By BLAKE NELSON and SUMMER BALLENTINE, Associated Press
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri lawmakers are returning to the capitol Monday for the second half of the 2018 legislative session in the shadow of legislative and criminal investigations into Republican Gov. Eric Greitens.
Republican leaders, who control both chambers, downplayed the impact of the governor’s legal problems on their work. A St. Louis grand jury indicted Greitens on felony invasion of privacy charges stemming from an extramarital affair in 2015, and the House of Representatives is conducting its own investigation. Separately, Attorney General Josh Hawley is investigating the charitable activities of The Mission Continues, a veterans charity Greitens founded, as it relates to the state’s consumer protection and charitable registration and reporting laws.
Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said that business was continuing as usual despite “a lot of the noise going on.”
The Missouri Senate approved 64 bills during the first half of the session. The House passed 161, the most in a decade. Aside from some movement on legislation to help children in foster care, little progress has been made on top policies proposed by the governor.
Only one bill has become law so far. It will require hotels, airports, and other establishments to display posters with information about human trafficking. The proposal had long been championed by Republican Rep. Cloria Brown of St. Louis, who died of cancer March 18. She was present when Greitens signed the bill at the beginning of the month.
Lawmakers have until May 18 to pass additional legislation. Here’s where key bills stand.
Greitens promised the “boldest state tax reform in America,” and a nonprofit supporting his agenda bought ads to promote it. The governor wants to cut individual income taxes from 5.9 percent to 5.3 percent for most Missourians and reduce corporate taxes from 6.25 percent to 4.25 percent.
Lawmakers have largely ignored Greitens’ plan and worked on their own, but it will be a hard lift to build enough consensus to pass a bill this year, especially amid the governor’s troubles.
Lawmakers have pledged to avoid some, if not all, of the cuts that Greitens proposed to public higher education for the budget year that begins in July. While the governor asked for a $68 million cut based on what colleges and universities are expected to get this year, the latest House budget plan would only slash funding by $30 million. The House Budget Committee chairman is trying to work out a deal to restore the rest if schools agree not to raise tuition for in-state undergraduates.
Lawmakers have until May 11 to send Greitens a budget.
Both chambers approved bills that would legalize industrial hemp for use in manufacturing. One chamber will need to approve the other chamber’s bill, or the differences will have to be ironed out in a conference committee, before the governor can consider signing it.
Democratic attempts to amend the proposals in order to legalize marijuana were unsuccessful. Hemp comes from the same plant as marijuana, but contains very low levels of the psychoactive chemical known as THC.
The House voted to repeal Missouri’s prevailing wage law, which mandates that governments pay more than the state’s standard minimum wage for employees on public works projects. Republicans have long wanted to change the law, arguing that it artificially inflates wages, although some have argued against a straight repeal.
Similar bills were also introduced in the Senate, but have not yet been approved.
Currently, written approval from one parent or guardian is needed before a doctor can perform an abortion on a minor. The House passed a bill that would require a second parent or guardian to at least be notified before an abortion could occur. Exceptions would be allowed, such as if the other parent was a sex offender. The Senate is now considering the bill.
When the Legislature voted in 2016 to allow Missourians to carry concealed weapons without permits, they created a loophole that allows some domestic abusers to own guns. A bipartisan bill to change that is still in committee, as are a half-dozen other bills that would largely expand where and when Missourians can have a gun.
The House voted to raise penalties for anyone who misuses benefit money from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families poverty program, which provides regular cash payments to more than 11,000 families. The bill would also bar participants from withdrawing benefit money in cash, although the bill’s sponsor acknowledged that the state may need a waiver from the federal government before it can bar cash withdrawals.
Lawmakers are debating a bill to increase both work requirements and penalties for violating those requirements for anyone using the separate food stamp program.
LAW and ORDER
The Senate voted to raise the age at which Missourians are automatically tried as adults from 17 to 18. The House is considering the bill.
Both chambers approved bills that would restrict when law enforcement can shackle, handcuff or otherwise restrain pregnant prisoners. The House approved a measure that would largely bar restraints during the third trimester and immediately after giving birth, while the Senate gave initial approval to bill that would mainly apply to jails in larger counties.
The Senate approved a measure that would make it easier for a woman to terminate a father’s parental rights if the child was conceived through rape.