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Missouri Chamber rates state legislators; GOP fares far better

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 22, 2013: While the Missouri Chamber of Commerce prepares its priorities for the coming 2014 legislative session that begins in January, it’s also making clear where the General Assembly’s 163 members of the House and 34 members of the state Senate stand when it comes to their votes this year.

On Monday, the chamber sent out its ratings of all the legislators, based on their votes this session on bills important to the state’s largest business group.

The votes used for the ratings include the proposed tax-cut bill, House Bill 253, vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon and which the House failed to override in September by 15 votes.

Other votes used in the scoring included:

  • The successful override of another vetoed bill, HB 339, which bars uninsured motorists from collecting noneconomic damages from an insured driver in the case of an accident;
  • The House’s narrow failure to override Nixon’s veto of HB 611, a bill that would made it more difficult for fired employees to collect unemployment benefits by changing the definition of eligibility for benefits.
  • The General Assembly's approval of Senate Bill 29, also vetoed by Nixon, which would have required public employee unions to obtain annual approval of members to deduct union dues from their pay and to obtain individual approval before spending any money on political activities.

The bills used for the ratings did not include HB 436, a vetoed measure that sought to bar enforcement of all federal gun laws. The Senate killed the attempted override.
Speaking in general, Chamber president Dan Mehan said that the selected votes – which amounted to several dozen – reflected the aim of the chamber members, who sought legislation they believed “will make them more competitive.”

“What we’d like to be seen as, is as a pretty common sense group that supports what is going to make Missouri better and to be respected for it,” Mehan added.

Only Republicans receive 'passing' grades

In the ratings, 73 legislators – all Republicans – received a score of 90 percent or above. Nine received a perfect score of 100 percent; none were from the St. Louis area.

Failing grades of below 70 percent were awarded to 77 legislators. That group included all the Democrats in the state House and Senate.

Mehan said the partisan divide wasn’t intentional and that there was no intent to show preference to Republicans. “We call it as we see it. You’re either with us or against us,’’ he said in an interview.

Later, Mehan added, "I wish we could get more bipartisan support for our agenda."

In fact, Mehan noted that the Missouri Chamber was at odds with Republican legislative leaders on two key issues: the proposed Medicaid expansion under the federal Affordable Care Act and the education curriculum proposal known as “Common Core.”

The state chamber backs the Medicaid expansion, he said, and supports Common Core.  The state’s GOP leaders have so far opposed the Medicaid expansion, and Republicans are split over Common Core.

Mehan said neither issue was used in the ratings because “there wasn’t a vote’’ on any bill dealing with either matter. The ratings are based on “roll call votes on the actual bills,’’ he emphasized.

Democrats said Tuesday there was, indeed, a vote on Medicaid and pointed to a House vote in March against including in the state's 2014 budget the federal money that Missouri would have received if it had agreed to expand the program.

The chamber's legislative priorities this year also had included passage of "right-to-work legislation that would have barred unions and employers from requiring that all workers pay dues if a majority votes to join a union.  The chambers did not vote on that issue.

As for next session’s Chamber priorities, “they’re in the works,’’ he said.

Mehan indicated the 2014 priorities may include bills that failed to become law this year and some issues – such as Medicaid expansion or right-to-work – that never got a floor vote.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.