Legislative Column for the Week Ending April 3, 2015
Legislative Update

JEFFERSON CITY— On Monday, members of the Missouri General Assembly returned to Jefferson City after a week-long legislative spring break.  For most, the break was a welcome respite from the rigorous legislative calendar.  But for Senator Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, the break was spent back in the district, studying this session’s appropriations bills. 

“I would have liked some time off but I needed to spend my break studying these numbers.  I like to be prepared,” she said.   “I take my responsibility to the state of Missouri very seriously. In the Appropriations Committee, the stakes are high, and I’m not just talking about money. What we do with our resources determines jobs, and the quality of life for the people in our state.”

As we take up the appropriation bills on the Senate floor next week, there are two measures to which Sen. Nasheed will be paying close attention as debate progresses: House Bill 8, which includes funding for a non-profit pilot alternative school for evidence-based programs and practices for improving academic achievement of at-risk students and reducing delinquent behavior; and House Bill 9, which includes funding for programs ensuring that offenders are released into the community with appropriate substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment services, housing, job training and placement services.

Bills and Committees

Senate Concurrent Resolution 1, Sen. Nasheed’s Sex Trafficking Awareness legislation, was passed through the General Assembly and is on the way to the Governor’s desk. “Senate Concurrent Resolution 1 is a common sense bill and a huge first step. Lack of awareness is the number one problem in the fight against sex trafficking,” Sen. Nasheed said.

After unanimous approval from the Education Committee, Senate Bill 334 was placed on the calendar for perfection. The measure will allow Harris-Stowe State University to hold equal standing with other state colleges in its degree-granting authority. Harris-Stowe will be allowed to grant additional undergraduate and graduate degrees in fields outside of education. Senate Bill 334 will be debated in the Senate floor within the next two weeks.

The Agriculture, Food Production, and Outdoor Resources committee passed Sen. Nasheed’s Senate Bill 332 by a vote of 5-0. The bill would establish a Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program in Missouri.

“This farmer’s market program has worked extraordinarily well to provide low-income seniors in other states with nutritious and delicious food. There is no reason why Missouri should not be able to participate in a program of this magnitude,” declared Sen. Nasheed.

Two of Senator Nasheed’s bills will be heard in House committees next week. Senate Bill 270, legislation relating to the Public School Retirement System Board of Trustees in Kansas City and St. Louis, will be heard in the House Pensions Committee next Tuesday, April 7, at noon in House Hearing Room 4. Senate Concurrent Resolution 2, designating the month of November as Pica Awareness Month in Missouri, will be heard in the House Trade and Tourism Committee next Wednesday, April 8, at 8:30 a.m. in House Hearing Room 1.

On the Floor

In a week that saw floor debate on two healthcare issues, Sen. Nasheed made her voice heard in both debates. Sen. Nasheed weighed in on the Prescription Drug Monitoring bill that she co-sponsored by offering an amendment that would allow coroners and medical examiners to access the prescription drug database to help determine identity and cause of death. After some debate the amendment was adopted by the Senate.

On Tuesday night the Senate debated another healthcare issue, Medicaid Expansion. Sen. Nasheed held the floor for some time, passionately stating the case for Medicaid Expansion. Republicans continue to oppose Medicaid expansion citing budget concerns.  Sen. Nasheed responded: “If a window breaks in the room that your child is sleeping in, and its 20 below outside, what are you going to do? You’re going to fix the window! You’re not going to let her freeze to death! You’re not going to sit around debating money with your wife, you’re going to fix it!”

This week was ‘mark-up’, meaning the Senate Appropriations committee went back through the entire budget from beginning to end and started making decisions.  Those decisions included specific line amounts, many supported the House’s decision as well as language restricting or directing how the monies are to be spent. The budget bills have been reported to the floor and are tentatively set for floor debate to begin starting about 4 p.m., Tuesday, April 7.

Another amendment expanded managed care to all of MoHealthNet.  This may be more of a symbolic gesture, as it is questionable whether the language changes can effect such an outcome and if without moving the line items between bills it is unknown if the money actually would be appropriated correctly.  There was very little discussion about the important details, but if passed it would mean that nearly the entire population of current Medicaid clients (not including the elderly or disabled) would be switched to a managed care contract.

