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Legislators resurrect restrictions on minimum wage, scholarships, unemployment aid

Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, and House Speaker Todd Richardson talk during the veto session.
Tim Bomel | Missouri House

After hours of Senate debate, the Missouri General Assembly ended its annual veto session by barring local communities from increasing their minimum wage or banning plastic bags.

Legislators also have overridden Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a bill that would restrict Missouri’s A+ scholarship program to U.S. citizens and immigrants with permanent-residency status. 

Teens and young adults would no longer qualify if they are “undocumented immigrants” because they illegally came to the United States as children.

The two measures are among 10 vetoed bills that were resurrected Wednesday when the General Assembly voted to override the governor.

But one of the overrides, of a bill that cuts the state’s unemployment benefits, may end up in court because the Senate acted Wednesday – months after the Missouri House held its successful override vote. Nixon contends the delayed Senate action violates the state’s constitution. Republican legislative leaders disagree.

Some dissident legislators also predict a court fight over HB722, the bill restricting local governments when it comes to curbing plastic bags or hiking the minimum wage. Such a suit would likely center on the fact that plastic bags and wages are unrelated matters, a reason the state Supreme Court has tossed out previous bills.

The Senate voted 23-9 to override the governor’s veto of that local control measure; earlier Wednesday,  the House voted 114-46.

House, Senate leaders laud overrides

For all the General Assembly’s override successes, arguably most of Wednesday’s attention centered on its highest-profile defeat.  Lawmakers failed to override Nixon’s veto of a bill that would have curbed union rights by making Missouri a “right to work’’ state.  The measure was killed when the House fell 13 votes short.

House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, told reporters later that he expects the “right to work’’ issue to come up again in the next legislative session.  But overall, Richardson said he was pleased with how Wednesday’s veto session played out.

New Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, singled out the resurrection of the bill restricting local governments' actions. "These cities cannot have a different minimum wage and we had to reinforce that, since cities are ignoring that,'' Richard said. He was referring to St. Louis and Kansas City, which have approved bills to raise their minimum wages over the next few years.

Republican leaders emphasize that Nixon, a Democrat, now has had more vetoes overridden during his tenure than any other Missouri governor in modern times.

Cuts in unemployment, scholarship aid could be soon

Missouri now allows up to 20 weeks in unemployment benefits, which already is among the lowest in the nation. The Senate’s action  resurrects HB150, which cuts those benefits to 13 weeks when Missouri’s unemployment rate is below 6 percent.  The state’s most recent figure, for July, had unemployment at 5.8 percent.

Some of Wednesday’s most emotional debate, and reaction, centered on SB224, the measure restricting the state’s A+ scholarship program.

State Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, was among the advocates who said they had no choice because the scholarship’s money was tight.  Opponents contended the cut will harm young undocumented immigrants, dubbed “Dreamers,” who should not be punished because they were brought into the United States illegally by their parents.

A pro-immigrant coalition -- Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates -- said it was “gravely disappointed” by the General Assembly’s actions. “As a result of today’s veto override, hundreds of lawfully present immigrant students around the state of Missouri will be denied a scholarship they have earned, and they will be denied solely because they are immigrants,” the group said.

Other veto overrides affect taxes, insurance

The General Assembly’s additional overrides on Wednesday include:

  • HB 618 – Expands the types of medical professionals who can attest to a cause of death, to include physicians’ assistants, assistant physicians and advance practice registered nurses.
  • HB1022 – Changes the state’s restrictions for insurance refund or rebate programs.
  • HB1098 – Changes the state’s financial requirements for out-of-state trust companies.
  • HB878 – Expands the arrest and property-seizure powers of private corporate security personnel.
  • SB20 – Exempts commercial laundries from paying sales or use taxes on materials and utilities.
  • SB142 – Requires the state Department of Resources to give the General Assembly an “impact implementation report” for actions required by the EPA under the federal Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act.
  • SB345 – Increases the fee that banks can change consumers for loans of 30 days or more, to a maximum of $100. Limit now is $75.

Jefferson City correspondent Marshall Griffin contributed information for this article.

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.

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