SENATE PASSES ITS VERSION OF FY 2016 STATE BUDGET
The Senate on April 8 passed its version of the $26 billion state operating budget for fiscal year 2016, including some radical changes from the budget the House of Representatives approved last month. Negotiators must work out the differences between the two chambers’ versions of the 13 bills that make up operating budget before they can be given final approval and sent to the governor.
In a controversial move, Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, elected to provide lump-sum appropriations to the departments of health, mental health and social services instead of doing detailed budgets for those agencies, as the House had done. The lump-sum approach allows the administrators of those departments, rather than lawmakers, to decide how the money allocated to their agencies is spent. However, in shifting to the lump-sum, Schaefer also cut spending for the three departments by a combined $130 million.
Lawmakers from both parties said Schaefer’s plan would leave insufficient funding for services used by Missouri’s most vulnerable residents, including children, the elderly, disabled and mentally ill. In fact, the Senate initially defeated Schaefer’s version of HB 11, the social services department budget, even though the chamber is overwhelmingly controlled by his fellow Republicans. The bill ultimately passed so that it could advance to negotiations with the House.
Other key differences between the two chambers are on education. The House supports a $74 million increase in basic state aid for local school districts, while the Senate recommends an $84 million boost. Public colleges and universities would enjoy a collective $12 million hike in state funding under the House version and a $27.6 million increase under the Senate version.
Lawmakers face a May 8 constitutional deadline for passing the budget bills, and lawmakers typically do so a couple of days ahead of time. This year, however, Republican leaders are attempting to finish the process weeks earlier in order to force Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, to issue any line-item budget vetoes while the legislature is still in session.
That would give lawmakers the chance to override those vetoes before they adjourn for the year on May 15 – and before the state fiscal year begins on July 1 – instead of waiting until the annual veto session in September. However, it would also give Nixon’s budget office only days to review the bills and take action instead of the weeks they normally have, which could make it less likely potential problems with the bills would be noticed.
LAWMAKERS OVERRIDE GOVERNOR’S FIRST VETO OF 2015
The Republican-controlled General Assembly on April 8 overrode Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of legislation that will prohibit retired school superintendents from serving on the school board of a district where they formerly worked. Nixon’s veto of HB 63 fell on votes of 111-49 in the House of Representatives and 24-9 in the Senate.
The override action came as a something of a surprise since the primary purpose of the bill was to fix various problems with statutes pertaining to local elections in advance of the April 7 municipal and school board elections. After Nixon vetoed the bill on April 3, the expectation had been that lawmakers likely would pass a new version of the bill minus the provision relating to superintendents serving on school boards, which was added to the bill late in the process.
In his veto message, Nixon said he opposed erecting a “permanent barrier” to retired superintendents serving on school boards. “The law should encourage – not prohibit – those who aspire to serve in public office,” Nixon said. “In our democratic system, otherwise qualified candidates should not be disqualified simply because of their expertise.”
SUPREME COURT HEARS CHALLENGE TO MACK’S CREEK LAW
The Missouri Supreme Court on April 8 heard arguments in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a 2013 bill that provided harsh penalties for cities that violate the so-called Mack’s Creek Law that restricts how much revenue municipalities can derive from traffic fines and court fees. On the same day, a House committee heard legislation that seeks to make the law even stronger.
The General Assembly enacted the original Mack’s Creek Law in the early 1990s, unofficially naming it after a small Camden County community along U.S. 54 that generated virtually its entire budget from ticketing motorists headed to or from the Lake of the Ozarks. Mack’s Creek disincorporated shortly after the law was enacted
The 2013 changes to the statute included stripping a city’s municipal court of jurisdiction to hear cases if the city collects too much revenue from traffic fines in violation of the law and fails to turn it over to the state as required. The Missouri Municipal League, which represents local cities, filed suit challenging the revisions in September 2013. A Cole County judge ruled against the Municipal League in July 2014.
The Municipal League claims stripping municipal courts of jurisdiction violates the separation of powers doctrine. The state counters that cities have no inherent right to operate municipal courts and that the legislature has the authority to set standards for their operation. The Supreme Court will issue its ruling at a later date.
Further strengthening the Mack’s Creek Law has become the focus of legislative efforts to institute municipal court reform following the recent U.S. Department of Justice report documenting abuses by the city of Ferguson’s municipal court and police department.
NIXON LIFTS $43 MILLION IN SPENDING RESTRICTIONS
Gov. Jay Nixon on April 2 released and $43 million in spending authority for education, health care, capital improvements and other programs during the final months of fiscal year 2015. Nixon, a Democrat, restricted the spending authority at the start of the fiscal year in July after the Republican-controlled General Assembly sent him an unbalanced budget.
The lifted spending restrictions include $7 million for the Missouri Technology Corporation, $5.89 million for local libraries, $5.32 million for an expansion of the University of Missouri School of Medicine to Springfield, $3.5 million to enhance security of state data systems, $3 million for port authority capital investments and $2.18 in grants for federally qualified health centers.
Nixon said he was able to lift the restrictions due to the ongoing strong growth in state revenue collections, particularly in March. However, about $400 million in restrictions remain in place.
Through the first nine months of FY 2015, net year-to-date state general revenue collections increased 6.8 percent compared to the same period in FY 2014, going from $5.57 billion last year to $5.95 billion this year. Net collections for March 2015 increased 25.22 percent compared to those for March 2014, going from $532.6 million last year to $667 million this year.
HOUSE APPROVES WEAKENING ANTI-DISCRIMINATION LAWS
The House of Representatives on April 9 voted 95-60 in favor of legislation that would make it more difficult for workers to sue their employers for unlawful discrimination. The bill, HB 1019, also would weaken legal protections for whistleblowers who expose illegal activity by their employer.
HB 1019 would raise the legal bar for proving a discrimination claim, limit who is subject to being sued for discrimination and restrict the amount of damage a plaintiff can collect if they do manage to win their case in spite of the new hurdles. The bill now advances to the Senate. Gov. Jay Nixon has vetoed similar legislation in recent years.