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The Six Biggest Issues of 2016

  

The time to pre-file legislation has almost elapsed, and legislative leaders are in Jefferson City to determine what will be the major topics of discussion in January. We spoke with several legislators and interest groups to learn what will be the top issues discussed when the gavels drop next week.

Transportation funding   

MoDOT saw a close call with funding last year as revenue exceeded projections and allowed the department to continue receiving their matched federal dollars – though funding overall declined in 2015. After a proposal died in the legislature in 2015, an initiative petition for an increased gas tax, and a cigarette tax are being circulated with sights to increase funding for the beleaguered Department of Transportation. The department has finally hired a director, Patrick McKenna, who has infused it with renewed energy. While Missouri currently has over 600 bridges in critical condition, current funding only allows repairs to approximately 30. MoDOT is fortunate to have a long tenured effective legislative liaison, allies with top lobbyists, and skilled and respected chairmen in both chambers with Rep. Glen Kolkmeyer and Sen. Doug Libla. Look to legislative allies to continue to make the case for transportation as Missouri again falls in the national rankings of road conditions.

Lobbying regulations 

On almost every legislator’s docket this year, lobbying reform sits at or near the top. Two legislators resigned after allegations of personal misconduct. So in typical government fashion, the legislature seems set to respond to sexual misconduct allegations by reforming lobbying. Look for Rep. Caleb Rowden to be the central figure in the legislative activity. 

“It’s important for us to be proactive and set the tone for how people perceive our activity in Jefferson City,” said Rowden, R-Columbia, who has proposed his own bevy of bills focused on reforming lobbying practices in Jefferson City. “In order to have the chance to take on substantive policy issues, we have to gain or regain the trust of the general public so they can be confident not only in the process, but those carrying out the process.”

With House Speaker Todd Richardson and President Pro Tem Ron Richard each in favor of pushing this legislative issue – no matter what the final product looks like or accomplishes will be called ethics reform. All the while, the entire lobbying community quietly cheers for limits on gifts and legislators becoming lobbyists. However, one issue that you can count on not being passed will be campaign contribution limits. 

National Popular Vote

The coordinated effort behind NPV has worked the issue the right way by providing education to all invovled, and 2016 could be the year their work comes to fruition. The effort would create a group of states equalling 270 electoral votes that would be given to the winner of the national popular vote of all states. The issue seems difficult to get your head around but has natural support among Democrats on ideological grounds, and unless there is a seismic shift in electoral patterns, the electoral college will continue to provide an enormous and growing block of safe Democratic electoral votes that Republicans will be unable to overcome. What would Gov. Jay Nixon do? Well, no one knows, but he is unlikely to be the first Democratic governor in the nation to veto the bill.

St. Louis stadium bonding

The City of St. Louis and the state of Missouri have found themselves in a massive national scramble to find funding for a new NFL stadium. Owners from San Diego, Oakland and St. Louis all want to move to Los Angeles, but Nixon and his stadium task force have been working to keep the Rams right where they are. They have put together a package far above what Oakland and San Diego have offered thus far.

However, the state legislature has not been as keen to do so. While the City of St. Louis has agreed to put up just over $158 million dollars, the NFL has said it will fund somewhere between $200 and $300 million, and Nixon has aggressively pursued a further $250 million in public state funds for the new project that he would supply by rolling over existing bonds currently used to build and finance the existing dome and convention center. Some legislators like Rep. Jay Barnes, believe the governor is “flouting the rule of law in our state” in his attempts to bypass the legislature.

“Our predecessors did not write a blank check for our governor to build stadium after stadium,” Barnes said at a hearing on the stadium in November. Expect legislators to change statutory language to stop Nixon’s stadium funding plan, but most feel that when the bill comes due in five years that legislative leaders will pay the state’s debts if a stadium is constructed.

Medical Marijuana     

The movement to allow medical marijuana seems to have finally reached the Show-Me State. Informal polls and surveys, as well as some more trusted ones, have shown that Missourians are receptive to the idea of medical marijuana. The difference in the debate this year may be that conservative Republicans are viewing the issue as unnecessary government involvement in private lives. If lawmakers do not pass some form of medical clearance, multiple initiative petitions are being circulated would aim to put the issue on the ballot in November.

A sign that the issue’s time may have arrived is that the ballot effort has hired a top flight professional in Jack Cardetti to work on the issues. He is working for New Approach Missouri, and says medical marijuana has become more popular because it has worked in other states and benefits people that want to leave their medical decisions between themselves and their doctors.

“We’re trying to give physicians and patients with serious and debilitating illnesses another medical option,” he said in September. “Twenty-three states already allow for this option, and we think it’s really in the best interests of the patients.”

Abortion regulation     

Under former University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe, the university waded into the abortion debate, and pre-filing bills have provided an extremely predictable response. Anti-abortion bills have been filed to change notification for minors receiving abortions, to make adoption more affordable, and to even treat an abortion as murder. Ironically, one Democrat filed a bill to require firearms purchases to have the same 72-hour waiting period that the legislature passed in 2013. Meanwhile, the conversation continues as to how the University of Missouri got into and will stay out of the “abortion business.” The issue is currently in the courts, but most assume that the legislature will pass legislation to outlaw the practice the university was engaged in early in session and with overwhelming super majorities.