Legislative Column for the Week Ending April 24, 2015
Legislative Update

JEFFERSON CITY— The Missouri Senate this week enjoyed a light respite from the breakneck pace that has thus far characterized the 98th Missouri General Assembly. Conference committee work on the budget had been slated to begin for several days, but the proceedings were delayed as members of the Missouri House worked to hash out a framework deal behind the scenes.

“I have been here at the Capitol for almost a decade, and I cannot remember a session where the budget process has been so unusual. I will be happy to contribute my experience to the Senate Appropriations Committee next session, where it will be so important to set an effective precedent,” said Senator Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City.

The conference committee on the budget finally convened on Wednesday.  Members and staff worked until 1 a.m., to finalize a joint proposal to be approved by both the House and Senate before it is sent to the governor’s desk.


Senate Bill 334, Sen. Nasheed’s Harris-Stowe State University bill was referred to the House Higher Education Committee this week as it moves its way toward the governor’s desk. “It’s exciting to see the democratic process work in favor of a bill that would contribute to our future,” Sen. Nasheed said. “It’s something I would like to see a lot more of around here.”

Senate Bill 270, which would give charter school teachers and administrators a seat on the public school retirement boards in St. Louis and Kansas City, was placed on the House calendar this week. It will be taken up by the full House next week. Senate Bill 270 has received bi-partisan support throughout the legislative process and is expected to be signed into law.

Another bill, Senate Concurrent Resolution 2 was added to the House calendar this week and is similarly expected to make its way through the body with little, if any opposition. Senate Concurrent Resolution 2 would establish November as PICA Awareness Month in the State of Missouri.

Both of Sen. Nasheed’s transportation bills were recommended unanimously by the House Select Committee on State and Local Governments.  Senate Bill 166 would establish the “Dare to Dream” Missouri license plate while a House Committee substitute for Senate Bill 156 would rename a portion of Highway 115 in St. Louis after Senator Theodore McNeal who was the first African-American member of the Missouri Senate.


Wednesday was a comparatively relaxed day on the floor of the Missouri Senate. The body took up several measures that would seek to amend the U. S. Constitution. “It’s always helpful to be reminded how our state works into the larger framework of democracy in this country,” said Sen. Nasheed.

On Thursday, the Senate stayed on the floor longer than usual to perfect and third read the FY 2016 Missouri State Budget. Sen. Nasheed stood to express her disappointment in cuts to safety net programs like TANF and CHIPs (Children’s Health Insurance). After the Session however, she said that “we didn’t get everything we wanted, but I am very happy that I was able to bring funding home for Math and Science Tutoring, Dropout Prevention, and a few other programs that will certainly help in the St. Louis area.”


The Republican-controlled General Assembly on April 23 granted final approval to the 13 appropriations bills that make up the $26 billion state operating budget for the 2016 fiscal year, which begins July 1. By sending the bills to Gov. Jay Nixon more than two weeks before May 8 budget deadline, lawmakers triggered a constitutional quirk that will require Nixon, a Democrat, to act on the bills within 15 days.

The budget increases basic state funding for local public school districts by $84 million over FY 2015 levels. However, the funding for local schools would still fall about $400 million short of what state law says it should be. Budget negotiators agreed to the $12 million boost for public colleges and universities proposed by the House of Representatives instead of the $27.6 million increase suggested by the Senate.

Negotiators also scrapped a controversial proposal by Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, to provide lump-sum appropriations to the departments of health, mental health and social services and reducing their budgets by a combined $140 million from what the House proposed. Under the final budget, $100 million of that funding was restored. The Senate’s cuts to the Department of Mental Health were for the most part restored. The bulk of the remaining $40 million in cuts were to various segments of Medicaid.

The governor typically has several weeks to review the budget bills before acting on them in late June shortly before the start of the new fiscal year. By rushing the process, Nixon will have to take action before the legislature adjourns for the year on May 15. This will allow Republican leaders to attempt to override any line-item vetoes immediately instead of waiting until the September veto session.


The House of Representatives on April 22 voted (131-19) in favor of legislation that would further restrict how much revenue local governments may derive from traffic fines and court fees and impose various reforms on municipal court operations. SB 5 now returns to the Senate, which passed a more limited version of the measure in April.

Existing law caps the amount of revenue cities can receive from traffic fines and fees at 35 percent of their operating budgets. SB 5 would lower the cap to 20 percent for most Missouri cities and 15 percent for municipalities in St. Louis County, where accusations of police and courts being used primarily to generate revenue have been most common.

In addition, the bill would limit combined fines and cost costs for minor traffic violations to $200 per offense. Other provisions would prohibit courts from jailing defendants for minor violations or for inability to pay fines, bar courts from issuing separate charges for failure to appear in court and directing the state Supreme Court to establish conflict-of-interest rules for municipal judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys.

