Dec 31, 2014 – Weekly Capitol Update

2015 LEGISLATIVE SESSION GETS UNDERWAY ON JAN. 7

Legislation inspired by the events in Ferguson is expected to figure prominently during the 2015 legislative session, which gets underway Jan. 7 and runs through May 15. The Aug. 9 shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown by a white Ferguson police officer, and the months of protests that followed, have focused attention on a number of issues, including municipal court reform, use of force by police and how investigations of excessive force are handled, as well as efforts to address racial and economic bias in the criminal justice system.

Another key issue awaiting lawmakers is crafting a state budget for the upcoming fiscal year with general revenue collections for the current fiscal year expected to fall about $470 million short of what the Republican-controlled General Assembly had budgeted. It is also expected that lawmakers will take another shot at addressing problems stemming from an existing state law that allows students in unaccredited school districts to transfer to nearby accredited districts. Lawmakers narrowly passed legislation addressing the issue earlier this year, but Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed it due to provisions that could have allowed for public funding of private schools.

Since 2013, Republicans have held two-thirds supermajorities in both legislative chambers. By picking up additional seats during the November elections, the GOP has solidified its legislative dominance for at least another two years. Republicans will outnumber Democrats 25-9 in the Senate and 118-45 in the House of Representatives.

With their increased numbers, Republicans should have an easier time overriding bills vetoed by Nixon, a Democrat. Although lawmakers overrode Nixon’s vetoes on 21 bills and 48 line-item budget vetoes over the last two years, they fell short of reversing the governor on several high profile measures on which a handful of Republicans sided with the governor. Republicans will now be able to absorb more defections while still achieving the 23 Senate votes and 109 House votes necessary for a veto override.

 

GOP LEADERS SAY MEDICAID EXPANSION ‘OFF THE TABLE’

The top Republican legislative leaders say expanding Medicaid eligibility in Missouri in order to leverage billions a dollars in federal health care funding won’t be on the General Assembly’s agenda this year, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on Dec. 29. Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, and House Speaker-designee John Diehl, R-Town and Country, each told the paper that Missouri voters registered their opposition to Medicaid expansion by electing more anti-expansion Republican candidates during the recent elections. As a result, Dempsey said expansion is “off the table” in Missouri.

Under the federal Affordable Care Act, states can expand their Medicaid eligibility threshold to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which translates to an annual income of $32,913 for a family of four or $16,104 for a single person, and the federal government will pick up the full cost of expansion until 2017 and at least 90 percent of the cost thereafter.

Medical and business groups in Missouri have been pushing for the expansion for the last two years because it would pump more than $2 billion a year in federal funds into the state’s economy. Even though such groups predominantly support Republicans, expansion was a non-starter in the GOP-controlled legislature in both 2013 and 2014. The Post-Dispatch cited the Missouri Hospital Association as saying two rural hospitals have closed and more than 1,800 jobs have been lost in the last six months in Missouri as a result of the financial pressures placed on hospitals by the state’s failure to expand Medicaid.

 

LAWMAKERS UNCERTAIN ABOUT SPENDING RESTRICTIONS

Although Missouri voters recently granted the General Assembly to constitutional power to overrule budget-balancing actions taken by the governor, some lawmakers say it’s questionable whether they can exercise that power to reverse some of the roughly $700 million in unilateral state spending cuts Gov. Jay Nixon imposed earlier this year, The Associated Press reported on Dec. 29.

The Missouri Constitution grants the governor broad powers to maintain a balanced state budget and until recently such decisions weren’t subject to legislative review. At the November elections, however, Missouri voters ratified Amendment 10, which allows lawmakers to block the governor’s budget withholdings with two-thirds majorities in both legislative chambers. The amendment, which passed with 56.8 percent support, took effect in early December.

House Majority Leader Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, sponsored the legislation that put Amendment 10 on the statewide ballot. Richardson told the AP it’s “an open question” as to whether Nixon’s budget actions are subject to review since they were imposed prior to the constitutional change. However, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, says Nixon’s withholding of spending authority approved by lawmakers amounts to an ongoing action, making his actions subject to Amendment 10.

 

NIXON APPOINTS STL ATTORNEY TO UM BOARD OF CURATORS

Gov. Jay Nixon on Dec. 26 announced that he will appoint Mary Nelson of St. Louis to the University of Missouri Board of Curators, the governing authority for the four-campus University of Missouri System. Nelson, an attorney, is the general counsel and chief legal officer for the St. Louis Community College District.

If confirmed by the Senate, Nelson will replace Curator Wayne Goode, whose term is ending. Goode’s service on the Board of Curators caps a long and distinguished career in public service. Goode served a combined 42 years in the Missouri House and Senate until term limits forced him out in 2005. Nixon appointed Goode to the Board of Curators in July 2009.

 

GOVERNOR TO GIVE STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESS JAN. 21

Gov. Jay Nixon will deliver his 2015 State of the State address at 7 p.m. on Jan. 21 before a joint session of the Missouri General Assembly. In the speech, the governor will outline his legislative priorities for the year and present his budget recommendations for the 2016 fiscal year, which begins July 1.