Government & Politics

May 16, 2014

Missouri legislative session ends with Republicans having much to show

The Republican majority in the Missouri General Assembly cut taxes, tightened abortion regulations and much more in this year’s legislative session.

A historic income tax cut. New abortion restrictions. Fewer gun restrictions. Public dollars to pay for private school tuition. Cuts to jobless payments.

And a firm dismissal of all efforts to implement Obamacare in the state.

Republicans left the Capitol on Friday with much to show — a flex of conservative muscle eclipsing in one session what they’d pulled off in years.

Some of their accomplishments may ultimately fall victim to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto pen. But after struggling with divisions that scuttled legislative priorities for years, the overwhelming majorities Republicans have built in recent elections finally found their footing.

“What we’ve learned along the way is that we need to build consensus, collaborate within our own caucus, reach across the aisle and reach across to the Senate,” said House Speaker Tim Jones, a Eureka Republican. “I’d put this session up there as one of the better ones we’ve seen in a long time.”

Democrats were left mostly to focus on minimizing damage. They struck a deal to kill off two GOP priorities in the Senate, but had to swallow bills that tripled the waiting period for abortions and established an early-voting period they consider a sham.

Meanwhile, legislation expanding eligibility for Medicaid, increasing the minimum wage, establishing campaign contribution limits and banning discrimination based on sexual orientation never stood much of a chance.

“At the start of the session, House Republicans touted a ‘Triple E’ plan of economic development, energy and education,” said House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, a St. Louis Democrat. “The ‘Triple E’ agenda House Republicans delivered was extremism, extremism and extremism.”

The highlight of the session for Republicans was mustering the votes to override Nixon’s veto of the $620 million cut, a feat made made doubly sweet by the fact that Nixon fended off an override last year of a similar tax cut by peeling off Republican support.

This year it was the Republicans who did the peeling, building a two-thirds majority in the House with the help of one Democrat.

“Look at the fact that Missouri has not reformed its tax code or had an income tax cut in nearly 100 years,” Jones said. “You have to call that historic.”

Nixon slammed Republican tax priorities, particularly a series of tax credits they passed on the final day of the session. In eight different bills, tax incentives and exemptions were created for entities ranging from data centers to commercial laundries to used manufactured homes. Nixon said said the tax breaks will cost the state $500 million in lost revenue.

“Literally in one week they pass a budget,” he said, “and then come back and blow it up by having a cavalcade of special interest tax breaks fly through the legislative session in under eight hours.”

Lawmakers on Friday signed off on another Republican priority: Prohibiting cities from barring individuals with a gun permit from openly carrying a weapon. The bill also allows school districts to designate teachers to carry guns in schools and lowers the age requirement for a concealed carry permit from 21 to 19.

But they fell short on a bill that sought to nullify federal gun laws when Senate Minority Leader Jolie Justus, a Kansas City Democrat, killed it with a filibuster in the final moments of the session. She reminded her colleagues that her priority legislation — outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation — died on the final day of last year’s session in the House.

“Payback is what?” Justus said “Well, we can’t say that word on the Senate floor.”

After years of being vexed by a 1993 law requiring unaccredited districts to pay full tuition and offer transportation to students who request to attend school in an accredited district, progress was finally made. But Nixon has hinted strongly he’ll veto it over a provision allowing local tax dollars under certain circumstances to be spent on private school tuition.

While many of the most high-profile bills to find success were Republican priorities, there was also a fair amount of bipartisan agreement.

For the first time in more than 30 years, legislators passed a rewrite of the state’s criminal code. They also voted to develop education performance standards to one day replace the federal Common Core system.

Hemp oil extract will be allowed for use by those suffering with epilepsy, and access to oral anti-cancer drugs was increased. Patients suffering terminal illnesses will be allowed access to drugs that have not yet been approved by the FDA.

Lawmakers also banned businesses in an eight-county region surrounding Kansas City from receiving state incentives to hop across the state line. But the ban would go into effect only if the Kansas Legislature or governor enact a similar ban within the next two years.

To reach Jason Hancock, call 573-634-3565 or send email to

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