MPA Capitol Report 5/10/2024

In Legislative News, Legislative Reports, Legislative 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DO NOT PUBLISH: A NOTE FROM THE EDITORS

This week’s stories from the Missouri News Network focus heavily on the process of passing the state budget. We also did a recap of initiative petitions that were submitted, a bill regulating sludge and a bill that would bar state funding of diversity, equity and inclusion programs at state agencies.

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 MAY 6

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THURSDAY

Senate approves budget; House must act by 6 p.m. Friday

JOHN MURPHY AND MADELINE SHANNON

MISSOURI NEWS NETWORK

JEFFERSON CITY — The Senate passed a $51.7 billion compromise version of the state budget Thursday evening after eight hours of debate.

The bills go immediately to the House, where members have a constitutional mandate to pass a balanced budget by 6 p.m. Friday. The House convenes at 10 a.m. Friday.

Far-right Republican senators in the Freedom Caucus slowed the budget process down on the Senate floor throughout the day, before allowing appropriations bills to move through quickly in the evening.

The bills that passed the Senate contained amendments that reflected agreements on spending levels between the chairmen of the House Budget Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Throughout the day, Freedom Caucus members meticulously discussed specific spending items in bills and questioned whether some spending was allowed under the state constitution.

At a news conference Thursday morning, Gov. Mike Parson expressed concern regarding the budget getting done on time and what might be in it.

“Most certainly, I’m concerned about it,” Parson said. “I don’t even know what it looks like. We haven’t had privy even in the governor’s office to be able to see this.”

Parson said his concern is what the overall amount of spending is in the budget bills.

The House passed a budget in April that allotted $2 billion less in total spending than Parson’s proposed $52.7 billion.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, said the bills being considered Thursday totaled about $1 billion less than what Parson wanted.

Hough has expressed confidence that the deadline to pass the state budget will be met.

Adding to budget complications, Freedom Caucus Republicans in the Senate have stalled a bill extending a statewide Medicaid package called the Federal Reimbursement Allowance. It’s a tax on hospitals with a matching grant from the federal government that accounts for $4.5 billion — roughly 30% — of the state’s Medicaid budget.

Freedom Caucus members filibustered last week, demanding that Parson sign a bill banning Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid reimbursements before allowing votes on the FRA. That filibuster ended with no agreement from the governor and the Senate gave initial approval to the FRA extension and gave final approval on Thursday evening. Parson signed the Planned Parenthood bill Thursday morning.

If the FRA does not pass, it would cost the state $1.5 billion in general revenue funds, which could result in catastrophic cuts to other state programs, such as higher education.

Freedom Caucus members Thursday continued pushing back on renewing the FRA because of their concerns that the state gets too much financial backing from the federal government.

“We’re depending on federal funds,” said Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville. “Do you know what the federal government unfunded liability is? Over $200 trillion. Our spending bills are so highly dependent on a federal government that is out of control.”

Votes on bills were held up for a couple hours Thursday by continued debate over other issues, like racial discrimination, diversity, equity and inclusion programs and the process of passing a budget.

“There’s a lot of money that we appropriate that we never spend, and a lot of these things are coming from federal money that we’re accepting a lot of restrictions, and we end up not even spending the money,” said Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, as he argued against a supplemental appropriations bill for the current fiscal year. “Every single dollar that we appropriate are coming with a cornucopia of restrictions that the state must abide by.”

Throughout the day, as Freedom Caucus members offered amendments to strip specific spending items, those amendments were rejected on voice votes.

If the Missouri General Assembly does not get a budget passed on time, Parson could call lawmakers back for a special session. He could also call them back for a special session if the FRA does not go through. Both would be significant as it would keep lawmakers busy in Jefferson City and off the campaign trail during an election year.

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WEDNESDAY

Anti-DEI funding bills get initial House approval

BY AIDAN PITTMAN

MISSOURI NEWS NETWORK

JEFFERSON CITY — Bills that would prohibit state agencies from having DEI programs shined further light on party division in the House as they received initial approval Wednesday.

