House Majority Leader John Diehl: When Democratic Rep. Keith English approached GOP leaders about supporting a $620 million tax cut over the objections of his party, Diehl told him to vote “no.” Save your support, he said, for the override of Gov. Jay Nixon’s inevitable veto. That move, in addition to healing wounds within his party over last year’s tax cut fight, led to the future speaker of the Missouri House scoring a major victory that few expected.
Political consultants: It was shaping up to be a cold, lonely summer for the political class in Missouri. There are no competitive statewide offices, no presidential contest and no U.S. Senate race. Fear not. Lawmakers came through with a ballot measure seeking to pass the biggest tax increase in the state’s history for road and bridge repairs. Supporters — mostly highway contractors and construction firms — have vowed to spend millions to win approval.
Every legislative session, labor unions walk into a Republican-dominated General Assembly with a target on their backs. And every year they walk away five months later virtually unscathed. House leaders vowed that right-to-work legislation was a top priority. It got little to no traction. A bill making it harder for public employee unions to collect dues died in a last minute compromise between Republicans and Democrats. Union support was also viewed as key to the success of push to put a sales tax bump on the ballot that will fund transportation projects – and create thousands of union jobs.
Gov. Jay Nixon: His biggest priority was Medicaid expansion. It never really stood a chance. His budget projections were immediately dismissed by lawmakers, as were his objections to a student transfer bill. But all that pales in comparison to lawmakers overriding his veto of a $620 million tax cut — arguably the biggest political defeat of Nixon’s tenure as governor.
Legislative ethics: There was much talk before the session about Missouri’s lax campaign and ethics laws. More than a dozen bills were filed aimed at making changes. In the end, the idea got about two hours of debate in the Missouri Senate and zero in the House. Missouri remains the only state with the trio of no campaign contribution limits, no cap on gifts from lobbyists and no policy governing whether a legislator can leave office and go directly into lobbying.
Income tax cut: Republicans entered the year stinging from a tax cut defeat just three months earlier. They exited by forcing through the first income tax rate reduction in nearly a century. The top individual income tax rate will be gradually cut to 5.5 percent from the current 6 percent, and a 25 percent deduction for business income reported on personal tax returns will be phased in. Those tax cuts — totaling roughly $620 million — won’t kick in until 2017, and only if state revenues grow at least $150 million each year.
Sales tax increase: Missouri voters will decide later this year whether to raise the state sales tax to generate more than $500 million annually for roads and other transportation projects. If passed, some of the money will almost assuredly go toward rebuilding Interstate 70. It would be the largest tax increase in the history of Missouri, meaning it faces an uphill battle at the ballot.
Student transfers: An impasse over how to handle a controversial state law requiring unaccredited districts to pay full tuition and offer transportation to students who request to attend school in an accredited district was finally broken. With bipartisan support, lawmakers passed a bill that opens the door for students in failing schools to use public funds to pay tuition at nonreligious private schools. The governor hinted he’ll veto it over the private school provisions, and the House was 20 votes shy of a two-thirds majority needed for a veto override.
Abortion: A woman seeking an abortion would have to wait 72 hours from when she first sees a doctor before the procedure can be performed. That triples Missouri’s current 24-hour waiting period. This is one of many bills the governor has indicated he may veto, citing the lack of an exemption from the waiting period for victims of rape or incest.
Border War:A truce in the economic border war over businesses in the Kansas City area is in sight, as long as Kansas goes along. Missouri lawmakers have agreed to ban businesses in an eight-county region surrounding Kansas City would from receiving state incentives to hop across the state line. But the ban would only go into effect if the Kansas Legislature or governor enacts a similar ban within the next two years.
Medicaid expansion: The push to add 300,000 uninsured Missourians has the backing of the Democratic governor, traditionally Republican groups like the state Chamber of Commerce and even former U.S. Sen. Kit Bond. But opposition to anything related to Obamacare runs deep in the Missouri General Assembly. That’s especially true in the Senate, where a group of Republicans vowed to filibuster anything that looked like expansion. Proponents think their chances improve next year, but two of the idea’s biggest opponents — Sens. Kurt Schaefer and Rob Schaaf — show no signs of backing down.
Discrimination: Under Missouri law, people can be fired from their jobs, evicted from their apartments or thrown out of a restaurant for being gay or being perceived to be gay. Last year, in a historic vote on the session’s final day, the Missouri Senate agreed to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes in the Missouri Human Rights Act. Proponents had high hopes that momentum would carry over into this year. But the bill never came close to a vote in either the House or Senate.
Right to work: Missouri House leaders delivered on a promise to hold a vote on legislation prohibiting the payment of fees for union representation as a condition of employment. They discovered there wasn’t nearly enough support for it to pass. So lawmakers turned their attention once again to a bill making it harder for public employee unions to collect dues. That bill died, too, as part of a grand bargain struck in the Senate to end a handful of Democratic filibusters.
Gun nullification: Republican lawmakers agreed that they wanted to ban the enforcement of certain federal gun laws in Missouri. But Senate and House sponsors of the bill disagreed on how to punish federal agents who enforce the laws. Should they face a lifetime ban from future careers in state law enforcement or simply face lawsuits from those who believe their gun rights were violated? The disagreement stalled the bill long enough to allow Democrats to kill it in the session’s final moments with a filibuster.
A requirement that voters show a government-issued photo ID before they are allowed to cast a ballot has been a Republican priority for years. But every time they make progress on the issue they are thwarted by a court ruling or a veto by Gov. Jay Nixon. This year, Senate leaders opted to temporarily abandon the idea and instead push through a proposed constitutional amendment creating a six-day early voting period. The measure, which must be approved by voters, is widely considered an attempt to counter a rival Democrat-backed ballot measure that would create a six-week early voting period.