JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The final few weeks of session are busy for both chambers of the General Assembly.
The House of Representatives took steps to move the 18 appropriations bills for the budget into conference committees with the Senate, the final barrier to passing the state budget for fiscal year 2014. The bodies will go into conference next week to hammer out the final details.
Behind the scenes, leadership in the House worked with the office of Gov. Jay Nixon on House Bill 18, which would appropriate funds for Capitol improvement projects in state buildings and properties, as well as funds to help replace damage caused by the Joplin tornado.
An education bill that resulted in some committee shakeups last week with strong support from House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, still hasn’t arrived on the floor for debate, though it remains on the calendar. Jones and House leadership caucused on the issue several times during the week.
Jones told reporters that he hoped the bill would be brought up for debate before the end of next week, but did not state a definitive schedule.
HB 210: A criminal code omnibus bill finally moved further through the House this week, and the massive bill is relatively popular on both sides of the aisle. Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and has spent the better part of the last four years working with groups all over the state to rewrite and update Missouri’s criminal code, which hasn’t had any substantial revisions since the 1970’s. Cox told The Missouri Times in a February interview that much of the bill deals with streamlining and simplifying the criminal code.
New levels of misdemeanors and felonies are adopted in the new language, and several criminal offenses are condensed, which Cox says will save the Missouri taxpayer significant revenue in court costs. Cox also said he wasn’t certain the bill could get to Gov. Nixon’s desk before the end of session, but that his goal had been to see it arrive in the Senate before May 17.
HCS SS#2 SCS SB 1: The bill modifying workers compensation law, as well as the Second Injury Fund, took up a substantial chunk of time for the House near the end of the week. The bill, which establishes new caps and regulations on payments of workers compensation and dials back eligibility for the Second Injury fund, resulted in some of the most passionate debate of the session. Tensions were high as Minority Leader Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis, had a confrontation on the floor with Robert Cornejo, R-O’Fallon. The two men clashed on the floor and Hummel followed Cornejo into the rear gallery, raising his voice after Cornejo appears to have made a remark to Hummel on the floor that was not audible to most of the body.
Republicans emphasized the need to repair the Second Injury Fund and unburden businesses from fraudulent or frivolous claims. Both sides seemed to agree on the need to repair the fund, but Democrats countered that benefits would ultimately be reduced and that removing judicial avenues for occupational disease put workers at risk. Neither party appeared entirely satisfied with the bill. Bill sponsor Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, urged the body “not to allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.”
SS SB 28: The House also moved on a bill from the Senate dealing with the collection of unemployment benefits. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Will Kraus, R-Kansas City, redefines “misconduct,” as it relates to termination and the collection of unemployment benefits. Kraus and his fellow Republicans tout the bill as protecting small businesses and state entities from paying unemployment benefits to individuals who were terminated for good reason. Democrats, on the floor of the House, said it would strike an “imbalance,” between workers and their superiors. The bill makes it easier to define employee behavior as “misconduct,” and therefore make them ineligible for benefits. The bill would also allow for the standard to apply to the employee even if the behavior does not occur at the workplace or during work hours, so long as the conduct is “reasonably related to the job environment.”
Collin Reischman was the Managing Editor for The Missouri Times, and a graduate of Webster University with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.