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The Rolla Daily News - Rolla, MO
  • Missouri lawmakers wrap up annual session

  • Missouri lawmakers gave the OK for teachers to carry guns in the classroom Friday as they closed out a historic session in which they cut income tax rates for the first time in nearly a century, approved one of the nation's longest abortion waiting periods and overhauled the state's criminal laws for the first time in decades.
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  • Missouri lawmakers gave the OK for teachers to carry guns in the classroom Friday as they closed out a historic session in which they cut income tax rates for the first time in nearly a century, approved one of the nation's longest abortion waiting periods and overhauled the state's criminal laws for the first time in decades.
    The final day of the 2014 session was generally anticlimactic, because many of the priorities of the Republican majority already had passed and some of Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's top goals — particularly a Medicaid expansion — had long been presumed dead.
    Yet lawmakers passed several additional state sales tax breaks for particular industries that Nixon said could "blow up" the budget. He said the legislature had "abysmally failed" and pledged to veto bills or cut spending.
    Republican lawmakers defended the budget, touted the business tax breaks as a means of boosting the economy.
    "This was a significant, substantive year," said Republican House Speaker Tim Jones.
    The biggest intrigue on the closing day was whether lawmakers would pass an even more expansive gun rights measure than the one allowing specially trained teachers and administrators to carry concealed guns. Republicans made one final push on a separate measure attempting to nullify unspecified federal gun-control laws, but Senate Democrats waged a filibuster against it until the 6 p.m. deadline to pass legislation had expired.
    "We are pro-gun," said Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence. But "this goes too far."
    That loss aside, Republicans rejoiced in their success at cutting taxes and targeting abortions, two long-held party priorities.
    Democrats joined Republicans in touting the first overhaul of the state's criminal laws since the 1970s, which Nixon allowed to take effect without his signature. There was also bipartisan support — and opposition — to successful measures that will ask voters to raise the sales tax for transportation and rewrite a 20-year-old education law by allowing local tax dollars to be used for students in some unaccredited districts to transfer to nonreligious private schools.
    Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey called it a noteworthy year because of "the overwhelmingly bipartisan support for many priority bills."
    Senate Minority Leader Jolie Justus, who helped pass the criminal code overhaul, described it as a "standout" year in which "some amazing things" were accomplished. But she expressed frustration with passage of the tax cut and abortion bills.
    Missouri's 24-hour abortion waiting period would be lengthened to 72 hours — matched only by Utah and South Dakota — under a bill pending before Nixon, which he has denounced as an "extreme proposal."
    The tax cut, enacted last week when lawmakers overrode Nixon's veto, will gradually reduce Missouri's top individual income tax rate from 6 percent to 5.5 percent and phase in a 25 percent deduction for business income reported on person tax returns, starting in 2017. But each incremental tax cut is contingent upon continued growth in state revenues.
    Page 2 of 2 - In the final hour of their session Friday, lawmakers approved sales tax breaks for fitness centers and several specific industries, including electric utilities and computer data centers. Business groups had unsuccessfully pursued the data center tax breaks for years while arguing that Missouri was losing the battle for new high-tech businesses to neighbors such as Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma.
    "This is a big deal. This is a true business economic develop bill here," said Rep. Myron Neth, R-Liberty.
    Nixon and many Democratic lawmakers had hoped to expand Medicaid eligibility to an estimated 300,000 lower-income adults, which would have triggered an influx of billions of federal dollars under the terms of President Barack Obama's health care law. But the plan never had a chance with most Republicans.
    Democrats also had pushed to reinstate Missouri's campaign contribution limits, which were repealed several years ago. But those proposals languished without passing in either chamber, as did measures to revamp the state's ethics laws by limiting the free flow of lobbyist-supplied food, drinks and gifts.
    The gun legislation passed Friday lowers the minimum age for a concealed gun permit to 19 from 21 and allows school districts to select teachers or administrators to serve as "school protection officers," who could be trained to carry concealed weapons. Republicans began pushing for the legislation after the deadly 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
    Supporters hope that armed school personnel might be able to stop a gunman.
    But the Missouri chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America urged Nixon to veto the legislation. It said wording in the bill would make it impossible for parents to find out if someone is authorized to carry a concealed gun in their children's classroom.
    Legislators also gave final approval Friday to numerous other bills, including one authorizing bonds for the renovation of public buildings and another allowing public schools to receiving state funding for lower-income students enrolled in preschool programs.
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