MPA Capitol Report 1/26/2024

In Breaking News, Missouri Press News, Resources On
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MPANewsBook: Statehouse News for MPA Members
This report is written by Missouri School of Journalism students for publication by MPA member newspapers in print and online.
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DO NOT PUBLISH: A NOTE FROM THE EDITORS

The Missouri News Network has coverage this week of the governor’s final state of the state address and his final budget proposal. Snow and ice forced cancellation of Monday’s sessions and disrupted hearings throughout the week. We have stories on efforts to block medical reimbursements to health affiliates, such as Planned Parenthood, which offer abortions in other states, the renewed effort to toughen standards for amending the state constitution and the Senate president pro-tem stripping Freedom Caucus members of their committee chairmanships.

If you have thoughts or questions, contact Mark Horvit at horvitm@missouri.edu or Fred Anklam at anklamf@missouri.edu.

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Missouri News Network Week of January 22

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Parson delivers final State of the State address

  • STORY BY DMITRY MARTIROSOV
  • Missouri news network

JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson delivered his final State of the State address Wednesday with education, workforce development and infrastructure among key priorities as he unveiled a record $52.7 billion budget plan.

The governor’s proposed budget would add more than $120 million for K-12 education, bringing the total base funding for public education to $3.7 billion.

“And I’ll note,” Parson told a joint session of the Missouri General Assembly, “that’s all state funding, not the federal government.”

Alluding to the school choice debate, Parson said he doesn’t care where Missourians get quality education “just as long as they get one.”

Republican leaders in the legislature have made expanding school choice a priority this year, and several bills have already had committee hearings.

Parson is also looking to increase teachers’ baseline salary by investing an additional $4 million to enhance recruitment and retention, bringing teacher salaries to $40,000 for the fiscal year 2025, up from $38,000 the previous year.

At the beginning of his speech, the governor harkened back to last year’s State of the State address.

“As we laid out bold and historic proposals, I declared that this governor, this dad and this gramps is not done yet,” Parson said.

“But in all seriousness, I’ll be leaving here with my head held high,” said Parson, who will step down after this year due to term limits. He spent as much time talking about what he sees as accomplishments as he did laying out proposals for the year ahead.

Improvements to infrastructure would include investments in state roads, highways and bridges, in addition to widening broadband access.

Parson is proposing a $1.5 billion investment in broadband infrastructure, with a focus on underserved communities. The $1.5 billion would add to a total of nearly $2 billion in the state’s broadband investment.

“We believe that in the next five years, the digital divide in Missouri will be closed once and for all,” Parson said.

The governor also announced a $92.8 million federal grant the state received for Interstate 70 projects, with construction in Columbia beginning in the summer.

“And from there, well, let’s just say there is ‘No Turnin’ Back,’” Parson said, using one of his catch phrases.

Parson gave a nod to Missouri Department of Transportation employees — a group that sat at the upper gallery of the House chamber, where the speech was held — who received a standing ovation from the entire General Assembly.

The governor is also proposing a $290 million investment to go toward highway and bridge construction and $14 million toward investments to Interstate 44. MoDOT already has $150 million saved for Interstate 44, according to MoDOT Director Patrick McKenna.

During a briefing before the governor’s speech, McKenna said once contracts are signed, plans will become clearer.

“And then that’ll take us where it takes us,” McKenna said. “It’ll tell us what we will need to do on that corridor to improve it, to mitigate congestion, to encourage growth in the freight volume that’s happening on that corridor and to improve its safety.”

Generally, the mood in the House chamber was cheerful throughout the speech. Then Parson mentioned abortion.

“When I came to Jefferson City, nearly 8,000 elective abortions were performed annually in Missouri,” Parson said. “As I stand before you today, I’m proud to report that number is zero.”

Almost on cue, Republicans rose up and cheered for the governor while Democrats remained in their seats.

Although that brief moment soured the mood, it was the only one during Parson’s speech, which received continuous applause from both Democrats and Republicans.

