Legislature Languishing on Priority Bills
Ethics reform, tax credit reform, tougher DWI punishments, job creation legislation, and budget-cutting plans are languishing in the legislature, while a bill declaring March 21 "Girl Scouts' Day" made it to Gov. Jay Nixon's desk.
Ethics reform had bogged down until this week, when House Republicans pushed through a bill Democrats charged "hardly" had anything to do with ethics. Republicans shut down debate and forced a vote on the measure. No Democrat voted in favor, but the GOP still won the vote, 88-71."Last year, we exposed the seedy underbelly of Missouri politics.
Today, Mr. Speaker, we're going to fix it," Rep. Bryan Pratt, the second top Republican in the House, told fellow lawmakers. But the process "was a charade and a sham," said Rep. Paul LeVota, D-Independence. LeVota said the bill requires voters to carry identification and allows the lieutenant governor to sue on behalf of the state - something Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder has said he wants to do over the federal health care legislation.
Democrats say ethics reform is now dead. While there is still a week left to hash out differences, ethics joins plenty of other pre-session priorities with huge question marks. Gov. Jay Nixon pushed tax credit reform, but House Republicans, saying tax credits help the economy, vowed not to pass the plan. Nixon's plan to consolidate state government by combining the Water and Highway patrols and the secondary and higher education departments also faces opposition in the House.
With so much left to do, lawmakers quit and headed home early twice this week. Wednesday, the House adjourned at 2 p.m., with the Senate following at 4 p.m. Thursday, the Senate didn't make it to 12 p.m.
"I think that should be perceived as there may not be the political will to get the hard bills done," said Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County.
"Everybody always says we need to cut government, whether you're Democrat or Republican," said Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis County. "But once you want to cut, or once you want to consolidate, it seems nobody wants to do it."
The state's $23 billion budget is done, after lawmakers finished it a week ahead of time. But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle conceded legislation allowing $112 million more in cuts and revenue generation needed to balance the budget would not pass. If it doesn't, it will force Nixon to make more withholds, said Linda Luebbering, the governor's budget director. The budget bills, 13 in all, are about half of the measures the legislature has passed onto the governor.Lawmakers said this week there's still one more week left in the session, and that anything can happen. The House and Senate adjourn for the year Friday, May 14.