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GOP infighting may complicate Missouri's 2018 legislative session

Heightened tensions between Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens and fellow Republicans who ... Missourians to lose state in-home services aimed at keeping them out of nursing homes. He vetoed a bill that sought a short-term solution by using unspent money in ...

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Heightened tensions between Missouri GovEric Greitens and fellow Republicans who control the General Assembly will likely add drama when the 2018 legislative session begins next WednesdayBecause 2018 is an election year, it’s long been assumed that lawmakers will avoid divisive topics that could upset votersBut that might not be possible this time Already, state SenGary Romine, a Republican from Farmington, has promised to block the governor’s nominees to the state Board of Education, because of their role in ousting Missouri Commissioner of Education Margie VandevenThe governor wants someone in the job who’s more friendly to charter schools and public aid to private schools“They didn’t go through the confirmation process – they’re not qualified to serve on the board,” Romine said of Greitens’ appointees“And they’ve taken a vote that indicates that they are going to be more of a puppet of the governor than an independent voice for the State Board of Education.” Listen Listening.. / 3:55 StLouis Public Radio's Marshall Griffin previews the 2018 legislative session The governor has yet to respond publicly to such threats, or even to say much about his legislative objectives in 2018, other than to repeatedly affirm that he’s committed to his 2016 campaign message to “do different.’’ Other Republican lawmakers contend that while friction between the executive and legislative branches is inevitable, compromise is not out of the question “If you think the governor is being immature or acting outside the confines of how he should be operating in this relationship, I don’t think it makes sense to match that with that,” said SenCaleb Rowden, R-Columbia“We’re going to have to work togetherThere’s going to have to be some adults in the roomAnd we’re going to have to say ‘look, our constituents sent us here to do big things — and we have a generational sort of opportunity.” Legislative sessions are historically difficult to predictBut legislators’ prefiled bills offer a hint of their primary focus for the coming months: Labor unions Missouri union members at an anti-right to work rally in StCharles on Oct4, 2016 Credit File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | StLouis Public Radio In the first weeks of the 2017 session, the GOP quickly acted to approve a long-sought “right to work’’ law that would bar unions and employers from requiring all workers to pay dues or feesBut unions succeeded in a signature drive over the summer that temporarily blocks the law until voters can weigh inThat vote is a set for November 2018, unless the General Assembly acts soon to move the referendum vote to August 2018House Speaker Pro Tem Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, said there’s a strong possibility lawmakers may move the date of the “right to work” vote“Personally, I think it’s better on an August ballot,” Haahr said“Even though you’ll have some primaries in the state … the big races will be in NovemberAn issue that big that gets lost in the barrage of tens of millions of dollars that get spent in a [U.SSenate] race, millions of dollars being spent in an auditor’s race, all these other legislative and senate races, you lose the chance to have a really frank conversation with the voters of Missouri about how you want to move forward on labor issues.” Republican legislative leaders also may take on other labor issuesAmong the bills already for 2018 are ones that would bar labor unions from deducting dues from public employees’ paychecks without  obtaining annual approval Other bills would get rid of the state’s longstanding “prevailing wage’’ law, that requires local governments and school districts to pay non-union workers the same amount as unionized employees for public works projects Taxes SenBill Eigel, center, is sponsoring legislation cutting Missouri's income tax rateIt also curtails tax credit programs and raises the state's gas tax Credit File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | StLouis Public Radio Three years after approving a state tax cut, some Republicans are seeking to lower state income tax rates once againBut their push comes as that earlier tax cut, approved in 2014, is just now going into effect – and potentially adding to state government’s financial problemsAs a result, some backers of income-tax cuts are calling for curbs in various tax breaks – notably tax credits – and an increase in the state’s fuel tax, among the nation’s lowestSenBill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, and RepTravis Fitzwater, R-Callaway County, are sponsoring similar bills to cut the state's income tax and curb tax creditsFitzwater said it's a good time to revisit the tax-cut debate.  “We have a budget that continues to grow; we have record numbers in our budget,” he saidBut House Minority leader Gail McCann Beatty, a Democrat from Kansas City, is among the tax cut critics “To be able to say that all of a sudden our budget issues are going to be resolved and we’re going to have plenty of money for additional tax cuts – we don’t know that for sure, yet,” she said Health care cuts GovEric Greitens signed a budget that made cuts to in-home care servicesLawmakers may spend the early parts of the 2018 session finding money to restore care for elderly and low-income people Credit File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | StLouis Public Radio To balance the state’s current budget, Greitens made some painful health care cuts to programs that helped low-income elderly and disabled residentsAmong other things, Greitens signed a budget that caused about 8,000 disabled and elderly Missourians to