Another one of Parson’s priorities is to improve Missouri’s workforce by enhancing child care services. Parson said this year he backs efforts to establish three new child care tax credit programs.

“These programs will help improve access and affordability for families seeking child care across the state of Missouri,” he said. The governor is proposing nearly $52 million toward child care subsidy programs.

House Democrats praised Parson’s initiative to improve access to child care services.

“We’re glad the governor understands that ensuring parents have safe and affordable child care options is vital for those parents to be able to work, provide for their families and help grow our economy,” said House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, who is running to replace Parson.

Quade also praised Parson’s other initiatives, including funding for education, teacher pay increase and broadband infrastructure.

“There are a lot of things that the governor highlighted today that we were very excited about,” Quade said, adding Democrats want to see bills on these issues make their way to Parson’s desk.

“We’ll do our part to make that happen,” she said.

But Quade then turned to criticism, noting it was “interesting” Parson didn’t mention Republicans’ efforts to reform the ballot initiative process.

“If we’re going to talk about people first, then they should have a voice at the ballot,” Quade said, jabbing at the governor’s theme for his address — “Putting People First.”

Quade said she isn’t too hopeful about making any progress in the current session.

“Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking the prospects are good for much of anything important going to the legislature this year,” Quade said. “That’s because, just like Republicans in (Washington) D.C., Republicans in Jeff City constantly prove incapable of governing.”

“And that’s a terrible shame,” she added.

During the speech, Parson reiterated again and again that it’s all about putting people first.

“With faith, family, and freedom at the forefront, honoring the Constitution and leading with the ideas of the Declaration of Independence, putting people first, that’s what leadership has been to us,” Parson said, as he concluded his final speech as the 57th governor of Missouri.

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Governor presents first draft of state budget

  • BY EZRA BITTERMAN
  • Missouri news network

JEFFERSON CITY — Last year’s budget was flush with large-scale projects like the expansion of I-70 across the entire state and massive investments into rural broadband as federal money flooded the state’s coffers.

Record spending levels were appropriated, 48% of which came from the federal government. That represented a large jump from pre-pandemic when about 33% of the state’s budget came from federal sources.

What a difference a year makes.

This year’s budget, proposed Wednesday by Gov. Mike Parson’s administration, lacks large, one-time projects. Instead, the focus is on a 3.2% cost-of-living increase for state employees, a teacher pay raise, and smaller investments in rural broadband and infrastructure projects.In 2022, Gov. Parson signed off on record personal income tax cuts bringing the top rate to 4.8%. This has created a projected fall in personal income tax revenue for 2024 and 2025, and an overall .07% decrease in state general fund collections. Projections still show the state revenue above pre-pandemic levels.

The proposed budget is $52.7 billion, which would be a record with much of that spending tied to federal funds from previous years. Parson highlighted that his budget leaves the state with a $1.5 billion surplus as he prepares to leave office.

A major hallmark of the proposal is the allocation of $120 million toward making the baseline teacher pay $40,000 a year. Missouri’s starting teacher pay is currently ranked 50th in the nation, according to the National Education Association. The raise would bring the state closer to the national average, but still below it.

Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Cody Smith, R-Jasper, is concerned about increasing funding for items reliant on the general fund.

“State revenue is broadly fairly flat this year. And so where we find the money to make sure we are paying for those things (health care and education) and still have a balanced budget are questions I have.”

Rep. Kathy Steinhoff, D-Columbia, a longtime teacher and active figure in the National Education Association, was pleased by the proposed increase in pay but feels it will leave some teachers behind as those above the new minimum are not guaranteed raises.

Infrastructure is again a major priority for the governor. Between a $92.8 million federal Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant and funds coming in from interest on the over $2 million already allocated to increase I-70 to six lanes, funding is coming to I-44.

With those funds, Missouri Department of Transportation will begin to research the expansion of I-44. Other projects include $93 million to improve rural roadways, $27.3 million to help build up the state airports and $290 million for the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program.

