|On The Floor
On Monday, the Senate convened at 4 pm and conducted business as usual. Monday’s agenda began with House Committee Substitute for House Bills 302 and 228. While the Senate worked to perfect the bills, a member of the majority party held the floor for the entire time, causing the bills to be laid over for another day.
On Tuesday, April 25, the Senate debated House Bills 1-10 that relate to the state budget. House Bill 1 would appropriate money to pay the state’s public debt. House Bills 2-10 would appropriate money for expenses, distributions, refunds and grants to various state agencies and departments that include the Office of Administration and the Departments of Education; Higher Education; Revenue; Transportation; Conservation; Agriculture; Natural Resources; Economic Development; Public Safety; Corrections; Insurance; Financial Institutions and Professional Registration; Labor and Industrial Relations; Health and Senior Services; and Mental Health.
In addition to expressing her support for providing much-needed funding for the state departments and offices that are essential to people, Senator Nasheed has actively advocated for funding organizations that address some of the most important educational and societal issues in St. Louis. Harrison-Stowe State University, College Bound, workforce-development apprenticeships, local neighborhood watch programs, and summer youth programs are just a few institutions and initiatives that play an important role in educating and protecting people in the city.
“These are very important programs that impact people throughout the entire city,” said Sen. Nasheed while discussing the need for suicide prevention programs and a strongly supported Department of Mental Health. “I think people know there needs to be more discussion about and resources devoted to prevention. Funding health departments is critical to the well-being of many Missourians, especially those who reside in the city of St. Louis.”
Bills and Committees
Senate Bill 217 – On Tuesday, April 25, the House Committee on General Laws voted on and passed SB 217 out of committee. On April 26, the bill was referred to the House Committee on Rules – Legislative Oversight and an executive session for the bill is scheduled for May 1. Senate Bill 217 would add donations to soup kitchens or homeless shelters to the current tax credit for donations to food pantries.
The Senate Appropriations Committee met this week and continued to discuss House appropriations bills. The committee passed and vote out House Bills 17, 18 and 19. House Bills 17 and 19 would appropriate money to capital improvements and state departments. House Bill 18 would appropriate money for the maintenance, repair and replacement of state buildings and facilities.
Earlier this week, the Missouri Supreme Court denied a motion to rehear the case concerning St. Louis’ minimum wage hike. Last month, the state’s high court upheld the St. Louis ordinance.
With the court’s decision not to reconsider its earlier ruling, the city can increase its minimum wage as early as next week. The ordinance may increase the wage to $10 per hour this year and to $11 per hour on Jan. 1, 2018.
Lawmakers hit lowered K-12 education funding mark
Missouri’s public education funding formula will be fully funded for the upcoming fiscal year (at least on paper). But doing so will trigger another state law that will significantly increase the cost of full funding the following year.
Last year, the Republican-controlled General Assembly overrode a gubernatorial veto to cut more than $400 million of additional money needed to claim fully funding for K-12 schools under state law. As a result of the change, the price tag for full funding dropped to $48 million for the upcoming 2018 fiscal year.
While the House of Representatives approved a $48-million increase for elementary and secondary education in the FY 2018 state budget, Senate leaders of the majority party wanted to follow the governor’s recommendation for a mere $3-million increase. Despite this, all nine Senate members of the minority party and 10 members from the majority party came together to buck the majority party’s leadership and fully fund the education formula on a 19-14 vote.
Because the House and Senate are in agreement with K-12 appropriations, those appropriations are not subject to change when members from both chambers meet in the coming days to reconcile any differences in the roughly $27.8 billion proposed state operating budget for FY 2018.
If the Legislature fully funds the education formula, it may trigger a separate 2014 state law that will entitle school districts that offer early childhood education programs to additional state funding starting in FY 2019. And if the Legislature fails to provide that additional state funding — estimated at $67 million per year — it will once again result in the education funding formula being under funded.
The constitutional deadline for granting the budget bills final passage is May 5 at 6 pm. If the Legislature misses the deadline, lawmakers will have to start the budget process over in a special session sometime before the July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
Revenue department complies with state auditor’s subpoena
One day after the state auditor issued a subpoena to the Missouri Department of Revenue for records it had refused to provide, the department capitulated and turned over the documents on April 20. The state auditor said it was the first time since taking office that she had to resort to a subpoena to compel a governmental agency to produce requested records.
The auditor, a Democrat, is investigating whether the new governor’s administration is complying with a state law requiring tax refunds to be issued within 45 days after a tax return is filed. In 2015, the Republican-controlled General Assembly cut the then-90-day time period in half to force the last governor’s administration to quickly process tax refunds.
Bill banning labor agreements sent to governor
The House of Representatives on April 27, voted 104-52 to send legislation to the governor that would prohibit local governments from entering into labor agreements on public works projects. The Senate previously approved the measure, Senate Bill 182, on a 23-9 vote in February.
Under project labor agreements, a governmental entity agrees to use union labor on public construction projects. Under existing law, local officials have the discretion to use such agreements unless the state is paying for more than 50 percent of the project.
Governor makes first pick for Missouri Supreme Court
The governor appointed Jackson County Circuit Judge W. Brent Powell to the Missouri Supreme Court on April 25. Powell replaces Judge Richard Teitelman, who died in November following years of chronic health problems.
Powell, 46, worked as a Platte County assistant prosecutor and later as an assistant federal attorney before Governor Matt Blunt appointed him to the 16th Circuit Court of Jackson County in February 2008. He graduated from the University of Missouri School of Law in 1996.
Powell is part of a family of judges. He is married to U.S. District Judge Beth Phillips, a 2011 nominee of President Barack Obama, and has served on the Jackson County Circuit Court with his sister-in-law, Judge Jennifer Phillips, since her appointment by Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, in 2014.
With Powell’s replacement of Teitelman, a Democratic appointee, the Supreme Court’s roster will consist of four Democratic appointees and three Republican appointees. Powell will be the first judge to join the state high court in more than four years, following Nixon’s appointment of Judge Paul Wilson in December 2012.
Under the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan, the governor, a Republican, could not choose anyone he wanted to fill the vacancy created by Teitelman’s death. Instead, he had to pick from among three finalists selected by the Missouri Appellate Judicial Commission. During his campaign for office, the governor called for scrapping the 77-year-old nonpartisan plan and allowing governors to directly appoint judges. Voters overwhelmingly rejected a Republican plan to do so in 2012.
The other finalists the governor did not choose were Missouri Court of Appeals Western District Judge Lisa White Hardwick, a 2001 appointee of Democratic Gov. Bob Holden, and St. Louis attorney Benjamin Lipman.