This week in Missouri politics began with exciting news: On Monday, April 11, the governor held a press conference announcing Executive Order 16-04 that coincides with legislation that Sen. Jamilah Nasheed sponsored. The “ban the box” legislation would remove from state job applications the section concerning criminal history. Background checks will still be conducted, but only after an initial interview has taken place.
“Far too often, former offenders knock on the door of opportunity only to have it slammed in their faces,” Sen. Nasheed said. “A non-violent criminal record should not be a pretense for employers to deny an individual without giving him or her a chance to explain it for themselves.”
When the General Assembly began their work week on Monday afternoon, both chambers hit the ground running in a hurry to get bills moved forward as the end of session draws near.
The budget process is the first upcoming deadline. The Missouri Constitution requires the General Assembly to submit a budget to the governor no later than Friday, May 6. Last week, the Senate passed its version of the budget. The next step is to work out the differences between the House version and the Senate version in a series of conference committees.
Having passed its version of the budget, the Senate resumed debate on two especially contentious issues: Voter ID legislation and the Planned Parenthood Subpoena.
On Wednesday, the Senate was able to set aside differences and play an amicable game of softball after session adjourned. “The softball game is a good opportunity to humanize our colleagues and staffers on both side of the aisle before things on the floor start to really heat up,” Sen. Nasheed said.
On the Floor
On Monday, the debate over the controversial Voter ID bill continued. The debate has been broken up into several two-three hour long discussions over the last two weeks. Senator Nasheed again took to the floor to fight the measure: “This bill is about voter suppression… We don’t have a problem with voter impersonation, we have a problem with voter participation!” The bill was laid over again, and may be taken up for further debate at any time.
Senate Republicans continued their siege on Planned Parenthood. The Senate debated two resolutions, Senate Resolution 1793 and Senate Resolution 1794, to subpoena Mary Kogut of Planned Parenthood and Dr. James Miller of Pathology Services. The last time the issue of contempt proceedings over a Missouri Senate subpoena occurred was in 1899. “Instead of spending time serving the people of Missouri, the Senate is bogged down with chasing ghosts. That is not what we were elected for,” Sen. Nasheed said. On Thursday, both resolutions were passed by the Senate on a strict, party-line vote.
Bills and Committees
Movement occurred on several of Senator’s Nasheed’s bills in both chambers of the General Assembly this week:
- Senate Bill 977 – Anti-Shackling – Prohibits the use of restraints on pregnant women within the Department of Corrections. This legislation has been added as an amendment to Senate Bill 618. On Thursday, the bill was referred to the House Civil and Criminal Proceedings Committee. “The use of shackles, both for juvenile defendants, and for pregnant women, is a matter of human dignity and civil rights. I am extremely proud to say that my language was added to this bill,” Sen. Nasheed said. A public hearing is expected to be scheduled soon.
- Senate Bill 833 – Missouri Savings Promotion Act –Authorizes banks and credit unions to incentivize savings by automatically entering their customers into a raffle when they deposit a certain amount of money into their savings accounts. Senate Bill 833 is notable for garnering support from both banks and credit unions, a rarity when it comes to finance legislation in Jefferson City. “I was happy to see my Senate colleagues step up to the plate and recognize the importance of saving for the future,” Sen. Nasheed said. Senate Bill 833 will be heard by the House Emerging Issues Committee on Monday, April 18, upon afternoon adjournment.
- Senate Bill 627 – Suicide Prevention – Requires public colleges and universities develop and implement policies to advise students and staff on suicide prevention programs available on campus or in the community. “Senate Bill 627 will ensure that suicide prevention is a top priority for our state’s colleges and universities,” Sen. Nasheed said. Senate Bill 627 was referred to the House Health and Mental Health Policy Committee where it will be heard Tuesday, April 19, 2016 upon afternoon adjournment.
- Senate Bill 661, 726 & 741 – Use of Deadly Force – Aligns Missouri’s statute with the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Tennessee v. Garner, which dictates when police officers are justified in using deadly force. Senator Nasheed’s bill, SB 726, was combined with two of her colleagues’ bills in a bipartisan effort. The bill was third read and finally passed by the full Senate and will now head over to the House side. “I appreciate my colleagues finally recognizing that it is inexcusable that Missouri law is out of line with the U.S. Supreme Court. The bottom line is this: police officers should not be able to shoot fleeing, non-dangerous, suspects.”
