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Lots of Money for Little Food

May 15, 1996
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - With lobbyist reform measures stalled on both sides of the Capitol, House Democrats asked lobbyists to help fatten their campaign coffers.

Lobbyists were invited to a fund raiser at a Jefferson City tavern Wednesday night. The cost for chatting and drinking with about two dozen representatives - a $1,000 donation to the House Democratic Campaign Committee.

The got some snacks for their $1,000 each. And beer was served, but they had to pay for any hard liquor.

"It appears to me to be unfortunate timing, considering we are at the culminating point of the session when literally dozens of pieces of legislation are on the verge of passing or failing," said Republican House Leader Mark Richardson of Poplar Bluff.

Gov. Mel Carnahan defended the fund raiser as proper and above-board.

"This is basically a Republican attack," Carnahan said. "I think Republicans had one of these earlier this week and they had some earlier this session. They are completely legal."

Carnahan was referring to a similar fund raiser held by Senate Republicans, which cost the lobbyists attending $200.

But Richardson said Republicans in the House have shied away from such events.

"We haven't had a fund raiser all session," Richardson said. "And we certainly would not have had one at this critical junction."

Rep. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, said such events are legal and necessary.

"You have to raise money for campaigns," Jacob said. "If the Republicans didn't do this and we did, then we're just smarter than they are."

Lobbyists leaving the half-hour affair Wednesday night expressed few problems with donating the $1,000 entrance fee.

"I went to the one earlier this week with the Republican senators," said E.C. Walker, who represents the National Education Association. "I've been doing this for 13 years and I've never felt any pressure whatsoever."

The fund raiser was held on a day that action and controversy began to heat up in the closing days of the 1996 session that adjourns Friday.

Among the major developments Wednesday:

* The Senate rejected a compromise plan on abortion offered by the chamber's three women members.

After defeating that plan and hours of protracted Senate debate, the various factions in the Senate worked on what they called a "compromise" version that will be presented to the Senate this morning.

* The Senate began debate on the tax-cut bill, but then adjourned for the night after just 45 minutes discussion.

Before the Senate is a committee recommendation for a cut in income tax on private pensions and an increase in the dependency deduction.

The Senate rejected an alternative plan from Sen. Walter Mueller, R-St. Louis County, that would reduce the food tax from 4 percent to 1 percent for people who use food stamps.

"We've got to reduce it (the tax) and we've got the option to do it," Mueller said.

Another amendment still awaiting a Senate vote would adjust the sales tax rate on groceries from year to year depending on how much excess revenue the state had collected in taxes.

The House has passed a permanent 2-cents-per-dollar cut in the sales tax on groceries.

Gov. Mel Carnahan expressed increased optimism about the chances.

"I do think that the legislature has gotten serious about this issue late in the session," Carnahan said.

"I'll be working with the legislature these last few days to help them to come to that kind of bill."

* A major package of changes in state laws governing commitment of the mentally ill cleared the House without a single negative vote.

The measure provides for involuntary commitment in facilities outside a hospital and makes it easier to commit a person.

"The main purpose of the bill allows parents, family members, or guardians to provide mentally ill with treatment before they harm someone or themselves," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Gary Witt.

Witt said under existing law, there had to be an act of actual physical harm before a person could be committed.

Besides the involuntary institutional commitment of the mentally ill, the bill also provides for outpatient services. Other provisions in the bill makes it harder to release people determined not guilty by reason of insanity.

The bill also provides funding for projects that assist in keeping elderly in their homes instead of an institution.

The measure now returns to the Senate for review of the House changes.