On Wednesday of this past week Governor Nixon delivered his final State of the State Address to a joint session of Missouri’s General Assembly and highlighted some of his past accomplishments. My perception of the speech is that in his last year as governor, Mr. Nixon is calling on the General Assembly to work with him to address the challenges facing our state. As always, things seem to break down along party lines, especially given the political environment of 2016, though there is still the desire on the part of most to do the best for Missouri.
In our limited time last week the Missouri House took action on and passed three bills before sending them to the Senate. The House gave bipartisan support to HCR 58, a bill I sponsored that rejected the recommendation of the Missouri Tax Commission to increase tax rates on agricultural land. A 5% increase previously went into effect in 2015 after the Tax Commission’s proposal was not challenged in 2014 by the General Assembly. Because of the many difficulties and uncertainties facing Missouri farmers, this is not the time to further strap them with additional taxes on their land. Obviously, numerous others felt the same, as the measure passed the House 133 to 24.
Two additional measures—HJR 53 and HB 1631—were also approved by the House before heading to the Senate. These two measures are designed to require a valid form of photo identification in order to vote in Missouri elections. HJR 53 will seek to change the Missouri Constitution to allow a system of voter ID. If approved by the Missouri Senate, it will then go to our state’s voters for their approval or rejection. The constitutional change by way of an amendment approved by voters is necessary because a voter ID requirement put into effect in 2006 was ultimately struck down the Missouri Supreme Court as unconstitutional. By amending the constitution, lawmakers are hoping to avoid a similar challenge in the future by the state’s high court.
HB 1631 would implement a system of voter ID if the constitutional amendment is first approved by voters. The bill would then require voters to present a specified form of identification in order to vote in a public election. Valid forms of identification include a photo ID issued by the state, the federal government, or the military. In addition, this bill would require the state to pay for individuals to obtain the documents necessary for an ID or pay for individuals to obtain a valid ID if they do not presently have one. The bill also specifies that individuals without a valid photo ID may still vote by casting a provisional ballot. Critics of the ID proposal say that it would disenfranchise Missourians without this proper identification, but supporters of the legislation claim it is a necessary step in protecting the integrity of the voting process and say providing a valid photo ID is the best way to ensure voters are who they say they are when they go to the polls. Furthermore, it helps in the voter registration process.
The purpose of requiring a photo ID is not to keep anyone from voting. Those opposed to this form of identification seem to disregard or overlook the fact that a photo ID is needed to engage in many business transactions, get a driver’s license, board a plane, open a bank account, cash a check, enter a federal building (including the Social Security office), have some prescriptions filled, apply for food stamps or any welfare program, apply for a job or for unemployment, check out a library book, buy a cell phone, get married, rent or buy a house or a car, rent a hotel room, adopt a pet, buy a gun or a hunting or fishing license, or even to be able to see many doctors (as was discovered this past week when helping a family member enroll with a new doctor). Why, then, would a person object to having a photo ID in order to vote? With the ongoing debate about federal photo Real IDs, it seems somewhat ironic—and soon to be a moot point-- that we are still discussing the topic at the state level.
This week several other bills that have cleared committees are now coming to the House floor, among which are three additional ethics bills ready to be debated. I will keep you informed on these and other bills as they develop and move forward.