Apr 13, 2017 – Weekly Capitol Update

BILL TO WEAKEN HUMAN RIGHTS ACT ADVANCES IN HOUSE

Legislation to severely weaken Missouri’s anti-discrimination law that is sponsored by a Republican state senator who currently is being sued for alleged violations of that very law has cleared two House committees and is one vote away from being sent to Gov. Eric Greitens to be signed into law.

Senate Bill 43 would make it significantly harder for victims of illegal workplace discrimination to successfully sue their employer under the Missouri Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, gender, disability or familial status.

Its sponsor, state Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington owns Show-Me Rent-to-Own, a nine-store chain in Southeast Missouri. In 2015, a former account manager at the company’s Sikeston location sued, alleging a white supervisor repeatedly targeted her with racial slurs and also prohibited renting to residents of Sikeston’s black neighborhood. The account manager, who is black, says she was fired for pre-textual reasons after complaining. The case remains pending in Scott County Circuit Court.

In a news conference on April 10, members of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus said the bill would weaken important civil rights protections and criticized Romine for using his elected position for personal benefit. The Senate approved SB 43 in March, and if no changes are made by the House it will go straight to Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican, to be signed into law.

 

SENATE PASSES TAX CREDITS FOR PRIVATE SCHOLARSHIPS

The Senate on April 11 granted first-round approval to legislation that would authorize $25 million a year in tax credits for donations to organizations that provide scholarships for private school tuition. The measure, SB 313, requires a second vote to advance to the House of Representatives.

Critics of the bill said it amounted to a back-door private-school voucher system, since money that would otherwise go into the state treasury for various state services, including public schools, would be redirected to private schools.

SB 313 also contains numerous other provisions relating to education, including changes to an existing law that allows students in unaccredited school districts to transfer to better nearby schools and modifications to the State Board of Education’s powers to take over such districts.

 

STATE AUDITOR FINDS ISSUES WITH TAXING DISTRICTS

Transportation development districts throughout Missouri are engaging in questionable practices with little oversight or transparency, according to a report State Auditor Nicole Galloway issued on April 10. Galloway, a Democrat, urged the Republican-controlled General Assembly to overhaul the state’s TDD law to prohibit the “self-dealing and conflicts of interest” she says are currently common.

“Insiders have rigged the system to take advantage of Missourians,” Galloway said in a news release. “It is outrageous that taxpayers are on the hook for a billion dollars in debt without even realizing it.”

TDDs are special taxing districts — usually created by land developers — that authorize businesses within the district to levy a sales tax, the proceeds of which go to reimburse the developer for the cost of building and maintaining infrastructure in the district. TDD taxes are imposed without local voter approval, in apparent violation of the Missouri Constitution’s Hancock Amendment.

The problems highlighted in Galloway’s report include the inherent conflicts of interest of TDD boards controlled by developers and property owners, collection of taxes in excess of a TDD’s legal authority, improper extension of the duration of taxes and failure to comply with various reporting requirements.

 

GREITENS CREATES PANEL TO STUDY ELIMINATING PANELS

Gov. Eric Greitens on April 11 issued an executive order creating a governmental panel to study whether Missouri has too many governmental panels. The 12-member Boards and Commissions Task Force is charged with issuing a report no later than Oct. 31 with recommendations on whether some of the more than 200 state boards and commissions should be eliminated.

Former Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, attempted a similar culling in 2010, targeting more than 30 boards and commissions for elimination, some of which hadn’t met in years. Legislation to do so cleared the Senate but died in the House of Representatives. However, Nixon unilaterally eliminated 13 boards and commissions by executive order.