Legislative Actions and Information for the Week of Jan. 27, 2020
|On the Floor
The Missouri Senate experienced its first late night of the 2020 legislative session, as lawmakers debated a proposed change to Missouri’s redistricting laws into the early hours of the morning of Jan. 30.
The debate stemmed from the Clean Missouri ballot initiative voters approved in 2018. This constitutional amendment, which is still in effect at this time, changed the process regarding the drawing of Missouri House of Representatives and Senate legislative districts. Around every ten years, Missouri redraws its state legislative district lines to reflect changes in population. Previously, bipartisan citizen commissions drew the district lines. Under the approved Clean Missouri measure, a nonpartisan state demographer will be drawing the lines. Clean Missouri also put in place a ban on lobbyist gifts greater than $5 and lowered House and Senate campaign donation limits.
Senate Joint Resolution 38 seeks to undo parts of Clean Missouri, while expanding others. The proposed constitutional amendment would return the redistricting process to the bipartisan commissions. SJR 38 also seeks to change who the maps represent, by having them drawn “on the basis of one person, one vote.” Senator Nasheed believes this change threatens to reduce representation largely in our state’s metropolitan areas by excluding non-voters such as children and non-citizens from the count. Additionally, SJR 38 enacts a complete lobbyist gift ban and lowers the maximum state legislative campaign limits by $100.
Senator Nasheed and her colleagues filibustered SJR 38, believing it will undo the will of the voters. The nonpartisan state demographer has not even been selected yet, much less been able to draw the maps. The possibility that the resolution will lead to reduced representation in the Legislature from major cities is also a chief concern for Sen. Nasheed. After debating until 3 a.m., the legislation was held over for future debate. Senator Nasheed will continue to fight against SJR 38 and stand up for the will of the voters. Even if this proposed constitutional amendment passes out of the Senate and the Missouri House, it must also be approved by voters in order to go into effect.
Bills and Committees
While the Senate is beginning to debate bills on the Senate floor, important work is still happening in committee. Bills continue to be referred to committee for their first round of consideration by lawmakers. In the coming weeks, Sen. Nasheed’s bills will be heard in their assigned committees.
The Senate’s Appropriations Committee continued its important task of developing its version of the state’s operating budget for Fiscal Year 2021. This week, the committee heard public testimony from several state departments in order to understand their budget needs for the upcoming fiscal year.
Houses Passes Bill Blocking Multi-State Power Line Project
The House of Representatives on Jan. 28 voted 118-42 to approve legislation intended to block construction of a power transmission line across northern Missouri by prohibiting the company pursuing the project from using eminent domain to acquire property for the project. The measure, House Bill 2033, now advances to the Senate.
The Grain Belt Express line would transmit power generated from wind farms in Kansas across Missouri and Illinois and connect to the power grid in Indiana. The $2.3 billion project has been tied up in court for years, with the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District ruling against the most recent challenge from opponents on Dec. 17. That case has been appealed to the state Supreme Court, which hasn’t yet agreed to take it.
Opponents of the project say it’s unfair for a company to be granted the power to seize private property from unwilling sellers instead of being required to pay full market value. Proponents say that without eminent domain, the project wouldn’t be feasible. The House approved a similar bill to block the project last year, but it did not receive approval from the Senate before the end of the 2019 legislative session.
House Committee Approves Gambling Expansion Bill
The House Special Committee on Government Oversight approved legislation on Jan. 28 that would legalize and regulate video slot machines and sports wagering in Missouri. The measure, House Bill 2088, would also bolster penalties for establishments that offer unlicensed video gambling terminals.
HB 2088, in part, targets the proliferation of unregulated video gambling terminals in convenience stores and other establishments. According to the Missouri Gaming Commission, such terminals are illegal under existing law, a contention the companies that supply them dispute. Under the bill, only machines regulated by the lottery commission would be allowed. Also, wagers on such devices would be subject to taxation, which unregulated machines currently avoid.
In addition, the bill establishes a framework for allowing wagering on sporting events to be offered at Missouri casinos and entertainment districts. The latter would include places such as Ballpark Village in St. Louis and Kansas City’s Power and Light District.
Governor Appoints Senator to Tax Commission
The Missouri Senate is losing a third member to the executive branch after the governor appointed Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, to the State Tax Commission on Jan. 27. The Senate confirmed Romine’s appointment three days later. He was first elected to the Senate in 2012 and was scheduled to leave office at the end of the year due to term limits. Romine becomes the third senator scheduled to term out of the Senate at the end of the year to accept a gubernatorial appointment this session.