An eventful week at the Capitol Building saw one highlight in particular outshine the rest: Senator Jamilah Nasheed (D-St. Louis City) hosted Lezley McSpadden and more than 50 St. Louisans as they lobbied legislators to support Sen. Nasheed’s Police-Worn Body Cameras bill.
In her introduction of the Senate Bill 628, Sen. Nasheed emphasized that her bill “will support accountability for both law enforcement as well as civilians.”
Lezley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown, was the star witness in favor of SB 628. During her heartfelt testimony, Ms. McSpadden challenged the committee to “think long and hard about [their] decision to pass SB 628.”
“There is no recorded account of my son’s last moments in life. I still do not have closure or the solid truth of what really happened that day. Please let police-worn body cameras be a voice of truth and transparency in Missouri communities,” Ms. McSpadden said.
At the conclusion of the lobby day on Wednesday, Sen. Nasheed thanked her supporters saying, “It has been a long day and a long couple of years. But I thank you so much for supporting me as I push for transparency and accountability in the justice system.”
On the Floor
The Senate engaged in a contentious debate Tuesday night that went well into Wednesday morning, finally releasing at 6:10 a.m. Legislators were debating Senate Bill 847, a controversial tort reform bill. Senator Nasheed contributed several arguments in opposition to the bill that would have hindered the ability of injured people to recover damages from large corporations and plaintiffs that caused their injuries. After 13 hours of deadlock however, the Senate finally reached a compromise and the bill was Third Read and Passed by the Senate on Thursday afternoon.
Bills and Committees
- Senate Bill 628 – Body-Worn Cameras –would require Missouri’s largest law enforcement agencies to equip their officers with body worn-cameras when interacting with the public. “This hearing is an extremely important first step toward making this bill a reality,” Sen. Nasheed said. “Now more than ever before, we need to focus on repairing the relationship between communities and police. Body cameras will help to do that by cutting down on both police use of excessive force and frivolous complaints against officers,” she continued. After Tuesday’s Senate debate continued into Wednesday morning, many of Wednesday’s Senate hearings were rescheduled, including the Senate Transportation, Public Safety, and Infrastructure Committee, which was pushed back three hours to 11:30 a.m. The hearing was headlined by Lezeley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown. Other witnesses in favor of the bill included the NAACP, the ACLU, the Missouri Press Association, and several of the supporters who had ridden the bus from St. Louis to support Sen. Nasheed’s bill.
- Senate Bill 691 – Lost/Stolen Firearms – would require anyone who has a gun stolen in the City of St. Louis to report the theft allowing law enforcement to identify stolen weapons before they are sold to violent criminals on the street. It was heard by the Senate Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Safety Committee. The public hearing took place this Wednesday at 11:30 and the bill was well-received by the committee.
- Senate Bill 977 – Anti-shackling –would prohibit the mandatory use of shackles for both incarcerated pregnant women and juveniles appearing in court. Testimony in favor of SB 977 came from a broad range of interests: the ACLU, Empower Missouri, as well as Britteny Pfleger, Katherine Kerbs and Adrienne Spiller; students from the University of Missouri-School of Law, who helped to gather research for the legislation. Forwarding her reputation as a unifier, Sen. Nasheed’s bill also garnered support from both pro-choice groups and pro-life groups, an extreme rarity in Jefferson City.
This week was a shortened one in Senate Appropriations. As Monday was a state holiday, there was no hearing. Tuesday saw floor debate stretch overnight, so the Wednesday hearing was postponed. That left just two hearings this week; Judiciary and the Department of Education.
The budget of the Judiciary is one that generally given great deference. The budget of the judges should not be political. The biggest issue raised in the hearing was by Chief Justice Mary Rhodes Russell. She advocated for a new program to reclassify hundreds of judicial administrative and technology staff positions to be more wage-competitive to private industry.
The Public Defender’s Office presented a study by the American Bar Association on the Missouri Defenders’ attorney and staff time spent per case. The study recommended increasing the number of attorneys and staff to give adequate representation to each client. The recommendation, if implemented, would raise the number of public defender attorneys from 349 to 640, statewide. The study concluded that the average Missouri public defender spent 60 percent of the time working on a case compared to the average private attorney.
