The state House has voted to preserve more than $69-million in federal dollars to support development of another hiking and biking trail on a former railway. That funding survived two attempts to redirect it over concerns some House members have about its use.
Governor Mike Parson (R) recommended that appropriation, which would use funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). It would pay to revitalize a 78-mile stretch of the former Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific Railroad corridor, commonly referred to now as the “Rock Island Trail.” Work would include the stabilization of tunnels and bridges.
Bunceton representative Tim Taylor (R) said his family owns property along the Katy Trail, Missouri’s other hiking and biking trail along a former railway. He said he’s seen how communities have benefitted from being along that trail.
“It has brought a sense of small prosperity to our community. When the railroad left, as it did on the Rock Island, much of the town ceased to exist. We have prospered and those towns and cities along the Rock Island are going to prosper just like the Katy Trail.”
The Rock Island corridor runs through Bland, hometown of Representative Bruce Sassman (R). He said hiking and biking trails are engines for economic development, and this is Missouri’s chance to expand them.
“I have been working on this Rock Island development project for 35 years, almost half of my life, and it’s a vision to create a trail system and a trail route that is unlike anything in the country and maybe in the world. I wish you could see this project through my eyes. I wish you knew the history of this project,” said Sassman.
Taylor and Sassman were among those who spoke against amendments that would have blocked that $69-million from going to the trail. One of those, offered by Chillicothe Republican Rusty Black, would have diverted that money to maintenance that has been deferred on other Department of Natural Resources’ properties.
“In my eight years up here, every year we have had this fight with DNR about maintaining what we already have. This is a one-time use of funds that, if we spend it on the trail, is going to further dilute the sales tax money that they get to use to maintain all of the other parks in the state,” said Steelville Republican Jason Chipman. “What we have already is in bad shape and we could put a big dent in the maintenance needed for all of the other parks that bring in a whole lot of people to Missouri rather than partially work on this one.”
“I think there’s arguments to be made for and against the Rock Island Trail,” said Representative Dirk Deaton (R-Noel), the House Budget Committee’s vice-chairman. “I think it’s compelling to me as a conservative, as a fiscal conservative, you’ve got to take care of what you’ve got before you start taking on new things – building new things, acquiring new things, setting up new things, and we do have a substantial maintenance backlog within our state parks and so I think we really ought to address that before we do this, and then you can get to the question of, ‘If we do this.’”
Another amendment was offered by Shell Knob Republican Scott Cupps. It proposed that the money be withheld from the project until lawsuits involving property owners along the Rock Island route are settled.
“The rationale for that is there is concern that we will spend millions and millions of dollars on this project and, depending on what happens in federal court, we may not be able to complete it until this is resolved,” said Cupps. “If you stand up for land owners’ rights and property owners’ rights … then you sure as heck better be a ‘yes’ on this.”
Cupps noted that there were similar legal disputes for people who owned property along the Katy Trail, which he says weren’t settled until 11 years after that trail opened.
Lawmakers who want work on the trail to proceed argued that those lawsuits’ outcomes will have nothing to do with Rock Island’s development.
“This is not about converting it back to ownership by these folks who are suing. They simply seek to reclaim the money for land that was never part of their farm in the first place, whenever they purchased it,” said Representative Don Mayhew (R-Crocker). “These lawsuits, this is a red herring. It has nothing to do with it. The state can proceed with this.”
In the end the House voted down those amendments 53-81 and 62-70, respectively, and then voted to keep the money for the trail project in the budget.
“When I leave here I think it’d be nice if I could look at one thing and say, ‘We did this for the future. We did this for this state. It’s long lasting. We didn’t spend it on frivolous things. We didn’t buy shiny objects. We built something that our citizens can use now and in the future,” said Murphy.
The House voted today to advance that spending plan to the Senate.
The state House has backed off of a proposal to eliminate vehicle inspections in Missouri. Instead it proposes that inspections would not be required until a vehicle is 10 years old or has more than 150,000 miles on it.
An earlier version of House Bill 451 would have done away with inspections for non-commercial vehicles in Missouri. Bill sponsor J. Eggleston (R-Maysville) said he knew his colleagues had a lot of concerns about that idea, so he reworked it.
Eggleston said he talked to more than 100 House members from both parties about their issues with the bill before arriving at the current language. It would push back from 5 years to 10 the age at which regular inspections of a vehicle must be done, and creates the requirement that inspections begin when a vehicle has 150,000 miles on it.
Many lawmakers said they were pleased with the changes and Eggleston’s efforts to step back from his original proposal, but some still opposed the bill.
“How did you make it back here? It must have been dodging all those terrible vehicles that don’t get inspections that are just falling apart constantly. How did you make it back to this body?” a sarcastic Chipman asked.
“You know, it really didn’t look a whole lot different [from] our state,” said Eggleston.
Eggleston stressed that school bus inspections in Missouri would not be changed under his legislation, and used cars will face the same inspection requirements they do now.
The House voted 102-45 to send his bill to the Senate.
House Republicans are fast-tracking bills meant to assert that only the state can set a minimum wage, while Democrats say the bills are a rushed effort that goes back on a promise legislators made two years ago to the people of St. Louis.
The state Supreme Court last week threw out 1998 language that prevented local governments from setting a minimum wage exceeding that set by the state. In response, Representatives Dan Shaul (R-Imperial) and Jason Chipman (R-Steelville) introduced on March 1 House Bills 1193 and 1194, respectively, both of which would bar political subdivisions from requiring a minimum wage exceeding that of the state.
House Bill 722, passed in 2015, also had language barring the setting of a higher minimum wage by local governments. It included a “grandfather clause,” allowing previous wage agreements between private vendors and the City of St. Louis to stand if they were enacted prior to August 28 of that year.
St. Louis enacted an ordinance on August 28, 2015, increasing its minimum wage first to $10 per hour this year and then to $11 per hour next year. Lawsuits delayed implementation of that ordinance, which is now set to take effect later this month.
Carpenter said lawmakers in 2015 agreed the grandfather clause would also allow to stand the new St. Louis minimum wage ordinance, and argued that pending pay hike is why the bills are being moved so quickly. Normally legislation goes through two committees before reaching the floor for debate, but these will go through only one. They also include “emergency clauses,” which would make them effective immediately upon being signed by the governor.
The House Committee on Rules – Administrative Oversight heard, too, from some St. Louis restaurant owners who said the minimum wage hike would force them to chair their business models and let go of some staff, as well as from some St. Louis workers who said they struggle to survive on their current salaries and said the wage increase is needed for many people to pay for basic needs.
The committee, after more than three hours of testimony and debate, voted 10-4 along party lines to advance the bills.