- Associated Press - Sunday, March 29, 2015

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Armed with greater numbers of Republicans than ever before in the House, Missouri’s Legislature still is struggling to find consensus on high-profile legislation as lawmakers return for the second half of the session on Monday.

So far, having a veto-proof supermajority has helped each chamber speed through some policies key to the GOP, such as welfare restrictions and barring mandatory union fees.

But Republican leaders also have budgeted significant time to delve into issues important to both parties.

House and Senate GOP members, for example, are working with Democrats to overhaul the state’s student transfer system, which has caused financial hardship for the unaccredited Normandy schools in suburban St. Louis.

A bill to reduce the amount of revenue cities can keep from traffic fines and fees - one of the issues raised after the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown last summer in Ferguson - has cleared the Senate along with legislation meant to strengthen the state’s ethics laws.

Despite progress on some major proposals, just four bills have reached Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s desk, including a bill to spur growth in the state’s dairy industry and one approving additional state spending to compensate local governments for disaster expenses.

Both chambers have passed measures to cut the amount of time Temporary Assistance for Needy Families recipients can receive monthly benefits, but the Senate sponsor declined to send a House version to Nixon and instead asked for a conference committee to hash out the differences.

The primary sticking point is how much to cut the lifetime limit for how long families can receive that form of welfare. The Senate reduced the time from five years to four, and the House cut it to 2½ years.

How House members and senators are handling the bill highlights a key difference between the chambers, with the House known to move at a faster pace in support of conservative measures and the Senate prone to a more tempered approach built on compromise.

“It’s going to be our job to slow things down on purpose,” Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard of Joplin said, noting Senate procedures allow the chamber to have longer debates than the House. “We want to make sure we don’t make any mistakes.”

The tension stemming from the chambers’ varying approaches to public policy likely will play out more in the second half of the session, as the Senate and House work on bills dealing with ethics, municipal traffic fines, the student transfer policy and a proposal vetoed by Nixon last year that would tie unemployment benefits to the state’s unemployment rate.

Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey said that chamber also will debate the “right-to-work” bill limiting union fees, which passed the House quickly but faces opposition among some senators. Dempsey has said he’s unsure how he would vote.

“In large part, the House is pushing the Senate to places that it does not want to go,” said Steven Puro, a St. Louis University political science professor.

He said splits between Republicans in the two chambers have made it “difficult to get on the same page, except for the issues that are most important to them.”


Follow Summer Ballentine at https://www.twitter.com/esballentine.

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