 Republicans who voted with Democrats last year to veto a proposed income tax cut.

 

One of the most vocal opponents of last year’s bill was Representative Nate Walker (R-Kirksville), who called that legislation “flawed” and said he had to do what was right for his constituents. Walker says he was not coerced to stand with his caucus’ leadership today.

“It was my choice to be there and I support [Kraus'] bill,” Walker tells Missourinet.

He says the lawmakers among that 15, 14 of which are still in the House, met after the veto session and talked to House Republican leadership about their concerns.

“I think this is a good step and I think we need to try this,” Walker says, “and I think the economy will benefit from it.”

“I know why they called us,” says Representative Mike Thomson (R-Maryville), another of the 15. “But we’re a part of the caucus. We always vote our district and our feelings.”

Thomson asks why similar attention hasn’t been paid to Republicans who voted against Right to Work last week in the House. “I don’t know why we were singled out on this to be quite honest.”

Senators say mixed messaging in transportation sales tax, income tax cut proposals

An opponent of asking voters to support transportation with a one-cent sales tax for ten years says it’s “illogical” coming from lawmakers who also want to cut taxes.

Senator John Lamping

Senator John Lamping

Legislative budget estimates are that the proposed ten-year tax would generate about $720-million annually. Senator John Lamping (R-St. Louis) noted in a Senate Transportation Committee hearing Wednesday that members of the Republican majority in both chambers are pursuing major tax cuts.

“The $600-million to $900-million that we have agreed to remove from General Revenue … that’s the funding source. That could serve as potential funding source for roads,” Lamping tells the House sponsor of the proposal, Representative Dave Hinson (R-St. Clair). Lamping says that contradicts the argument that the state doesn’t have the money to fund roads.

Hinson argues that a legislature can’t be counted on to fund transportation out of General Revenue.

“Ask the school districts and the veterans how that’s working out for them, the promises that the General Assembly has made in the past,” Hinson tells Lamping. “We’re not fully funding veterans programs, we’re not fully funding the school foundation formula.”

Lamping argues that his proposal to permanently redirect a half-percent of sales or use taxes to the state’s road fund is a way to ensure that transportation remains funded, even out of General Revenue. Opponents of his proposal say funding transportation from General Revenue risks inserting politics into transportation decisions.

Senator Jason Holsman

Senator Jason Holsman

Senator Jason Holsman (D-Kansas City) says he supports the transportation tax because of the projected funding shortfall for MODOT, but he also questions asking for that tax increase while Republican lawmakers push for a tax cut.

“My concern … is the perception and the messaging that we’re sending to the people,” says Holsman. “From a social science standpoint is it wise to reduce your revenues and then ask your voters to increase the burden on them?” he asks Hinson.

“Some people would probably agree with you that it’s probably not the wisest thing to do,” Hinson answers.

Lamping also questions whether $720-million would be enough to provide for maintaining Missouri’s current infrastructure and new projects. He notes projections that the Transportation Department’s budget could be as low as $350-million by 2017, and that maintaining roads cost about $700-million.

“Are they going to not repair the roads while they’re building these projects?” asks Lamping.

Hinson says he doesn’t know if the projects that would be seen would be considered new, rather than repair and maintenance. He points to projects such as those to widen shoulders and add rumble strips to lettered routes.

Hinson’s proposal cleared the House last week 96-53.