STL Today: Dems killed some of their own priorities when Missouri Senate shut down

JEFFERSON CITY • A bill that would have exempted some bed-and-breakfast establishments from paying higher taxes was among the casualties of last month’s Missouri Senate meltdown.

State Rep. Michael Butler, D-St. Louis, had attached the B&B provision to a Senate bill. It was poised for passage after a 10-member House-Senate conference committee signed off on it.

But Senate Democrats killed the bill — and scores of others, including some of their own pet causes — by filibustering nearly everything on the agenda during the final week of the session that ended May 15.

Democrats were protesting Republicans’ use of a rare procedural maneuver to pass “right to work” legislation, which would bar unions from collecting fees from nonmembers to cover collective bargaining and other costs.

“That was the worst part of session,” Butler said. “I’m working very hard to make sure those B&Bs stay in business.”

Butler wanted to protect B&Bs in St. Louis from a move to tax them at commercial rates. St. Louis Assessor Freddie Dunlap notified B&Bs that are paying at residential rates that a state law on the books since 1995 allows the property to be assessed commercially if it’s used for “transient housing.”

Under Butler’s amendment, the inns would have remained in the residential category if the owner lived there and rented out four or fewer rooms.

Mayor Francis Slay’s office has said he is not interested in putting a new burden on businesses in the city. In the absence of a change in the law, the mayor’s staff is reviewing the options and expects “to have it resolved by the end of next week,” Maggie Crane, the mayor’s spokeswoman, said in an email.

Along with the B&B provision, the Senate filibuster stymied 14 other bills that had been negotiated in conference committees but needed a final vote in each chamber.

They dealt with everything from suicide prevention and public schools’ gifted programs to government employees’ pensions and sexual trafficking of a child.

Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, sponsored the suicide prevention proposal. She said it grew out of her conversation with a St. Louis County father whose daughter committed suicide last year.

The bill aimed to increase educators’ awareness of the signs of depression by providing voluntary training. Though it had near-unanimous support in both chambers, the measure got stuck in the Senate logjam because an error inserted by the House had to be fixed, Schupp said.

“We had to send it back to conference to strip out the wrong version” of a House anti-bullying amendment, she said. “Because the Senate virtually didn’t move forward on any bills those last days, it never came back for a vote on the Senate floor.”

Schupp said she was sad to see the bill die but “I feel pretty confident we can move it forward next year.”

The bill with the B&B amendment was SB115. The suicide prevention provision was in SB328. Other bills that died with signed conference reports awaiting votes were: SB13, SB35, SB152, SB172, SB221, SB270, SB278, SB282, SB283, SB300, SB446, HB152 and HB458. (Virginia Young)

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