“We’ve got the seventh largest infrastructure network and certainly nowhere near the seventh largest population in the country,” Smith said. “So we have more state-maintained highways than our population would necessarily indicate. Transportation infrastructure is always a good investment for the state.”

The governor has made it a priority to provide Missourians with high-speed internet, which 20% of Missourians don’t have access to, according to the University of Missouri. The proposal calls for $1.5 billion to spend on expanding access to broadband by building technical infrastructure, creating public-private partnerships, and workforce development. Much of the funding in this area comes from federal grants, not state funds.

The flattening of revenue after the personal income tax cut is a signal for caution to Senate President Pro-tem Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia.

“This year and next certainly, I think we’re going to have to look at tightening the belt, you know, making sure that ongoing funds are really accounted for and that we set the legislature up four or five years from now for success and not hamstring them,” he said.

The personal income tax rate would be cut again if the general fund increases by $200 million. It’s unlikely that the trigger will occur in the next two fiscal years, according to state projections.

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Lawmakers discuss Planned Parenthood’s relationship with affiliates

  • BY ANNA SAGO
  • Missouri news network

JEFFERSON CITY — Patients insured by Missouri HealthNet could be prevented from seeking services at Planned Parenthood under a senate bill.

Missouri senators discussed this year’s federal reimbursement allowance bill Wednesday, following similar discussions at a House hearing Tuesday on Planned Parenthood’s national affiliations.

The federal allowance bill creates a tax on certain kinds of healthcare providers, such as nursing homes and pharmacies, in order to reimburse providers who accept Missouri HealthNet, Missouri’s Medicaid program.

Senate Bill 810, sponsored by Sen. Nick Schroer, R-Defiance, would remove Planned Parenthood, as well as any other healthcare organization whose affiliates provide abortion services from a list of eligible Missouri HealthNet providers – even if those services are not performed at clinics in Missouri.

Missouri Right to Life Executive Director Susan Klein, who testified in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee last week, testified again Wednesday. She was joined by representatives from several other organizations, including Bound4LIFE St. Louis and the Missouri Catholic Conference.

A number of organizations also testified against the bill, including lobbyists associated with Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union as well as several members of Abortion Action Now.

Witnesses and senators spoke to the breadth of non-abortion services provided by Planned Parenthood in the state of Missouri. Senator Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, pointed to the other services provided by Planned Parenthood, like STI testing, cancer screenings and family planning services.

Schroer, however, argued that there was some opacity as to which Planned Parenthood clinics provided which services. He claimed that an unspecified organization had placed calls to clinics across the state and found that “only a small fraction” offered breast exam services.

However, Planned Parenthood clinics in Joplin, Springfield, Columbia, Kansas City and St. Louis all listed “chest/breast cancer screenings and referral” as services offered at their location.

The committee’s chair, Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, R-Arnold, honed in on the relationship between Planned Parenthood clinics in Missouri, where abortion is illegal, to Planned Parenthood’s corporate entity.

She asked witnesses to explain what it means to be a Planned Parenthood affiliate and said that if that affiliation was the only thing preventing them from receiving state funds, they should consider becoming independent providers.

“It’s important that we understand what ‘affiliate’ means,” Coleman said. “Because if that’s what’s keeping these clinics from being funded in the state of Missouri…couldn’t they just drop that affiliation and continue to provide care?”

The definition of “affiliate” came before members of the House Tuesday as well, the Missourian previously reported, leaving some concerned that state medical centers and hospitals could fall within that definition.

Planned Parenthood’s 49 affiliates — which oversee individual clinics — are locally run, according to the non-profit’s website. Among those affiliates are Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouriand Planned Parenthood Great Plains, which operate clinics in the state of Missouri and in neighboring states like Illinois and Kansas, where abortion is legal.

According to a 2022 Form 990 filing, the Planned Parenthood Federation — which is the national organization — did receive $392,387 in revenue for “services to affiliates,” indicating that local affiliates do send money to the nonprofit’s national branch.

