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Day 3 of Missouri legislature's last week: photo IDs, guns, adoption

Bill Greenblatt | UPI
The chambers of the Missouri House of Representatives.

Missouri voters will likely decide later this year whether to amend the state’s Constitution so that the General Assembly can require that all voters show a government-issued photo ID before casting a ballot.

The state House is expected to take final action today on the ballot proposal, called SJR53, after the Senate passed it late Wednesday by a vote of 24-8.  House approval is expected.

Gov. Jay Nixon has no voice in the proposed constitutional amendment, other than deciding whether it goes on the August or November statewide ballot.

The proposed amendment is part of two-pronged process that’s required before the photo ID requirement can be put into effect. Both chambers already have approved an implementation bill that’s now before Nixon. He rejected an earlier one in 2011.

Backers, mainly Republicans, have been trying for 10 years to put the photo ID requirement into effect. The Missouri Supreme Court in 2006 tossed out a similar legislative mandate, saying a constitutional amendment was needed.

Credit Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee's Summit, says voter photo ID will safeguard elections.

Supporters say a government-issued photo ID is needed to prevent fraud. “I think that this safeguards elections,” said state Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, who led the Senate push. “I think that we are actually disenfranchising everyone who votes correctly by allowing people to cheat.”

Opponents, primarily Democrats, note that there have been few cases of impersonation fraud and contend that the GOP’s real aim is to discourage the poor, minorities, students and the elderly. Those who are less likely to have a driver’s license or passport, the most common forms of government photo IDs, often are more likely to be members of Democratic-leaning blocs.

Senate Minority Leader Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis, accused GOP backers of using the proposal to energize their base. “The whole reason for doing it is turning out the conservative vote in November, if that’s where the governor decides to put it,” he said.

The proposed amendment and the implementation bill both promise to provide free government-issued photo IDs to people who don’t have or can’t afford a driver’s license or passport.

Democrats spent time earlier this session filibustering the implementation bill, but they backed off after Republicans substantially changed it. The bill before Nixon would allow people without a government-issued photo ID to cast a regular ballot if they sign a statement, under penalty of perjury, that they are who they say they are.

House OKs guns for professors

The Missouri House, meanwhile, spent Wednesday debating a variety of proposals. Arguably the hottest dealt with allowing college instructors to be armed.

Backers say the guns might be prevent tragedies, while opponents contended that firearms on campus are likely to cause them.

The House voted 101-48 for a bill that contains the gun provision. But that measure now goes to the Senate, which earlier had stripped a similar firearms proposal from two other bills.

The House also approved a variety of proposals that now go to the governor. Among them:

  • A provision, in a broader elections bill, that will require all candidates for any office to file their campaign-finance reports electronically with the Missouri Ethics Commission. Now, many local officials and candidates can simply file their reports with their local election board or county clerk;
  • A change in the state’s adoption law that will make the information in an adoptee’s birth certificate available to the adoptee, without going to court, unless the birth parent has signed a form stating otherwise. The adopted person must be 18 in order to obtain the information. 
  • A bill that allows people who are convicted of misdemeanors and non-violent felonies – with the exception of theft – to ask a judge to seal their records after seven years for a felony, and three years for a misdemeanor. They now must wait 20 years for a felony and 10 years for a misdemeanor.

Although the measure refers to the action as “expungement,’’ backers emphasized that the convictions would remain on the books so that prosecutors could still access them. But they would be closed to the public.
Meanwhile, the House voted Wednesday to reject a proposal to legalize the medical use of marijuana for patients with certain diseases, such as cancer, AIDS or epilepsy.

Backers submitted signatures by last Sunday’s deadline to ask voters later this year to approve a similar initiative-petition proposal to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.

Lobbyist gift ban in doubt

Legislation to bar lobbyists from giving gifts to state elected officials is in jeopardy in the Missouri Senate. 

House Bill 2166 has been stuck in the Senate for three months, after being approved by the lower chamber in late January.

An attempt was made Wednesday by Senator David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, to add campaign contribution limits to the bill, but his amendment was ruled out of order.

Another amendment dealing with 501(c)(4) committees was also ruled out of order.  Donations made to 501(c)(4) committees are commonly referred to as "dark money," as the names of donors are not made public.  The amendment, also offered by Pearce, would have forced disclosure of the names of donors who contribute $1,000 or more to a 501(c)(4) committee.

Supporters of the failed amendments then took the floor and showed signs of launching a filibuster, which resulted in HB 2166 being tabled.

Other senators have indicated their desire to tack on several other amendments, which could trigger more lengthy discussions and possibly run out the clock on the lobbyist gift ban.  Someone in the Senate chamber was overheard describing the scenario as "loving (the bill) to death."

The seersucker caucus in the missouri legislature May 11, 2016
Credit Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
The Seersucker Caucus poses for posterity.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.
Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.