By Eli Yokley
Globe Staff Writer
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. —
The Missouri House of Representatives passed legislation Thursday that would require voters to present a form of photo identification at the polls.
The policy, known as “voter ID,” has been long sought by Republicans in Missouri to combat alleged cases of voters casting fraudulent ballots. During floor debate, however, despite hours of repeated questioning from Democrats, Republicans did not point to any specific cases of voter fraud in Missouri.
Democrats accused Republicans of pushing policy that could disproportionately affect the party’s base — urban voters, often minorities.
“Jim Crow is alive in this room,” state Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said during floor debate late Wednesday night. “This is the single most immoral act that I’ve ever seen happen in my time in the General Assembly.”
House Speaker Tim Jones, who is working closely with Kelly — a veteran lawmaker who is one of the few Democrats with a committee chairmanship — said he felt Kelly’s accusation that the legislation had some sort of racial impetus was out of line.
“I was very disappointed that Rep. Kelly decided to go down that road,” Jones said. “This has nothing to do with racism. This has everything to do with protecting the integrity of our electoral system.”
The bill was sponsored by state Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, and supported by the entirety of the Joplin-area delegation — including state Reps. Charlie Davis, Tom Flanigan, Bill Lant, Bill Reiboldt and Bill White.
In the Senate, President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said the proposal was not a priority for his members and that he wanted to focus his attention instead on economic legislation.
“It is not a top-tier priority,” he said. “We continue to be interested in making sure that people are able to vote easily and that there is no fraud in the system. We will consider legislation where we think we accomplish those goals.”
The Senate passed legislation that would fix the state’s broken second injury workers’ compensation fund. The bill — sponsored by Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles — calls on employers to pay more into the fund, caps the size of awards anyone can pull from the fund, and identifies occupational diseases the fund will cover.
The fund, currently millions of dollars in the red, is in a severe backlog. Rupp, along with Attorney General Chris Koster, representatives of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and others, had repeatedly met in private to work on a solution to the fund’s financial problems.
“It is now near insolvency, with more than $28 million in outstanding liabilities and thousands of cases that haven’t even been considered yet,” Sen. Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said in a statement. “There was a great deal of urgency with this issue, and I was proud we moved quickly to address it this year.”
The legislation now moves to the House, where Jones said members will seriously consider the Senate’s bill.
House Budget Committee Chairman Rick Stream introduced his fiscal year 2014 budget and, as expected, he did not include funding for Medicaid expansion — as called for by Gov. Jay Nixon. He visited Joplin last week for another stop on his statewide campaign, making his case that accepting federal funds for expanding the state’s Medicaid rolls is “the smart thing to do” and “the right thing to do.”
“We are facing an important business decision for the state of Missouri: Do we bring billions of dollars back home to Missouri, or do we let our tax dollars — dollars that already come out of Missourians’ paychecks — go to work in another state?” Nixon said during a visit to Missouri Southern State University. “If we take a pass on these dollars, some other state will get the benefit and we’ll get the bill.”
Legislative Republicans have said they do not want to accept federal dollars for expansion because of its effect on the federal debt, as well as its potential influence on the state’s credit rating, which Moody’s has said could be weakened by further expanding the state’s reliance on federal funds.
Speaking with reporters in Jefferson City, Nixon said the state’s AAA credit rating is not at risk. A greater threat, he said, is the looming “sequester,” the automatic spending cuts that would affect entitlement and military spending, the latter of which is important to the military bases in Missouri.