By Johnny Kampis | Missouri Watchdog
ST. LOUIS – Lawmakers are enjoying their spring break this week, as the 2013 edition of the Missouri General Assembly reaches
The output so far? Two bills sent to the desk of Gov. Jay Nixon, both dealing with tax credits. That’s out of about 1,500 bills and resolutions that House and Senate members have filed this session.
In cinematic terms, the Show-Me State Legislature’s performance may be more Tuco than Blondie.
As an homage to the Man With No Name trilogy, Missouri Watchdog asked a variety of Missouri political observers what they thought was good, bad and just plain ugly about the legislative session.
“I’m not sure I can come up with a good,” said George Connor, head of the Missouri State University political science department. “I’m a glass half empty guy.”
Carl Bearden, founder of United for Missouri, which pushes for smaller government and fiscal conservatism, approves Senate Bill 26, which lowers the state income tax and raises the sales and use tax over a period of years.
That bill, still in the early stages, is a good first step to lowering the tax burden on labor, said Bearden, a former Republican legislator from St. Charles.
“It’s the first major reform we’ve had since 1931,” he said.
Patrick Ishmael, a policy analyst at pro-free market think tank Show-Me Institute, said such tax reform will help Missouri stay competitive with neighboring states for jobs.
“The legislature appears to be making substantive efforts to keep the state competitive with Kansas and other pro-growth, tax-reforming states in what’s turning out to be an emerging Midwestern growth corridor,” he said.
Bearden was happy to see a Medicaid expansion killed, and efforts in place to reform the program in Missouri.
“You don’t just pour more water in a bucket with a hole in it,” he said.
Nixon continued to tour the state, pushing for the extra federal tax dollars Missouri could get if it agreed to boost its Medicaid rolls, even after it seemed obvious the measure had little chance of passage this session.
With much of the business community behind the Democratic governor, the issue could return in 2014.
“I still have concerns about the prospect of a costly Medicaid expansion, although there are some positive, free-market health-care reform ideas floating out there, too,” Ishmael said.
John Chasnosff, program director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, said his organization supports efforts to reduce prison overcrowding by lowering sentencing guidelines.
“That would also help the public defenders’ offices, which are seeing overloaded schedules,” he said.
A bill from Sen. Gina Walsh, D-St. Louis County, would prohibit employers from requiring employees to reveal passwords to such sites as Facebook.
“People ought to have their social media privacy rights respected,” Chasnosff said.
Connor said there’s a reason you often see bills filed to shorten the General Assembly session, and it’s evident in the lack of action taken so far in 2013.
“The legislature has so far been unproductive, but that’s just the way the Missouri legislature goes,” he said.
Top lawmakers don’t seem to share that view. In a news conference with reporters before leaving Jefferson City last week, Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, called the 2013 MGA “one of the most productive sessions in recent memory.”
The two bills that have gone to Nixon so far would create a new tax credit designed to lure amateur athletic events to the state and restore so-called “benevolent tax credits” for charitable causes.
This was supposed to be the year the state reigned in its tax credits. Instead, lawmakers keep adding more.
Bearden points to House Bill 423, from Republican Rep. Ann Zerr, which would expand the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act, as excessive.
“It’s just horrific to see that, especially when we have the bleeding with the existing tax credit program,” he said. “If private industry can’t get the financing why should the taxpayers be the bank?”
Missouri’s Republican delegation is pushing another effort to implement photo ID requirement for voting, a reform that has recently been implemented in such states as Kansas and Tennessee. Democrats and civil liberties groups tend to oppose it.
“We think that would restrict voter access,” Chasnosff said.
The recent news that the Missouri Department of Revenue is scanning driver’s licenses of concealed carry permit applicants for a statewide database has caused plenty of controversy, and has both Democratic and Republican legislators eager to push bills to stop the practice.
But Bearden doesn’t think the response has been strong enough.
“They should all be jumping on this until they get some answers,” he said.
It seemed gun rights was the brunt of the lawmaking conversation after the December massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, with the GOP lining up to protect the Second Amendment at all costs and Democrats wanting to eliminate more powerful weapons.
Bearden’s a staunch supporter of gun rights, so he holds great disdain for House Bill 545 from Rep. Rory Ellinger, D-University
“It’s a sad commentary that we have Missouri legislators who don’t understand the Constitution, which they’ve sworn to uphold,” Bearden said.
It seemed we had entered the silly season, however, when Rep. Mike Leara, R-St. Louis, filed a bill that would make felons of other lawmakers if they sponsored bills infringing on gun rights. Only a few days later, Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, filed a bill in turn that would make felons of legislators who sponsored bills that restricted on individual collective bargaining rights.
“Yeah, didn’t exactly bathe themselves in glory there,” Ishmael said.
Connor said such rhetoric is pointless.
“We’ve wasted a lot of time on silly posturing instead of doing the people’s business,” he said.
Spring break’s over on Monday, with eight weeks left in the session.