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TUESDAY, JAN. 23

Latest effort to change initiative process gets a hearing

  • BY MADELINE SHANNON
  • missouri news network

JEFFERSON CITY — House resolutions proposing changes to the state’s initiative process got pushback at a hearing Tuesday. Some said proposed changes would effectively limit voting power of urban voters in favor of rural voters.

Both joint resolutions stipulate that a measure proposing an amendment to the Missouri constitution would take effect when passed by a majority of voters statewide and also in a majority of the state’s congressional districts. Senators who have proposed similar legislation have tied up floor action out of frustration that their resolutions have not be sent to committees for hearings.

Past efforts tried to raise the overall statewide percentage required to adopt a ballot initiative.

Rep. Ed Lewis, R-Moberly, introduced the resolutions that would outlaw foreign governments and political parties from sponsoring initiative petitions, donating or contributing money in an initiative petition effort or disbursing any electioneering communication for or against an initiative petition.

Previous efforts to pass marijuana reform via the initiative petition process, according to Lewis, served to overturn the wishes of voters in rural counties.

“The voices of those mainly rural voters were not heard,” Lewis said during the House Elections and Elected Officials Committee meeting. “Now, they are overwhelmed with marijuana in their communities, and their voices were overwhelmed by the heavily-populated counties.”

Opponents of conservative-led initiative petitions said they saw these resolutions curbing citizens’ ability to participate in the democratic process.

“Here in Missouri, we’re seeing an all-out attack on direct democracy, as well as the concept of one person, one vote,” said Denise Lieberman, director and general counsel of the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition. “This is not about political party. This is about the ability of Missourians to make their voices heard.”

Others who testified at the hearing weren’t so sure. They instead voiced support for legislation that protects the rule of a concurring majority of the voting population.

“Over the past several years, we’ve seen several constitutional amendments changing our constitution,” said Susan Klein, director of Missouri Right to Life. “We all have to live by our constitution, and I think looking to make sure all of us have a voice and a vote when it comes time to change our constitution is good for our state to do.”

Another bill, HB 1749, sponsored by Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Pleasant Hill, requires that no initiative petition nullifies or amends federal law, among other provisions. The bill would also invalidate signatures collected on an initiative petition if a court ordered a substantial change to the official ballot title.

“As far as I’m concerned, they are denying the citizens of this state the right to vote and participate,” said Rep. Joe Adams, D-University City. “I think (Republicans) are going to be severely disappointed down the road if they want to make some changes, and they won’t be able to do it. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, and it’s going to mess them up.”

Initiative petitions have been a way for Missouri voters to propose new laws and constitutional amendments since the early 20th century, as well as put up a challenge to legislation passed by the General Assembly.

This process has been used to pass new laws on medical marijuana, expand Medicaid and limit new taxes.

Currently, voters who file an initiative petition must acquire signatures totaling 8% of the vote cast for governor in six of the state’s eight congressional districts to propose a constitutional amendment and 5% in six districts to propose changes to the laws of the state.

Changes to initiative petition legislation have been a priority for Republicans. After the legislature failed to enact changes last year, conservative lawmakers expressed fear voters will attempt to pass a law expanding abortion access via the initiative petition process.

Groups supporting the effort to put a ballot initiative to restore abortion rights in Missouri officially launched their effort last week, according to The Missouri Independent.

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Health care providers could lose state funding under new proposed law

  • BY EZRA BITTERMAN
  • missouri news network

JEFFERSON CITY — A bill that would remove funding for medical centers affiliated with abortion facilities across state lines was heard by a state House committee Tuesday.

While much of the discourse throughout the hearing surrounded Planned Parenthood, who the state is already involved with in an ongoing legal battle over funding, the language of the law could affect health care providers across the state.

The term “affiliate” is not defined in the bill language, which creates concerns that many of the state’s medical centers could be affected if patients were referred across state lines. Rep. Ben Baker, R-Newton, noted that hospitals are not considered abortion clinics under state law, so the bill wouldn’t affect places like MU Health Care.

Clinics, not hospitals, provide upwards of 40% of abortions, according to a 2020 sexual and reproductive health study conducted by the University of Ottawa. The study showed that just 3% of abortions happened at hospitals.

Rep. Ann Kelley, R-Barton, who sponsors the legislation, conceded that specific language could be changed to improve clarity.

Susan Klein, the legislative liaison at Missouri Right to Life, shifted the focus of the hearing toward Planned Parenthood.

“Planned Parenthood is the nation’s number one abortion provider,” Kline said. “Are we subsidizing the abortion industry by giving state money to a Planned Parenthood in Missouri who is referring women and minors across state lines to get an abortion?”

The bill’s current language states that it “shall be unlawful for any public funds to be expended to any abortion facility, or to any affiliate or associate of such abortion facility.” Missouri’s Planned Parenthoods would lose funding as they associate with a national organization that provides abortions.

Lawmakers pointed out that Planned Parenthood provides more than just abortion care. In 2022, only 4% of medical services provided was abortion according to Planned Parenthood’s 2022 report.

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Rowden strips chairmanships from Freedom Caucus members

  • BY KOMLAVI ADISSEM AND AIDAN PITTMAN
  • missouri news network

JEFFERSON CITY — In a dramatic move Tuesday, Senate President Pro Tempore Caleb Rowden stripped committee chairmanships from four members of the Freedom Caucus in what one described as a punitive measure for not falling into line with Senate leadership.

In a statement released on X, formerly known as Twitter, Rowden, R-Columbia, who is running for secretary of state, said the group has “chosen to use the Missouri Senate as a place to try and salvage their languishing statewide campaigns and intentionally destroy the institution in an effort to claim the game is rigged against them.”

The senators removed from chairmanships were Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg; Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester; Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring; and Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville. Hoskins was also removed from the Senate Appropriations Committee entirely.

Eigel is currently running for governor, and Hoskins is running against Rowden in the Republican primary for secretary of state.

“I think we’ve given them probably no less than about 50 opportunities to shape up over the last four years,” Rowden said at his post-session press conference. He added that if the group had talked to him about the timeline for resolutions they have offered on reforming the initiative petition process, they would have kept their chairmanships.

Since the first day of the session, the group has taken to the floor with lengthy speeches complaining that the Senate leaders were not acting quickly enough on Republican priorities, including efforts to make it more difficult to use the ballot initiative process to change the state constitution or change state laws.

Eigel asked Rowden directly about whether the stripping of chairmanships was “punitive” during debate on the floor.

“It’s the result of a number of years of actions being taken that most all of the rest of our caucus thought was not in their best interest, not in the state’s best interest, not in this institution’s best interest,” Rowden responded. “I reached the point where we have to do something to fix this place.”

During a separate press conference, Eigel called the move “punitive in action.”

“That’s my word, not his. He didn’t say punitive. I’ll tell you it’s punitive and it’s a retaliatory strike,” Eigel said.

Sen. Curtis Trent, R-Springfield, who now replaces Koenig as the chair of the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee, expressed disappointment at the infighting in the Republican caucus.

“I’ve been very disappointed this session to see folks, who purport to believe many of the same things, taking actions that prevent us from working on those important issues,” he said in an interview off the floor. “My hope is that we will eventually find a way forward where those important conservative priorities can be addressed this session.”

Regarding the leadership of the Republican caucus by Rowden and Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, Trent said, “I think that all members of the leadership team, whether that’s Senator Rowden or Senator O’Laughlin, as I watch them working on these issues behind the scenes, I think are diligently working in good faith to try to pass conservative legislation.”

The chairmanships were not the only thing lost by members of the Freedom Caucus. During floor discussion, an aide brought a letter to Eigel, informing him that his parking spot was moved to location further from the Capitol. Brattin, Koenig and Hoskins also said they had their spots moved.

