Missouri Legislature enters final week with lengthy list

2012-05-14T00:10:00Z 2012-06-07T19:42:04Z Missouri Legislature enters final week with lengthy listBY VIRGINIA YOUNG vyoung@post-dispatch.com > 573-635-6178 stltoday.com

JEFFERSON CITY • It's crunch time in the Missouri Legislature.

With only five days left in this year's legislative session, Republican leaders this week plan to tackle issues such as strengthening oversight of charter schools and keeping some workplace injuries out of the courts.

Also vying for time will be hot-button issues such as giving parents more information about unlicensed child care providers and establishing a way for people to petition to have their names removed from the sexual offender list.

But the biggest conflagration could come from an issue that's not even on the agenda: the possible induction of Cape Girardeau native Rush Limbaugh into the Capitol's Hall of Famous Missourians.

House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, chose the controversial radio talk show host for the honor but has declined to say when Limbaugh will be inducted. Other legislators said the bust of Limbaugh is being stored in the Capitol basement and could be unveiled this week.

Democrats oppose honoring Limbaugh, citing, in particular, his recent comments calling a female law student a 'slut" after she testified in favor of health insurance for contraception.

Rep. Stacey Newman, D-Richmond Heights, said Tilley asked her and a few other Democrats "to be on our good behavior" at the upcoming induction.

Newman said Tilley told her that the timing of the ceremony "depends on Rush Limbaugh's schedule. My guess is, if he can get Rush here next week, it would be next week," Newman said Friday.

Anticipating a showdown, the House voted last week to give the Legislature authority over the space in the Capitol Rotunda where the bust will be located. But that bill would also need approval from the Senate and the governor.

Tilley's office was mum on a date for the Limbaugh ceremony. The legislative session ends at 6 p.m. Friday.

While scores of bills await final consideration, the week's pace may not be as frantic as in some years. Sen. Scott Rupp, R-Wentzville, noted that instead of rushing back to begin work on Monday morning, the House and Senate both set leisurely late-afternoon openings.

"I don't think there's a huge amount of large issues sitting out there," Rupp said.

The $24 billion state budget is out of the way, passed by last Friday's deadline. Legislators also resolved a sticky dispute over funding for veterans homes and agreed to place on the Nov. 6 ballot a constitutional amendment to revamp the nonpartisan court plan.

Citing those issues, Tilley told reporters on Thursday that legislators had already accomplished much of the GOP's "blueprint for Missouri."

"All the other stuff, we'd like to see some of it done, but I don't think there's any of it that has to pass," Tilley said.

Because of deep divisions within the 106-member House Republican Caucus, Tilley acknowledged that he won't be able to pass most of his school choice package, which included elimination of teacher tenure and tax credit scholarships for private school students.

But charter school legislation appears poised to cross the finish line.

Charter schools are public schools that operate independently of local school districts. They currently are confined to St. Louis and Kansas City, where they have had mixed records.

A bill passed by the Senate would allow charter schools in any school district that loses accreditation. That list currently includes not only St. Louis and Kansas City but also Riverview Gardens. Under the bill, accredited districts statewide could have charter schools if the local school board sponsors them.

Districts that are provisionally accredited — such as Jennings and Normandy — could see charter schools beginning in 2015-2016, under certain circumstances.

Rep. Tishaura Jones, D-St. Louis, said the three-year delay for provisional districts reflected a compromise with rural lawmakers, who were worried that charter schools would drain public money from struggling districts just as they were making progress.

In other changes, a new nine-member state commission could sponsor charter schools, which are now overseen mainly by colleges and universities. Accountability standards would make clear the sponsor's obligation to keep track of its schools and close those that perform poorly.

While the accountability section "may not be strong enough, it's much stronger than what we have now," said House Minority Leader Mike Talboy, D-Kansas City.

WORKERS' COMP

While the charter school bill appears to be on track, legislators are still trying to find middle ground on a key pro-business bill.

Earlier this year, Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed legislation that would have moved occupational diseases to the workers' compensation system instead of letting the parties fight it out in the courts.

But in a letter to legislators last month, Nixon said he would sign revised legislation so long as it included several provisions, such as an "enhanced benefit" for certain workers, payment of their medical expenses and a broader definition of which heirs receive benefits after the worker dies.

House Majority Leader Tim Jones, R-Eureka, said there had been "a lot of give and take" and he hopes the workers' comp issues are resolved this week. "They're really causing a great deal of uncertainty in our employment world," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, agreed, saying, "It's killing businesses. It needs to be fixed."

Rupp, meanwhile, hopes his child care safety bill passes.

It is a scaled-down version of legislation that initially would have tightened how many children could be cared for in unlicensed centers. Now, the bill's main feature is a provision that would let judges bar people who are facing certain criminal charges from watching children.

"Everybody seems to be comfortable with it," Rupp said.

A group of parents in St. Albans also hopes to find success.

They support a bill that would let a child attend a school district other than the one where the family lives, if the driving distance to an in-district school is at least 17 miles, whereas another district's school is at least seven miles closer.

Eight St. Albans children live closer to a Rockwood School District school and want to attend it instead of a Washington School District school.

The parents hired lobbyist David Klarich to shepherd the bill through the final stages. It emerged from a Senate committee last week.

Elizabeth Crisp of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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