April 24, 2014

Advocates rally opposition to exclusion of bicycling from transportation tax proposal

The Executive Director of the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation says a move to keep proceeds from a proposed transportation sales tax from going to bicycle paths was a “total blindside.”

During House debate of the proposed constitutional amendment, an amendment was offered that in part would pull the word “bicycle” from the forms of transportation the tax money could support.

Executive Director Brent Hugh says in meetings throughout the state Missourians have supported a comprehensive approach to transportation infrastructure improvements, including for bicycles.

He says the need for more transportation money in Missouri is clear and his group has been a part of a multi-year process to develop the transportation tax proposal.

“It’s like a punch to the gut,” says Hugh of the amendment, offered by Representative Paul Curtman (R-Pacific). He says it sends a message to his group of, “‘Well thanks for helping us all through here but now, you know, see ya.’”

Curtman says he doesn’t want language in the state Constitution that would allow Missouri tax dollars to support bicycle infrastructure.

The amendment earned rebuke from lawmakers who said pulling the word “bicycle” from the tax proposal would seal its defeat. Many legislators say roughly 40 percent of voters are expected to be opposed to any tax increase proposal, and losing the support of alternative transportation backers would cost enough votes to spell certain failure.

Representative Chris Kelly (D-Columbia) says the mounting of opposition by bicycle supporters started almost immediately.

“Monday is bike day at the Capitol,” notes Kelly, referring to the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation’s lobbying day. Support for bicycling in the transportation funding plan is one of the issues participants are urged to ask lawmakers to support during the day. A statement from the Federation is also urging citizens to contact representatives and voice opinions on social media about the issue.

See the other issue bicycle lobbiers are being asked to speak against to lawmakers

Kelly says he is only “barely supportive” of the transportation tax proposal, but he doesn’t like what he calls a “sneak attack” on bicycles.

“I don’t like that as the method,” says Kelly of Curtman’s amendment, “and I also don’t like the public policy of taking alternative transportation out of the package.”

Kelly offered a motion to divide Curtman’s amendment into two pieces so that lawmakers could vote on them separately. Debate of the transportation tax was then suspended, leaving the issue to be settled when it is taken back up. Majority Floor Leader John Diehl (R-Town and Country) says that will happen Tuesday.

Criminal code rewrite drafters respond to Gov. Nixon’s size concerns

Lawmakers that have been working on the rewrite of Missouri’s criminal code for years say this is still the year to get it passed, despite the reservations expressed by Governor Jay Nixon (D) about its size.

Senator Jolie Justus (courtesy; Missouri Senate Communications)

Senator Jolie Justus (courtesy; Missouri Senate Communications)

Nixon has suggested that the rewrite – currently more than 1,000 pages in length in the House version and down to about 700 pages in a Senate version revamped during the legislative spring break – be broken into sections and passed rather than one bill.  The Governor is reportedly concerned that in a bill that size, mistakes could be made. 

Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey (R-St. Charles) has said he will not bring up the bill in that chamber until all parties decide how to proceed.

Senator Jolie Justus (D-Kansas City) says it’s frustrating for the Governor to raise this concern now.

“We’re always frustrated when we hear about any problem with a bill this late in,” says Justus. “I think that we have said for the last three years now that the biggest issue with this bill is its size. We are continuing to work with our fellow colleagues, we are continuing to have conversations with the Governor’s office about the nature of the bill, what’s in it, what’s not in it, and how we can get to a path to getting it passed because this is the year to get it done and we intend to do that.”

Representative Stanley Cox (R-Sedalia) says separating the issue out into several smaller bills would kill the proposal.

Representative Stanley Cox (courtesy; Missouri House Communications)

Representative Stanley Cox (courtesy; Missouri House Communications)

“There is no practical way of breaking it into sections,” says Cox. “It was essentially a five-year process … and three years actually it’s been filed in the Missouri General Assembly … and it was never designed to be broken into several pieces.”

Justus, however, doesn’t rule out taking the Governor’s suggestion.

“That is going to be a difficult row, but I never say, ‘never,’ on anything. We are looking at all options.”

The legislature could pass the rewrite legislation and if the Governor vetoes it, attempt to override the veto, but Cox doesn’t believe it would play out that way.

“It’s pretty hard to believe the Governor would veto legislation that not only has previously been vetted to such a high degree but also has built-in safety nets all over the place,” says Cox.

