Flurry of activity on last day in Missouri legslature
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Flurry of activity on last day in Missouri legslature

Date: May 16, 2008
By: Matt Tilden and Bria Scudder
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The last day of the Missouri General Assembly was almost a legislative session in and of itself, as 70 bills passed on to the governor, at times at break-neck speed.

The legislature passed a number of important issues on the final day of the session, including the passage of bills lifting of campaign finance limits, a crackdown on illegal foreigners, limits on property tax increases and tougher laws on harassment on Internet.

"We got a lot done," Gov. Matt Blunt said at news conference with Republican legislative leaders after the session.

"Nay-sayers said because it was an election year, because the Republicans are running out of steam, because the governor wasn't running for re-elections that we wouldn't accomplish anything. And on all those accounts, we proved them wrong with some very significant accomplishments," Blunt said

Democrats, however, cited lack of progress in the areas of health-care and unemployment.

A a House Democratic news conference following the session, House Democratic leader Rep. Paul LeVota criticized Republicans for frequently shutting off debate on the final day in order to rush through bills with limited discussion.

He voiced special criticism for the lifting of individual campaign contribution limits, and said that Republicans had put a "for-sale sign at the front of the Capitol."

Standing with the governor at his news conference, Republican legislative leaders had a completely different take on the session.

"We had a very productive session and we improved the lives of Missourians this session," said Speaker Pro Tem Rep. Bryan Pratt, R-Jackson County. Pratt cited immigration and property tax  bills and economic development as their major achievements.

House Republican Leader Rep. Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, stressed that bi-partisan support in the House helped pass legislation such as the crackdown on illegal foreigners..

"Republicans and Democrats worked together today," he said.

There were, however, a few major issues that failed.  The biggest was the centerpiece of the governor's legislative recommendations -- Insure Missouri that to provide low-cost health coverage for as many as 200,000 uninsured Missourians.

Measure that did clear the legislature included:

Campaign Contribution Limits

With about an hour left in Missouri's legislative session, the House sent to the governor a bill lifting individual campaign contribution limits, but not without a significant fight from the Democratic minority.

Supporters argue the current limits easily are evaded by special interests.  The House sponsor -- Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia -- called the current system a "money laundering operation."

House Democratic Leader LeVota accused Republicans of raising an issue at the last minute of the legislative session that would aid their efforts in November.

In addition to lifting individual contribution limits, the bill sets forth more stringent guidelines for campaign disclosure reports and requires political action committees to disclose the name of their out-of-state donors.

Democratic Rep. Jason Holsman, D-Jackson County, raised an amendment that nearly killed the bill altogether. His amendment would have barred political campaigning in the Missouri Capitol, governor's mansion and other state government buildings. Shortly before the end of the legislative session, passage of the seemingly- popular amendment would have required the bill to be sent back to the Senate, likely killing the measure.

The panic of Republican leadership in the back of the chamber was palpable after Holsman's amendment was raised, and Republican Rep. Brian Nieves, R-Union, stalled while Republicans prepared to offer an amendment of their own. Their amendment would have barred the attorney general from campaigning for any other office while holding the office, a shot at Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Nixon. The Republican addition to Holsman's amendment passed.

Holsman's amendment narrowly failed by a narrow vote of 79-74 and Republicans shut off discussion on the bill shortly afterward, setting up a vote.

The bill passed through the House by a vote of 83-72.

Illegal Foreigners

Gov. Matt Blunt had warned legislators earlier in the week that he would call them back into a special session if they failed to pass a crackdown on illegal foreigners.

The legislation that cleared the legislature covered several areas, including:

The bill passed through the House by a vote of 136-12 and Senate by a vote of 27-7.

Textbook Support

Missouri's legislature passed a bill so that students can have easier access to more affordable textbooks.

The bill requires textbook publishers to provide more information to faculty about their books. The cost of the book, variations between editions, and other forms that the text may be available in are some examples of what information is required.

"I really relied on the students very heavily," said Jake Zimmerman D-St. Louis County. He said that the students from Truman State and the MU system universities were the motivation for this initiative.

"The bookstore is in favor of the bill," said Michelle Froese, Public Relations Manager at MU Bookstore.

She said that the more information that the faculty has, the more it will benefit the students.

"It provides better information for the faculty," she said. "They need all the information they can get."

Although Froese said that the bookstore supports the bill, she also said that more can be done to ensure lower costs for students.

"For the information to be very useful, it should disclose suggested retail price," she said. The bill only requires the publisher to disclose the price available to the bookstore, not the cost the student would actually pay.

Zimmerman said that he got the most opposition from the publishing companies. "At the end of the day it took hours and hours of negotiation," he said.

Cyber Harassment

The measure was prompted by the suicide of St. Charles teen Megan Meier who had been tricked on an Internet social networking site.  The bill now before the governor would expand the definition of harassment designed to cover various communications on Internet.

The legislature also passed a measure addressing identity theft.  It would allow an identify theft victim to file a police report and impose a freeze on his/her credit report.

Drunken Driving

Repeat drunken drivers would be required to have ignition interlock devices installed in their cars under a measure that cleared the legislature on the last day.

The legislature also passed a measure that would lower the blood-alcohol content for drunken boating from 0.1% to 0.08%.

Property Taxes

Limits on property tax increases would be imposed under a measure cleared by the legislature.

The proposal closes a loophole in a law that had been designed to prevent large property tax increases when there is an unusual increase in property assessments within a taxing district.  The bill also expands property tax breaks for lower income elderly home owners.

What Did Not Pass

Despite the long list of accomplishments, there several proposals that got significant attention during the legislative session, but failed to win approval.  Among them: