The Missouri General Assembly wrapped up a somewhat busy week in Jefferson City that ended with the passage of spending authority for the Fiscal Year 2022 state operating budget. In addition to the budget, the Legislature moved several policy bills forward containing many subjects. A few policy bills landed on the Governor’s desk this week relating to school choice scholarships, public safety, insurance regulations and Missouri’s Sunshine Law. The 2021 regular session has five legislative days left and is set to end at 6:00 p.m. on Friday, May 14.
STATE BUDGET HEADS TO GOVERNOR’S DESK
On Friday, the House and Senate passed the budget bills out of their respective chambers and the state budget is now headed to the Governor. The General Assembly completed the conference committee work earlier this week and reached agreement on the budget. The Governor will now review and make any changes he deems appropriate. The winners coming out of the conference process included hospitals, higher education, public defenders, homeowners and renters behind on payments, and the people who mistakenly received overpayments of unemployment benefits. The total state budget for FY 2022 is approximately $35 billion dollars.
The biggest loser in the budget was Medicaid expansion which was not funded. Litigation on this issue (approximately $1.9 billion and coverage for 275,000 people) is sure to come. Hospitals received $50 million for offset revenue losses due to a new fee schedule, $24.2 million for higher education institutions, $48 million to cover the unemployment overpayments, and $142 million for mortgage help and $442 million for rental assistance. The state also fully funded education’s K-12 foundation formula.
The state is planning to receive $1.9 billion in the American Recovery Plan, and the House, Senate and Governor will continue to discuss how and when to spend those dollars.
EMPOWERMENT SCHOLARSHIPS BILL (SCHOOL CHOICE) PASSES
House members paused Thursday afternoon as Speaker of the House Rob Vescovo, Senate Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden, Rep. Phil Christofanelli and Sen. Andrew Koenig happily gathered on the front dias. Cheering and applause erupted from the House floor when Speaker Vescovo announced House Bill 349 had passed the Senate by a 20-13 vote. HB 349, sponsored by Rep. Christofanelli and handled in the Senate by Sen. Koenig, establishes tax credits and scholarship accounts to pay for private school tuition, tutoring, transportation and more, representing a top priority for Speaker Vescovo and Sen. Rowden and school choice advocates. Such legislation has been sought for more than 10 years, and until Thursday it had faced roadblocks from the public elementary and secondary education lobby. The bill would affect only schools in cities with 30,000 or more population, meaning rural areas would not be affected. Several other limitations, such as a $75 million cap on tax credits issued and maintaining public school districts’ current funding for the first five years of the program, garnered enough support from some rural lawmakers to get the bill to the Governor’s desk.
WHAT’S AHEAD IN THE COMING DAYS
Next week the Legislature will solely focus on policy bills and will spend a significant amount of time working in conference committees where legislation will need to find compromise between both chambers. For a bill to become law, the exact language must be approved by both chambers and often a bill may find some opposition as it returns to its originating chamber with amendments added from the other side. When this occurs, a conference committee is appointed that includes five members from both legislative chambers, and a bill must receive the signature of six of the 10 conferees to be adopted. In general, conference committees are chaired by the bill’s sponsor and the floor handler from the other chamber, and they meet informally to find compromise.
Our office will continue to send updates if progress is made on specific legislation related to your industry. We are planning to send out a detailed “end of session” report after session ends next week. If you have any questions or comments please do not hesitate to reach out.
STATE WORKERS TO RETURN TO THEIR OFFICES MAY 17
On Wednesday, Governor Mike Parson directed all state workers to return to their offices for in-person work no later than May 17, and that all state buildings be open and accessible to the public during normal business hours. “With COVID-19 vaccines now readily available across the state and virus activity at its lowest levels since early days of the pandemic, we are confident that it is safe to return to pre-COVID-19 work settings and schedules,” Governor Parson said. The health and well-being of the state workforce remains a top priority for Governor Parson and his administration. COVID-19 screening and testing protocols will remain in place, and the state encourages all employees to consider getting vaccinated.