“I know my colleagues in the Freedom Caucus have no intention of allowing this tyrannical leadership regime to intimidate us,” Eigel said. “So we’re going to continue fighting and we’re going to do it with a smile on our face.”

Senate leaders are equally firm in their resolve moving forward.

“We are going to do whatever it takes — this is the first step, there could be additional steps — to regain order in this place,” Rowden said.

When asked if a previous question motion — a rarely-used step to cut off floor debate — was an option in handling the delaying tactics of the Freedom Caucus, Rowden did not dismiss the idea.

“I think everything’s on the table,” Rowden said. “We’re going to get this place working again.”

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Revenue estimates relatively flat for state’s 2025 fiscal year

  • BY CAMDEN DOHERTY
  • missouri news network

Ahead of Gov. Mike Parson’s State of the State address, the governor’s office released a Consensus Revenue Estimate for the 2025 fiscal year, with minimal differences from the 2024 estimate.

The projected general revenue collection figure represents how much net revenue the state expects to collect in a given year. In the 2025 fiscal year, Missouri projects a growth of only 0.2% in net general revenue over fiscal year 2024, putting the projected revenue estimate at $13.16 billion.

Plateauing state revenue estimates were expected by Missouri lawmakers as Parson’s time in office has seen three tax cuts.

“Our projected growth in revenue is lower due to Missourians keeping more of their hard-earned money in their pocket, which increases individual household income,” said Senate Appropriations Chairperson Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield.

Parson and the conservative legislators see the implementation of cuts while keeping revenue stable as a win for conservative policy in the state.

Parson’s most recent cut was in a special session in 2022, it includes further income tax cuts contingent on general revenue growth. The cuts need a minimum increase of $200 million in net general revenue from the previous fiscal year to be implemented. Neither fiscal year 2024 nor 2025 have projected enough collections growth to implement the cuts.

“Our administration has passed three tax cuts, one being the largest in state history, and made historic, once-in-a-generation investments all while approving conservative, balanced budgets every year,” Parson said in his office’s news release.

The state budget also benefited from national government funds as a result of the pandemic. American Rescue Plan funds were meant to help states combat the pandemic and possible revenue loss. A large portion of these funds have been depleted or allocated for future spending over the last few years.

Kip Kendrick, the Boone County Presiding Commissioner, has hands-on experience with the state budget process. He formerly served as the ranking member of the Democratic minority on the budget committee and also served as chief of staff for Sen. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City.

“It has not just been ARPA funds that have been robust…general revenue has been as well,” Kendrick said.

Kendrick believes Missouri will still see a more conservative approach to spending as the state has spent much of its general revenue funds in the past years. These funds were flush immediately following the pandemic as sales taxes saw a collections increase and income was not heavily impacted.

“They will probably be a bit more cautious in keeping a healthy balance into fiscal years 2026-27,” Kendrick said.

This will allow the state to continue funding mandatory programs and projects the state has committed to, such as the Interstate 70 expansion. The state is not expecting the revenue surplus of the pandemic, but is still in a position to fund one-time projects and balance a conservative budget with the current estimate.

After Parson proposes his budget, the House Budget Committee, led by Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, will get the first crack at the budget. Last year, Smith and House Republicans incited controversy when they added anti-diversity equity inclusion language that was eventually removed in the final budget.

“I am proud to reach an agreement on a conservative revenue estimate, and I look forward to working with both Sen. Hough and Gov. Parson to create a suitable and sustainable budget next fiscal year,” Smith said.

The revenue estimate adjusts the estimate for the current fiscal year as well. The 2024 fiscal year will see a 0.7% decline from 2023, resulting in an estimate of $13.14 billion.

Parson will detail his proposed budget for the 2025 fiscal year at his last State of the State address Wednesday afternoon.

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MONDAY, JAN. 22

Legislature canceled its activities because of the snow/ice across the state.

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