A House Bill that would remove the restriction on felons working in businesses that sell alcohol and lottery tickets was sent Thursday to the Senate. House Bill 1468 would also lift the requirement that employers with liquor licenses notify the state of any employees with felony convictions.
Bill sponsor Cheri Toalson Reisch (R-Hallsville) said the bill will not only make it easier for felons to find jobs, thus reducing recidivism; it will also make more workers available. She said her county, Boone, has the lowest unemployment rate in the state and more potential workers are needed.
The Missouri House’s Special Committee on Disease Control and Prevention held its first hearing today discussing Missouri’s level of preparedness for the corona virus. Leadership and committee members fielded questions from the media following that hearing.
HB 1094 would block late payment penalties on tax debt owed to the state by individual taxpayers through the end of this year. It would also waive any interest owed on such debt until May 15. For those who might pay penalties before the bill would become law, it would require that those Missourians receive refunds.
The bill is a bipartisan response to an issue with the Department of Revenue’s tax tables that resulted in many Missourians being faced with greater debt than expected. Lawmakers heard stories of individuals who anticipated a tax refund from the state instead getting hit with bills for hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars.
Republicans, including Noel representative and oversight committee member Dirk Deaton, maintain that while some Missourians could see greater tax bills this year, changes in the federal tax code mean their overall debt is down.
The Missouri House’s Budget Committee Chairman has unveiled his plan for paying for road and bridge work in the state, in place of the plan proposed by Governor Mike Parson (R) in January.
Representative Cody Smith’s (R-Carthage) plan is to use a $100-million from the state’s General Revenue Fund to support the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), which is the Department of Transportation’s plan for road and bridge improvements for the coming years.
Parson’s plan called for using $351-million in bonds to replace or repair 250 bridges throughout Missouri. The bonding would have been paid back with about $30-million from the state’s General Revenue fund for 15 years.
Smith said it is important to focus on creating a plan that would funds transportation infrastructure but not put the state further into debt.
The Department has paid more than $700-million in debt payments in the last two years, and its average payment is $313-million a year.
Smith proposes spending $100-million in general revenue on roads and bridges in the next four years’ budgets or more. That would be subject to the appropriation process in each of those years. Smith potentially will be the House budget chairman throughout that time, and therefore would be in a position help make that happen.
State budget experts say General Revenue has never been used to pay for transportation infrastructure. That is usually done with funds earmarked for that purpose. Smith said it’s time to consider a fundamental change.
Columbia representative Kip Kendrick is the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee. He called Smith’s proposal bold and a part of a larger discussion about how Missouri’s transportation infrastructure should be paid for, but funding it with general revenue would pit it against other priorities supported by that fund, like K-12 and higher education.
The Missouri Department of Transportation says it is about $8-billion short of being able to fund its transportation needs in the next decade.
Missouri voters in November rejected a 10-cents-per-gallon tax increase to pay for road and bridge work.
Smith’s plan is part of his proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. He unveiled that plan Wednesday. Over the coming weeks the House Budget Committee will propose changes to that plan, then send it to the full House for debate during the week of March 25-29. Before the state budget is finalized it must be approved by both the House and the Senate, then the governor could approve, reject, or delay funding from it.
The Missouri House voted to override the governor’s vetoes of four items in the state operating budget that became law in July. The Senate has opted not to take up those items for consideration, so the governor’s vetoes will stand.
The House voted to override Governor Mike Parson’s (R) vetoes on line-items that support juvenile advocacy units in the Kansas City and St. Louis offices of the state public defender; time-critical centers for heart attack and stroke patients in Missouri hospitals; independent reviews by the Office of Child Advocate of local offices that serve troubled youths; and the oversight of grants to organizations that serve the deaf and blind. The four items totaled more than $785,000.
House budget leaders said those items will be brought up for consideration when the legislature meets again in January, for the start of its regular session.
The House voted only on five budget items during its annual veto session, which began and ended Wednesday. On the fifth budget item, $50,000 for grants to law enforcement agencies for the purchase of tourniquets for officers, the House fell short of the constitutional majority needed for an override.
Money for inspections of state-certified heart attack and stroke trauma centers
House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) said after the governor vetoed money to fund inspections and certification of time-critical trauma centers for heart attack and stroke patients, his administration then said those inspections would be conducted anyway. Fitzpatrick said he wants to see the inspections continue, but for them to be funded by pulling money from parts of the budget not intended for them violates the role of the legislature in the budget process.
