MPA Capitol Report 4/5/2024

In Legislative News, Legislative Resources On
- Updated

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DO NOT PUBLISH: A NOTE FROM THE EDITORS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 stories this week on the latest developments in the legislature on three key topics: education, initiative petition changes and the state budget.

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 APRIL 1

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THURSDAY

House votes to pass $50.8 billion budget, now goes to Senate

BY MADELINE SHANNON

MISSOURI NEWS NETWORK

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri House of Representatives passed a $50.8 billion budget Thursday, falling short of the governor’s budget proposal by about $2 billion.

The budget, composed of 12 distinct appropriations bills, allocates state funding for rebuilding Interstate 44, gives a pay raise to state employees and sends National Guard troops to Texas to protect the southern border.

This was the first week of floor debate on the state’s budget bills, which must be passed and approved by May 10, the week before the legislature adjourns for the year.

While center-right lawmakers seemed pleased with the budget, the hard-right Freedom Caucus and Democrats from both chambers criticized the budget, albeit for different reasons.

“The budget that the House just passed is OK,” said Rep. Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, minority floor leader. “It doesn’t impose major cuts on state services, but it doesn’t do much to improve them, either.”

One of the most prominent faces of the Freedom Caucus, Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, said he wanted to see a balanced budget before it is passed.

“The Freedom Caucus is committed to ensuring that we’re going to pass a balanced budget in this state,” Eigel said. “The governor wasn’t able to submit a balanced budget to the legislature, but I find it very difficult to believe that the Senate would pass any budget that isn’t balanced.”

Legislators passed several budget bills allocating state funds to public education, statewide transportation, crisis pregnancy resource centers, expanding broadband access and other longtime legislative efforts.

Earlier in the week, the Republican supermajority voted down several amendments to budget bills introduced by Democrats — including changes that would have restored Gov. Mike Parson’s budget proposals — instead adopting several introduced by Republican legislators.

The appropriation bills passed Thursday included one that would allocate $727.5 million for rebuilding I-44, $8 million for the National Guard’s “Operation Lone Star” in Texas, $1.5 billion for expanding broadband access, a $120.6 million increase for funding the state’s K-12 education foundation formula and $100 million for rural and low-volume roads.

“I think there’s a bunch of folks who would like to see that some of those cuts were made, and still find ways to invest where we can, so hopefully we can strike that balance in the right way,” said Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia.

Transportation, a big budget priority for the legislature this year, was one of the most well-funded facets of the budget. According to a news release sent out after the House passed the budget, Missouri has more than 33,000 miles of state highways, with only about 5,500 miles of those highways bearing 77% of traffic.

“As lawmakers, it is our responsibility to ensure our state avoids wasteful spending and prioritizes critical infrastructure for the future,” House Budget Chairman Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, said in the news release. “This plan is a step in the right direction.”

This version of the budget will now go to the Senate. Legislators in the Senate will then debate and pass the budget before it goes into effect.

“As the budget comes over to the Senate, I’m eager to build upon the groundwork of the governor and the House,” said Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield. “I look forward to presenting a budget that ensures taxpayer dollars are utilized efficiently.”

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WEDNESDAY

Battle brewing again in Senate over initiative changes

BY DMITRY MARTIROSOV AND QUINN S. COFFMAN

MISSOURI NEWS NETWORK

JEFFERSON CITY — Senate Democrats on Wednesday renewed threats to filibuster efforts to make initiative petitions harder to pass after the House pushed ahead with language termed as ballot candy.

Twenty-one hours of Democrat-led filibuster lasting well into the night in February might not be enough to do away with the ballot candy after a House committee on Tuesday restored them in an 11-5 vote on an amendment, paving the way for a floor debate in the lower chamber and getting one step closer to a repeat of that night.

Making the point stronger, the House on Wednesday approved its own resolution that also includes the language derided by Democrats. Any changes to the initiative process passed by the legislature would have to be approved by voters later this year.

The ballot candy refers to two controversial provisions that were stripped from the bill sponsored by Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, R-Arnold, prior to its passage in the Senate.

The provisions state that anyone who isn’t a Missouri resident and a U.S. citizen is barred from voting on constitutional amendments and that constitutional amendments funded or sponsored by governments of foreign countries or foreign political parties are unlawful.

Both of those prohibitions already exist under federal law.

The thinking is that voters will be distracted by the reasonable sounding language and not read further into the dramatic changes the amendment would make.

