Friday, May 29, 2015

Stacey Newman offers lowdown on dysfunctional House session

(From Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis)

NO ONE could have predicted the explosive end of this year's session and frankly, it seemed as if we were part of a reality television show.
Not only did the Speaker of the House resign his seat amidst drama involving a university student intern, the Senate took up only one bill after passing a "Right to Work" bill on Wednesday, May 13th.  Neither chamber went into session on Thursday May 14th and both adjourned early on Friday May 15th, before the constitutionally mandated time of 6pm.
 The legislature essentially imploded on the very days when bills are usually in a hurried state to reach the governor's desk.
 This is YOUR legislature - not one that we should be proud of.
 With just two days left to go, Speaker John Diehl left the dais during session Wednesday morning May 13th as the Kansas City Star broke this story:
 "House Speaker John Diehl issued a statement Wednesday apologizing and seeking forgiveness for exchanging sexually charged messages with a college freshman who worked as an intern in the state Capitol." 
The statement came Wednesday afternoon as he barricaded himself in the Speakers office, not leaving until about 11pm as media presence from around the state camped outside his office. The following day he released an additional statement containing his full resignation - the 7th time in Missouri history that a House Speaker has resigned.  
 We adjourned early Wednesday afternoon and almost all of Thursday.  Shortly after his resignation announcement Thursday afternoon, photos were released on social media showing John Diehl apparently celebrating at a local Jefferson City bar with his GOP state representative colleagues and lobbyists - which had many of us scratching our heads. 
 All floor activity came to a halt in the House until May 15th, the last day of session, when the new Speaker, Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) was officially elected and we finally went back to work before adjourning 20 minutes early.
 For different reasons, debate in the Senate also came to an abrupt halt after a rare "previous question" motion ended the filibuster Tuesday May 12th on HB 116, referred to as "Right to Work" legislation.
 The bill went to the governor's desk with final votes of 21-13 in the Senate and 92-66-2 in the House.  Although the PQ move is extremely common in the House, it is rarely executed in the Senate, which normally cherishes its tradition of unlimited debate. The action sparked acrimony in the Senate, which essentially shut down for the remainder of the week.  However, neither chamber is expected to be able to override a likely governor's veto on the bill.
 *MEDICAID EXPANSION?  NO -  leaving another $2 billion on the table that should be pumped into Missouri’s economy to create jobs, protect local hospitals and expand health care access for more than 300,000 Missourians
 *PUNISHING MISSOURI'S POOR?  YES -  primarily children, by removing many who currently receive federally funded food stamp benefits.
 *ELIMINATING INSTITUTIONAL INJUSTICE as highlighted by last year's events in Ferguson?  NO.
 *ETHICS REFORMS which the session proved once again are badly needed? NO.
 HB122, which would expand our current Castle Doctrine statute (allowing any persons in any home to shoot & ask questions later) had the most traction late in session.  It passed the House the end of April and then was successfully amended onto SB199 on the last day of session.  However the Senate adjourned early preventing a final vote.  We predict this bill will be refiled next session with similiar energy.
 My bills -  Universal Background Checks (HB347); Domestic Violence Firearm restrictions (HB418) and School Security Threat Protections (HB346) were referred to a committee by the Speaker on the very LAST day of session - preventing any traction.
 HB190, requiring annual inspections of Missouri's only Planned Parenthood surgical center, made it to the Senate but was not brought up for debate.  Other bills such as requiring two parent consent for minors seeking an abortion, criminalizing a pregnant woman for use of narcotics and banning abortion for sex selection and genetic abnormalities never made it to the House floor for debate.
 My bills - Compassionate Assistance for Rapes (HB352), Employee Reproductive Health Nondiscrimination Act (HB354) and Requiring Pharmacies to Fill Contraception (HB350) were referred to a committee by the Speaker on the very LAST day of session - preventing any traction.
 HJR1 and HB30, requiring a state issued photo ID to vote, failed to come up for debate in the Senate the last week of session.  We still believe the majority party intends to place it on the 2016 ballot so we expect swift action next session.
 My bill allowing for Early Voting (HB345was referred to a committee by the Speaker on the very LAST day of session - preventing any traction.
 However my bill allowing domestic violence victims in the Missouri Safe at Home program to be able to vote by absentee ballot DID advance to the Governor's desk - as an amendment to SB34.  
TAX AMNESTY (HB 384): Establishes a temporary amnesty period from Sept. 1, 2015, through Nov. 30, 2015, during which taxpayers can pay delinquent state taxes with penalties, fees and interest being waived.  I VOTED YES.
 EATING DISORDERS (SB 145): Requires insurance companies to provide coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of eating disorders.  I VOTED YES.
 CHILD CARE REGULATIONS (SB 341): Requires all state licensed child care facilities to establish safe sleep polices for children under age 1 in accordance with American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations. Also requires all public, private and parochial child care facilities to notify parents if there are other children attending the facility who are not immunized. I VOTED YES.
 PAY HIKE REJECTION (HCR 4): Blocks two rounds of salary increases recommended by the State Salary Commission for statewide elected officials, legislators and judges from automatically taking effect on July 1, 2015, and July 1, 2016.  I VOTED NO BECAUSE OF THE RECOMMENDATION ON CERTAIN JUDGE PAY RAISES.
 CHARTER SCHOOL EXPANSION (HB 42): Authorizes the expansion of charter schools, which at present can operate only in the St. Louis and Kansas City school districts, to all districts in St. Louis County and all but three small districts in Jackson County.
The bill originally was intended to fix problems with the state law that allows students in unaccredited school districts to transfer to nearby accredited districts at their home districts expense, but it does little to address those problems.  I VOTED NO.
 RIGHT TO WORK (HB 116): Makes it a crime punishable by up to 15 days in jail and a $300 fine for companies to negotiate labor contracts that require workers as a condition of employment to pay dues for the union representation they receive.  I VOTED NO.
 UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS (HB 150): Establishes a sliding scale on the maximum weeks of unemployment benefits based on the statewide unemployment rate. The current maximum of 20 weeks would be provided only if the unemployment rate is 9 percent of higher, with maximum benefits dipping as low as 13 weeks if the unemployment rate is under 6 percent.  I VOTED NO.
Vetoed by the governor on May 2. House voted 109-53 in favor of override; Senate took no action.
 LOCAL CONTROL PRE-EMPTION (HB 722): Bans local governments from prohibiting the use of plastic bags by retailers or from establishing a local minimum wage.  I VOTED NO.
 FEDERAL FOOD STAMP ASSISTANCE (SB 24): Reduces the maximum time a family can receive benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program from 60 weeks to 45 weeks over a lifetime, which will cause about 9,500 current recipients – including 6,300 children – to lose their benefits early when the new, lower limit takes effect on Jan. 1. Vetoed by the governor on April; veto overridden on May 5.  I VOTED NO.
 MEDICAL MALPRACTICE CAPS (SB 239): Imposes a $400,000 cap on non-economic demages for personal injury and a $700,000 cap on non-economic damages for catastrophic personal injury in medical malpractice cases.  I VOTED NO.

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