Money for Office of Child Advocate review of local abuse investigations
$100,000 for the Office of Child Advocate would pay for two people that St. Charles Republican Kurt Bahr said would conduct a thorough review of how child abuses cases are processed. He said the office needs those two additional staff members to keep up with that extra work.
Money for oversight of grants to organizations serving Missouri’s deaf and blind
The $45,000 for the Missouri Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing would pay for a person to oversee grants to organizations serving the deaf and blind. That position was created as part of House Bill 1696 passed in 2016, which was sponsored by Representative Lyle Rowland (R-Cedarcreek). He said those grants have been fully funded for the past two years.
Money for public defenders for juveniles in Kansas City and St. Louis
Fitzpatrick said the $487,000 for juvenile advocacy units in the St. Louis and Kansas City offices of the public defender system would ensure that the constitutional right to counsel for juveniles in those regions would be met.
State employees would receive a pay raise beginning January 1 under the budget the legislature proposed last week, and their health care benefits would also be bolstered.
The legislature approved a budget that would increase by $700 the pay of employees making less than $70,000 a year. Those making more than $70,000 would receive a 1-percent increase.
It would also pump $61-million into the Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan – the insurance program for most state workers. Budget makers say MCHCP was close to depleting its reserve funds, and they hope that the infusion of money in this budget will stave off premium increases for state employees.
The budget also includes an additional $350-per year increase in pay for prison guards. House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) said lawmakers have heard that the Department of Corrections has had increasing difficulty in hiring and retaining guards, and that is in part due to the offered salary not being great enough.
Fitzpatrick and Kendrick agreed that while there are employees throughout the state to whom they would like to give greater pay increases, corrections officers’ pay needed immediate attention.
Kendrick said bolstering the state’s public defenders could save the state money by slowing the growth of its prison population.
The budget also includes a $6.3-million boost in pay for the state’s Highway Patrol troopers.
Fitzpatrick said perhaps more significant for state employees than the pay and benefits increases in this budget could be funding for a reward for performance study requested by the Office of Administration.
Fitzpatrick said with the information from that study the legislature could begin, even next year, working to get Missouri out of last place among all states in employee pay.
The legislature’s budget lays out more than $28.3-billion in proposed spending of state-controlled money. It was approved on Wednesday, two days ahead of the constitutional deadline, and will next be sent to the governor.
Missouri House budget leaders are preparing to confer with their counterparts in the state Senate about the two chambers’ respective budget proposals.
The House last month passed the 13 bills that make up the proposed state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Its plan laid out more than $28-billion in spending. The Senate spent the last month going over that plan and making changes to it, and this week endorsed its own proposal totaling more than $28.6-billion. Now the two chambers will have to work out an agreement between the two versions that can be sent to the governor by May 11.
Of the more than $570-million dollar difference between the two chambers’ spending plans, roughly $261-million comes from the Senate proposing spending in the Fiscal Year 2019 budget that the House plan would address in a supplemental budget early in calendar year 2019, when better data would be available on how much must be spent in some cases.
As far as the various components of the budget, Fitzpatrick said the greatest difference between the two chambers’ proposals in terms of dollars is in what each would spend on K-12 education. Full funding for the K-12 education formula in Fiscal Year 2019 would be about $99-million. The House proposed that, while the Senate took the position found in the governor’s budget proposal of spending $48-million.
The top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Representative Kip Kendrick (Columbia), said the Senate’s proposal for K-12 education funding is concerning and House members would work to maintain its position on that.
One issue that has already been settled is that of higher education funding and limiting tuition increases at all but one of the state’s publicly-supported colleges and universities.
The House chose to restore $68-million to higher education support that the governor proposed cutting, but only if institutions agreed not to increase tuition by more than one-percent in fiscal year ’19. Those institutions agreed except for Missouri Southern in Joplin, which House members agreed is in a financial situation dire enough that they were allowed to opt out. The Senate proposal has upheld that plan.
Kendrick is also glad to see that plan preserved but has some concern with the Senate breaking out funding for special initiatives at colleges and universities, which typically go toward projects including construction and expansion. The House had rolled the money for those items into the core allocation for institutions.
Kendrick is also concerned about more than $4-million that the Senate proposed moving out of funding for treatment courts in Missouri – those are drug courts, mental health courts, and veterans courts.
