HOUSE GOP BUDGET PLAN REDUCES K-12 SPENDING BUMP
House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage, on Feb. 23 unveiled his version of the proposed $27.32 billion state operating budget for the 2017 fiscal year, which begins July 1. Flanigan’s plan includes an increase in state funding for K-12 schools that is significantly less generous than that recommended by Gov. Jay Nixon in January, while also making retaliatory budget cuts to the University of Missouri System.
Nixon, a Democrat, has asked for an $85 million increase in basic state funding for local public school districts. Under Flanigan’s proposal, K-12 schools only would be guaranteed $23 million with another bump of up to $47 million possible if the state experiences robust revenue collections during FY 2017. Even with the full $85 million requested by Nixon, the funding for K-12 schools would remain about $424 million below what state law says it should be.
Flanigan’s budget plan also would cut funding for the UM System by about $8 million in retaliation for administrators’ handling of recent student protests over racism at the Columbia campus and related fallout. The bulk of the cut — $7.67 million – would come from the administrative budget of the system and its governing Board of Curators.
Also stricken from the budget are amounts equal to the salaries of MU communications professor Dr. Melissa Click, who has achieved national infamy for videos of her getting into altercations with students and police during the protests, and two of her university superiors. The pay cuts, however, are entirely symbolic as lawmakers have no authority to fire university employees or reduce their salaries.
The House Budget Committee will review the 13 appropriations bills that make up the FY 2017 operating budget and make changes next week before forwarding them to the full House of Representatives. The House tentatively plans to take its final actions on the budget bills and send them to the Senate no later than March 10. The constitutional deadline for both chambers to send the budget bills to the governor is May 6.
SENATE ADVANCES ONE ETHICS BILL, STALLS ANOTHER
The Senate on Feb. 23 voted 31-0 in favor of legislation that would prohibit lawmakers from simultaneously serving as paid political consultants and end a practice that critics contend allows powerful lawmakers to trade legislative favors in exchange for lucrative contracts from their colleagues under the guise of providing campaign advice. Because the Senate made changes, the measure, House Bill 1983, returns to the House.
Senate debate, however, stalled on another bill that would ban individual lawmakers from accepting most lobbyist gifts. After the Senate voted 19-8 to add an amendment that also would prohibit lobbyists from buying meals for large groups of lawmakers, the bill was set aside without coming to a vote. It is unclear if the Senate will return to the measure, House Bill 2166.
A week earlier, the Senate severely weakened a House bill that sought to slow the revolving door from legislating to lobbying by requiring lawmakers to wait one year after the scheduled end of their term before taking a job as a lobbyist. As amended by the Senate, the measure, House Bill 1979, merely would prohibit members from leaving office early to take a lobbying job.
The House on Feb. 25 voted against accepting the Senate’s changes to either House HB 1979 or HB 1983. The chambers must now negotiate final versions of the two bills before final passage can be granted.
HIGH COURT HEARS SUNSHINE LAW CASE AGAINST SENATE
The Missouri Supreme Court heard arguments on Feb. 23 in a lawsuit that claims the Republican-controlled Senate violates the state Sunshine Law by allowing committee chairmen full discretion to prohibit video recordings of hearings. The case was filed last year by Progress Missouri, a liberal advocacy group, after some Republican chairmen barred the organization from recording committee proceedings.
The Sunshine Law generally requires governmental bodies to allow citizens or the media to record public meetings. As a result, Progress Missouri says the Senate violates the law when it refuses to allow the organization to record committee hearings.
However, the Missouri Constitution grants the Senate and House of Representatives the power to determine the rules of their own proceedings. Since Senate rules empower committee chairmen to allow or prohibit recording as they see fit, the Senate argues its rules trump the Sunshine Law in this instance. Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem agreed and ruled against Progress Missouri last year.
Since House rules specifically say its committees must follow the Sunshine Law’s directives on allowing recordings, the matter hasn’t been a subject for dispute in that chamber. The Supreme Court will issue a ruling in the Senate case at a later date. The case is Progress Missouri Inc. v. Missouri Senate.
NIXON SIGNS FIRST BILL OF 2016, ADDS JUDICIAL CIRCUIT
Gov. Jay Nixon on Feb. 18 signed into law legislation expanding the number of judicial circuits in Missouri for the first time in more than 20 years. The bill was the first to clear both legislative chambers and make it to Nixon’s desk during the 2016 legislative session.
Under Senate Bill 585, the existing 38th Judicial Circuit, which consists of Christian and Taney counties in southwest Missouri, will be divided with Taney County breaking off to form the new 46th Judicial Circuit as of Jan. 1. Missouri’s system of trial courts has consisted of 45 circuits since 1993.