Now that the provisions are back in place, Coleman’s bill resembles the original version debated on the Senate floor, a move that didn’t surprise Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City.

“Republicans are desperate,” Arthur said. “The ballot candy serves only to deceive voters and they know that this is an unpopular issue.”

She added, “Missouri Senate Democrats can’t support anything or allow any kind of undemocratic legislation like this to pass … We will definitely fight that language.”

Coleman told the Missourian she was “pleased” with the House changes to her bill.

“It’s closer to what I filed, and everybody wants the language that they filed,” she said.

Last month, Coleman drew the ire of Senate Democrats after floating the idea of using the previous question — a procedural rule that shuts down debate and forces a vote — as a mechanism to advance her bill in the event Democrats filibuster again.

Arthur said invoking the previous question would be “catastrophic” for the Senate.

“I hope that cooler heads can prevail and that we can avoid going that nuclear option,” she said.

But Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, isn’t afraid to invoke the nuclear option.

“If Democrats are saying that they are going to filibuster this bill then we as Republicans have to look at what alternatives we have to break that filibuster,” Hoskins said. “Obviously, one of those options is a move for the previous question. It’s in our rule book for a reason just like the filibuster is in our rule book for a reason.”

Hoskins added that the previous question should be used as a last resort and that it should not be the main tool for passing legislation.

Arthur is joined by Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, who last month said restoring the ballot candy would “warrant taking a good hard look at another filibuster.”

On the House floor, Republicans said their resolution would make initiatives reliant on more voters from rural parts of Missouri, while still requiring them to win a majority of overall votes across the state.

Rep. Ed Lewis, R-Moberly, argued that the current initiative process allows urban counties to make constitutional changes without input from rural communities.

“We don’t just want 50% of the people to change our constitution, but also a broader representation of the overall population of the state in all areas,” Lewis said.

Democrats criticized the resolution for being anti-democratic and taking the power to legislate out of the voters’ hands. Several representatives made mention of the pending ballot initiative aiming to relegalize abortion in Missouri. They see the resolution as an attempt to keep this initiative from winning.

The inclusion of ballot candy language led Rep. Michael Burton, D-Lakeshire, to call the resolution the “worst version” of the attempts so far to alter the initiative process.

“(Republicans) know that the only way they’re going to get this passed is if they put that ballot candy on the front of it,” Burton said. “I hope that the folks of Missouri are paying attention and that they don’t actually vote for something that’s going to take power away from themselves.”

Another provision in the House resolution would require petition gatherers to collect signatures from 8% of voters in each of the eight congressional districts. Currently, petitions only need this 8% of signatures from voters in just five of the eight congressional districts.

When the vote was called for the resolution, one Republican joined 48 Democrats in opposing it.

Majority Floor Leader Jonathan Patterson, R-Lee’s Summit, was that lone vote, but when asked about his decision, declined to elaborate to the Missourian.

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Child care tax credit proposals face continued Freedom Caucus opposition

BY AIDAN PITTMAN

MISSOURI NEWS NETWORK

JEFFERSON CITY — Attempts to create tax credits for child care related causes continue to be at a roadblock because of challenges from the Freedom Caucus members in the Missouri Senate.

Senate bill 742, sponsored by Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, would create several provisions aiming to offer tax credits related to childcare services.

According to an amendment offered on the Senate floor by Arthur, the bill would offer the credits to individuals spending money for child care services, employers who provide child care services to their employees or reimburse them for some of those costs and to child care providers who pay employee payroll taxes and have certain construction expenses related to their services.

An identical House bill, sponsored by Rep. Brenda Shields, R-St. Joseph, passed the Senate Committee on Fiscal Oversight Tuesday in a 5-0 bipartisan vote. The effort to provide tax credits for child care was praised by Gov. Mike Parson during his State of the State address.

“There are three different tax credits targeted in different areas,” Arthur said, “all with the intention of making child care more accessible and affordable.”

Despite bipartisan support, senators of the Freedom Caucus have stalled the Senate version through filibustering.

“Generally, the tax credit programs benefit some in the population, but not everybody,” said Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, who is running for governor. “I think if we want to help everybody we can do so far more effectively.”

Arthur criticized this pushback as a political stunt for senators to get their own priorities through the legislature first.

“They see this as leverage as a way to get their legislation passed by trying to take this bigger priority of the Senate, of the House and of the governor and trying to derail it so that they can pass something they would rather see done,” Arthur said.