The bills, spearheaded by HB 2619, sponsored by Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, would prohibit state funding from being used to create diversity, equity and inclusion programs that “promote preferential treatment based on certain characteristics.” Language of the bills cite “collective guilt ideology” as a part of the prohibited activity.

The bill’s handler, Rep. Brad Hudson, R-Cape Fair, said in a discussion on the floor that the bill would be sending a message.

“That message is that it is inappropriate to use taxpayer dollars to facilitate the implementation of an ideology that discriminates and divides,” Hudson said.

A previous review by the Missourian of state agency budget requests found hardly any programs related to DEI exist within Missouri’s state government.

During discussion of the bill, Rep. Jamie Johnson, D-Kansas City, cited how the bill attacks important diversity education.

“As a human resources professional who taught inclusion classes to our new hires, top managers how to relate to people who are different than them so they can get the best out of their employees,” Johnson said. “Understanding those dimensions of diversity is so important.”

Rep. Doug Mann, D-Columbia, later cited how DEI activities increased productivity.

In defense of the bill, Rep. Brian Seitz, R-Branson, claimed that it followed the thought process of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In response, Rep. David Tyson Smith, D-Columbia, mentioned a past discussion he had with King’s son during which he became tearful recalling his father’s death, saying he wanted other representatives to consider it when quoting King. He then pointed to the pain bills like the one addressing DEI caused.

“I wonder why we keep pushing legislation that causes so much pain by men who are usually of a religious background,” Smith said.

Rep. Dan Stacy, R-Blue Springs, later praised Hudson as someone who treats people equally and fairly when speaking in support of the bill.

Hudson has also sponsored HB 1520, which would allow health care institutions and professionals to refuse gender transition services if it goes against their beliefs.

Rep. Joe Adams, D-University City, spoke against arguments in favor of not letting taxpayer money go towards DEI programs.

“My years of tax dollars have gone (toward) things I haven’t been happy about,” Adams said. “What about my parents’ tax dollars going to things they haven’t been privileged to receive?”

“If you to have an inclusive America, you’ve really got to work at it,” he added. “You just can’t expect your good wishes that ‘I will treat everybody with equality and equity.’ You won’t.”

The 102-47 vote for approval was mostly along party lines. Rep. Chris Sander, R-Lone Jack, was the sole Republican to vote against it.

In an interview afterward explaining his opposition, Sander cited the bill as being “anti-Israel” in how it would hinder projects in Missouri that produce military weapons for Israel. He also said it would get rid of scholarships offered by the Missouri Scholarship Accounts program.

A final vote must be taken in the House before the bill goes to the Senate, which continues to wrestle with approval of the state budget. Next week is the final week of the legislative session.

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TUESDAY

State budget still awaits Senate debate 72 hours from deadline

BY EZRA BITTERMAN

MISSOURI NEWS NETWORK

JEFFERSON CITY — The budget is the only constitutionally mandated requirement of the legislature. Funding major state projects like the Interstate 70 expansion and keeping schools open and buses running are among the many items that make up the $50 billion spending sum.

The budget needs to pass by 6 p.m. Friday to avoid the risk of a special session. Before that deadline, both the Senate and House must pass all 20 budget bills. Traditionally after the budget is passed in the Senate, a group of senators and representatives meet in a public hearing to work out their differences on the budget. This year, there’s no time for that.

House Budget Chair Cody Smith, R-Carthage, said that “avoiding conference is their only hope” in passing a budget before the deadline.

In lieu of a public conference, Smith and Senate Appropriations Chair Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, have been meeting to strike a compromise between their versions of the budget.

The Senate proposed a $53 billion budget, $2.2 billion above what the House approved. Smith said he is looking to get the budget much closer to the House’s proposal as the state is expected to see revenues slow down.

Rep. Kevin Windham, D-Hillsdale, who is on the House Budget Committee, said this year’s process lacks transparency.

