MPANewsBook: Statehouse News for MPA Members
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Headline: State budget sent to governor’s desk a day early [Entered: 05/10/2012]
By Jordan Shapiro
After days of gridlock, late-night filibusters and personal attacks, the Missouri House of Representatives and Senate sent the state’s $24 billion budget to Gov. Jay Nixon’s desk one day before deadline with higher education coming out as a big winner.
Despite starting the year with a $500 million budget shortfall, the budget holds flat funding for public universities and local school districts. Colleges were facing a 15 percent cut under Nixon’s proposed budget, but House and Senate leaders said they made a policy decision to give higher education the same amount as this year.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said the downward trend in higher education funding had to stop this year.
“I am glad we put that money back in, and that is not to imply this was not an extremely tough budget year,” Schaefer said. “We simply had to set the priorities where we saw the priorities should be, and that is in education.”
The top House Democrat on the budget committee, Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, said she was glad the cuts were reversed but said the current funding trends could not continue.
“With our reductions in funding every year, college and university budgets are now so lean with more cuts they will be laying off teachers, professors and researchers,” she said.
Schaefer said the ride to pass the budget was “bumpy” but that he was glad to have the budget passed without raising taxes. The Senate spent many late nights debating the budget with insults and personal attacks being leveled against Schaefer and Senate leadership.
As part of a complicated agreement to end the Senate filibuster, the legislature sent the governor a measure designed to guarantee extra funds for veterans’ homes. The measure would allocate about $35 million of gambling boat boarding fees to the Veterans Commission.
The measure also would prohibit any government agency from operating or funding a quality rating system for early childhood education. The current system operated by the state had been the subject of a Senate filibuster.
* Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/BUDFIN.HTM]
* Get the budget tables. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/DATA/BUD13.HTM]
* Get the compromise bill, HB 1731 [ http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM31 ] .
Headline: Missourians will vote on changes in choosing appellate-level judges [Entered: 05/10/2012]
By Ruohan Xu
The House on Thursday, May 10, passed to the November ballot a proposed state constitutional amendment that would reduce the role of judges in picking nominees for appeals court and Supreme Court judges.
The proposal would increase from three to four the number of individuals the governor appoints to the seven-member commission that nominates people for vacancies on the Supreme Court or Court of Appeals. A Supreme Court judge now has one position on the commission. It no longer would if the amendment passes.
Lawyers would continue to nominate the other three commissioners.
The bill was handled in the House by its judiciary committee chairman, Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia. He said the bill would ensure Missourians are the source of power behind the selection of judges.
“The members of the Supreme Court should not choose their own colleagues,” Cox said.
Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, a lawyer, said he supported the bill because it would allow the people of Missouri to make the decision. Rep. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, said the bill appears to be anti-lawyer. Rep. Rory Ellinger, D-St. Louis County, said it could be a very dangerous law.
“I do not want any one person to have that kind of authority,” Ellinger said.
House members gave the proposal final approval with an 84-71 vote. It passed the Senate last week.
The Senate sponsor — Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County — has been a long-time critic of the court plan. In the House, he has proposed eliminating the plan and requiring Senate confirmation of persons the governor names for courts covered by the plan.
Lembke acknowledged that this year he had proposed a less drastic approach to get something passed to change the court selection process.
* Get the bill, SJR 51 [http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SJR&NUMQ].
* Get the radio story [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/JUDGE1.HTM].
Headline: House passes measure defunding Sue Shear Institute for Women in Politics [Entered: 05/07/2012]
By Matthew Patane
Missouri’s representatives passed a measure Monday, May 7, that would defund the Sue Shear Institute for Women in Politics and bar any public institution from taking part in political activity.
The institute, which provides training for women interested in entering politics, is based out of the University of Missouri-St. Louis and is named after a former St. Louis representative who was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 1972.
The House approved the measure 93-59 after contentious debate between mostly Democratic and Republican women about the institute’s importance. Although Democrats argued that the institute is a vital organization for women interested in joining the world of politics, Republicans said the organization participates in political activity, which they said should not be allowed.
Critics charge the institute has used government funds to assist Democratic, women politicians.
The measure was put forth by Rep. Sue Allen, R-St. Louis County, and was attached to a bill that had the original intention of modifying the duties of the Coordinating Board of Higher Education to include creating a listing of courses that could be transferred between all public universities.
Although the Shear Institute has been debated in the Senate, that chamber has taken no vote on the issue. There had been a committee-passed bill to kill off the institute as part of a broader budget plan. However, language about the Shear Institute was deleted in the final substitute presented. That version, which earmarks gambling boat money for veterans’ homes, was passed and sent to the governor.
* Get the House-debated bill, SB 455. [http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUME5]
* Get the roll call [ http://www.mdn.org/2012/FORMS/VOTEVIEW.HTM?ne_year 12&ne_vote”1 ] ,
* Get the radio story [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/SHEAR.HTM]
Headline: Kentucky elk will replenish Missouri’s diminishing herds [Entered: 05/08/2012]
By Crystall Cho
Missouri will bring 35 more elk from a Kentucky capture site to Peck Ranch Conservation Area in southeast Missouri to restore the state’s elk population.
The animals will join the 31 adult elk brought in a year ago and the five born since then.
A spokesman for the Kentucky Conservation Department, Mark Marracini, said Missouri’s tourism industry will shoot up as a result.
“Elk are a tremendous tool for tourism, and they’re a great addition to the nature,” Marracini said.
Chairman of the MU Anthropology Department, Lee Lyman, said he disagrees with Marracini.
“I’m concerned that traffic hazards will go up,” Lyman said. “My understanding is that they’re in a fenced area at the moment, but the plan is to remove the fence, and the elk will be able to go anywhere they want to go.”
