Special session off to rocky start -- Cunningham addresses "Facebook Law"

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By DICK ALDRICH Missouri News Horizon
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo.-- The state senate’s leading opponent of tax credits for economic development tuned up his vocal chords Tuesday, warning that the governor’s call for the special legislative session was too narrow to achieve real economic development.

Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, was harsh in his criticism of Gov. Jay Nixon’s call that limited the economic development package to the “Aerotropolis” foreign trade incentive package for Lambert St. Louis International Airport, the MoSIRA high tech industry proposal and incentives for data centers.

“It’s undemocratic to be here in this special session,” Crowell said to Senate President Pro Tem Robert Mayer on the floor off the chamber. “It’s an abortion to be here under these specific, tightly noose-like parameters that only the governor wants.”

Crowell said he’d like to see the scope of the debate widened to include “right-to-work” legislation, which would ban compulsory labor union membership, along with other issues which he said would be real economic drivers for the state. He said special interests and legislative leaders also had too big a hand in putting together the existing package.

“A couple of people in each chamber have decided, ‘you know what? We can’t win in regular session, in lining the special interests the way that they want to be lined. So now, we’ll just go into a special session, and do that, and we’ll limit any of the other things,” Crowell said.

After more than three hours of inquiries of fellow senators, Crowell relented, saying he hoped there was a way to come up with a solution for the economic development package, but he sounded pessimistic, saying “I have a long way to go and a lot left to say,” in a veiled threat to filibuster.

Pictured left: State Sen Jane Cunningham

Once the Senate formally agreed to be in special session, State Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, introduced legislation that she says will clear up any confusion surrounding the controversial “Facebook rule” she sponsored during the regular session.

The legislation, part of a larger bill aimed at protecting students from sexual assault, included language that teachers’ groups said unfairly limited contact between students and teachers on social networking sites. In his call for the special session, Nixon called for the language on social media to be stripped from the overall bill.

But Cunningham persisted in filing her legislation, which she maintained was inside the governor’s parameters.

“It deals with the subject matter he called on,” Cunningham said, adding that the governor cannot legislate by limiting the agenda in his call.

Also on Tuesday, the governor broadened the session’s call to include legislation aimed at helping property owners affected by the tornado in Joplin.

In a message to the legislature, Nixon allowed the general assembly to take up a bill filed by Joplin state Rep. Bill White that allows commercial property destroyed by a natural disaster to be taken immediately off a county’s tax books so that owners do not continue paying property taxes while their property is unusable for business purposes.

The Senate recessed late afternoon Tuesday to get a ruling on whether farm property, such as tractors and other machinery, could be considered commercial property for purposes of the bill.