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Longtime priorities among measures passed by Missouri Legislature

JEFFERSON CITY (AP) — Missouri’s Republican-led Legislature pushed through a number of longtime priorities this year that had failed for years and, in some cases, decades.

Successes from the legislative session that ended Friday include bills to create a prescription drug monitoring program, raise the gas tax for the first time in 25 years, and make Missouri the last state to require out-of-state companies to collect sales taxes on online purchases made by residents.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden said the number of accomplishments is “unmatched” compared to recent years.

Missouri for years has been the only state without a database of addictive medications that doctors and pharmacists can check. A faction of Republicans aggressively fought the effort over concerns that data on prescriptions would be misused by the government or hacked.

It took lawmakers a decade to pass the bill.

Lawmakers also took the first significant step to rein in police use-of-force powers since Michael Brown, a Black 18-year-old, was fatally shot in 2014 by a white Ferguson police officer, and they managed to get a so-called school choice bill to the desk of Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican.

The session marked victories for bipartisan policies in a GOP supermajority Legislature, with Democrats sometimes teaming up with more moderate Republicans on issues that conservatives opposed.

That helped usher in success for the gas tax increase and the opioid database.

“House Democrats are proud of our work providing critical support on a range of legislative accomplishments,” House Minority Leader Crystal Quade said in a statement.

In other cases, bipartisanship meant overwhelming support for proposals that previously floundered, such as police use-of-force changes and the online sales tax bill.

Only 10 lawmakers voted against the internet tax bill, a rarity in a Legislature that abhors anything that even resembles a tax hike. The online sales tax collection requirement was paired with a small income tax cut, which eased Republican opposition.

A bill limiting chokeholds passed with only seven lawmakers voting against it. The proposal was linked to a bill to lift a requirement that Kansas City police live within the city, a Republican-backed policy.

“Today we’ve proven, since the death of Michael Brown, that Black lives matter in the state of Missouri,” said St. Louis Democratic Sen. Brian Williams, who grew up in Ferguson and led the push to restrict police use of chokeholds.

Republican Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz supported the prescription drug database and online sales tax and personally sponsored the gas tax hike. He said splitting up those sticky issues into separate bills also helped get the policies across the finish line.

The school choice bill was one of House Speaker Rob Vescovo’s top priorities. Two similar measures passed the Legislature that would create a tax credit program to pay for children to go to private schools.

Republicans pushed the bills over the finish line in part by limiting it to the state’s largest cities, which helped buy support from some rural Republicans concerned about the impact on public schools.

“Not everyone in our caucus agrees with everything that we got done, including myself,” Vescovo said after the session ended. “There were some things that passed that even I didn’t vote for, but collectively as a group we continue to work through some of those things.”

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