GREITENS SIGNS BUDGET, UNILATERALLY CUTS $191 MILLION
Gov. Eric Greitens on June 30 signed into law the bills that make up the $27.75 billion state operating budget for the 2018 fiscal year, but unilaterally imposed about $191 million in spending restrictions he said are needed to put the budget in balance due to lowered expectations on revenue collections in the coming fiscal year.
Public higher education took the biggest hit from Greitens’ cuts. While the budget the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed this spring called for cutting operational funding for colleges and universities by 6.5 percent compared to FY 2017 appropriations, Greitens withheld another $24 million in funding to bump the cut to 9 percent. Greitens also eliminated an additional $12 million in funding for cooperative programs involving various public universities for a total hit of $36 million to higher education.
Other major cuts the governor imposed include $47 million for maintenance of state buildings, $30 million in unspecified spending at the Missouri Department of Social Services, $15 million in assistance for local public school districts’ student transportation costs and $10 million for the state Division of Tourism. All of the governor’s withholdings could be reversed later in the fiscal year if the state’s financial outlook improves.
Greitens also made three line-item vetoes to the budget bills to eliminate more than $38.1 million in spending authority. However that spending authority resulted from the legislature attempting to move on-budget items that traditionally have been off-budget – the inmate canteen fund at the Department of Corrections and the spending for the Environmental Improvement and Energy Resources Authority. As a result, those vetoes should have little actual impact on state operations.
GOVERNOR SIGNS BILL GUTTING ANTI-DISCRIMINATION LAW
Gov. Eric Greitens signed legislation into law on June 30 making it significantly more difficult to hold employers accountable for illegal workplace discrimination. The bill was among the most controversial lawmakers passed this year; both because of its content and the fact that its sponsor is being sued under the very law his measure weakens.
Senate Bill 43 erects several new barriers designed to discourage lawsuits under the Missouri Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, gender, disability or familial status. It is sponsored by state Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, who owns a chain of rent-to-own stores that faces a pending lawsuit for alleged acts of racial discrimination against a black employees and accusations that it discouraged renting to black customers.
Democratic critics of the bill called Romine’s sponsorship a blatant conflict of interest and abuse of power and said the measure rolls back important civil rights protections. In signing SB 43 into law, Greitens, a Republican, sided with the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, who claimed Missouri’s previously tough anti-discrimination laws made the state “a judicial hellhole.”
GREITENS MODIFIES SPECIAL SESSION CALL ON ABORTION
Gov. Eric Greitens amended his call to the dormant special legislative session on abortion restrictions on July 5 to ensure that the version of the bill passed last month by the House of Representatives fits within the call’s constitutional scope should it eventually pass. The session began June 12, but neither legislative chamber has met in full session since June 20 and isn’t expected to until the week of July 24 at the earliest.
The Missouri Constitution prohibits lawmakers from considering matters in special session that aren’t included in the governor’s call, which in this instance Greitens had written narrowly. Because some provisions of the House version arguably went beyond the scope of the original call, amending the call to ensure those provisions fit is intended to head off a potential lawsuit claiming the bill violates constitutional procedures.
A key provision of a bill seeks to invalidate a St. Louis City ordinance prohibiting employers or landlords from discriminating against women who are pregnant, use contraception or have had an abortion. The bill also would impose more stringent regulations on abortion clinics than are required of other medical facilities and grant the attorney general original jurisdiction to prosecute alleged violations of abortion laws.
Since the House made substantial changes to the original Senate version, a second vote in the upper chamber is required to the send the bill to the governor. It remains unclear if the Senate will accept the House changes, seek to negotiate a new version or insist that the House take the Senate version or nothing. Lawmakers face a mandatory constitutional adjournment deadline of Aug. 11.
ZEL FISCHER ELEVATED TO SUPREME COURT CHIEF JUSTICE
Missouri Supreme Court Judge Zel Fischer began a two-year term as chief justice on July 1. The post rotates among the court’s seven members and is charged with overseeing the court’s administrative duties.
Then-Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican, appointed Fischer to the state high court in October 2008. Prior to that, Fischer served nearly two years as an associate circuit judge in Atchison County, which followed almost two decades as a private practice attorney.
Fischer replaces Judge Patricia Breckenridge, whose term as chief justice is ending. Breckenridge, a 2007 appointee of Blunt, will remain on the Supreme Court. Fischer’s term as chief justice runs through June 30, 2019.
VETO ELIMINATES SERVICES FOR MANY DISABLED, ELDERLY
An estimated 8,000 disabled and elderly Missourians are losing access to in-home care and nursing home services after Gov. Eric Greitens on June 30 vetoed bipartisan legislation that sought to take $34 million in excess funds that is sitting unused in special state accounts and use it for the targeted services.
Avoiding the cuts had been a top priority of lawmakers in both parties after Greitens proposed eliminating services for more than 20,000 disabled and elderly Missourians by tightening eligibility rules to require a person to have more severe disabilities in order to qualify for benefits.
Lawmakers restored some of the governor’s cuts using general revenue. But saving services for the remaining 8,000 affected Missourians required separate legislation, HCB 3, which sought to redirect unused excess revenue from certain special state accounts.
In a news release announcing the veto, Greitens argued HCB 3 was unconstitutional for seeking to redirect money outside of the normal budget process. He also called the bill “a fake fix to a real problem” without acknowledging the problem the legislature was seeking to address was one he created by proposing the cuts.
FY 2017 ENDS WITH NET GENERAL REVENUE UP 2.6 PERCENT
The 2017 fiscal year ended June 30 with net state general revenue collections up 2.6 percent compared to FY 2016, going from $8.79 billion last year to $9.02 billion this year. Net general revenue collections for June 2017 increased 2.5 percent compared to those for June 2016, going from $650.1 million to $666.4 million.
Because the amount of spending authorized by the Republican-controlled General Assembly for FY 2017 exceeded actual revenue collections, current Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican, and his predecessor, Democrat Jay Nixon, implemented a combined $350 million in midyear spending restrictions to put the budget in balance.