REPUBLICANS VOTE TO ELIMINATE HEALTH CARE FOR BLIND
With the unanimous support of its Republican members, the House Health, Mental Health and Social Services Committee on Feb. 16 voted to cut about $65 million from various social services programs, including $28 million for health care coverage for the blind Missourians. The committee’s Democrats unanimously opposed the cuts.
Committee Chairman Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage, offered the budget-cutting amendment without informing the rest of the committee what it would do. Flanigan refused explain the amendment or allow any discussion and immediately brought the matter to a vote. In addition to eliminating health care coverage for the blind, Flanigan’s amendment also stripped $12 million in spending for child care subsidies and made cuts to numerous smaller programs, including services for rape victims.
Advocates for the blind converged on the Capitol the week following the committee’s action to urge lawmakers to restore the cuts. Flanigan said the savings would be used to avoid cuts to Missouri’s public colleges and universities, which are facing a $65.9 million reduction in their state appropriations under Gov. Jay Nixon’s proposed budget. Opponents of the committee’s action say stripping the blind and other vulnerable groups of vital services is the wrong way to fund colleges and universities.
PANEL ADOPTS TENTATIVE SENATE REDISTRICTING PLAN
After a marathon meeting that ended in the early hours of Feb. 23, the Senate Apportionment Commission voted 8-2 in favor of a tentative redistricting plan for the Missouri’s 34 state Senate seats. The commission consists of equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans. One commissioner from each party voted against the plan.
The commission must now wait at least 15 days to accept public comment on the proposal before voting on a final plan. If a final plan is adopted, it will be used to elect senators for the next 10 years beginning with the 2012 election cycle.
This is the second round of Senate redistricting following the results of the 2010 U.S. Census. A previous partisan commission failed to reach an agreement last year so, under the Missouri Constitution, the job passed to another commission made up of six judges of the state Court of Appeals. The appellate commission submitted a Senate redistricting plan in November, but withdrew it in December amid complaints that the plan violated the constitution’s general prohibition against splitting counties among Senate districts. The appellate commission then submitted a revised plan that fixed some, but not all, of the unconstitutional county splits.
The Missouri Supreme Court in January ruled the first appellate commission plan unconstitutional and said the panel had no authority to submit its revised plan. The high court’s action caused the constitutional redistricting process to begin from scratch with the appointment of a new partisan commission.
TRIAL JUDGE STRIKES DOWN TECHNOLOGY INCENTIVES
Cole County Circuit Judge Dan Green on Feb. 20 ruled unconstitutional on technical grounds a 2011 law granting state incentives intended to encourage research and technology companies to locate in Missouri. The bill, which the General Assembly passed during a special legislative session in October, created the Missouri Science and Innovation Reinvestment Act.
In enacting MOSIRA, lawmakers included a contingency clause stating that the bill could only take effect if the governor also signed into law separate job creation and tax credit reform legislation that had been the primary purpose of the special session. That legislation, however, did not pass. Because courts in the past have ruled similar legislative contingency clauses unenforceable, Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration proceeded to implement MOSIRA anyway after he signed it into law, which prompted anti-abortion groups that opposed the bill to file suit.
Green did indeed rule the contingency clause unconstitutional, as the administration had hoped. However, instead of severing the offending provision and preserving the rest of the measure, which is the remedy courts often choose, Green concluded that the General Assembly wouldn’t have passed the bill without the contingency clause and invalidated the entire legislation. Attorney General Chris Koster plans to appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court. The case is Missouri Roundtable for Life v. State of Missouri.
HOUSE ENDORSES ENGLISH-ONLY DRIVER’S LICENSE TESTS
The House of Representatives on Feb. 23 voted 93-63 in favor of legislation that would prohibit the state from offering driver’s license exams in languages other than English. The state currently offers written tests in 11 languages. The bill, HB 1186, now goes to the Senate for further consideration.
The insurance industry opposes the legislation, which it says will make it harder for non-native English speakers to obtain a license, thus increasing the number of unlicensed and uninsured motorists on Missouri roadways. The Missouri State Highway Patrol has said the bill would not enhance driver safety since most road signs are based on internationally recognized symbols. Other opponents have simply labeled the legislation as a xenophobic effort to punish legal immigrants with no legitimate public policy purpose.
Supporters of the bill said people who want to get Missouri driver’s license should be proficient in the state’s dominant language is order to better assimilate.
HOUSE APPROVES MODIFIYING LEGISLATIVE TERM LIMITS
The House of Representatives on Feb. 23 voted 98-55 in favor of a proposed constitutional amendment that would modify term limits for state lawmakers. If the Senate also approves the measure, it would go on the November statewide ballot for voter ratification.
Under the Missouri Constitution’s existing term limits provision, lawmakers typically are restricted to a total of 16 years of legislative service but no more than eight years each in the House and Senate. HJR 41, sponsored by state Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, would retain the existing 16-year overall limit but allow lawmakers to serve it in any combination between the two chambers.
SENATORS COULD THROW CANDIDATE FILING INTO CHAOS
A few Republican senators who are upset over a tentative new Senate redistricting plan are threatening to throw the state’s candidate filing period into chaos by refusing to allow a final vote on legislation that would delay the opening of filing for the August primaries. Under existing law, candidate filing is scheduled to begin on Feb. 28, but Senate districts have yet to be finalized and court challenges to new congressional and state House of Representatives districts remain pending.
As originally passed by the Senate on Feb. 16, SB 773 would have delayed candidate filing by a month so that it would run from March 27 through April 24. If the House had passed the bill without changes, it immediately would have gone to the governor to be signed into law. The bill contains an emergency clause so it would become law immediately upon receiving Gov. Jay Nixon’s signature.
When the House took up the bill on Feb. 23, however, it made changes, including shortening the revised filing period to run from March 19 through March 30. As a result, another Senate vote is required for final passage. Although the Senate began debating the revised bill shortly after the House approved it on a vote of 147-4, Republican Sens. Jim Lembke of Lemay, Jane Cunningham of Chesterfield and Brian Nieves of Washington were filibustering it as of late in the afternoon in an expression of anger over the proposed Senate map.
To reflect population changes under the 2010 U.S. Census, state legislative and congressional districts were redrawn last year. The new Senate map, however, was ruled unconstitutional. A replacement map received tentative approval on Feb. 23 but still needs to be finalized. The Supreme Court heard arguments in a challenge to the new congressional map on Feb. 16 and is expected to rule at any time. A trial judge upheld the validity of the new House map on Feb. 14, but the Supreme Court will hear arguments in the appeal on Feb. 27.
If legislation delaying the filing period doesn’t pass before the scheduled opening of filing on Feb. 28, it will create numerous problems for election officials and candidates since there currently are no valid Senate districts and might not be valid congressional or state House districts in the near future, depending how the court cases play out.