Senator David Sater’s Capitol Report for the Week of March 28: Legislative Session Passes the Halfway Mark

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Lawmakers returned to the Capitol this week following the annual legislative spring break. In addition to marking the traditional halfway point of the legislative session, the break is also an opportunity for legislators to head home, meet with and update constituents on the work of the legislature so far, and to prepare for the last few months of the session. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t look forward to this time every year when I can get back home to southwest Missouri, be around and talk with folks with common sense and spend time with my family. It makes the long days and late nights in the Capitol worth it to know I get to work for such good people that support and encourage me along the way.

The second half of session got off to a quick start with the Senate Appropriations Committee working long days all this week on the state budget. Every year, in crafting a state budget, the governor, Senate and House agree (most of the time) on a Consensus Revenue Estimate (CRE) that then gives us a figure that we can budget to ensure we don’t spend more than we have. I know this is probably a bad joke to some in the federal government, but in Missouri, we actually balance our budget every year. If less is coming in, we spend less, just like every family out there who has to make ends meet. After agreeing on a CRE, the governor presents his recommendations for how the state should spend the taxpayer’s money. Then the Budget Committee and subcommittees in the House of Representatives work off the governor’s recommendations, hear from the state departments, and make whatever changes they think necessary. It then goes to the full House where it is voted on and sent over to the Senate.

That’s where I come in. I am a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee which is our counterpart to the House Budget Committee. Our committee goes through a similar process where we hear from state departments and advocates of certain budget items that want their slice of the pie. This week we went through what we call “mark-up.” This is the process by which we review every line item in the state budget, and there are about 1,500 of them. We look at any possible increases or decreases or any changes made by the governor or the House and determine whether to go with their numbers or go with our own. My focus in working on the budget is to scrutinize every dollar we spend to make sure it is both an appropriate function of government and a necessary expenditure. If not, it needs to go. Mark-up is the final step before the budget goes before the full Senate for debate and a vote. Inevitably, there will be differences between the Senate and House versions. When that happens, we go to what’s called a “conference committee,” where members of both the Senate Appropriations Committee and the House Budget Committee hash out the differences. We hope to have all this done in a few weeks and on to the governor for his signature or veto.

This week wasn’t all budget work. We also debated an important bill for our farmers. Under current Missouri law, if any cattle or other livestock break through a fence or trespass onto someone’s property, the owner of the livestock is liable for damages sustained to that person’s property, regardless of the circumstances. However, with Senate Bill 844, sponsored by Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, the farmer would only be liable for damages to someone’s property if the farmer was negligent. It’s one thing if you are sued by your neighbor if your cow or bull damages their crops or is hit by a car because you left a gate open. That would be negligent. It’s another thing if lightning strikes a tree, it falls on your fence and your cattle get out. You can’t stop acts of God, you can’t fix a fence if you don’t know it’s down and you can’t get your cow back in your field if you don’t know it’s out. This seems like a simple and obvious change to our law, but it took a few hours of debate to ultimately get it to a vote. It was overwhelmingly approved by the Senate and it now goes on to the House for consideration.

Many of you may have heard about a bill recently filed by a member of the House that would make the St. Louis Cardinals “the official baseball team of Missouri.” With all due respect to the sponsor of the bill, there are more important issues for the Legislature to work on than making a meaningless statement about one of our state’s baseball franchises. Let’s get to work on what the people really care about: job creation, reforming our tax code, and educating our children. For my part, I think there is room in our state for both the reigning World Series Champions, the Kansas City Royals, and the 11-time World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals.

As always, I welcome your ideas, questions and concerns about Missouri government. You may contact me at the State Capitol as follows: (573) 751-1480, or by writing to Sen. David Sater, Missouri State Capitol, Room 419, Jefferson City, MO 65101.