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Fast start for Missouri lawmakers this year

Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio

Some Missouri lawmakers may want to quote the line from Top Gun: "I feel the need ... the need for speed."

It's a mere 2 1/2 weeks into the 2016 legislative session, and already the Missouri House has sent bills on ethics and voter photo ID over to the Senate. The Senate, in turn, has sent a bill to the House that would put new rules in place for expert witness testimony.

When it comes to ethics, one of the driving motivations is last year's embarrassing episodes that led to the resignations of former House Speaker John Diehl, R-Town and Country, and former Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence. So says Dave Robertson, political science professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

"Clearly the leaders in the House in particular, and also the Senate, want to get some of the ethics issues behind them and be able to say 'We've worked at reducing the problem,'" Robertson said.

Diehl stepped down during the final week of the 2015 session after admitting to exchanging sexually charged text messages with a college-age intern.

LeVota denied any wrongdoing after being accused of sexually harassing an intern, but resigned last August, stating, "I will not put my family, myself, or the Senate through the process of dealing with the veracity of false allegations and character assassination against me."

On Jan. 14, the House sent four bills to the Senate, including one that would require a one-year cooling off period before former lawmakers and statewide elected officials could begin working as lobbyists.

Meanwhile, GOP leaders in both chambers are moving quickly on requiring photo identification for voting because they believe they have the votes to get it through this year.

"It’s not just that they have a supermajority for such a requirement in the legislature, but that supermajority is liable to hold together in the face of a gubernatorial veto," Robertson said.  "This tends to be a really, really partisan issue, and I think this is one where partisans really band together."

The House on Thursday passed HJR 53, a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow for a photo voter ID requirement, along with HB 1631, the implementing bill containing the nuts and bolts of the requirement.

The Missouri Senate this week conducted a hearing on its version of a photo ID requirement for voting, but have not voted on it yet.

Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed a similar implementing bill five years ago and is expected to do so again. But Thursday's 114-39 House vote is more than enough to override a veto. The Senate would likely have enough votes as well.

The proposed constitutional amendment itself would bypass the governor's office and would be decided by Missouri voters.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.