This week started on a heavy hearted note for my family and I as we said goodbye to my Grandmother, Evelyn Williams. She has played a vital role in my life, raising me from a young age. She was the only parent I have ever truly known. If I have contributed positively to my community or to those around me, it is my grandmother who deserves credit for that contribution. Her patience and unconditional love will always be with me. She was so much more than just my grandmother, as if that wasn’t enough. She was my rock. She was my teacher.
I ask that you keep my family and me in your prayers as we move forward through this difficult time.
-Senator Jamilah Nasheed
Rumors swirled in the Capitol building this week about major debates just around the corner: Voter ID, paycheck deception, abortion and the gasoline tax among them. The Senate continued its ethics reform debate and the House took up paycheck deception, but for the most part, the building avoided the most contentious debates, at least until next week.
Groups from a number of organizations and institutions from around the state flooded the Capitol hallways this week. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, Truman State University, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Missouri Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons all held lobby days at the Capitol this week. Senator Nasheed met with many of the groups herself. “I really enjoy lobby days because we get the chance to talk with people that we wouldn’t otherwise meet and learn about issues that are sometimes out of the spotlight,” Sen. Nasheed said.
On the Floor
On Tuesday, the Senate voted 31-0 in favor of legislation that would simultaneously prohibit lawmakers from serving as paid political consultants and end a practice that critics contend allows powerful lawmakers to trade legislative favors in exchange for lucrative contracts from their colleagues, under the guise of providing campaign advice. Because the Senate made changes, the measure, House Bill 1983, returns to the House.
Senate debate, however, stalled on House Bill 2166, which would ban individual lawmakers from accepting most lobbyist gifts. After the Senate voted 19-8 to add an amendment that also would prohibit lobbyists from buying meals for large groups of lawmakers, the bill was set aside without coming to a vote. It is unclear if the Senate will return to the measure.
A week earlier, the Senate weakened a House bill that sought to slow the revolving door from legislating to lobbying by requiring lawmakers to wait one year after the scheduled end of their term before taking a job as a lobbyist. As amended by the Senate, the measure, House Bill 1979, would merely prohibit members from leaving office early to take a lobbying job.
On Feb. 25, the House voted against accepting the Senate’s changes to either HB 1979 or HB 1983. The chambers must now negotiate final versions of the two bills before final passage can be granted.
Bills and Committees
The Senate Gubernatorial Appointments Committee resumed its normal weekly meetings on Wednesday. Senator Nasheed has already sponsored several gubernatorial appointments this legislative session. “It is extremely important that the boards and commissions that help run our government reflect the rich diversity of our state. I especially look forward to filling vacancies on the University of Missouri Board of Curators,” Sen. Nasheed said. The MU Board of Curators’ only two African-American members resigned last month and those vacancies have yet to be filled.
Senator Nasheed has two bills to be heard in committee next week:
- Senate Bill 976 – Fair and Impartial Policing Act — This act prohibits every member of a law enforcement agency from engaging in biased policing. “The Fair and Impartial Policing Act will help police officers know when and how to properly interact with suspects in a manner that respects their dignity and civil rights,” Sen. Nasheed stated, continuing, “This act is for the good of the people and the police.” Senate Bill 976 has been referred to the Senate Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee for a hearing on Tuesday, March 1 at 1:00 p.m.
- Senate Bill 626 – Affirmative Consent—would require colleges and universities to inform their students and employees about the “affirmative consent” standard used for determining consent to sexual activity. “Campus sexual assault is a problem that has been brought into the national spotlight recently. I introduced this bill to ensure that colleges in Missouri are doing all they can to keep their students safe,” Sen. Nasheed said. Senate Bill 626 will be heard in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday, March 2 at 3:00 p.m.
Another short week in the Senate Appropriations Committee produced hearings on the budgets of elected officials, the Department of Conservation and the Department of Agriculture.
The statewide elected officials presented their budgets without much fanfare. Because each office is established by the Missouri Constitution, their budgets are given greater latitude to carry out their constitutional duties. In fact, the budget item receiving the most attention was the funding of libraries within the Secretary of State’s budget. The Senate Appropriations committee discussed how they could increase that funding to help libraries reach more constituents.
The budget presentations of the Department of Conservation and the Department of Agriculture were also presented without fanfare.
HOUSE GOP BUDGET PLAN REDUCES K-12 SPENDING BUMP
On Feb. 23, the House Budget Committee Chairman unveiled his version of the proposed $27.32 billion state operating budget for the 2017 fiscal year, which begins July 1. The plan includes an increase in state funding for K-12 schools that is significantly less generous than that recommended by the governor in January, while also making retaliatory budget cuts to the University of Missouri System.
The governor, a Democrat, has asked for an $85 million increase in basic state funding for local public school districts. Under the House proposal, K-12 schools would only be guaranteed $23 million, with another bump of up to $47 million possible if the state experiences robust revenue collections during Fiscal Year 2017 (FY 2017). Even with the full $85 million requested by the governor, the funding for K-12 schools would remain about $424 million below what state law says it should be.
The House budget plan also would cut funding for the UM System by about $8 million, in retaliation for administrators’ handling of recent student protests over racism at the Columbia campus and related fallout. The bulk of the cut — $7.67 million – would come from the administrative budget of the system and its governing Board of Curators.
Also stricken from the budget are amounts equal to the salaries of MU communications professor Dr. Melissa Click, who has achieved national infamy for videos of her getting into altercations with students and police during the protests, and two of her university superiors. The pay cuts, however, are entirely symbolic as lawmakers have no authority to fire university employees or reduce their salaries. Professor Click was fired by curators late on Thursday afternoon.
The House Budget Committee will review the 13 appropriations bills that make up the FY 2017 operating budget and make changes next week before forwarding them to the full House of Representatives. The House tentatively plans to take its final actions on the budget bills and send them to the Senate no later than March 10. The constitutional deadline for both chambers to send the budget bills to the governor is May 6.
HIGH COURT HEARS SUNSHINE LAW CASE AGAINST SENATE
The Missouri Supreme Court heard arguments on Feb. 23, in a lawsuit that claims the Republican-controlled Senate violates the state Sunshine Law by allowing committee chairmen full discretion to prohibit video recordings of hearings. The case was filed last year by Progress Missouri, a liberal advocacy group, after some Senate chairmen barred the organization from recording committee proceedings.
The Sunshine Law generally requires governmental bodies to allow citizens or the media to record public meetings. As a result, Progress Missouri says the Senate violates the law when it refuses to allow the organization to record committee hearings.
However, the Missouri Constitution grants the Senate and House of Representatives the power to determine the rules of their own proceedings. Since Senate rules empower committee chairmen to allow or prohibit recording as they see fit, the Senate argues its rules trump the Sunshine Law in this instance. Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem agreed and ruled against Progress Missouri last year.
Since House rules specifically say its committees must follow the Sunshine Law’s directives on allowing recordings, the matter hasn’t been a subject for dispute in that chamber. The Supreme Court will issue a ruling in the Senate case at a later date. The case is Progress Missouri Inc. v. Missouri Senate.
NIXON SIGNS FIRST BILL OF 2016, ADDS JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
On Feb. 18 the governor signed legislation into law expanding the number of judicial circuits in Missouri for the first time in more than 20 years. The bill was the first to clear both legislative chambers and make it to the governor’s desk during the 2016 legislative session.
Under Senate Bill 585, the existing 38th Judicial Circuit, which consists of Christian and Taney counties in southwest Missouri, will be divided with Taney County breaking off to form the new 46th Judicial Circuit as of Jan. 1. Missouri’s system of trial courts has consisted of 45 circuits since 1993.