Capitol Reports, April 20, 2012

In Legislative News, Missouri Press News On
- Updated


Headline:  Senate set to debate state budget [Entered: 04/19/2012]

By Jordan Shapiro

Missouri’s Senate is set to consider the state’s $24 billion budget Monday, April 23, more than one week after the Senate Appropriations Committee concluded its mark-up.

The Senate will begin debate on a budget that freezes spending on both K-12 and higher education.

Gov. Jay Nixon had originally called for a 15 percent cut to public universities, but the House and Senate both found additional funds to reverse that proposal. The Missouri General Assembly dipped into welfare programs such as child care subsidies and health care for the blind to fund the state’s public colleges at the same level as last year. A $40 million payment from a national mortgage settlement also helped fill the gap.

The budget passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee is $86 million less than what passed in the House of Representatives last month. Most of that money came from various social services programs. The committee cut $13 million from foster care programs and another $16 million in child care subsidies.

Some conservatives in the Senate, however, said they are concerned with the amount of spending and how tax credits deprive the state of revenue.

Tax credits have long been a controversial issue in Missouri’s legislature. Disagreements between the House and Senate about whether existing tax credit programs should have a expiration date, or sunset, derailed last fall’s special session.

Some members of Missouri’s House have expressed worry that the issue of tax credits could enter the Senate’s debate on the budget.

Tax credits are not subject to appropriation like other spending in state government. Once a program is created, the revenue lost from the program comes off the top of available spending for other programs. In 2013, Missouri is expected to redeem $685 million in tax credits, and that spending does not factor into the state’s operating budget.

Missouri faces a roughly $500 million budget hole from last year caused by an expiration of federal stimulus dollars and a reduction in the federal government’s payments to the Medicaid program. House and Senate budget leaders and State Budget Director Linda Luebbering are also counting on a $285 million increase in state revenue from last year.

The budget must by passed by May 11, one week before the end of the legislative session.

* Get the budget tables. []

* Get the newspaper story [ ] .

Headline:  Senate committee considers MPA-backed Sunshine Law overhaul [Entered: 04/19/2012]

By Andrew Weil

The Senate General Laws Committee heard testimony Tuesday, April 17, about a bill that would make changes to Missouri’s open records law, commonly known as the “Sunshine Law.”

The hearing comes a month after Republican State Auditor Tom Schweich released a report showing that state and local government bodies have been routinely violating the law.

The executive director of the Missouri Press Association, Doug Crews, called the changes to the Sunshine Law “taking baby steps.”

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, who said the bill would affect all local and state government agencies.

Schaefer said the auditor’s report showed there are still violations of the Sunshine Law throughout the state and that this is an attempt to do something about it.

“The bottom line is we need more transparency in quasi-governmental entities,” Schaefer said.

Another major change would revise penalties for Sunshine Law violations. Currently, a “knowing” violation involves a civil penalty of up to $1,000. Under the bill, fines would be lessened to $100 and the “knowing” aspect would be removed. Jean Maneke, a representative for MPA, told the committee that many times public bodies just aren’t aware that they are violating the law.

Richard Sheets, deputy director of the Missouri Municipal League, was the only person to testify against the Sunshine Law changes during the hearing. He said removing the “knowing” part of the clause could overburden small cities.

Schaefer’s measure would also:

– Modify the definition of a public record.

– Specify who may attend closed meetings.

– Require minutes to reflect closed meeting discussions while not disclosing properly closed records.

– Extend the expiration on closing meetings relating to Homeland Security operations.

– Shift the burden of proof in Sunshine Law lawsuits to the government agency.

– Require 48 hours’ notice before a meeting except for the General Assembly, which would still be allowed to provide 24 hours notice for its hearings and meetings.

The committee provided no timetable for when it would vote on the proposal. It needs an affirmative vote in the General Laws Committee before moving to the Senate floor.

* Get the newspaper story [ ] .

* Get the bill, SB 764 [ ] .
Headline:  Energy providers, Nixon announces grant application for new nuclear facilities [Entered: 04/19/2012]

By Scott Kanowsky

Missouri will join a coalition of energy firms to apply for a multi-million dollar federal grant that would fund several small nuclear reactors in the state, Gov. Jay Nixon announced Thursday, April 19.

Flanked by high-ranking officials from various industries, Nixon said Missouri has partnered with energy provider Ameren Missouri and Westinghouse Co. to receive as much as $452 million from the federal Department of Energy.

“When it comes to creating jobs and transforming our economy, projects just don’t get any bigger than this one,” Nixon said.

Officials said funding would go toward building up to five Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, or SMRs, in Callaway Co., Missouri. These plants would generate as much as 225 megawatts of power, one-fifth of the production of normal nuclear power plants.

One large nuclear reactor already stands in the county and debate has long waged over the creation of a new plant, known colloquially as “Callaway 2.” Funding, though, has never been secured.

According to Westinghouse representative Dr. Kate Jackson, the SMRs must be built at least 24 months after federal funding is received. Just how much funding will not be known until later this summer, she said.

Headline:  Missouri lawmakers take action on bills strengthening regulations on unlicensed childcare providers [Entered: 04/19/2012]

By Danielle Carter and By Stacey Kafka

Both chambers of the Missouri legislature approved, almost simultaneously Thursday, April 19, to bills that would regulate unlicensed child care providers.

The House bill, also known as Sam Pratt’s law, would heavily fine any in-home day care providers who fail to tell a child’s parents that they are unlicensed. The fine starts at $200 a day and could cost as much as $10,000 total. It was passed and sent to the Senate Thursday, April 19. On the same day, the Senate passed its version and sent it to the House.

The House bill is named after Sam Pratt, a 3-month-old who died in early 2009 at the hands of his unlicensed child care provider. The babysitter, Martha Farris, was charged with abuse of a child resulting in death and involuntary manslaughter. Farris is now out on bail and can still provide childcare services.

“A condition for your lease from the judge is that he can say you cannot be watching children in your home until these charges are fully dismissed,” said the Senate sponsor Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles.

* Get the print story. [ ]

* Get the bill, HB 1323 [ ]

* Get the bill, SB 448 [ ]

Headline:  Republicans block Senate vote on teacher tenure [Entered: 04/19/2012]

By Jordan Shapiro and By Andrew Weil

Two Republican Senators blocked a vote on a bill Thursday, April 19, to make it harder for teachers to earn job protection tenure.

Senate Education Committee Chairman David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, and Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, blocked the measure, which would increase from five to 10 years the amount of time it takes a teacher to get tenure.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, also eliminates seniority as a criteria to be considered when a school district has to lay off a teacher because of budget constraints.

Dixon and Pearce debated the bill and discussed recipes for cranberry bread. After a 30-minute debate, Cunningham laid her bill over and said she did not want her colleagues to have a long debate on the issue before they went home for the weekend.

Pearce said it would have been nice to have a thorough vetting of the issue.

Other Republicans said they preferred to eliminate tenure altogether rather than increasing the length of time a teacher has to work. Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, said the state needed to get rid of tenure.

“I want to get rid of tenure completely and I want that known, but I want to have some kind of independent arbitration … there should be some protection from abuses of a school board,” Engler said.

Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis County, called the measure “tenure-lite” and said he would not vote for the bill.

* Get the bill, SB 806 [•6 ]



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