House votes to outline lengths guards can go to, to protect Callaway nuclear plant

The Missouri House has approved a bill aimed at increasing security at the state’s only nuclear power plant.

Representative Travis Fitzwater (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Bill 1797, called the “Nuclear Power Plant Security Guard Act,” would create the offense of “trespass on a nuclear power plant, and make it punishable by up to four years in prison.  The bill also allows armed guards at the plant to use or threaten physical or deadly force if they believe it necessary to protect themselves or others protects them from civil liability for conduct covered in the bill.

Representative Travis Fitzwater (R-Holts Summit), whose district includes Ameren’s Callaway Energy Center, proposed the Act.

Fitzwater called the plant, “a very unique spot in our state, a very unique asset to our economy.  It just gives [guards] statutory authority to protect that facility.”

The bill had bipartisan support, including from Representative Bob Burns (D-St. Louis) who recalled touring the plant when he was first elected to the House 6 years ago.

He said the state can’t do enough to protect the plant, “Particularly with what we’ve been hearing for the past couple of years about our electric grid.  Things like Callaway, those are targets for terrorists, and if something happened to Callaway it wouldn’t just hurt Callaway, it would hurt our whole state and our region.  I mean it could make Chernobyl look like a firecracker.”

The bill passed 134-8.  One of those 8 “no” votes was cast by Kirkwood Democrat Deb Lavender, who said guards at Callaway already have the authority the Act would allow, including authority to use deadly force when there is a “reasonable belief” that it is necessary.

“We already have measures in place that protect this plant.  I don’t think this plant is fragile.  For those of you who don’t know, we hire a SEALS team to attempt to break into Callaway once a year.  They have never been successful,” said Lavender.

The Act now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

House votes to send project labor agreement ban to Governor Greitens

Missouri legislative Republicans’ labor reform agenda took another step Thursday with the final passage of a bill barring project labor agreements (PLAs) for public projects.

Representative Rob Vescovo began proposing a ban on project labor agreements for public projects when he was first elected to the House for the 2015 session. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Rob Vescovo began proposing a ban on project labor agreements for public projects when he was first elected to the House for the 2015 session. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The House voted to send Senate Bill 182 to Governor Eric Greitens (R), who had called for the elimination of PLAs.

Under a PLA, a governing body requires non-union contractors to pay union dues to workers on a project.  SB 182 would prohibit that, and would bar local governments from giving preferential treatment to union contractors.  Governing bodies that violate the bill’s provisions would lose state funding and tax credits for two years.

Republicans said PLAs are unfair to non-union workers and contractors.  Arnold representative Rob Vescovo (R) said PLAs discriminate against the largest segment of Missouri’s workforce.

“86-percent of that workforce will not be able to do work on those job sites or bid on those job sites unless they sign a project labor agreement,” said Vescovo.

Lake St. Louis Republican Justin Hill said PLAs amount to extortion.

“Those non-union contractors are forced to pay union dues into benefits that they will never receive,” said Hill.

Representative Bob Burns said project labor agreements are good tools for local governments, which the legislature should not move to take away. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Bob Burns said project labor agreements are good tools for local governments, which the legislature should not move to take away. (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Democrats called the legislation an attack on unions.  Representative Bob Burns (D-St. Louis) said PLAs protect local governments by ensuring that they will have work done that is quality and completed on time by skilled workers.  He said his time on a board of education in Affton provided evidence of that.

“A lot of things that should have lasted 25, 30 years were failing after 5 years or 2 years, and these contractors were nowhere to be found,” said Burns.  “The district wouldn’t have to spend more funds to get something done and get it fixed if it would’ve been done properly in the first place.”

SB 182 was carried in the House by Vescovo, who began introducing such legislation as a freshman in 2015.  It is expected Greitens will sign the bill into law.

The House’s passage of SB 182 follows other labor reforms it has proposed, including the passage of a right-to-work bill signed into law by Greitens earlier this year.  That legislation prevents the collection of union dues or fees from workers as a condition of employment.

