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Missouri legislators have one week to act on a variety of issues

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 9, 2011 - With the Missouri General Assembly finished with this session's two mandatory tasks -- the state budget and congressional redistricting -- legislators are heading into the final week with the future of a lot of legislation hanging in the balance.

Among them are bills that would:

  • Move Missouri's 2012 presidential primary to a month later, into March;
  • Ask voters in 2012 to allow the General Assembly to require voters to show photo identification before being allowed to vote;
  • Give St. Louis local control of its police department, which has been under state control for 150 years;
  • Change the state's workers' compensation system;
  • Set up $360 million in tax breaks to encourage China to locate a cargo hub at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.
  • Require individuals on welfare to take drug tests;
  • Allow utilities to charge customers for some of the costs for a nuclear power plant before it's built and in operation. Missouri law now bars such charges.

The nuclear-power plant proposal had been considered dead but was resurrected last week when the Missouri House voted to add the provision to another bill. However, some consumer-protection groups oppose the provision, as do some state senators who earlier blocked the idea.
St. Louis' local-control effort, long a dream of city mayors, also appears stalled in the Senate. The proposal won approval of the Missouri House months ago. St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and the St. Louis Police Officers Association -- the chief opponent -- recently announced an agreement aimed at resolving some of the Senate's concerns.

But that deal's chief provision holds off local control until the police group has a collective bargaining agreement with the St. Louis Police Board. And some Republican state senators are not fans of collective bargaining for public employees, in general, and have indicated they may not make an exception for St. Louis' police.

The workers' compensation battle involves a number of elements, and it's unclear which -- if any -- will make it through the legislature by Friday. The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry reaffirmed last week that it hopes to get such a bill through by adjournment.

Some sort of drug-testing requirement for welfare recipients does appear likely to end up on Gov. Jay Nixon's desk. Both chambers have passed versions of the mandate and are haggling over the differences in the House and Senate versions.

The cargo-hub provision is part of a larger development bill. Disagreements between the House and Senate must be resolved this week.

The photo-identification requirement for voters is in a similar situation, with House and Senate conferees attempting to resolve differences. The mandate actually involves two bills: one to put the proposed constitutional amendment on the 2012 ballot, and the other to lay out how such a requirement would be implemented.

The state Senate also is expected to consider by today the measure seeking to move Missouri's primary. At issue are a number of provisions added by the state House.

The House version includes the so-called "birther amendment'' that would require that presidential candidates prove that they had been born in the United States before they can be placed on the state's primary ballot.The candidates would have to submit birth certificates to the Missouri secretary of state.

State Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, is part of the conference committee. He said that there are about 25 "small bills" tacked on to the primary bill. "We're going to determine to the (Senate) membership here what issues are really going to cause problems and take those off," Engler said.

Asked if the birth certificate requirement was a measure that might be removed, Engler said it was "highly unlikely to make it through the process."

"I think that's what you would consider controversial," Engler said. "And it may kill (the bill) by not having it on there because we have, I guess, some 'birthers' or whatever."

Still, Engler said he hoped the chief purpose of bill -- moving the state's primary to March -- would make it through the legislature. Both national political parties are imposing requirements that allow only four states -- Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina -- to hold their primaries in February. Those states that violate the rules would face penalties, including the possibility that their delegates wouldn't be seated for the presidential conventions.

At the moment, Missouri's presidential primary is still set for February 2012.

"It would be a shame for our people in Missouri to be taken out of the election process," Engler said. "Because in fact, if the parties do not seat our delegates and we do not have voting delegates ... then we've been effectively been taken out of the electoral process. You can go vote all you want, but if your delegates can't vote at the convention, it wouldn't do any good."

Because presidential-candidate filing is to begin late this year, advocates say action must be taken this week.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.
Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.