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Lawmakers Act to Boost Benefits

May 11, 1999
By: David Grebe and Clayton Bellamy
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 65, HB 427

JEFFERSON CITY - Even though they can't agree on how to ease your tax burden lawmakers had no trouble padding their pensions and those of other state workers.

The new pensions plan would make lawmakers eligible for pension increase equal to $300 per year - multiplied by years of service. The amount can't exceed 100 percent of lawmakers' salaries. Lawmakers already retired would get a 17 percent pension increase.

Lawmakers would be eligible for pension benefits after four years of service - down from the current six.

Several lawmakers voiced concern about the bill. "We're bitter when the press questions our intentions - and then we vote to make things better for ourselves," said Rep. Matt Bartle, R-Jackson County.

"This isn't just lawmakers at the trough," said Rep. Gracia Backer, D-New Bloomfield. Backer said the bill included important provisions for other state employees.

Columbia Reps. Harlan, Wilson and Graham voted for better benefits - as did Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, later in the day.

In the Senate, the pension hike ran into a last-minute hitch - a threatened filibuster by Sen. Sarah Steelman, R-Rolla. "Let's tell the public they can have some trust," Steelman said. She said few run for public office because of the pay - but the public disapproved of Senators feathering their own nests.

But Sen. John Scott, D-St. Louis County, disagreed. "My secretary makes almost double what I do," Scott said. Scott said Senators are underpaid - and said he worked year-round to do his job.

Steelman backed down - and the Senate approved the legislation 21-13.

Abortion Ball in Governor's Court

The abortion battle is moving to its final stages. The House overwhelmingly passed a bill restricting abortion - but it awaits governor's veto.

Supporters said the infanticide bill will ban partial abortion - but Gov. Mel Carnahan's promised a veto. "It's a medium for getting a test case for taking down Roe v. Wade," the governor said.

The bill passed the House 127-29 - enough votes to override a veto. The only suspense is whether the governor can find the votes to sustain his veto.

All 3 Columbia lawmakers were united in their opposition to the bill.

"While some members have chose repeatedly to refer to a procedure that hasn't been documented in Missouri - this bill actually refers to something much broader," Columbia Democrat Vicky Riback-Wilson said.

Wilson said the bill could affect pregnancies even in early stages - and was clearly unconstitutional.

"It's the height of audacity to pass legislation to interfere with intimate decisions in people's lives," Wilson said. A visibly agitated Wilson castigated lawmakers for threatening to send women to jail for "making health decisions."

Rep. Roy Holand, R-Springfield, said the bill only affected abortions performed in the "birth process." "You still can reach in, suck the baby's brains out - pull them apart with forceps - as long as its in utero" Holand said.

Some supporters made it clear they'd prefer the courts to reconsider Roe. "Trying to ban all 3 trimesters would be unconstitutional," said Rep. Bill Luetkenhaus, D-St. Charles County, "but we don't know what the Court would do 30 years later."

Tax Relief Stalls in Senate

Senate debate on the tax cut bill stalled again Tuesday while several senators argued whether parents should get deductions for the costs of sending kids to private school.

Columbia Sen. Ken Jacob, a democrat, said the private school deductions would render the bill unconstitutional.

"The constitution says there can be no direct or indirect promotion of religion," Jacob said in the debate.

Jacob, the bill handler, added he would be willing to allow most of the thrity-one amendments proposed Monday except the one for private school deductions.

The deductions proposed max out at $2500 per child for tuition, school supplies and transportation, meaning a maximum tax savings of $150 per child.

Sen. John Schneider, D-St. Louis County, supports the private school deductions.

He said if deductions for church donations are constitutional then private school deductions would be also.

Debate was tabled without a vote on the amendment.

The tax cut bill, which began in the House, carries the $900 increase in personal deductions that the Governor proposed in his State of the State address.

There is some doubt as to whether the tax cuts will be passed before the session's close Friday.

"There are probably people that don't want to see a tax cut," said Senate President Pro Tem Ed Quick, D-Liberty. "I'm always an optimist. We'll get it done by Friday."

If not, the budget surplus will be refunded to taxpayers.

Employee Reference Bill Passes Senate

It will be easier for employers to be honest about bad ex-employees when surveyed in a refernce check, under a bill sent to the governor Tuesday.

Formerly, bosses were reluctant to talk for fear of lawsuit.

The bill, sponsored by Columbia Rep. Vicky Riback-Wilson, protects employers as long as what they report in the check is true.

"It's good for business and for employees," said Sen. Joe Maxwell, D-Mexico.

Senators involved in the debate said the bill was a result of a compromise between business and labor lobbyists.