BILL GUTTING MO HUMAN RIGHTS ACT GOES TO GOVERNOR
By a vote of 98-34, with many Democrats abstaining in protest, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives on May 9 granted final approval to legislation that would make it significantly more difficult to hold employers accountable for illegal workplace discrimination. The bill previously cleared the Senate and now awaits action by Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican.
Senate Bill 43 erects several new barriers designed to discourage lawsuits under the Missouri Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, gender, disability or familial status. It is sponsored by state Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, who owns a chain of rent-to-own stores that faces a pending lawsuit for alleged acts of racial discrimination in violation of the Missouri Human Rights Act.
Democratic critics of the bill said Romine’s sponsorship amounted to an abuse of power. They urged Greitens, who campaigned on a pledge to clean up the culture of corruption and self-dealing in state government, to veto the bill. However, SB 43 is supported by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a key special interest group that was an early backer of Greitens during last year’s crowded four-way GOP gubernatorial primary.
FEDERAL JUDGE UPHOLDS CAMPAIGN DONATION LIMITS
A federal judge on May 5 upheld new limits on campaign contributions Missouri voters approved last year but restricted the enforcement of some provisions of the wide-ranging measure and outright blocked others. The ruling is expected to be appealed.
At issue is Amendment 2, which 70 percent of Missouri voters ratified in Novembers. It prohibits a donor from giving more than $2,600 per election to a single candidate or more than $25,000 per election to a political party. The measure also contains several other campaign finance regulations.
Shortly after Amendment 2 was ratified, a coalition of groups sued on claims that limiting campaign contributions violates their free speech rights. The groups, which sought to have Amendment 2 invalidated in its entirety, are represented in court by Missouri Republican Party Chairman Todd Graves., whose involvement has been seen as a sign of the party’s opposition to campaign finance regulation. Missouri voters first imposed contribution limits in 1994, but the Republican-controlled General Assembly repealed them in 2008.
Senior U.S. District Judge Ortie Smith said Amendment 2’s contribution limits pass constitutional muster but found other provisions more problematic. In particular, Smith struck down sections intended to ban contributions from out-of-state entities, prohibit businesses from giving to political action committees and block donations between committee, which are often used to obscure the original source of contributions.
In addition, Smith upheld other challenged provisions to Amendment 2 but ordered that they be enforced consistent with advisory opinions previously issued by the Missouri Ethics Commission. Those opinions include that contribution limits don’t apply to donations to certain non-candidate committees and that businesses and unions aren’t prohibited from giving to campaigns supporting or opposing ballot initiatives.
PRESCRIPTION DRUG MONITORING FAILS FINAL HURDLES
Legislation to establish a statewide prescription drug monitoring program to help prevent opioid abuse failed to pass after the Senate insisted on a weak version of the bill that the House of Representatives was unwilling to accept and a last-minute compromise couldn’t be brought to final votes before lawmakers adjourned for the year on May 12.
The House approved the measure, House Bill 90, 102-54 more than a month ago. However, Senate opponents who see prescription monitoring as an unwarranted government intrusion into patient privacy added a number of restrictions to the bill, such as excluding many drugs from being subject to monitoring and requiring patient information to be purged after just six months, which monitoring supporters said is too short a time period to effectively track excessive purchases.
Because of the lack of a statewide monitoring program, more than two dozen Missouri counties and cities, including St. Louis and Jackson counties, have joined to create their own. Because HB 90 would preempt local efforts, lawmakers with strong local programs objected giving those up in favor of a weaker statewide program.
Missouri is the only state in the nation that hasn’t enacted a monitoring program to alert doctors when patients seek to obtain multiple prescriptions from different doctors. With HB 90 unable to pass before the legislative session ended on May 12, more cities and counties are expected to join the growing network of local programs.
REAL ID COMPLIANCE BILL WINS FINAL APPROVAL
The House of Representatives on May 11 voted 112-39-2 to grant final approval to legislation that seeks to bring Missouri driver’s licenses into compliance with the federal REAL ID Act of 2005. Although many states initially resisted the federal law due to privacy concerns, that resistance has dwindled to the point where Missouri is one of just four states that has yet to comply.
Compliance has taken on new urgency this year since the federal government has said that effective Jan. 22, 2018, it won’t allow state-issued identification that doesn’t include the security features mandated by the REAL ID Act to be used to board commercial flights or enter federal facilities.
The compliance measure, House Bill 151, appeared to be headed for defeat in the Senate until a May 9 when a compromise was struck to address some senators’ privacy concerns. Gov. Eric Greitens is expected to sign the measure.