In past years, some legislators have proposed bills to require the Missouri Conservation Department to reimburse auto owners for damages caused by collisions with elk.
The new elk herd will arrive in Missouri on May 18.
* Get radio story. [http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/ELK.HTM]
Headline: Missouri lawmakers pass bill to allow sales tax vote for Gateway Arch grounds project [Entered: 05/07/2012]
By Matt Evans
Missouri voters in the St. Louis area might be asked to decide whether to raise the local sales tax to help fund improvements of the Gateway Arch grounds.
The Missouri House of Representatives gave final passage to the bill that would create the ballot issue and sent it to the governor’s desk on Monday, May 7.
The bill would authorize a local election on a 3/16 percent sales tax. Part of the money would go to the Gateway Arch grounds and the other part to local parks.
Proponents said the sales tax would fund $120 million in bonds to put toward the $553 million plan to improve the grounds around the Arch.
* Get the bill, HB 1504. [http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=HB&NUM04]
* Get the radio story.[http://www.mdn.org/2012/STORIES/SALESTX.HTM]
Headline: Capitol Perspectives: Term Limits [Entered: 05/11/2012]
By Phill Brooks
If you had to pick one factor to explain the difficulties encountered during the 2012 session of Missouri’s legislature, it would have to be term limits. That’s the consensus from almost every senior lobbyist and former legislator with whom I’ve discussed the session.
Missouri’s General Assembly of today is a very different institution from what I had covered before members were limited to eight years in each chamber.
Because there has been so much attention on the negative aspects of term limits, I’ll start with a couple of the positive changes.
A big winner has been local governments that have gained the service of term-limited legislators with a deep reservoir of knowledge about state government and public policy. Prior to term limits, it was rare that a state lawmaker would give up a legislative seat for local office.
St. Charles County got as its administration director Chuck Gross, who had been a skilled Senate Appropriations Committee chairman. Franklin County got as presiding commissioner John Griesheimer, who had been the Senate’s top expert on local government.
Another positive effect is the reduction in the arrogance of power that developed among some legislators who had been in office for decades. I’ve watched two House speakers marched off to federal prison for corruption charges that reflected that arrogance. I’ve seen that arrogance displayed when long-term legislators belittled and humiliated agency officials in committee hearings.
As for the negative effects of term limits, they are far too numerous to cover all in this column. Among the most significant that have been mentioned to me:
– Term limits have made the Senate a far more chaotic institution. Before term limits, there were constraints on legislators using the filibuster for minor or frivolous reasons.
A senator would be killing bills of colleagues with whom he or she expected to continue serving for years. Senate leaders making private threats, such as budget cuts or promises of future committee assignments, had more effect when the member expected to be around for years.
– Legislative leaders now exercise far more power. It’s an obvious consequence of having so many new members unsure of how the process works or of their individual rights as members.
A colleague of mine, Prof. David Valentine at the Truman School of Public Administration, notes that closed-door party caucuses have become a more significant component in crafting legislative positions. At these private meetings, legislative leaders can educate members and influence priorities to a degree that was not seen in the years before term limits.
The caucuses are almost weekly now in the House, and there are calls for the Senate to adopt a similar approach.
It used to be that the order of bills on a chamber’s calendar meant something. The sooner a bill got introduced and approved by a committee, the higher it was on the calendar and the greater the chances of ultimate passage.
As a result, respect for calendar placement gave members and committees significant influence in determining the order of the legislature’s priorities. Now, however, legislative leaders are allowed to skip around a calendar without a peep of objection from their obedient colleagues.
– There has not been the influx of new ideas and perspectives that champions of term limits had predicted. Instead, what I’ve witnessed has been a legislature that’s much more predictable in the issues it addresses and the approaches it takes.
There is more ideological rigidity today. We saw that this year, I think, with the time the legislature spent on nonbinding resolutions concerning a variety of national ideological and partisan issues.
– Missouri’s term-limited legislature appears unable to undertake multi-year efforts to craft solutions to the more difficult and complex issues facing the state.
For example, the health dangers from rural sewage pollution at state parks and lakes that made front-page headlines just a few years ago remain unsolved and now appear abandoned by the legislature.
– Legislators are less able to craft their own bills and amendments. That’s given lobbyists, special interests and legislative staff enhanced influence over the process because they’re writing a lot more of the legislation.
– Some legislators complain that term limits have caused administration officials and bureaucrats to take them less seriously. “They don’t show up, they don’t answer our questions,” complained Sen. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville, at a committee hearing earlier this year.
A similar complaint was voiced to the Senate by Sen. Ryan McKenna, D-Jefferson County, that bureaucrats “know we’re going to be gone from here in a short time, that they don’t have to listen to us anymore.” McKenna speaks with a unique perspective: His dad, Bill McKenna, was the first sitting Senate president pro tem forced out of office because of term limits.
– With only a few years before being term limited out of office, it’s created almost a perpetual campaign mode for some legislators who focus more attention on future political plans than on building a legislative record.
– Finally, I’ve seen term limits have a deleterious effect on a few legislators during their last year in office. Some get bitter at being forced out. Some seem to almost “check out” with a melancholy that the legislative skills and knowledge they’ve developed no longer will be of use. It’s only a very few I’ve seen affected this way, but it costs Missouri the full attention of some of its most experienced legislators.
As always, let me know (at firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any comments. If you would like your comments, or a portion of them, included in a future column, let me know and be sure to include your full name in your email.
[Phill Brooks has been a Missouri statehouse reporter since 1970, making him dean of the statehouse press corps. He is the statehouse correspondent for KMOX Radio, director of MDN and a faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. He has covered every governor since the late Warren Hearnes.
Past columns are available at http://www.mdn.org/mpacol.]