Also, an amendment added by House Speaker John Diehl, R-Town & Country, would require St. Louis County municipalities to adhere to certain minimum standards or potentially face serious consequences, including administrative takeover or even disincorporation. The attorney general would have the duty of bringing suit to enforce those standards.

The House of Representatives on April 21 voted 125-27 to grant final approval to legislation that attempts to reinstate caps on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases, which the Missouri Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional in 2012. However, it doesn’t appear the bill, SB 239, overcomes the central constitutional problem identified by the court.

The Missouri Constitution says the right to trial by jury as it existed under the English Common Law prior to 1820 “shall remain inviolate.” The Supreme Court has ruled that imposing a cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases interferes with the right to trial by jury by arbitrarily reducing damage amounts determined by a jury after consideration of the evidence. Non-economic damages include such things as pain and suffering.

The court in earlier cases, however, had upheld damage caps in cases involving statutory causes of action created by the General Assembly that didn’t exist under the common law. So, SB 239 attempts to get around Watts by abrogating medical malpractice as common law cause of action and replacing it with a statutory cause of action.

However, because the Supreme Court ruled the General Assembly can’t interfere with the right to trial by jury as it existed under the common law prior to 1820 – a historical fact that no legislation can change – that portion of SB 239 likely is unconstitutional.

The 2005 law struck down by the court capped non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases at $350,000. As part of a compromise to secure passage of SB 239, the bill would boost the cap most non-economic damages at $400,000, with damages in “catastrophic cases,” such as quadriplegia, paraplegia, loss of limb, brain injury or vision loss capped at $700,000.

The bill also doubles the $350,000 cap on non-economic damages in wrongful death cases, which the court had previously upheld, to $700,000. Unlike with existing law, the statutory caps automatically would increase 1.7 percent each year instead of remaining at a perpetually fixed amount.

Lawmakers have granted final approval to legislation that could slash maximum unemployment benefits by more than a third. However, the vote in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives fell well short of the two-thirds supermajority needed to override an expected veto by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, who also rejected similar legislation last year.

After passing 21-8 on a straight party-line vote in the Senate on April 15, the House voted 88-68 to approve HB 150 on April 21, with 26 Republicans joining unanimous Democrats in opposition. The House tally came up 21 votes shy of the 109 necessary for a veto override.

Under existing law, unemployed Missourians can receive a maximum of 20 weeks of benefits, which is the fifth lowest in the nation. Missouri is one of just eight states that provides less than 26 weeks of benefits. Under HB 150, the maximum weeks of benefits would be based on the statewide unemployment rate during the previous year and range from just 13 weeks if the statewide rate is below 6 percent to 20 weeks if the statewide rate is 9 percent or higher.

Sen. Nasheed reiterated her support this week for several non-profit organizations in the St. Louis area. Among those under consideration for Neighborhood Assistance Program Tax Credits are:

- Launch Code is dedicated to narrowing the talent gap in the St. Louis technology industry. The organization has placed 164 individuals in technology jobs, 80 percent of whom were either previously unemployed or earning less than $20,000 per year.
- The Salvation Army-Midland Division is seeking support for two programs: the Harbor Light Center which assists homeless men and women to live independent lives; and The O’Fallon Lodge Emergency Shelter which serves homeless women and families in eastern Missouri.
- Independence Center is committed to providing a comprehensive system of high quality programs and services that assists adults in the St. Louis metropolitan area with serious and persistent mental illnesses to live and work in the community, independently and with dignity.

Sen. Nasheed has worked tirelessly for the organizations in her district to receive the help they deserve for their hard work. There have been five organizations to receive Youth Opportunities Program Tax Credits from the Department of Economic Development in the city of St. Louis:

- Kingdom House is focused on providing living assistance for thousands of children, young adults and seniors. The objective is to help people become economically independent.
- Gene Slay’s Boys’ Club of St. Louis continues to improve the lives of at-risk, marginalized, and underserved youth by equipping them with the skills they need to make good choices and become successful adults.
- The Board for Inner City Missions of the UCC Metro St. Louis provides structured after-school and summer day camp programming to at-risk youth at three community-based centers and five satellite locations within the St. Louis Public Schools.
- Our Little Haven is committed to providing early intervention services for children and families.  Their staff of dedicated and well trained caregivers creates a safe, secure and healing environment for those impacted by abuse, neglect and mental or behavioral health needs.
- St. Louis Crisis Nursery is committed to the prevention of child abuse and neglect and provides emergency intervention, respite care, and support to families in crisis

Sen. Nasheed said, “It is important that we continue to support the many organizations that uplift and serve our community."