The final move to cut the budgets of Mental Health by 4% and Social Services by 6%.  Specific cuts were not made, as it was noted the committee would not spend time chasing down small over-inflations in dozens of line items.  Instead the departments were given 100% flexibility and told to find the cuts themselves. 

Here are the following budget priorities for Sen. Nasheed was able to secure for the City of St. Louis:
-St. Louis Intradistrict Transportation - $750,000

  • HB 2, Section 2.015

-Math and Science tutoring - $400,000

  • HB 2, Section 2.026: This program is administered by the Department for Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and goes to fund tutoring for students in grades K-12.

-Job Readiness Program - $250,000

  • HB 7, Section 7.120: This program is a new line item that was added to the budget to “assist minorities and women in their preparation for entry into construction contractor sponsored apprenticeship programs by providing curriculum that teaches core competencies.”

-Dropout Prevention - $1,000,000

  • HB 8, Section 8.010: Provides funding for non-profit pilot alternative school for evidence based programs and practices for improving academic achievement of at-risk students and reducing delinquent behavior.

-Neighborhood Watch Fund - $150,000

  • HB 8, Section 8.027: This fund will be disbursed on an application basis to communities in the state with priority to those neighborhoods that are in high crime areas.  This line item coincides with Sen. Nasheed’s Senate Bill 155.

-Prison Re-entry Program - $750,000

  • HB 9, Section 9.010: Provides funding for programs ensuring that offenders are released into the community with appropriate substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment services, housing and job training and placement services.

Other News

On Wednesday, Sen. Nasheed held a press conference with Speaker John Diehl to discuss municipal court reform in the St. Louis area. Sen. Nasheed has sponsored and co-sponsored several pieces of legislation this session meant to address the underlying causes of last summer’s civil unrest in Ferguson. “I co-sponsored Senate Bill 5 because it will address one part of the problem. There is still a long way to go, but keeping municipalities honest in their ticketing efforts and judicial administration is great start,” she said.

The Missouri Supreme Court is seeking citizen input regarding their experiences with municipal courts throughout the state as the court considers reforms of local court operations. The Missouri Constitution gives the Supreme Court superintending control over all lower courts in the state. The high court exercised that authority last month when it took control of the Ferguson Municipal Court days after the U.S. Department of Justice issued a report documenting numerous abuses and constitutional violations by Ferguson’s police and courts.
The court is asking Missourians to share their experiences in particular municipal courts and to offer suggestions for how those courts might be improved. Written suggestions should not exceed two pages and should be sent to P.O. Box 150, Jefferson City, MO 65102.
This is an important and rare opportunity to provide feedback that will be used to improve Missouri’s municipal courts.

The House of Representatives on Thursday (April 2) voted 132-14 in favor of legislation that would make slight improvements to Missouri’s anything-goes ethics laws for government officials. An even weaker version of the bill (SB 11) passed the Senate earlier this year. The differences between the two versions must be negotiated before final passage. Missouri currently is the only state in the nation that allows lawmakers to accept unlimited campaign contributions and unlimited gifts from lobbyists.  Missouri voters first imposed campaign contribution limits on politicians in 1994 with nearly 74 percent support. The Republican-controlled General Assembly repealed them in 2008 over Democratic opposition.

On Thursday morning, Sen. Nasheed joined with Rep. Jay Barnes, D-Jefferson City, and AFSCME to announce a plan to increase pay for state workers in Missouri.  “State workers are the backbone of our communities,” she said. “They are on the front line each and every day working for the betterment of our state, and we are not holding up our end of the bargain.”

Currently, Missouri state workers rank last out of all 50 states in average salary, but Missouri’s rank in cost of living is much higher, at 34th. Earlier this session, Sen. Nasheed memorably voted against a proposal that would give a raise to Missouri’s elected officials but not to other state workers. “I wasn’t very popular with my colleagues that day, but it was the right thing to do,” she said.

On Wednesday, Sen. Nasheed met with several groups who had traveled from her district for Child Advocacy Day at the Capitol Building. “There are so many challenges facing our children in today’s world. Many of the decisions we make every day affect the lives of real children in our state. It’s good to see some actual faces to associate with those decisions.” Sen. Nasheed told one group.

Sen. Nasheed also took some time to observe Women’s History Month at the Capitol: “It’s important that we acknowledge the steps we’ve already taken, but we need to continue to stride forward. Strong women have shaped my life, and I hope that I can be an example to all the young female leaders of tomorrow.