The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 19, 2013

Joplin lawmakers among those voting for at least potential for smoke-filled rooms

By Eli Yokley
Globe Staff Writer

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The smoke-filled policymaking rooms of yesteryear may be a reality in the Missouri Capitol after Joplin-area lawmakers joined a majority of the Missouri House of Representatives in opposition to legislation that would ban smoking in legislative offices.

The legislation came as lawmakers met nearly a week after being sworn in to office, to debate the rules that would govern the body for the new session. Aside from some prisons, legislative offices are essentially the only state-funded work spaces where smoking is permitted. The body instead approved rules that require the majority and minority caucuses to outline a policy on tobacco use for their own members, a move House Speaker Tim Jones said is progress.

“We have moved progressively over the last few years to move the building to a smoke-free environment,” he said. Jones said in recent years, the body banned smoking in the speaker’s office and rear lounge of the House, where members can go to relax or grab a bite to eat between debates. But broadly, he said, “we leave it to the individual representative” to decide.

Democrats voted earlier in the month to ban smoking in the offices of their own members.

On Monday, prior to Gov. Jay Nixon’s swearing in, the Missouri House of Representatives redid its oath of office after an uproar by mostly tea party activists over a flub in the administering of the oath earlier this month. Missouri Supreme Court Judge Richard B. Teitelman mistakenly swore members to “support the government of the United States and of the state of Missouri,” not the Constitution.

The House Elections Committee approved legislation that would require all vacancies of statewide office to be filled by a special election. The bill, proposed by state Rep. Jason Smith again this year, fills a void in state statute pertaining to filling a vacant lieutenant governor’s seat. The law now gives no explicit guidance.

Nixon had indicated that it was his impression that the seat would be filled by an appointment, as has been the case in the two most recent vacancies of the office. But the political dynamics are different this time — Republicans have control of the General Assembly, and Smith believes Nixon will come to his side on the issue. His amended bill would allow the governor to appoint a temporary placeholder who would fill the post until the next general election, which would save the state the cost of a special election.

“A member of the governor’s staff said that they didn’t think he would have any problems with the changes we’re making,” Smith said. “I have a lot of faith we’re going to pass it and sign it into law.”

Smith’s bill will be debated on the House floor Tuesday, a leadership aide said. Companion legislation has been filed in the Senate by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, but has not yet been debated in committee.

The legislation — proposed by Smith for the past four years — has risen quickly this year as Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder pursues a candidacy for U.S. Congress in the 8th Congressional District soon to be vacated by Rep. Jo Ann Emerson. Smith and Kinder are some of the 14 Republican candidates seeking the nomination from the 8th District Committee.

Tax credit for sports events

The Senate Jobs, Economic Development and Local Government Committee met last week to discuss legislation that would create a tax credit for sporting events. The bill would provide up to $3 million a year for the state to distribute to help local sports organizers bring events to their areas. The funds would be administered through tax credits of up to $5 per ticket, distributed based on the number of tickets sold.

Craig Hull, director of the Joplin Sports Authority, was a representative for one of nearly a dozen organizations that delivered testimony to the Senate panel Wednesday in favor of the bill.

Hull — who became director of the organization in August 2011 — supported the bill during the last session of the General Assembly, but it failed to garner enough support to pass. Supporters — including the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, the St. Louis Regional Chamber & Growth Association and the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce — are taking another stab at the legislation this year.

“This would allow us the opportunity that the state would capture some of the economic impact from these amateur sports events and send it back to us,” Hull said.

The group now is funded by sponsors and a portion of Joplin’s 4 percent motel tax. Hull said additional funding would help Joplin attract more events like the NCAA Division II cross country championships that came to town in November.

Eli Yokley, Statehouse correspondent for The Joplin Globe, can be reached at eyokley@joplinglobe.com.