lose state in-home services aimed at keeping them out of nursing homesHe vetoed a bill that sought a short-term solution by using unspent money in various state agencies’ bank accountsThe governor called that effort a “unconstitutional gimmick.” State RepDeb Lavender, a Democrat from Kirkwood, crafted the ill-fated bill, and said she may press for it again “There are funds in health, mental, health, and social services that are sitting there,” Lavender said“What better use to use these funds than to put it towards our seniors and people with disabilities living at home just needing a little bit of help with their home care.” Republicans on the House and Senate Budget Committees have also signaled that they’re willing to reverse the in-home care cutsBut House budget leaders stressed that they want to reduce a property tax credit known as the “circuit breaker” to renters to restore the services Government Ethics House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, will likely push again for curbing lobbyist-paid meals, entertainment and travel Credit File photo I Carolina Hidalgo | StLouis Public Radio Both parties will likely try again to ban lobbyist gifts of free meals, travel, and entertainment to elected officialsThat’s been a top priority for the governor and House Speaker Todd Richardson, a Republican from Poplar BluffLawmakers may also try to address some of the perceived shortcomings of a recently-enacted constitutional amendment, known as Amendment 2, that put campaign donation limits in place for legislators and statewide officialsBut that measure allows municipal and county candidates to collect contributions of unlimited sizeAnd several Republican legislators want to place limits on those types of donations“If we’re going to have standards, which we do have now because of Amendment 2, let’s make that applicable to all of our candidates,” said state RepJustin Alferman, R-HermannSome lawmakers also seek to propose changes to make it more difficult for candidates to coordinate with political action committeesRepGina Mitten, D-Richmond Heights, said it’s especially troubling that candidates can actively encourage donors to send money to a political action committee — as long as the PAC doesn’t explicitly say it will spend money on that candidate’s behalf“If the majority party in the General Assembly wants to stick its head in the stand to address this problem, ultimately it’s going to be addressed for them,” Mitten said“The problem is it will be addressed in a way that doesn’t necessarily workAnd that should be the lesson to Amendment 2: The people are going to make it happen one way or another.” Lawmakers may attempt to require politically active nonprofit groups to identify their donorsGreitens has ties to one such nonprofit, called A New Missouri, that has paid for ads or robocalls attacking some fellow Republicans in the General AssemblyNonprofits with unknown funding sources have also donated to efforts to raise Missouri’s minimum wage and to oppose a real of the state’s “right to work” lawGreitens will likely again push for a longer waiting period before former office holders can become lobbyistsIn 2017, he unsuccessfully called for a “cooling-off period” that would equal the amount of time a person in question served in office Low Income Housing LtGovMike Parson has been critical of a decision to halt low-income housing tax credits for 2018 Credit File photo I Jason Rosenbaum I StLouis Public Radio Some fellow Republicans, including LtGovMike Parson, may seek to revisit the governor’s action to eliminate state low-income housing creditsGreitens succeeded in accumulating enough votes on the Missouri Housing Development Commission The governor and his allies say the tax-credit program helps developers more than low-income peopleBy not issuing state low-income housing tax credits in 2018, critics of the incentive may have leverage to make the legislature make changes to the program“Forty-two cents of every dollar actually goes to housing,” said Jason Crowell, a former Republican state senator whom Greitens appointed to the Missouri Housing Development Commission“As I’ve said over and over again, only politicians spending other people’s money think it’s a good deal to spend a dollar for only 42 cents worth of bread.” Backers such as Parson maintain that the low-income credits are often the only way to attract low-income housing in rural Missouri“People out there that’s affected by this, at the end of the day, we’re not giving them much of a solution for the problem,” Parson said“We made a decision today on no factual basis, whatsoever … more politics than factual.” Abortion, guns and pot Members of the Missouri Senate work through the final day of the General Assembly's legislative session in 2017 Credit File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | StLouis Public Radio Several prefiled bills would curb abortion rights, or outlaw the medical procedure in most casesOthers would expand gun rightsBoth issues often have been popular ones for conservative lawmakers who believe they galvanize the GOP’s socially-conservative wingBills related to gun rights include a proposal to allow people to carry firearms into churches or other houses of worship without first obtaining approval from the institution’s religious leaders At least two StLouis lawmakers – RepsPeter Merideth and Karla May – have prefiled bills to ease or eliminate bans on the sale, production or use of small amounts of marijuana Their proposals come as some groups are seeking to get measures on the November 2018 ballot that would legalize marijuana for medicinal useStLouis Public Radio's Jason Rosenbaum contributed information for this storyFollow Jo on Twitter: @jmannies Follow Marshall on Twitter: @marshallgreport Tags: Audio Features2018 Missouri General AssemblyEric GreitensElijah HaahrGina MittenJustin AlfermanGail McCann BeattyCaleb RowdenGary RomineTop StoriesTweetShareGoogle+EmailView the discussion thread StLouis Public Radio is a service of

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