Unfortunately, a series of events during the final week brought a difficult and traumatic ending to this year’s session. After a controversial parliamentary motion in the Missouri Senate that ended a filibuster and forced a vote, the Senate basically shut down for the session. The only thing that was completed after this vote was the very important Federal Reimbursement Allowance Program. The FRA program—or Senate Bill 210—was passed early on Friday and sent to the House, where it was taken up and passed. The Senate then adjourned early and went home while the House continued to work until they adjourned at 6 p.m., when the gavel dropped for the final time this session.
Perhaps the most difficult and troubling moments of the final week came with the untimely resignation of House Speaker John Diehl, following allegations that he had engaged in an inappropriate relationship with a capitol intern. Not to further jeopardize the accomplishments of this year or the Republican caucus, Diehl resigned first thing Friday morning. The House then elected a new speaker, Representative Todd Richardson, to finish out the remainder of the 98thGeneral Assembly. Former Speaker Diehl apologized for his actions, stating that they were wrong and that he would take full responsibility for them. The entire Republican caucus and House members supported his decision, not only to step down as speaker, but also to resign his seat in the Missouri House.
The following is a partial list of some of the significant legislative accomplishments of this past session:
1) The FY 2015 state operating budget of $26.1 billion was passed, sent to the governor, and signed two weeks ahead of schedule and before session’s end.
2) The state’s spending plan increased funding for K-12 and higher education to the highest level in the state’s history.
3) Medical malpractice reform legislation was passed that will help keep Missouri doctors in Missouri and keep healthcare costs under control by placing reasonable limits on medical malpractice non-economic damages. The legislation caps most non-economic awards at $400,000, with catastrophic injuries, such as paralysis or even death capped at $700,000. Governor Nixon has already signed this into law.
4) Welfare Reform legislation passed that will add new eligibility and work requirements for recipients of federal welfare benefits, seeking to get these individuals back into the work force to become self-supporting and independent. This legislation arrived early on the governor’s desk, but he vetoed the bill, only to have the House and the Senate override the veto, allowing it to become law.
5) Unemployment reform legislation was passed and signed into law. This would ensure Missouri workers have the unemployment benefits they need when they are out of work. The bill ties unemployment benefits to the rate of unemployment and then requires the fund to have money available for needy individuals. The bill was vetoed by the governor, but the House voted to override his veto. However, the Senate did not take action on the override, meaning the governor’s veto was sustained. The bill may be revisited at this year’s Veto Session.
6) Legislation was passed and signed by the governor that is designed to attract the data center industry to our state.
7) The Dairy Revitalization Act—another piece of legislation—was recently signed into law by Governor Nixon. This legislation is intended to help revitalize our state’s struggling dairy industry.
Additional legislation that still awaits the governor’s signature includes municipal court reform (where municipalities raise revenue through excessive traffic tickets). The state’s legislation would limit the amount of revenue that municipalities can generate in this manner. Besides this bill, various other bills have also been sent on to the governor and are awaiting his action on them.
Even in spite of all the drama and the tragedy we faced as a legislature and as a state this session, there have been some good bills debated and passed. Our work is far from over, though, and we will pick up and move forward next session.