As far as a strategy goes for moving the bill forward, Arthur said she will “sit down with the senators, see if they have actual changes they would like to see made to the bill.”

Arthur added that this may involve a larger negotiation regarding the priorities those senators wish to pursue.

“I’m always open to ideas,” Eigel said. “I would suspect that if there’s gonna be a path forward on these tax cuts, we’re going to have to see the movement of a major tax cut bill make it’s way in the Senate chamber.”

Arthur added that the child care tax credit is a priority she wants to see completed this session.

“Depending on who the next governor is, this may or may not be a priority anymore,” Arthur said.

“The fact that we have a governor who is support of this legislation…gives us a strong footing, and I think that’s all the more reason why it’s important to get it done this year,” she said.

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Senate approves resolution on Election Night to ban ranked choice voting

BY KOMLAVI ADISSEM

missouri news network

JEFFERSON CITY − The Missouri Senate gave initial approval to a resolution Tuesday that would ban ranked choice voting in the state. If approved by the House, it would be sent to the ballot for voters to decide on later this year.

Senate joint resolution (SJR) 78, introduced by Sen. Ben Brown, R-Washington, would also ban noncitizens from voting in any elections within Missouri, including local and county elections. This is already law.

The resolution was approved on a voice vote after almost 45 minutes of negotiations between Brown and Sen. Karla May, D-St. Louis.

May, along with Sen. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, raised concerns during the initial floor debate about the impacts of the resolution on the nonpartisan local elections held in St. Louis City and Kansas City.

“Let’s just say − I’m gonna just make up numbers − we may have 12 people running for mayor. They’re all on the ballot,” Razer said. “You vote for the one person you want to be mayor. And then the top two vote-getters go on a couple of months later to a runoff election … between the top two vote-getters of that 12. Is this going to force us to change the way we vote for mayor and force us into partisan elections?”

“I don’t believe that this would restrict that,” Brown responded. “There’s no ranking of candidates and there’s one person, one vote.”

May raised similar concerns about the local elections in St. Louis City, pointing out that voters in the city had approved its nonpartisan “approval voting” system with 68% support.

“I think that what the people of St. Louis did for themselves, is what they did,” she added. “I can’t say if they’re better off or worse off, but I think they have a system in place that they like.”

May also noted that she had previously opposed the adoption of the unique voting system in St. Louis because it would “wake up the Republican Party in the city.”

May’s amendment made it so that the ban on ranked choice voting “does not apply to any nonpartisan municipal election held in a city that had an ordinance in effect as of November 5, 2024, that permits voters to cast more than a single vote for each issue or candidate on which such voter is eligible to vote.”

In his introduction, Brown said that the resolution is “designed to fortify our elections to make sure that every Missourian’s voice is heard and counted.”

“While rank choice voting may appear as modern solution electoral dilemmas, evidence and experience have illuminated a starkly different reality,” Brown said.

SJR 78 is one of a handful of resolutions making their way through the legislature in efforts to appear on the ballot later this year. Others include a proposal to raise the threshold to pass an initiative petition on the ballot and another that would downsize the House and change how term limits for state legislators are totaled.

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TUESDAY

Education bill passes House committee without revision

BY MOLLY MILLER

missouri news network

JEFFERSON CITY — A sizeable Senate education bill is making its way through the Missouri House of Representatives with signs it could be passed without amendments from the lower chamber.

These signs were underscored Tuesday morning when the House Special Committee on Education Reform voted 6-2 to pass Senate Bill 727 without making any additional changes to the bill’s text.

The bill had been stuck in a Democratic filibuster in the Senate until a package of amendments were added. The legislation includes provisions for approximately 21 items involving elementary and secondary education. The complicated agreements that allowed the bill to pass the Senate is one reason House leaders might favor adopting the bill without amendments.

Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch, R-Hallsville, serves on the committee and voted in favor of the bill. She highlighted the bill’s expansion of the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program, an increase in teacher pay and a provision allowing for charter schools in Boone County.

Toalson Reisch authored a separate bill passed by the committee earlier this session to permit charter schools in Boone County.

Boone County legislators Rep. Kathy Steinhoff, D-Columbia; Rep. Adrian Plank, D-Columbia; Rep. Doug Mann, D-Columbia; and Rep. David Tyson Smith, D-Columbia, all said they anticipate voting against the legislation.