This week saw the hearing, committee vote, and floor vote of the Fiscal Year 2017 Supplemental Budget, which ultimately passed without much controversy.
The supplemental budget is the term used for an appropriations bill that only funds the last three months of the ending fiscal year. In the current case, the budget bill, House Bill 2014, paid the bills and projected costs of departments that have, or will, use their entire annual budget prematurely.
The Senate Appropriations Committee looks at the supplemental request to make sure the department did not mismanage its annual appropriation, and then investigates the reasoning more funding is necessary. After it was approved in committee, the bill was taken up on the floor of the Senate and passed unanimously the following morning.
Final budget action remains on the supplemental and regular budget bills via a conference committee established to work out any differences between the Senate and House versions. That process is expected to conclude next week.
House Committee Considers Right to Discriminate
On April 12, House Republicans delayed the start of a hearing on controversial legislation to create a constitutional right to refuse to provide wedding-related commercial services to gay couples for three hours and later ended the hearing even though dozens of people, mostly opponents, were still waiting to speak.
The hearing on Senate Joint Resolution 39 before the House Emerging Issues Committee was scheduled to start at 5 p.m., and people began packing the room more than an hour earlier to ensure they got a seat. Republican leaders, however, kept the full House of Representatives in session until 8 p.m., forcing the overflow crowd, dominated by opponents of the measure, to wait.
After about four hours of testimony alternating between supporters and opponents, committee Chairman Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, ended the hearing shortly after midnight. He didn’t schedule another hearing to take additional testimony, as is common when large numbers of witnesses want to testify and aren’t given the opportunity. However, the committee is expected to meet in the coming week to vote on the measure.
The Senate passed SJR 39 last month after Republican leaders shut off debate to force a vote following a 39-hour filibuster by opponents. In the weeks since Senate passage, Missouri businesses have mobilized against the measure, citing the severe economic backlash that other states recently have experienced after enacting similar legislation. The reaction of Missouri’s business community, a key Republican constituency, has exposed a deep rift in the GOP as SJR 39 is being pushed by another active component of the party’s base, religious conservatives.
While largely acknowledging that existing constitutional provisions already protect churches and clergy from being forced to recognize sex-same marriages, SJR 39 supporters say bakers, florists, photographers and others who oppose sex-same marriage on religious grounds should have the constitutional right to deny services to gay couples. Since Missouri’s anti-discrimination law doesn’t extend protections based on sexual orientation, the denial of all types of services to homosexuals is already legal in the state.
House Passes Bill Prohibiting Fetal Tissue Donation
On April 14, by a vote of 120-34, the House of Representatives approved legislation that would make it a felony to donate fetal tissue resulting from an abortion for medical research. The sale of fetal tissue is already illegal. Under House Bill 2069, donating such tissue would be punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The bill now goes to the Senate.
The bill was prompted by video that surfaced last summer purporting to show an executive with Planned Parenthood discussing the illegal sale of fetal tissue. The video has since been widely discredited and investigations into the matter in several states discovered no evidence of wrongdoing. Two of the creators of the controversial video, however, have been charged in Texas with felonies related to the case.
While the House was passing HB 2069, the Senate was debating a resolution that seeks to hold a Missouri Planned Parenthood official in contempt for refusing to turn over private documents, many of which are closed under federal law, to a Senate committee headed by state Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia. Schaefer’s committee investigated Planned Parenthood last year and like other investigations found no evidence of wrongdoing.
During debate, state Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, said Schaefer’s primary motivation in his aggressive pursuit of Planned Parenthood to build conservative support for his bid for the Republican nomination as attorney general.
Osage County Officials Apologize for Running Out of Ballots
Some Osage County, Missouri voters wanting a republican ballot were turned away at the polls on April 5. At the St. George Notre Dame hall in downtown Linn, election judges began running out of Republican ballots shortly before noon.
Osage County Clerk Patrick Steele said he didn’t plan on a large voter turnout and did not order enough paper ballots. Steele noted he ordered republican ballots for this year’s presidential primary based on the two previous elections.
The 2008 and 2012 presidential primaries in Osage County had a 12 to 18 percent voter turnout. And the county clerk ordered enough paper ballots for a 25 percent turnout this year.
County Clerk Patrick Steele said he apologizes for the error. A Springfield printing company made the republican ballots. Company representatives met Osage County election judges halfway between Linn and Springfield to deliver the 800 extra republican ballots.
Both Miller and Randolph counties were also short republican ballots.