April 25, 2015

Chamber applauds bill that redefines ‘misconduct’ becoming law

The state Chamber says a bill that will make it harder to get unemployment benefits will benefit both employees and employers.

The bill changes the definition of “misconduct” in relation to employment, so that it is harder for people to get unemployment benefits after doing things like violating an employer’s rules or even state standards that could get an employer in trouble.

Lawmakers backing the bill gave examples during debate including employees who urinated off of buildings or fell asleep on the job, yet were still able to draw benefits, and said the bill is needed to keep such things from happening again.

Vice President of Governmental Affairs with the Missouri Chamber, Tracy King, says fewer people getting benefits takes pressure off the unemployment trust fund.

“I think this is a common sense first step in what we need to do to try to shore up the unemployment trust fund and the system that’s out there,” says King, “so that it is out there for the people who truly need it.”

King says it was a series of compromises that led to Governor Jay Nixon (D) allowing the bill to become law this year, after vetoing similar legislation the past three years.

“There was some opposition with the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys last year. We worked with them on trying to compromise on this legislation, as well as the unions,” says King. “We felt like we found common ground.

She says the bill also includes language Governor Nixon wanted.

“The Governor vetoed a similar provision last year and in that veto message he stated that he needed some additional language in order for us to be in compliance with the U.S. Department of Labor. We included that this year.”

The bill takes effect August 28.

Gov. Nixon vetoes ‘extreme and disrespectful’ bill to lengthen abortion waits

Governor Jay Nixon (D) has vetoed legislation that would have tripled the waiting period for an abortion in Missouri.

Nixon called the legislation “extreme and disrespectful” for not including an exemption for women that have been the victim of rape or incest.

In a statement, Nixon said the bill “demonstrates a callous disregard for women who find themselves in horrific circumstances and would make Missouri just one of two states in the nation to take such an extreme step.

He adds, “Lengthening the already extensive waiting period serves no demonstrable purpose other than to create emotional and financial hardships for women who have undoubtedly already spent considerable time wrestling with perhaps the most difficult decision they may ever have to make.”

The Senate sponsor of the legislation, David Sater (R-Cassville), says he is disappointed with the veto.

Sater issued a statement saying abortion, “is an irreversible and permanent decision, and taking the time to think about the consequences is not unreasonable or a burden.

Sater says the law would not change the availability for victims of rape of medical treatment of contraception.

The legislation passed the House and Senate with majorities that would be great enough to overturn the Governor’s veto. Sater says, “I am confident my colleagues will again vote in (the September veto session) in support of life.”

Planned Parenthood issued a release praising Nixon’s action. Paula Gianino, President and CEO of the organization’s political arm in St. Louis, said, “Governor Nixon knows this bill would not help women. It would block access to safe, legal abortion and makes it more difficult for women to get the care they need.” The veto is also supported by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Missouri Democrat leader discusses focus on state legislative races (VIDEO)

The Missouri Democratic Party hopes to take some of the seats currently held by a large Republican majority in both chambers of the state legislature.

Chairman Roy Temple says there is a real opportunity for his party to make headway in those races. One issue that he thinks works in his party’s favor is Medicaid expansion.

“Medicaid is just a great example of where the current majority has worked around an ideological agenda instead of focusing on practical problem solving that would benefit Missouri families, Missouri communities and Missourians,” says Temple. “I think Medicaid is a great example of that but it’s not the only one.”

Several House Republicans have said they support some level of Medicaid expansion, perhaps coupled with reform. Temple thinks they’re only trying to defuse that as an issue in their races.

“They’ve come to realize that is a case that can be made against them, that they can be held accountable for their failure to act and for the harm that they’ve inflicted on Missourians in terms of healthcare,” says Temple.

He expects support from key, current Democratic office holders in state legislative races, and that includes support from Governor Jay Nixon (D).

“Governor Nixon clearly understands the harm that’s being inflicted by the current supermajorities in the General Assembly,” says Temple. “In fact there’s a fair argument that he understands it better than any other person in the State of Missouri because he has to deal with the consequences of their actions more directly than perhaps anyone else.”

Nixon has been criticized in the past for not coming to the aid of fellow Democrats in campaigns. Temple doesn’t comment on such critiques.

