COGNRESSIONAL REDISTRICTING GOES BACK TO HIGH COURT
For the second time, Cole County Circuit Judge Dan Green on Feb. 3 upheld the validity of Missouri’s new congressional redistricting plan, prompting another appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court, which has already reversed Green once in the case. The high court has issued an order to expedite the proceedings.
Green originally dismissed the challenge in December, but the Supreme Court last month overturned that decision and remanded the case to Green for a trial on whether the redistricting plan, which the Republican-controlled General Assembly enacted in May over Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto, meets the Missouri Constitution’s requirement that districts are “as compact … as may be.” The court specifically instructed Green to pay particular attention to the oddly shaped Third and Fifth Districts. The new Third District stretches from the St. Louis suburbs to central Missouri, while the new Fifth District combines Kansas City and most of Jackson with three rural counties to the east.
In his latest ruling, however, Green made no specific findings regarding the Third or Fifth Districts and merely said the map as whole meets the constitutional compactness standard. Green’s failure to follow the Supreme Court’s directive is expected to be a key issue in the latest appeal. Candidate filing for the August congressional primaries is scheduled to begin on Feb. 28, but legislation has been filed in the Senate that would delay the start of candidate filing until March 27.
SENATE BLOCKS APPOINTMENT TO UM BOARD OF CURATORS
Craig Van Matre, the on-again-off-again member of the University of Missouri Board of Curators, is off the board for life after the Senate on Feb. 2 refused to allow a vote on his confirmation. Several Republican senators said they opposed the appointment because several years ago Van Matre, a Columbia attorney, wrote newspaper commentaries critical of GOP senators who were seeking to scuttle Missouri’s nonpartisan system for selecting state judges.
Gov. Jay Nixon originally nominated Van Matre, a Columbia attorney, to the governing board of the UM System in January 2011 but withdrew the nomination in May after the Republican-controlled Senate failed to act on it before the end of the 2011 legislative session. Nixon, a Democrat, reappointed Van Matre in June and because the Senate wasn’t in session, Van Matre was allowed to immediately take office under the state constitution. Nixon withdrew the appointment again in September when the Senate convened in special session and appointed him a third time once the session had ended.
With a Feb.3 deadline for action on the appointment, Nixon attempted to again withdraw the nomination after it was clear the Senate was going to block it, but the Senate wouldn’t allow him to do so. Under the Missouri Constitution, gubernatorial appointees who fail to receive Senate confirmation are ineligible to ever again be appointed to the same post.
HOUSE AND SENATE EACH PASS DISCRIMINATION BILLS
The Senate and House of Representatives have traded legislation to make it easier for employers to escape legal responsibility for engaging in workplace discrimination. The Senate passed its discrimination bill, SB 592, on Feb. 8, while the House followed suit and approved its version, HB 1219, on Feb. 9. The bills now switch chambers.
Both bills would substantially raised the legal bar for bringing claims of unlawful workplace discrimination based on race, gender, age disability or religion. For cases that still manage to make to court, the bills would severely limit the amount of damages victims could recover. Weakening Missouri’s workplace discrimination laws is a top priority for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the state’s other major business groups.
The Senate bill passed on a straight party-line vote of 25-8, with Republicans in support and Democrats opposed. In the House, Republicans had to cut off debate in order to bring the bill to a vote. The bill passed 89-68, with a handful of Republicans joining unanimous Democrats in opposition. Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed similar legislation last year and has indicated his intent to do so again this year.
NIXON PARES BACK PROPOSED HIGHER ED FUNDING CUT
Gov. Jay Nixon on Feb. 7 amended his proposed higher education budget for the upcoming fiscal year to restore about $40 million in funding he had previously suggested cutting. The money would come from Missouri’s expected share from a pending settlement of a national fraud lawsuit against the nation’s largest mortgage lenders.
When he released his original budget proposal for the 2013 fiscal year, which begins July 1, Nixon called for cutting the state’s public colleges and universities by 12.5 percent, or $105.9 million. Under the amended proposal, higher education institutions would take a 7.8 percent cut, or $65.9 million. The governor, however, can only recommend spending levels, and it is up to the General Assembly to determine the actual budget.
STATE REVENUE COLLECTIONS UP SLIGHTLY FOR YEAR
Year-to-date net state general revenue collections were up 1.3 percent through the first seven months of the 2013 fiscal year compared to the same period in FY 2012, going from $4.10 billion last year to $4.15 billion this year. Net collections increased 2 percent in January 2012 compared to January 2011, going from $645.3 million to $658.5 million.
HOUSE AGAIN PASSES UNCONSTITIONAL PHOTO VOTER ID BILL
In what has become an annual ritual, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives on Feb. 9 passed legislation that would require voters to show government-issued photo identification at the polls as a condition of ballot even though the Missouri Supreme Court in 2006 ruled that such a requirement violates the voting rights provision of the state constitution. The bill, HB 1104, was sent to the Senate on a straight party-line vote of 101-54, with Republicans in support and Democrats opposed, after Republicans cut off debate.
Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed a similar bill in 2011 and likely would do so again. The General Assembly last year approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would give lawmakers the authority to impose a photo voter ID requirement, but it doesn’t go on the statewide ballot until November. Until and unless Missouri voters ratify the amendment, a photo voter ID requirement remains unconstitutional and unenforceable in Missouri.
According to the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office, an estimated 250,000 legally registered Missouri voters don’t have a government-issued photo ID. Many those people, through no fault of their own, are unable to obtain a photo ID because the supporting documentation needed to get one, such as a birth certificate, can’t be located by state and county officials because the documents were lost or destroyed or, in the case of many elderly voters, never existed because of record-keeping standards decades ago were spotty in some areas of the state.
JUDGE SETS FEB. 14 FOR HOUSE REDISTRICTING DECISION
Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce has ordered all parties in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a new redistricting plan for the Missouri House of Representatives to submit written arguments by Feb. 10. She plans to issue a ruling on Feb. 14. A bipartisan group of plaintiffs, including one state representative from each party, is claiming the House redistricting plan drawn by a panel of six state appellate judges violates the Missouri Constitution’s requirement that districts be compact and contiguous.
Joyce cancelled a scheduled Feb. 3 hearing in the case after three Republican state representatives asked to intervene in support of the redistricting plan. In order to expedite the case, Joyce will try the matter based solely on written arguments. Whatever her decision, the case is expected to be appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court.