JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Thousands of low-income seniors and disabled residents could be spared from cuts to their in-home care and nursing services as a result of legislation passed in the final minutes of Missouri’s annual legislative session Friday.
But thousands of minimum-wage workers in St. Louis could lose a recent pay raise because the Republican-led Legislature also passed a measure banning local governments from exceeding the state’s minimum wage.
Work might not be over for lawmakers despite the session’s end.
While Republican Gov. Eric Greitens touted “the most successful start of a conservative administration in a generation” and the passage of long-sought GOP priorities, such as a right-to-work bill to ban union fees, the first-term governor hinted that he might call a special session.
The House gave final approval to the local minimum wage ban after Republican senators had similarly forced the measure to a vote despite vigorous opposition from Democrats. The House then passed the funding measure for senior and disabled services, just minutes before the state constitution’s 6 p.m. deadline to halt work. Lawmakers had been fighting for most of the roughly five-month-long session over how to pay for the Medicaid-funded in-home care and nursing services. The 2018 budget plan passed earlier this month by lawmakers would cut care for about 8,300 people by requiring them to have a greater level of disability to qualify for the program. But the budget left open the possibility of reversing the cuts if lawmakers could find more money.
The House had refused to consider a Senate plan that would authorize the state administration commissioner to take $35.4 million from various dedicated funds in order to maintain the current level of personal care services. And the Senate had refused to consider a House plan that needed state tax revenues to exceed projections by at least 3.44 percent to avoid the cuts. In the end, the House buckled and passed the Senate’s plan.
“Now the disabled and the senior citizens can rest easy,” Senate Democratic Leader Gina Walsh said. “That’s a victory for everybody, in both chambers and both sides of the aisle.”
The intent of the wage legislation is to nullify a St. Louis ordinance that raised the local minimum wage to $10 an hour as of May 5 — significantly above the state mark of $7.70 an hour. The St. Louis measure, which recently was upheld by the Missouri Supreme Court, is scheduled to raise the local wage again to $11 an hour in January. But if it’s signed by Greitens, the bill banning local minimum wages would take effect Aug. 28.
Republicans had hoped to undo the St. Louis ordinance immediately upon Greitens’ signature, but an emergency clause needed to make that happened fell one vote shy of the two-thirds majority needed in the House.
“Fundamentally, we need to have a uniform, consistent minimum wage across the state so that we don’t pit communities against each other,” Republican Sen. Dan Hegeman told reporters after the bill passed. Democrats defended the St. Louis wage increase, saying it should be up to the city to decide and arguing that the state’s minimum wage is too low to make a living.
The National Employment Law Project, a New York-based nonprofit which advocates for higher minimum wages, has estimated that at least 35,000 St. Louis workers are benefiting from the wage increase. The Employment Policies Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit that advocates against higher minimum wages, puts that estimate at more than 25,000 but figures about 1,000 of those workers would lose their jobs as businesses decide they can’t afford to pay them more.
The minimum wage legislation created an acrimonious atmosphere Friday, as Senate Democrats repeatedly tried to delay a vote with motions to adjourn the session. Senate Republicans used their overwhelmingly majorities to rebuff those motions, then after passing the bill, agreed to end their session’s work about an hour earlier than required.
Another notable bill winning approval Friday would create a “Blue Alert” system to distribute public notices when suspects who harm police are on the run. A provision in that same bill also would ramp up penalties for involuntary manslaughter, stalking, property damage and trespassing if the victim was intentionally targeted as a police officer or for being related to a law enforcement officer.
Passage of the police legislation marked a victory for Greitens, who had called for the provisions before taking office in January.
That legislation also would create a crime of illegal re-entry if deported immigrants who come back commit assaults or dangerous felonies. And the bill would strengthen protections against releasing the addresses of participants in the Safe at Home program, designed to shield victims of abuse.
Among the casualties this year was a bill limiting lobbyist gifts to elected officials, which stalled in the Senate.
Another doomed bill would have created a database allowing doctors and pharmacists to track patients’ prescriptions. Missouri is the only state without a monitoring program, which is aimed at curbing opioid and other prescription drug abuse.
The House and Senate both moved fairly briskly Friday until the House defeated a bill that would have provided buyouts for St. Louis area homeowners living near the Bridgeton Landfill and adjacent West Lake Landfill, where Cold War-era nuclear waste was buried in the 1970s. The proposal was a priority of University City Democrat Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, who launched a filibuster against other legislation in response to her bill’s failure.
After the session ended, Greitens said he would review what lawmakers accomplished and said he’s keeping “every option on the table.”
“For a lot of these politicians, Round 2 is going to start sooner than they expect,” Greitens told reporters without providing details about what issues, if any, he thinks are unresolved.