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Few area lawmakers prefile bills on first day of session

Tuesday, December 3, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Southeast Missouri lawmakers prefiled five bills on Monday, the first day members of the General Assembly can submit legislation for the 2003 legislative session.

Senators prefiled a total of 170 bills and proposed constitutional amendments. Representatives offered just 10 pieces of legislation.

The disparity can be attributed to the fact that 90 of the 163-member House of Representatives will begin their first terms when the session begins on Jan. 8 and haven't yet learned how to write bills. Only 12 of the 34 senators will be freshman and many of them previously served in the House and are familiar with the process.

Southeast Missouri's two senators offered all of the bills submitted on the first day by area lawmakers.

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, will give three measures he has pursued in the past another go.

One of those would require state and local officials to demonstrate a "compelling state interest" in order to regulate religious practices and institutions. Governments must currently show a "rational basis" for imposing such restrictions.

To meet the latter standard, government officials must simply offer a reasonable argument for why a restriction is needed -- not prove that the government's interests outweigh those whose religious freedoms would be impacted.

The Senate passed a version of the bill this year but it died in a House committee.

An example offered during the debate of that bill involved a Missouri church that wanted to expand its building to accommodate its growing congregation. It was prevented from doing so by the local planning and zoning commission, which wanted to preserve the structure's historical integrity. While the commission met the rational basis standard, its decision would fall well short of serving a compelling state interest.

Sales tax holidays

A second Kinder bill would establish sales tax holidays over three-day periods in August 2003 and 2004. During those periods, no state or local sales taxes could be charged on clothing items costing $100 or under, school supplies worth $50 or less and computer equipment valued at no more than $2,000.

The state would reimburse local governments for lost tax revenue. The measure failed in the previous two legislative session out of concern it would be too costly to the state during tight budget times.

Kinder's final prefiled bill would ban the state and local governments from suing firearms manufacturers over the social costs of gun violence. It wouldn't prevent individuals from suing such companies for injuries resulting from defective products.

Kinder has said the bill is needed to stop frivolous lawsuits targeting industries that make legal products but are unpopular in some circles.

Sen. Bill Foster, R-Poplar Bluff, prefiled two bills.

One would expand the grounds for which school districts can expel or suspend students accused or convicted of serious crimes. It would clarify current law by specifying that a student subject to the jurisdiction of a juvenile court can be expelled if the crime in question would be considered a felony if they were an adult.

Foster's second bill would make technical changes to the state's prevailing wage law, which requires those working for companies contracted to do public works projects to be paid a wage comparable to that others make doing the same type of work. The bill would clarify who has standing to file complaints with the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations over alleged prevailing wage violations.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608


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