Missouri lawmakers head home after a tense legislative session with some of the biggest issues left unresolved.
From the beginning to the end, the session was dominated by fighting among the large Republican majority. Republicans were divided on major education issues such as eliminating teacher tenure.
Before the legislative session closed, the Missouri General Assembly was able to send the state's $24 billion budget on time to Gov. Jay Nixon, but the Senate debate was dominated by late-night filibusters and personal attacks against Senate leadership.
As the legislature entered its final day, many signature issues had already died, but many other bills were sent to Nixon for approval. Measures passed include:
- A judicial reform bill that attempts to keep nonviolent offenders out of prison if they violate their parole.
- A higher education bill that would create a system for transferring credits among the state's public universities.
- A tax bill that would allow Missouri communities to collect local sales tax on out-of-state car sales.
- A business bill that would prohibit workers from suing their co-employees for accidental injuries sustained while at work.
- A measure that would allow restaurants at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport to sell liquor starting at 4 a.m.
- A bill authorizing St. Louis residents to vote on a tax to redevelop the grounds of the Gateway Arch.
- A telemarketing law adding cell phones to the no-call list.
- A measure to be sent to voters that would establish a health insurance exchange.
- A measure allowing employers to opt out of providing birth control for their employees.
- A health care bill that cracks down on unlicensed day care providers.
Despite these and other accomplishments, lawmakers fumbled on addressing key issues that had been dubbed priorities for the session.
The General Assembly began the year with an ambitious agenda to tackle the state's education issues. Republican leadership outlined a plan to provide relief for students living in unaccredited school districts, fix the public school funding formula, change teacher tenure, expand charter schools and allow the state to intervene immediately in a failed school.
Although the major items on the agenda failed, lawmakers did achieve what House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, called incremental progress.
"I don't think we went forward on education reform on the big ticket issues," Tilley said. "Now I do think we are going to make incremental progress this year with charter school expansion."
As the session came to a close, lawmakers were able to pass an expansion of charter schools in failing school districts. Under current law, charter schools can only be in St. Louis and Kansas City.
Supporters said the charter school bill would provide an alternative for students living in struggling school districts.
"We need to do something to help these kids," said Rep. Rick Stream, R-St. Louis County. "And we don't need to wait until next year or the following year or five years or 10 years down the road. We need to act now to give these kids a quality education."
The bill's fate now lies with Gov. Nixon, who called for higher quality charter schools in his State of the State address in January.
A push to allow the state to intervene immediately in the unaccredited Kansas City School District was held up as the session closed, because the Senate did not approve a change to teacher tenure, which would eliminate seniority as a criteria to consider when a district has to lay off teachers.
Sen. Kiki Curls, D-Kansas City, said leaving 17,000 students in Kansas City in an unaccredited district without state help "is disgusting."
"I am going home to 17,000 kids that cannot read. I do not get it. This is what we are here for," Curls said.
One of the bigger education issues facing the legislature was providing a fix to Missouri's underfunded public school funding formula. Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, sponsored measures that would have provided a fix to the funding formula if the state government could not appropriate enough money to fully fund the formula.
Pearce said it was a "major disappointment" that the body had not passed the funding formula fix. Pearce said divisions about the legislation stemmed from each lawmaker's location in the state and the types of schools that were in each district.