The second full week of the 2016 legislative session was an abbreviated but an eventful week. On Monday, with the observance of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, Senator Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, attended a celebration of Dr. King’s life at the Old Courthouse in Downtown St. Louis. Speaking during the ceremony, she said “Let us celebrate Dr. King’s legacy by continuing the fight for equality and representation in government.” Sen. Nasheed pleaded with the audience to “get to the polls and protect their right to vote in the 2016 election.”
The Republican-controlled legislature continues to threaten voter-suppression legislation, a policy that will make voting even more difficult for seniors and low-income persons. In opposition to the tired ideals, Sen. Nasheed stated, “We don’t have a problem with voter impersonation, we have a problem with voter participation!”
When the General Assembly returned to the Capitol building on Tuesday, the Missouri House of Representatives kept its word and passed the first of four much needed ethics reform bills. House Bill 1452 increases the personal financial disclosure requirements of office holders.
Last week, Sen. Nasheed sponsored former Senator Maida Coleman’s nomination to continue in her role with the Missouri Public Service Commission. With nostalgic respect, Sen. Nasheed proclaimed, “Senator Coleman has contributed so much to our state and our city. It was truly an honor to present her before the body that she served with such distinction.” Senator Nasheed was the eventual successor of Sen. Coleman in the 5th Senatorial District. During her time in the Missouri Senate, Sen. Coleman became the first female African-American Minority Floor Leader.
BILLS AND COMMITTEES
Although the legislative process is just beginning to gear up, Sen. Nasheed has already had 17 of her bills referred to committee. Among her top legislative priorities:
- Senate Bill 833 – Missouri Savings Promotion Act – would authorize banks and credit unions to incentivize savings by offering their customers the option of entering into a drawing when they deposit a certain amount of money into their savings accounts. The bill represents an unprecedented partnership between interests representing both the banks and the credit unions. SB 833 has been referred to the Senate Financial and Governmental Organizations and Elections Committee. The committee will conduct a hearing on SB 833 on January 25th.
- Senate Bill 627 – Suicide Prevention – would require public colleges and universities to develop and implement policies to advise students and staff on suicide prevention programs available on campus and in the community. SB 627 has been referred to the Senate Education Committee and will receive a hearing on January 27th.
- Senate Bill 726 – Deadly Force – would adopt standards concurrent with the Tennessee v. Garner Supreme Court ruling which dictates when police officers are justified in using deadly force. SB 726 has been referred to the Senate Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee and will receive a hearing on February 2nd.
ON THE FLOOR
On Tuesday, Sen. Nasheed and her colleagues took to the floor to oppose Senate Bill 591, known as the “Expert Witness bill.” The legislation would benefit large corporations and criminal prosecutors by making it more difficult for litigants with less resources to get expert witness testimony into court. Although the bill passed, the proponents of its passage were unable to secure the votes that would be needed to overcome a likely governor’s veto.
This year’s budget process began this week with the governor’s proposal during the State of the State Address. After listening to the address on Wednesday, Sen. Nasheed reflected on her role as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee: “It is a responsibility I take very seriously – to fight for funding that gives people a hand up and not a hand out.
“Some things in the Governor’s proposal caught my attention. School funding is increased $85 million – which is good but is still short of full funding,” Sen. Nasheed said.
The governor also proposed $11 million for job training targeted at low-income citizens and $17 million for dental care for low-income citizens. “It’s about time the Governor came around to including much needed funding for dental care,” Sen. Nasheed commented.
“I will be watching all of the governor’s funding proposals closely as the budget process unfolds,” Sen. Nasheed said. The next stage of the budget process begins next week when the Senate Appropriations Committee meets on Wednesday.
HOUSE MAJORITY PARTY AGAIN PUSHES THROUGH PHOTO VOTER ID BILLS
On straight party-line votes, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives on Jan. 21 advanced a pair of measures that seek to require Missourians to show government-issued photo identification in order to exercise their constitutional rights to vote. House Joint Resolution 53, a proposed constitutional amendment authorizing lawmakers to impose a photo voter ID requirement, passed 116-40, while companion implementing legislation, House Bill 1631, passed 114-39. The measures now go to the Senate.
A constitutional change is necessary because the Missouri Supreme Court struck down similar Republican-backed photo ID legislation in 2006, ruling it “imposes a severe burden on the right to vote” in violation of the state constitution. If passed by both legislative chambers, HJR 53 automatically would go on the November 2016 ballot for voter ratification. Because of the court’s earlier ruling, HB 1631 would have no effect until and unless HJR 53 is ratified.
This is the 11th straight year the majority has sought to impose a photo voter ID requirement. Although supporters claim it would combat fraud, they remain unable to cite a single case of voter impersonation at the polls in Missouri, which the Supreme Court noted is the only type of voter fraud a photo ID requirement could prevent. More than 250,000 legally registered Missouri voters don’t have a government-issued photo ID. Those Missourians consist primarily of racial minorities, senior citizens, and the disabled, groups that tend to overwhelmingly vote for Democrats.
HOUSE REJECTS PROPOSED CHANGES TO FARMLAND VALUES
The Missouri House of Representatives on Jan. 20 voted 133-24 in favor of a resolution rejecting the State Tax Commission’s recommended changes in agricultural land values. State law requires the commission to review the productive values of farmland, which are used to determine property taxes, every two years. Any changes it recommends automatically take effect unless rejected by lawmakers.