The public defender noted the high cost of fully implementing the report and instead observed that the ‘best bang for the buck’ could be had by addressing conflict cases. Currently, a client who has a conflict is given a second public defender from a different district, further overburdening both offices and adding travel and other expenses. Paying local private attorneys to handle conflict cases would be less expensive and would have immediate impact. The request for conflict cases was $3.5 million.
The final hearing of the week was the budget presentation of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The most notable portion of the hearing were the cuts proposed by the governor. Public school tutoring programs in both St. Louis and Kansas City were proposed to be cut to zero by the governor.
Likewise, the governor also recommended the ending of the Missouri Scholars and Fine Arts Academy, which helps Missouri’s gifted youth prepare for college. Low-performing schools potentially will lose about half of their funding for special learning services. And the final cut discussed was the governor’s recommendation to remove $100,000 from the $415,000 program cost of Advanced Placement classes for low-income high school students to earn college credit.
St. Patrick Center, a social services provider in St. Louis, has been awarded $165,080 in Youth Opportunities Tax Credits. Senator Nasheed supported St. Patrick Center in its bid to receive the tax credits. “Non-profit organizations like the St. Patrick Center are essential to our community. Their work prevents individuals from falling through the cracks and helps people pull themselves out of difficult situations,” Sen. Nasheed said.
Senator Nasheed reminds her constituents that federal taxes are due on April 15th. The IRS Free File Program offers free tax preparation for anyone earning less than $62,000 per year. Individuals can visit www.IRS.gov/freefile to prepare and e-file their federal tax returns at no cost. About 100 million Americans – or 70 percent of taxpayers – are eligible. In addition, Free File offers a basic e-filing service for everyone, regardless of income. Taxpayers can also use Free File to e-file an extension.
Free File is made possible through a public-private partnership between the IRS and the Free File Alliance, a non-profit coalition of leading tax software companies. To learn more about the program, visit www.freefilealliance.org or www.IRS.gov/freefile.
House Committee Strips Dome Funding from Budget
On Feb. 15 the House Appropriations-General Administration Committee voted to strip the state’s annual $12 million payment for the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis from the state operating budget for the upcoming 2017 fiscal year. The governor’s administration has warned withholding the funding would cause the state to default on the bonds that financed the stadium’s construction, resulting in a downgrade of Missouri’s highly valued AAA credit rating.
The administration of former Gov. John Ashcroft, a Republican, committed the state to paying off the 30-year bonds in the early 1990s. Under the deal, the state is committed to paying $10 million a year in bond payments through 2022. The other $2 million annual appropriation goes for maintenance costs.
The dome was home to the St. Louis Rams for 21 seasons but now lacks an anchor tenant after the National Football League in January approved the team’s return to the Los Angeles area. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, state Rep. Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage, who is chairman of the appropriations committee with oversight over the public debt, said he removed the funding in retaliation for proposal the governor pushed to commit the state – without legislative approval – to funding part of a new $1 billion downtown stadium in an unsuccessful attempt to keep the Rams in St. Louis.
State Control of St. Louis and Riverview Districts Extended
On Feb. 16, the State Board of Education unanimously voted to retain state control of the St. Louis Public Schools and Riverview Gardens School District through 2019. The St. Louis district has been governed by a state-appointed board since 2007, while Riverview Gardens has since 2010.
The board also directed the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to develop a transition plan to return the St. Louis school district, which regained provisional accreditation in October 2012, to local control “when circumstances warrant,” according to a news release. Riverview Gardens remains unaccredited, and there are no immediate plans to restore the district’s local control.
House Approves Barrier to Collection of Union Dues
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted 110-47 on Feb. 18 to send legislation to the Senate that seeks to make it more difficult for public sector labor unions to collect dues from their members. The measure, House Bill 1891, garnered one vote more than necessary for the 109-vote supermajority required to override the veto that is certain to follow if the bill ultimately makes to the governor’s desk.
Under existing law, employees can opt-out of automatic deduction of union dues at any time. House Bill 1891 would require workers to annually reauthorize the deduction of dues, imposing a new procedural barrier to the efficient and timely collection of dues.