Kendrick wants to see the House work to hold its position on the support for treatment courts.
Other differences between the House and Senate spending proposals that either Fitzpatrick or Kendrick highlighted concern funding in the social services budget for nursing homes; whether state-appropriated money can be used for DUI checkpoints; funding for autism services; and increases in state employee pay, including a Senate proposal to boost pay specifically for corrections officers – a proposal Fitzpatrick said the House would try to find a way to concur with.
Fitzpatrick will begin next week meeting with his Senate counterpart, Senator Dan Brown (R-Rolla), and each chamber will begin selecting members for committees that will meet to negotiate compromises on each of the 13 budget bills.
The Missouri House has perfected a budget proposal for the next fiscal year including an agreement to hold down college tuition, while restoring $68-million that Governor Eric Greitens (R) proposed cutting from colleges and universities.
The House is proposing putting that money back into the core funding for those institutions, putting them back at the level of state support they are receiving in the current fiscal year. In exchange, the state’s institutions will increase tuition by no more than one-percent in the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Under the agreement between Fitzpatrick and the institutions, the schools must receive the money the House has proposed appropriating. If the appropriations are withheld by the governor or otherwise do not reach them, they can increase tuition based on the Consumer Price Index.
The agreement is supported by Democrats, including the top Democrat on the budget committee, Kip Kendrick (D-Columbia), whose district includes the University of Missouri’s flagship campus.
Until the agreement was reached, Fitzpatrick had proposed putting $30-million of the money that is now going to core funding into the Access Missouri scholarship program, which would have fully funded it. Kendrick is glad to see that money going back to the core, but he hopes Access Missouri receives additional funding in future years.
The tuition agreement does not extend to Missouri Southern in Joplin. Fitzpatrick said their financial situation is dire enough that he agreed to let them opt out of the one-percent tuition cap requirement.
The funding for higher education is found in House Bill 2003, which itself appropriates more than $1.17-billion. The House is expected to vote on that and the rest of the budget bills on Thursday.
If passed, they will go to the Senate, which will spend the coming weeks developing its own budget proposal based on the House’s plan. The two chambers will then attempt to compromise on a final spending plan to send to the governor in May.
The Missouri House budget committee has a plan to continue funding of Missouri’s colleges and universities at the amount budgeted last year, but in exchange lawmakers want those institutions to freeze tuition.
House Budget Committee Chairman Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob) said the solution comes from money the state set aside for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Because federal funding for the program was uncertain, the state set aside funds for CHIP. Now that federal funding has come through, Fitzpatrick has said the state could restore all $68-million that Governor Eric Greitens (R) proposed cutting from higher education.
Fitzpatrick said full restoration is his goal, but he is seeking agreement from the state’s institutions that they will hold down tuition.
Fitzpatrick told the rest of the committee that if the institutions agree to his plan he will put that $30-million back toward their state support. If they don’t agree, he will leave that $30-million where it is and might move some of the remaining $38-million to other things.
The leading Democrat on the House Budget Committee, Kip Kendrick (Columbia), said he’s still undecided on whether he supports the chairman’s proposed agreement, but he thinks the committee’s members all want to see tuition as level as possible and keep higher education affordable for Missourians.
Kendrick said he hopes before the budget is final money could be found to both restore core funding to colleges and universities and to fully fund Access Missouri.
The budget committee will go through it’s “mark up” process next week. Individual members of the committee will propose changes they want to make – to increase funding where they think it should be increased and propose where that funding could be pulled from. From there, the committee will vote on whether to send each budget bill to debate by the full House, which is expected to happen after the legislature’s spring break.
That was the final statement to the House Thursday from Representative Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City) before the chamber adopted a resolution that launches its investigation of a felony charge against Governor Eric Greitens (R). Barnes will chair the Special Investigative Committee on Oversight that will conduct that investigation.
A St. Louis grand jury last month indicted Greitens for felony invasion of privacy. He is accused of taking, without consent, an intimate photo of a woman with whom he had an affair in 2015.
Barnes said the first witnesses the committee will question are individuals that were identified in publicly-available documents and documents that have been reported on, though he did not name them. He said subpoenas would be sent to those witnesses. Based on their testimony, more individuals could be called to testify.
Democrats expressed concerns that they would like more clarity about what possible actions will remain after the committee completes its work, but in the end they joined in supporting the resolution.