Senator Bob Dixon (courtesy; Missouri Senate Communications)

Senator Bob Dixon (courtesy; Missouri Senate Communications)

The “safety nets” Cox refers to include the effective date of the legislation, which lawmakers plan to push back to January 1, 2017. The Missouri Supreme Court’s Standing Committee on Criminal Procedure will review the bill after passage.

Cox notes Governor Nixon will also have time for the lawyers that work for him to review the bill after its passage. 

“He’s got what I would consider a rather large law firm,” says Cox.  ”That’s what lawyers are paid to do, is look through complicated things and say if they’re good or bad, and the Governor is better capable of doing that than almost anybody I know.”

“I think we’ve addressed every concern that’s been raised substantively,” says Senator Bob Dixon (R-Springfield).

“What we are doing is saying that we are standing here ready, willing and able to negotiate, talk, do whatever we need to move this idea forward,” says Justus. “The time has come. In order for us to have an effective, responsible, safe criminal justice system, we need to get this done.”

“It’s great to accomodate the Governor if we can,” says Cox, “but my inclination is to take the code – what we have vetted in both legislative bodies – and try to pass it and deal with it that way.”

Another state lawmaker who has spent a great deal of time and effort on the criminal code is Representative Chris Kelly (D-Columbia), who offered an open letter to fellow legislators about the Governor’s position.  See the story on that letter for what he had to say.

Rep. Kelly open letter to colleagues on reported position of Gov. Nixon on criminal code

Representative Chris Kelly (D-Columbia) has issued an open letter to fellow lawmakers regarding Governor Jay Nixon’s (D) reported position that he would veto the legislation moving through the legislature that would rewrite Missouri’s criminal code.

A Nixon spokesperson has reportedly said due to the size of the bill and the possibility that it includes mistakes, he would rather see it broken up into a series of bills and would not sign the current package, that has ranged between 700 and around 1000 pages at times through its development. 

“Reasonable caution in Governors and Legislators-even legislators who are running for statewide office-is prudent,” writes Kelly, “We should not, however, allow political timidity to derail the passage of this long overdue, thoroughly vetted, and vital legislative reform.”

See Kelly’s letter

Kelly says in his letter committees and subcommittees in both chambers held numerous work sessions and hearings on the issue. The state Supreme Court has agreed to have its Standing Committee on Criminal Procedure review the bill after passage, and the bill has been drafted with a delayed effective date of January 1, 2016 that Kelly says he will propose pushing back a year. Altogether Kelly says the bill would be studied by the Supreme Court and the Governor and the legislature will have at least four chances to fix errors.

Kelly writes, “During my eighteen years in the General Assembly I have seen many long and complex bills but I have never seen one with this degree of initial vetting and post passage review. Mistakes are always possible but in this case the General Assembly and the Missouri Bar and Bench have done all that is reasonably possible to provide comfort to even the most timid politicians.

‘Little tobacco’ squares off vs. Attorney General’s office, ‘big’ counterparts in hearing

Those pushing for and against passage of a law that would make small tobacco companies pay more into an escrow account have made their cases to the House Budget Committee.

The escrow account was created for tobacco companies not participating in the Tobacco Master Settlement to pay into, and they would get their money back after 25 years. How much they paid into it was based on their sales compared to the national tobacco market.

Due to what Representative Chris Kelly (D-Columbia) calls a “very complex formula,” those companies were able to take back out most of the money paid into escrow.

The bill, HB 1242 would change that formula. It is sponsored by House Budget Committee Chairman Rick Stream (R-Kirkwood).

Andy Arnold, a lobbyist for U-Gas, Inc., tells the committee the legislation would cause small tobacco companies’ per-carton fees to the State of Missouri to increase from 14-cents to $6, while the fees paid by big tobacco companies would remain 14-cents per carton.

Kelly is a co-sponsor. He notes that the lack of money in that escrow fund is part of what a 3-judge panel cited as Missouri’s poor past enforcement of tobacco laws that has caused it to lose $70-million of its $120-million tobacco settlement payment that comes next month.

“Much of which or all of which we would not have lost had we passed this legislation,” says Kelly. “Tobacco companies settled with other states whose position was similar to ours for 43-cents on the dollar.”

