Missouri senators debating expanded gun rights on final day
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — With only hours remaining in Missouri's legislative session, senators were debating a bill Friday that would allow people to carry concealed guns without needing permits while also expanding their right to stand and fight against perceived threats.
The gun legislation was one of the more prominent bills still in play as a 6 p.m. constitutional deadline approached to pass bills. Gov. Jay Nixon said he remained hopeful that lawmakers would also approve the state's first-ever limits on lobbyist gifts, though some legislators said the prospects appeared slim.
The finale of Missouri's annual legislative session is typically a fast-paced affair, with lawmakers rushing to pass bills. The House was moving quickly Friday, but the Senate started slowly — not taking up its first bill until 1 p.m. after a free lunch sponsored by many of the state's largest utilities and lobbying firms.
Senators' first priority was the wide-ranging gun legislation. It would let most people carry concealed guns, even if they haven't gone through the training now required to get a permit. It would also expand the state's "castle doctrine" by allowing invited guests such as babysitters to use deadly force against intruders. And it would create a "stand-your-ground" right, meaning people would have no duty to retreat from danger in any place they are legally entitled to be present.
The bill has strong backing among majority Republicans. But some Democrats were fighting it.
"We're essentially authorizing a citizen without training to have a firearm, and then another citizen who is afraid that that citizen has a firearm to shoot and kill them," said Sen. Jason Holsman, a Democrat from Kansas City.
A separate bill pending in the Senate would impose limits on lobbyist gifts. It's part of a package of ethics reforms touted as a priority by new Republican House Speaker Todd Richardson. But senators have been less enthusiastic, with some seeking to pare back the House's proposed ban and others asserting they see no problem with the current free flow of lobbyist meals.
Nixon said he's fine with either a full ban or an "incremental step" that limits the value of free meals.
"When the public demands something for a number of years, a response by those that are in elected office to that — even if it doesn't get the full loaf, if it moves forward — is important," Nixon said Friday in an interview with The Associated Press. "So I would really like to see them get something done in that."
Some lawmakers remained doubtful.
"I just think politically we don't have enough time to get it done," said Sen. David Pearce, a Republican from Warrensburg, who unsuccessfully tried to amend campaign contribution limits to the lobbyist gift bill earlier this week.
The emphasis on Capitol ethics comes after the former House speaker and a state senator resigned amid sexually charged scandals last year, and other lawmakers stepped down to become lobbyists over the past several years.
Nixon already has signed several new ethics laws this year, including ones requiring former lawmakers to wait a while and get rid of their leftover campaign cash before lobbying.
The governor said he also hopes lawmakers will send him a measure revising Missouri's law on when police can use deadly force to bring it in line with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Missouri's outdated law gained attention after the August 2014 fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. A state grand jury and federal investigation both declined to bring charges against the white officer who shot the black 18-year-old.
Some contentious measures appeared unlikely to even come up for debate. Those included several bills restricting abortion and a proposal asking voters to raise the fuel tax by nearly 6 cents a gallon to generate more than $235 million annually for state and local roads and bridges.
Other proposals already had been defeated before the final day. The House twice rejected attempts this year to legalize medical marijuana. And a House committee also rejected a highly publicized Senate measure that would have asked voters to approve a constitutional amendment allowing people to cite religious objections while declining to provide wedding-related services to same-sex couples.
Still other items already had passed. On Thursday, lawmakers gave final approval to a measure revamping Missouri's sentencing laws for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder in response to U.S. Supreme Court rulings. They also referred a proposed constitutional amendment to the ballot that would authorize a photo identification requirement for voters. And they passed a bill imposing regulations on the operators of daily fantasy sports games.
DAVID A. LIEB, Associated Press. Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.
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The Gayly - 5/13/2016 @ 2:33 p.m. CDT