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Tax Bill Abandoned

April 30, 1996
By: ELIZABETH McKINLEY
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Time has run out for a state income tax break this year. A bill that would give tax breaks to Missourians was shelved Tuesday by the House Ways and Means Committee Chairman.

"We'll go on to other things. We've been down this path before," said Committee Chairman Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, the bill's sponsor.

Jacob said House leaders had given him until noon Tuesday to get a vote on this version of the bill. But an amendment, sponsored by another Democrat, was offered just four minutes before his deadline - causing Jacob to walk off the floor.

"There's no discipline on either side. Something really has to change institutionally," Jacob said.

But Republicans said this was just another attempt by Democrats to limit debate in the House.

"They are putting unreasonable restrictions on debate and amendments and the membership is not going to bow to that," said GOP Assistant Leader Don Lograsso, of Blue Springs. "It's not a lack of discipline of the legislature, but a lack of the belief of the system by Democratic leadership."

Meanwhile, the governor's office said they thought there was little chance of the state income tax reduction passing.

"The legislation we are pushing is the reduction in sales taxes on foods," said Chris Sifford, spokesman for Gov. Mel Carnahan.

Last week, the House gave preliminary approval to a two-cent-per-dollar cut in the sales tax on food.

The continuing House debate on taxes was just one of a number of legislative developments Tuesday, as lawmakers picked up the pace for their May 17 adjournment:

@ The House passed and put on the statewide ballot a proposed constitutional amendment to create a Department of Aging.

The measure has been strongly supported by elderly groups who argue a separate department would provide an advocate for the elderly on the governor's cabinet.

@ The Senate passed legislation providing for a life sentence, with eligibility for parole, for any sex offender determined to be "predatory sex offender" by the court.

The only significant change made to the bill was the withdraw of a provision requiring a psychological exam for first-time offenders. Sen. Betty Sims, R-St. Louis County, said there was a constitutional question to that provision.

The bill next goes to the House for approval.

@ Two of the major health-care bills of the 1996 session cleared the Senate.

The two bills would require insurance policies (including HMOs) to cover both child immunization and a minimum of 48 hours post-delivery hospital stay for mothers.

Both bills, approved by the House earlier this year, return to the House for review of Senate changes.

In a measure sponsored by Rep. Scott Lakin, D-Kansas City, HMOs would be required to cover child immunization before the age of five. He said he plans to bring up the Senate-approved version for House debate Wednesday.

Children in the state of Missouri are required to be immunized before entering a school system. A report by the federal Centers for Disease Control ranked Missouri 48th out of the 50 states for the percentage of children immunized by age 2. Only Idaho and Michigan rank lower.

The Senate also approved a measure that would require HMOs to cover a minimum of 48 hours after a vaginal delivery and 96 hours after a caesarean section.

Sen. Jet Banks, D-St. Louis, who handled the legislation in the Senate, said HMOs are releasing women and children too early after a delivery.

"It was needed because it's unfair for a woman to go into the hospital and have her in one day, give birth, and then be released the next," Banks said. "She needs to have time to heal before she goes home."

@ Mandatory AIDS testing could be possible -- at the request of a person's past sexual partners, under a House amendment to a Senate bill regulating HIV testing.

Anyone who has had contact with a potential carrier of the AIDS virus could ask the court to give the potential carrier a state-mandated HIV test.

The amendment was attached to a bill approved earlier this year to the Senate. The bill now returns to the Senate for review of the House amendment.

Rep. Craig Hosmer, D-Springfield, sponsor of the amendment, said it was aimed at crime victims, hospital workers and law enforcement officers.

But Hosmer's proposal met some opposition.

"It opens up a room for lots of problems," said Rep. Paula Carter, D-St. Louis City. She said anybody could claim to be a victim -- without proof -- and seek an HIV test.

Carter also said the amendment violates the person's right of confidentiality because the test results would be available to the petitioner.

Under the bill, test results also could be accessed by certain state employees "who need to know to perform their public duties."

Supporters of the amendment argue the victim has a right to know.

"Leaving the victim not knowing if they had been infected with the deadly disease to me is just bad public policy," Hosmer said.

Carter said the amendment goes beyond the scope of the bill. "What we only want to deal with is alternative means of testing (for HIV and AIDS) besides blood -- saliva test," Carter said.

@ The House gave initial approval to a State Highway Patrol-run Division of Gaming as an amendment to a Senate bill that has already received Senate approval. The language of the amendment was an exact copy of part of a House bill that was given initial House approval Tuesday morning, but has not yet made it to the Senate.

Jacob, who originally sponsored the House bill, said he opposed the amendment to the Senate bill because he thought the House would eventually approve his measure and the bills would be redundant.

Rep. Phil Wannenmacher, R-Springfield, sponsored the amendment. Wannenmacher said Jacob's bill had little chance of receiving both House and Senate final approval before the end of the legislative session.

Because this measure was added to a bill that has already been passed by the Senate, if it receives final House approval it will be sent to a joint conference committee where legislators will try to work out the differences between the Senate and House versions of the bill.