Lobbyist Chuck Hatfield representing Cheyenne Cigarettes says the arbitration panel that made the decision to pull part of Missouri’s 2014 payment for poor enforcement in 2003 said that Missouri is not required to pass such legislation as part of tobacco law enforcement. He says there were eight factors that played into the decision, that would be important in future arbitrations.

Hatfield says one of those reasons is that Missouri came in last in its collection rate in 2003.

“24 percent collection rate on cigarettes,” says Hatfield. “Dead last because the Attorney General’s Office did not file lawsuits and because they did not properly communicate with the Department of Revenue.”

Another of the opponents of the bill is the Missouri Petroleum Marketers & Convenience Stores Association.

“One of the things that you need to understand,” its lobbyist Ron Leone tells the committee, “Six states lost arbitration. Five of them passed the law that’s in front of you today.”

Leone and representatives of small tobacco companies argue that the formula was intentionally designed to have companies not participating in the Master Tobacco Settlement pay less than big tobacco companies, and the bill is an effort by big tobacco companies to undo that.

Steve Carroll, representing tobacco company Excalibur, tells lawmakers, “You’ve got some corporations coming before you … that committed perjury before Congress, lied to Congress, ended up in a settlement, and are paying damages for that tort that they committed. As I view it they’re trying to shift those damages and that tort to my client, which has done nothing wrong, has always abided by the law, we’ve always been in compliance with state law. We weren’t even in existence at the time (of the settlement).”

The General Counsel for the Attorney General’s Office, Joan Gummels, dismisses the argument that the 1999 law was intended to be drafted the way it was passed. She asked lawmakers to consider two points on that matter.

“One is just the irrationality of having someone deposit a large amount of money only to refund them 97 percent of it,” says Gummels. “The second, and I think really compelling point on this is why have 45 of the 46 states that signed the agreement closed this loophole?”

No vote has been taken on the legislation.  Next week is the legislative spring break and the House will take up the budget when it returns the week after.  Stream says he wants lawmakers to have time to process what they heard in the hearing and says another hearing might be held before a vote is held on the bill.

Parents, officer organizations speak for and against marijuana legalization bill (AUDIO)

The sponsor of a bill that would legalize the possession and growing of limited amounts of marijuana says it would end what he considers “inefficient and ineffective policing” that detracts from “rational law enforcement.

Representative Chris Kelly (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Chris Kelly (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Chris Kelly (D-Columbia) tells the House Committee on Crime Prevention and Public Safety, he once opposed the legalization of marijuana. He says it was during his time as a Boone County Associate Circuit Judge that he began to change his mind.

“I changed kind of gradually,” says Kelly. “I saw too many young people whose lives were ruined by convictions for small amounts of marijuana.”

Kelly’s bill would make legal the possession of up to a pound of usable or solid marijuana and up to 72 ounces of marijuana in liquid form. It would create a system for licensing growers and retailers and for taxing the sale of pot, while exempting those who grow their own in limited amounts.

It is the by-products that interested some parents who testified, including Heidi Rayl. She tells the committee Kelly’s bill would allow her to make a compound to treat her son, Zayden.

“He’s four years old and has a genetic condition that is very rare called MCSZ,” Rayl testified. She says the disorder has many symptoms, the most severe of which is intractable epilepsy. “I look at my son’s suffering and it breaks my heart that I can’t fix it. I can’t fix his boo-boo.”

Three law enforcement officer associations testified against the proposal.

Jason Grellner with the Missouri Narcotics Officers Association tells a House Committee the state should proceed slowly with the pursuit of medical applications of marijuana.

He argues one of the unforseen consequences of marijuana legalization in other states has involved children getting a hold of products made with THC, the primary psychoactive agent in marijuana.

“When we have individuals that are making brownies, carrot cake, cookies, peanut butter, granola bars, ice cream … how’s a child supposed to know the difference between a brownie that isn’t infused with THC and one that is?” Grellner asks the committee. “You have marketing of ring pops, of marijuana and THC-infused sodas with pictures of horses and apes.”

Michael Halford with the Troopers’ Association shares the concern that because legalization would make marijuana more available, it would result in more children getting their hands on it.

Halford asks the committee to consider, “We’ve failed the children in keeping alcohol and tobacco out of their hands. How are we going to actually keep marijuana out of their hands?”

The committee has not held a vote on the proposal.

LISTEN TO Rep. Chris Kelly present his legislation and field questions, 11:44