The final week of Missouri's regular legislative session has arrived. The Republican-led General Assembly and Democratic Governor Jay Nixon are pushing to get several things accomplished before Friday. St. Louis Public Radio's Marshall Griffin tells us that the session, so far, has been one highlighted by partisanship and controversy.
Nixon vs. lawmakers, tax credit reform
Governor Nixon's personal visits with GOP lawmakers failed to persuade them to expand Medicaid, while relations have become borderline hostile over the Department of Revenue's document scanning controversy. Those recent conflicts could impact how much time is spent on numerous bills waiting to be passed before lawmakers adjourn for the year, including ones that would ban the scanning of source documents for driver's license applicants, and let voters decide on a sales tax to fund transportation needs. There's also been no compromise yet on a package of tax credits. Senate President Pro-tem Tom Dempsey (R, St. Charles) remains optimistic that an agreement can be reached.
"We’re not as close as I'd like, but I think we are getting closer," Dempsey told reporters. "My hope is that people kind of chew on the different ideas that we've talked about, (so) that we can get that one across the finish line."
Negotiations are focusing on tax credits for historic preservation, low-income housing, angel investors, and distressed areas land assemblage. House Majority Floor Leader John Diehl (R, Town and Country) says the climate between the two chambers over tax credit reform is much better now than it was two years ago.
"I think pretty clearly in the hallways, you can sense that there are not the bombs being thrown back and forth between the two chambers," Diehl said. "Anytime you have (an improved) environment, it does make for more productive discussions behind the scenes."
Second Injury Fund, "Liquor Wars"
While finally coming to terms on tax credits would be big, Dempsey used his Twitter account over the weekend to say it's not the Senate's top priority during the last five days of session. Instead, he says it's fixing the state's long-ailing Second Injury Fund, "so we can get that revenue stream going and take care of those thousands of injured workers for which there are no claims."
The proposed Second Injury Fund fix is being lumped in with a workers' compensation bill that would place all occupational disease claims within the workers' comp system. As evidence to just how important it is to the Senate, it was actually designated "Senate Bill One (SB1)" at the beginning of this year's session. Meanwhile, Ron Richard (R, Joplin), the Senate's Majority Floor Leader, says they'll make time for legislation addressing the way liquor is sold and marketed in Missouri.
"With a hundred-and-some votes in the House, I'm pretty much obliged to bring it up sometime mid-week," Richard said. "We'll see what happens, but there's a concerted effort by a number of people to kill it, so we'll see if they do, but I'm not gonna stay on it a long, long time."
Supporters of the liquor franchise measure say it'll restore a more stable relationship between wholesalers, distributors and retailers, while protecting Missouri companies from out-of-state competitors. Opponents say it'll grant a virtual monopoly to one distributor, St. Louis-based Major Brands. The bill has stalled in both chambers, but it was successfully added as an amendment onto a Senate bill (SB 114) that would allow home-brewed beer to be served at beer festivals.
Nixon wants a First Steps fix
Last year's liquor bill was vetoed by Governor Nixon, who has his own ideas about what he wants to see lawmakers accomplish this week. He wants them to find some other way to fund the First Steps program for developmentally disabled children. GOP leaders in both chambers made room for the program by voting to eliminate the seniors' "circuit breaker," which is a tax credit program for elderly renters.
"What they have done with the 'circuit breaker' is both irresponsible and unnecessary," Nixon said. "This is a legislature that decided to add to its budget $38 million to build a state office building for bureaucrats that I didn't ask for."
Nixon is leaning towards vetoing the bill that eliminates the senior renters' tax credit. That could change, though, if lawmakers come to an agreement on overall tax credit reform and send that bill to Governor Nixon at week's end.
The 2013 legislative session ends Friday at 6:00 p.m.