“I really have no interest in looking behind me or watching in the rear view mirror. I’m interested in looking forward,” says Temple. “We have an opportunity before us and I’m trying to marshal every available resource and every person who’s willing to assist us in that effort.”

Nixon vetoes ten bills he says would have hurt state, local budgets

Governor Jay Nixon (D) has vetoed ten tax cut bills that he says could have reduced state and local revenues by more than $776-million dollars.

Nixon called the bills “secret, sweetheart deals so that the well-connected can pay less, while asking all Missourians to pay more,” and said they reflect, “priorities that are dangerously out of whack.” He says they would “undermine local public services and flout the will of the voters by eroding revenues that support services like firefighters and cops, libraries and ambulance services, snow plows and health inspectors, public transit and road repair.”

Republicans say Nixon is wrong in his assessment of those tax cuts, and say they would have a positive net impact on the economy.

See Nixon’s statement along with his veto letters on each of the ten bills

Nixon says because the legislature might overturn his vetoes he will make adjustments to the budget in case these bills still become law.

“I’ve got to assume that even though I’m vetoing them that I have to deal with them budgetarily. I don’t have the luxury of closing my eyes,” says Nixon, “So the negative impacts of these are going to be felt in the next few months because of the action taken by the legislature. I can’t not account for them.”

Nixon encourages city and county governments, who he says also stand to lose money if those bills become law, to also make adjustments to their budgets to account for the possibility that his vetoes get overturned.

“They’ve got to balance their budgets. The budget starts on July 1. Taking hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars out of local, voter approved levies must be dealt with by mayors, city councils, county councils, ambulance districts, fire districts, all of those folks now,” says Nixon. “They’ve got, just like I do … hard decisions to make right now.”

Nixon doesn’t say what actions he will take with the budget in relation to the ten bills vetoed Wednesday. That could include withholding money appropriated to certain parts of the budget, or making restrictions to some lines that are contingent on his vetoes being sustained.

Lawmakers return to the Capitol in September to consider whether to attempt to overturn any of Nixon’s vetoes.

The bills vetoed Wednesday by Nixon are SB 693, SB 584, HB 1865, SB 612, SB 860, HB 1296, SB 727, SB 662 and HB 1455 and SB 829.

Child abuse issues to receive attention during legislative interim

A children’s advocacy group and at least one state lawmaker say the 2014 legislative session has been a positive one for fighting child abuse, but they expect more work in the interim.

Representative Bill Lant (R-Joplin) Photo courtesy:  Missouri House Communications.

Representative Bill Lant (R-Joplin) Photo courtesy: Missouri House Communications.

Awaiting action by Governor Jay Nixon (D) is a bill that would allow more time for the state Children’s Division to investigate reports of child abuse and allow for a review of differences in investigation processes. The legislature’s proposed budget also keeps Nixon’s proposal for additional money for that division to improve its efficiency and results.

Missouri Kids First Deputy Director Emily van Schenkhof says it was a good legislative session.

“When you identify any problem, sometimes you’ve just gotta do something,” says van Schenkhof. “You’ve got to try to make some changes and we’re going to be constantly adjusting those changes and asking for more and doing better, so this is really just the first step.”

The Joint Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect will hold a hearing tomorrow in the State Capitol.  Its vice-chairman, Representative Bill Lant (R-Pineville), expects hearings this summer to look at the Division’s career ladder for investigators, which was the target of a proposed 2.2-million dollar budget increase.

“What we’re wanting to look at is to see whether the money is going where it’s needed the most,” says Lant. “Or if we need additional allocations.”

Lant also anticipates the committee to spend time considering how investigators are trained, which was also a target for additional money in the proposed budget. Van Schenkhof says there are many questions there.

“What additional training do they need? What does high-quality training look like?” says van Schenkhof, who hopes for a collaborative discussion including state lawmakers, staff from the Children’s Division and others who deal with child abuse issues as a training program is designed.

Two years have expired among the six that were allotted to that joint committee. When Lant talks about the work that is yet to come, it is clear he expects to need more than the remaining four years.

“This needs to be a standing committee,” says Lant. “As far as oversight and investigation we need to complete as much as we can by the end of this next four years.”