The legislators cited their opposition to the provision allowing charter schools to operate in Boone County without the permission of local school districts, which is required in most other parts of the state. Columbia Public Schools and other school districts in the county have objected to the provision.

Smith said he plans to file an amendment to remove the charter school provision from the final bill.

“We’re going to try and amend the bill in a couple of different ways,” Plank said. “First, to pull that language out. If that doesn’t work, then we’ll see if we can get it put to a vote in Boone County because it won’t pass.”

In addition to her opposition to charter schools, Steinhoff raised concerns over expansion of the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program, commonly referred to as MOScholars. Steinhoff said she feels taxpayer dollars could be better appropriated than to expand access to private and religious schools.

Chair of the Special Committee on Education Reform, Rep. Bishop Davidson, R-Republic, said the goal is to not “jeopardize the overall package” by adding amendments to the bill. In its current form, Davidson feels the bill has a path forward to become law this session.

The bill was developed over many months in the Senate, Bishop said. He said that process accounted for opinions from the House during those negotiations.

Rep. Ian Mackey, D-St. Louis, a member of the education reform committee, voiced his displeasure during the brief hearing Tuesday morning. Mackey authored three amendments to the bill, but did not offer them for consideration due to the likelihood of the amendments being voted down by the Republican majority.

Mackey wanted to include language addressing the expansion of the MOScholars program to preschool, ending seclusion rooms and eliminating zero-tolerance policies in the case of disciplinary action.

Mackey said he was not consulted on items to include in the legislation.

“I was really 50-50,” Mackey said, “and I think had I had a chance to sit down and actually help craft the legislation … it probably would have tipped me from 49% to 51%.”

The general consensus among lawmakers appeared to be that while not perfect, the legislation will accomplish needed improvements for elementary and secondary education in the state. The disagreement stems from which items in the bill will provide positive change for students.

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Initiative petition changes clear hurdle

BY MADELINE SHANNON

missouri news network

JEFFERSON CITY — Efforts to push forward changes to the state’s initiative petition process succeeded Tuesday, with a Missouri House committee granting initial approval to an amended resolution that would make it more difficult to amend the state constitution.

The key change in the resolution would require a majority of votes statewide and in the majority of Missouri’s congressional districts to approve a constitutional amendment.

The version of the resolution approved by the committee contains additional provisions restricting foreign governments and political parties from trying to sway the results of initiative petition efforts, something that’s already federal law. Another provision would bar people who are not U.S. citizens and residents of Missouri from voting in elections. Both provisions are already federal law.

Opponents of the amendments debated Tuesday, calling the added provisions “ballot candy” because they are attractive proposals to many voters who may fail to read the underlying changes being proposed.

“So much was done to remove this, and to come over here and to slap it back in, I think it’s outrageous,” said Rep. David Tyson Smith, D-Columbia. “I don’t think we need to be filling these (Senate Joint Resolutions) with ballot candy. It’s a problem in this building and enough is enough.”

If the resolution passes through the legislature, voters would be asked to approve the changes to the initiative process.

Many Republicans have pushed initiative petition bills this session because of a citizen-led effort to place a proposed constitutional amendment that would enshrine the right to abortion in the state constitution on the November ballot.

The representative who introduced the amendment, Rep. Brad Banderman, R-St. Clair, said he was assigned to introduce the amendment by Rep. Peggy McGaugh, R-Carrollton, the House Elections and Elected Officials Committee chair.

Banderman said he contacted the staff of the resolution’s sponsor, Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, R-Arnold, when working to add the provisions to the resolution.

“I think the process of making our initiative petition process better and using congressional districts is similar to the way we do it at the federal level,” Banderman said. “I believe the heart of both those issues is the protection of the minority vote. I believe the congressional district is the best approach to making sure when we adjust the framework of our state governance, that the case is made across the state and not just in a few counties.”

Some of the provisions added to the resolution this week are similar to provisions that were previously removed. Democrats only ended a filibuster on the resolution when the ballot candy provisions were taken out.

Coleman said she wanted to review the House amendments before commenting.

Rep. Joe Adams, D-University City, was the most outspoken opponent of the new amendment Tuesday, saying a concurrent majority would deny citizens their voice.

“My family, my predecessors, fought and died for that right of the franchise,” Adams said. “This is an attempt to get rid of that right.”

Other efforts to pass bills that would increase the threshold for a constitutional amendment were introduced in the House this year, with two effectively dead and another still moving forward.

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