That lack of transparency extends to the public as well. Because the conversations between Hough and Smith are happening in private, it’s unclear what’s being discussed. It will also be difficult for legislators to get an understanding of the budget bills, as they won’t be revealed until Hough brings them to the floor for debate.

Given the budget bills need to be on the House calendar a day before they are voted upon, it’s important the Senate passes them tomorrow. Then the House could give final approval before the Friday deadline.

While leadership deliberated Tuesday, the Senate took up some smaller bills.

A bill regulating the usage of wastewater sludge as fertilizer was sent to the House for final approval. The Senate gave final approval to a bill requiring the Department of Mental Health to provide recommendations and enact policies that reduce veteran suicide and sent it to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk. A public safety bill failed to move forward after Democratic senators blocked it.

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Sludge bill sent to House for final approval

BY EZRA BITTERMAN

MISSOURI NEWS NETWORK

JEFFERSON CITY — A bill regulating the use of wastewater sludge as fertilizer passed the Senate on Tuesday. It needs one more vote in the House before it becomes law.

One of the sludge providers, Denali Water Solutions, is already banned for dumping 6,000 gallons of slaughterhouse waste into a field. Nearby residents complained of the smell.

This bill, brought forward by Rep. Ed Lewis, R-Moberly, and handled by Sen. Jill Carter, R-Granby, in the Senate, would require the Department of Natural Resources to set an environmental standard for the use of sludge as fertilizer.

The bill also requires the department to study wastewater storage basins to ensure they don’t pose a risk to neighboring groundwater.

The bill calls upon the University of Missouri to develop standards on a safe level of phosphorus on agricultural plots. MU already provides soil testing to farmers at its various extension offices across the state. An abundance of phosphorus can be problematic, as too much can taint nearby fresh water sources.

Carter removed language added in committee about the exportation of water before the bill was presented to the Senate. The committee’s version sought to prohibit people from removing water from any state water source for exportation to another state.

Separate House and Senate bills addressing the topics are on the Senate calendar for consideration.

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MONDAY

Senate wastes another day as clock ticks toward deadline to pass $53 billion budget

BY DMITRY MARTIROSOV

MISSOURI NEWS NETWORK

JEFFERSON CITY — Ten minutes was all Majority Floor Leader Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, endured Monday before moving for the Missouri Senate to adjourn for the day, leaving both the budget and crucial taxes for the state’s Medicaid in limbo.

The cause? An eruption by one of her colleagues, Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, who condemned Senate leadership for diverting from what he said were agreed-upon plans to start working on a $53 billion state budget — one that has less than four days to be approved before the constitutional deadline of 6 p.m. Friday.

Following budget work on Monday, Eigel said he understood that on Tuesday Senate leadership will bring up a bill extending the state’s federal reimbursement allowance for Medicaid, or FRA, in addition to SJR 74, a bill that would make it harder to amend the state constitution.

But that wasn’t what followed.

“That plan didn’t survive one legislative day,” Eigel said on the Senate floor.

Eigel began his 10-minute inquiry-turned-speech moments after O’Laughlin attempted to bring up the FRA instead of budget appropriation bills.

Immediately, Eigel stood up and began inquiring Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, before resuming his attack on Senate leadership.

“If folks want to know why I have trust issues in this chamber, this is why,” Eigel said. “Because on a regular basis for my eight years (in the Senate) I’ve been lied to and double-crossed at almost every opportunity.”

The FRA, a $4.5 billion tax that funds the state’s Medicaid program, was one of the underlying causes of last week’s 41-hour filibuster by members of the Missouri Freedom Caucus. The conservative faction held the floor with demands that Senate leadership pass SJR 74 and that Gov. Mike Parson sign a bill that would ban Medicaid funding from going to Planned Parenthood.

Neither demand was met.

After a brief pause, Eigel turned his attention to O’Laughlin, who after refusing to take his inquiry sent Eigel into a second round of attacks.

