Senate leaders eye final week’s debates

Going into the last week of this year’s legislative session, Missouri lawmakers will take a look at financial problems with the state’s Second Injury Fund.

The House and Senate both are scheduled to begin this week’s session at 2 p.m. today. The session ends at 6 p.m. Friday.

“We’ll be looking at resolving the issues we have remaining with regard to the Second Injury Fund,” Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, told reporters Thursday evening, after the state Senate ended its work last week.

The fund was created in the 1940s to encourage employers to hire soldiers returning from World War II with injuries that, otherwise, might keep them from being hired.

But there are more claims against the fund than it has money to pay — with hundreds of other claims waiting to be considered for payments.

Dempsey said lawmakers must fix the Second Injury Fund’s operations, “so we can get that revenue stream going and take care of those thousands of injured workers.”

Dempsey and Senate Floor Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said House and Senate leaders still are talking about economic development and tax credits reform, two issues cited in January as major goals to be accomplished this year.

“We’re not as close as I’d like to be,” Dempsey told reporters, “but I think we are getting closer.”

That prediction was more optimistic than Gov. Jay Nixon had during a Friday morning news conference.

“At the beginning of the year, I think folks were talking about serious, thoughtful, significant tax credits reform,” the governor said. “They were talking about putting economic requirements inside the programs, real and serious caps on a myriad of programs.

“That’s just no longer in the discussion in the (Capitol). ... Their budget, as passed doesn’t reflect

comprehensive (reform) and there’s no real expectation they’re going to do that.”

Dempsey said the Senate probably will debate an employment discrimination bill this week, which seeks to redefine what qualifies as discrimination in the workplace.

Critics of that proposal say it would drag Missouri employment policies back to the 1950s and ’40s.

Supporters say it’s needed to make Missouri more attractive to potential employers.

State Sen. Mike Kehoe’s idea of a 10-year, one-cent sales tax increase to pay for major transportation improvements isn’t dead yet, Dempsey and Richard said.

But it hasn’t gotten very far in the House.

“We keep hearing that, if it came to a vote, the votes are there to pass it,” Dempsey said. “It’s worth putting before voters, and letting them make that decision to invest in our transportation system, or not.”

He said a proposed statewide bond issue for construction projects — many on college campuses — more likely will be considered again next year.

“The bond issue has always been a two-year process, in my mind,” he said. “We need to, really, do a lot more analysis of those projects.

“I want to make sure there aren’t projects on that list, just because we have a list.”

Neither Dempsey nor Richard mentioned the proposed criminal code rewrite that passed the House on May 2, and was heard by the Senate’s Judiciary Committee a week ago.

That committee has a meeting tonight to discuss bills that still could be sent to the full Senate for debate.

Neither man predicted votes in the Senate this week on bills involving Missourians’ rights to bear arms, or on new restrictions to any regulations about getting public assistance.

And, Richard said, Kehoe’s bill allowing electric utilities to add a surcharge to customers’ bills for work on their infrastructure needs likely won’t get another chance to be debated.

Several Republicans talked against the idea for several hours, when it came up about a week ago.

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