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Issues of the 1996 Legislative Session

January 04, 1996
By: Dana Coleman
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The havoc in the General Assembly concerning electing a House speaker isn't the only repeat of last year's legislative session.

Some of the hottest issues of the 1995 legislative session will be back this year:


As abortion opponents vowed last year after their efforts were vetoed by the governor, there'll be another legislative effort to pass a measure that would impose requirements on women seeking abortions.

Sen. John Schneider, D-St. Louis County, and Rep. Ron Auer, D-St. Louis, have sponsored bills that would require a woman to consult a "care giver" before having an abortion.

In vetoing last year's proposal, Gov. Mel Carnahan charged the bill would have "created mandatory government interference" into women's private lives.

After Carnahan's veto, some bill supporters had talked about drafting a compromise version.

But Lou DeFeo, lobbyist for the Missouri Catholic Conference which led last year's effort for the measure, said the bill basically is the same.


The campaign to give Missourians the right to carry hidden firearms will have a new legislative leader in 1996.

Last year, concealed weapons legislation had been personified by Sen. Harold Caskey, D-Butler.

But after suffering legislative defeat for the second year in a row, Caskey vowed last year he no longer would lead the legislative campaign.

This year, the concealed weapons bill is being sponsored by Sen. Danny Staples, D-Eminence.

"I see this bill as a crime deterrent," Staples said. Allowing civilians to carry concealed guns will give them "a chance against criminals," he said.

His bill would allow Missourians to obtain permits to carry concealed firearms.

But, he said, the carrier's background must be investigated before he or she could obtain a permit.

The National Rifle Association supports Staples bill, said Chip Walker, a group's spokesman. "The only way you have of protecting yourself outside the home is to carry a firearm," Walker said.

Last year, both the House and Senate had approved similar proposals but could not agree on whether to submit the issue to Missouri voters - as the governor had insisted to avoid his veto.

One change in this year's proposal involves the agency that would issue the permit.

Caskey's bill would have given that permits to local sheriff's. Staples' bill would have the Highway Patrol issue the permits.


While Pres. Bill Clinton may have decided to give up on health care regulation - not so Missouri Sen. John Scott, D-St. Louis.

Scott has reintroduced his bill to impose a wide range of regulations on health-maintenance organizations.

"I am sponsoring it this year for the same reason I sponsored it last year - because I am sick and tired of the insurance business practicing medicine," Scott said.

Last year, the Senate approved the bill, but it died in a House committee.

Scott said HMOs are "running the little guys out of business." The "little guys" he was referring to are small neighborhood pharmacies that cannot compete with larger drug store chains because they are not part of HMO plans, Scott said.

Scott has been working on the bill with the Missouri State Medical Association. "We started working on the bill last year when we saw physicians were getting indiscriminately thrown off the providers plan," said Thomas Halloway, a spokesperson for the group.

HMO's hurt providers by removing them from plans, but they also hurt patients, Halloway said. "A clear example of a patient that gets hurt by this is a woman who is eight months pregnant, and her doctor gets eliminated from the plan," he said.

The proposed legislation would require HMOs to give health care providers reasons for eliminating them from plans. The bill also would require managed care plans to "spell the disclosures out in plain English, so consumers will be able to compare when plan to another when shopping around," Halloway said.


A crack down on school violence was the first issue that Gov. Carnahan has unveiled in his legislative wish list.

"I think safe schools will certainly be our top priority," said Chris Sifford, the governor's spokesman.

Assaulting school employees and students would become a felony crime under the governor's proposal.

Carnahan acknowledged that could subject a child to adult criminal prosecution for simply throwing a chalkboard eraser at a teacher. But the governor stressed local prosecutors would retain authority to decide whether to actually prosecute.

Students assault bus drivers and other students often, said Mickie Ross, a deputy juvenile officer in Cole County. "We've a lot of kids who belt school bus drivers and other students. Unless they use a lethal weapon, it's just a misdemeanor, so they usually just have an informal hearing," she said. "Under the new law they would have to go before a judge."

The State would provide a $6 million flexible grant program to schools with safety concerns. Schools could use the money to improve physical security, hire officers from local police departments to patrol schools and develop other security programs.


Lt. Gov. Roger Wilson has made creation of a Department of Aging as his top issue for the 1996 session.

While the proposal would not make any change in existing programs, Wilson said the proposal would place on the governor's cabinet a person directly responsible for services to senior citizens.


House Republicans and a few Democrats have called for major changes in the legislative process to dilute the power of the House leadership.

Those demands have become one of the major issues of dispute in the campaign for House Speaker.

The Democratic caucus nominee for speaker, Rep. Sam Leake, D-Laddonia, said he too seeks legislative reform.

Leake has proposed term limits on the speaker and committee chairmanships. He also has recommended creation of a bi-partisan committee to oversee legislative travel expenses.


Looming over the legislature is the possibility that they will be required to make major changes in the state's welfare system to bring it into compliance with whatever Congress ultimately passes.

But several legislators have expressed frustration with the federal gridlock that has left the state uncertain about the level of federal funding for welfare.

In the meantime, Senate President Pro Tem Jim Mathewson, D-Sedalia, has proposed legislation that would allow the state to cut benefits to able-bodied welfare recipients who refused to work.


Missouri legislators will have an opportunity that politicians usually can only dream about - giving you back some of your tax money in an election year.

The administration has projected that tax collections this year will exceed the "Hancock" tax limit and trigger requirements for refunds.

legislation has been filed to more clearly define how those refunds are to be distributed to taxpayers.

The issue already has sparked a partisan debate. Republicans argue the administration's estimate of the refund is far too low.

And one Republican legislative leader has suggested that rather than setting up a refund system, the legislature simply should lower the tax rate.