“I’m at the point that if no deals can be made without being double-crossed, if no deals can be made without commitments being broken, then what’s the hold-up on the (previous question)?” Eigel said, referring to a rarely-used measure in the Senate that is meant to shut down debate and force a vote.

“Let’s get the (previous question) out here and start turning this place into the House,” Eigel added. “Why not? I mean, what’s the point?”

At the 10-minute mark, O’Laughlin had enough. The majority floor leader stood up, cut Eigel’s speech short and called the Senate to adjourn for the day.

The Senate is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Tuesday for what will likely be a tense final stretch before the final day of session on May 17.

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Signatures for four ballot initiatives submitted to secretary of state

BY QUINN S. COFFMAN

MISSOURI NEWS NETWORK

JEFFERSON CITY — Sunday marked the last day signatures could be submitted for ballot initiatives seeking to make changes to Missouri’s Constitution or state statutes.

Signatures were submitted for four ballot initiatives by Sunday’s deadline, covering abortion access in the state, the legality of sports gambling, raising Missouri’s minimum wage and allowing for a new casino boat to be built in the Ozarks.

Last week, Missourians for Constitutional Freedom announced that they had submitted 380,159 signatures for their abortion initiative to legalize abortion until fetal viability. The minimum requirement was 171,000 signatures.

An initiative to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour was submitted by Missouri Jobs with Justice. They reported submitting 210,000 signatures with only 115,000 required.

Another initiative garnered 340,000 signatures to legalize sports betting in Missouri, according to Winning for Missouri Education, a committee organized by multiple Missouri sports franchises. They were required a minimum of 171,000 signatures to be certified.

Finally, 340,000 signatures were submitted just under the wire by the Osage River Gaming and Convention committee for an initiative to legalize an additional casino boat in Missouri, to be placed on a portion of the Osage River.

Currently, the state allows only 13 of these casino boats to operate, all of which lie on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. Like many gambling-related revenue sources for the state, the initiative has promised its revenue for early childhood education and literacy programs in Missouri.

These initiatives will most likely be placed on the November ballot because the certification process is too time consuming to be completed by August’s ballot date.

When the first initiatives are submitted, the secretary of state’s office works to verify that each petition page has been notarized and includes the correct information from the circulators.

The secretary of state’s staff is allotted a number of weeks to do this verification equal to the number of initiatives submitted, which is four weeks this year.

The signatures will then be split up by county and sent back to the “local election authority” in each county, which is usually a county clerk.

JoDonn Chaney, director of communications for the secretary of state’s office, explained that they try to send these out as soon as possible to give local election authorities time to get through their pages of signatures.

Local election authorities have the responsibility of verifying that each name sent to them is from a registered voter in their county.

In Boone County, this will be the duty of Brianna Lennon, the county clerk. Lennon and her staff will make sure the name, address and signature on the petition are all correct.

“We don’t know yet how many pages we’ll have,” Lennon said. “You hear things like, ‘Oh, 380,000 signatures are in.’ Well, most of those are in St. Louis and Kansas City … I think we probably are gonna end up with quite a bit. We have had a lot of circulators all over the place.”

Finally, Lennon’s staff will check that the signature “substantially conforms” with previous signatures of theirs. She expects her staff of her and a few other workers will need one or two weeks to complete all of their assigned pages.

All counties in the state are required to return their verified signatures by July 30 this year.

Afterward, the secretary of state then has another two weeks to ensure the number of signatures for each petition reaches the minimum required number.

If the minimum number is reached, then the initiative will be certified and a ballot date will be selected. This whole process should be concluded around mid-August.

Republican legislators have sought this session to alter the ballot initiative process to make approving changes to the state constitution more difficult.

Both Chaney and Lennon confirmed that a joint resolution could be placed on the August ballot, since they don’t go through the same time-consuming certification process, meaning it could be approved by voters and made law in August and subsequently affect the ballot measures in November.

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