Legislative Column for the Week of Monday, Jan. 20, 2014
Budget Process Begins Following State of the State

Legislative News

We had another busy week in the Senate. On Tuesday evening, lawmakers gathered in the House chamber to hear the governor’s annual State of the State address. Much like the State of the Union, the speech gives the executive branch a chance to lay out its legislative priorities.

Years ago these were delivered in writing and simply read in each chamber. It’s now tradition to hold it in the evening so Missourians can watch the address on television. The preferred method probably depends on whether or not you have to sit through it.

The annual speech also coincides with the release of the governor’s budget recommendations for the coming fiscal year, a much more noteworthy occasion as it marks the beginning of the budget crafting process. Lawmakers will use the governor’s budget as a guide in creating the state’s spending plan for the next fiscal year.

For the first time in a decade, the governor and the Legislature do not have a consensus on Missouri’s revenue projections. As the budget process progresses, we will adjust the revenue projections accordingly. The governor has shown he will withhold money even when it’s there.  He would rather have higher projections in all areas so he can withhold and move money around. The power of the purse lies with the Legislature, and we would rather use more accurate projections.
On Wednesday, the Senate Appropriations Committee met to consider those recommendations and any other issues related to the FY 2015 budget. In the coming weeks, the committee will begin hearing from various state departments on their fiscal needs. We’ll take these into consideration as we debate the state budget.

Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary R. Russell delivered the State of the Judiciary on Wednesday in the House chamber. The first State of the Judiciary was given in 1974, 40 years ago.

During the speech, Chief Justice Russell applauded the Legislature’s efforts to revise the state’s criminal code, a goal we’ve been working on for years. As the chief justice pointed out, more than 230 offenses were only charged once last year in Missouri. That’s a lot of unnecessary and likely redundant laws.

We need to clean-up and modernize our criminal statutes. The more than 1,000-page bill that contains those changes was first heard in the Judiciary and Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee this week.  

Much of our work continues to be done in committee. On Tuesday, the General Laws Committee considered legislation to protect the Second Amendment Rights of Missourians. The passage of this legislation would ensure that regardless of what Washington decides, Missourians will always enjoy the rights given to them by their state and federal constitutions.

Members of the Agriculture, Food Production and Outdoor Resources Committee considered a measure on Wednesday that would protect the right of all Missouri citizens to hunt and fish wildlife. To many people, these aren’t simply hobbies; they’re part of our state’s history and culture. Countless families consider harvesting the first deer a rite of passage. Others depend on it for food. This legislation would enshrine the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife in our state constitution.

The Education Committee also began working on one of the more high-profile issues this year:  the student transfer law. As many know, this law, which was upheld by the Missouri Supreme Court last year, lets students in unaccredited districts transfer to nearby accredited districts. The unaccredited district has to pay for the tuition and transportation costs, and the accredited district has no say in how many students they accept. It’s caused chaos in St. Louis, and will soon be a problem in Kansas City and any other district that loses accreditation.

Senators considered a number of bills during the hearing aimed at addressing this problem, including legislation filed by a coalition of St. Louis lawmakers who are determined to tackle the issue this session. I’m also committed to getting this done, and the sooner the better. Thousands of students’ future livelihoods depend on the Legislature taking decisive action. If we fail, we fail them, and that’s unacceptable.