Earlier story:  House Republicans continue labor reform efforts; address project labor agreements

House passes bill meant to let Missouri farmers grow hemp

The state House wants to give Missouri farmers a chance to enter a new market.  It has passed a bill that would legalize the growing of industrial hemp.

Representative Paul Curtman (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Paul Curtman (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Hemp is a variety of the Cannabis sativa plant with a low concentration of THC, the psychoactive component found in marijuana.  It can be used to make products including paper, clothing, and biodegradable plastics.

House Bill 170, sponsored by Washington Republican Paul Curtman, would allow the Department of Agriculture to issue a permit to growers who pass a background check, have not been found guilty of a felony in the previous ten years, and have never been  convicted of a drug-related offense.  The Department can also inspect growers and handlers for compliance, and inspect crops to make sure nothing illegal is being grown.

“We have manufacturers in our state who use industrial hemp as a raw material in their manufacturing goods, however because it’s illegal to grow in Missouri they have to spend Missouri dollars in the economies of other states and other countries because they can’t spend the Missouri dollars in Missouri to buy this raw material from Missouri farmers,” said Curtman.

Curtman and other supporters emphasized the bill is in no way related to attempts to legalize marijuana.  He noted the concentration of THC is so low that if anyone tries to smoke it, “they’re just going to get a headache, they’re going to throw up, and they’re going to regret it for the rest of their life.”

Some representatives disagreed.  Dexter Republican Tila Hubrect argued the small amounts of THC found in hemp can cause “intoxication.”  She also said hemp and marijuana plants are “indistinguishable to the eye,” so allowing the farming of hemp could complicate law enforcement efforts.

Carrollton Republican Joe Don McGaugh said the federal farm bill allows the growing of hemp by universities and colleges and state agriculture departments for research, unlike what Curtman is proposing.

“I support industrial hemp.  I want there to be research in industrial hemp.  Why would I not?  Why would we not want another market for our farmers?” McGaugh asked.  “I just think we need to do it right.”

The bill had broad, bipartisan support, passing 126-26.  Similar legislation has been passed out of the House in several previous years, and St. Louis City Democrat Michael Butler said he’s supported it every time.

“I am, for one, tired of voting ‘yes’ on this bill.  I think it should already be law,” said Butler.

St. Louis City Democrat Bob Burns also wanted the bill to advance.

“I believe we are people with entrepreneurial spirit, and if 31 other states are doing this I don’t think we have to reinvent the wheel to create jobs right here in Missouri, and we don’t have to write every Nth degree of this law.  You’re just trying to give people an opportunity to explore it legally,” said Burns.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

House Republicans continue labor reform efforts, address project labor agreements

The House Republican supermajority advanced another piece of its labor reform agenda, with the passage of HB 126 related to project labor agreements.

Representative Rob Vescovo (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)
Representative Rob Vescovo (photo; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The bill would bar required union agreements on public works projects.  Bill sponsor, Representative Rob Vescovo (R-Arnold) said project labor agreements discriminate against non-union workers and called them, “indefensible.”

“Project labor agreements are designed to stifle competition and force non-union contractors to become signatory on certain projects,” said Vescovo.

Democrats like Bob Burns (St. Louis) said project labor agreements allow local governments to guarantee quality work will be done.

“This is only for one reason:  to lower wages.  That’s all it’s about.  We want to pay less wages,” said Burns.  “They’re not talking about quality.  They’re not talking about safety.”

The bill goes to the Senate, which has already passed similar legislation.

The House earlier this session joined the Senate in sending Governor Eric Greitens a right-to-work bill, which was signed into law earlier this month.  The House also passed a bill supporters call, “paycheck protection,” which requires annual permission from a public union employee before union dues or fees can be taken from his or her paychecks.

Legislation dealing with prevailing wage laws, which make contractors pay a state-set minimum wage for trade workers on public projects, is moving through House committees and could be the next labor reform the chamber will debate.