Jun 29, 2017 – Weekly Capitol Update

GREITENS VETOES STATE FUNDING FOR UMKC ARTS CAMPUS

Rejecting a top priority of Kansas City business and civic leaders, Gov. Eric Greitens on June 28 vetoed bipartisan legislation that sought to authorize the sale of $48 million in bonds to help finance construction of a downtown arts campus for the University of Missouri Kansas City. Greitens’ veto of HCR 19 was his first since taking office in January.

The long-sought downtown arts campus is slated to cost $96 million, with $48 million in private donations already secured to cover half its cost. The state bonds would have paid for the other half. UMKC officials will now attempt to raise more private donations to cover what would have been the state’s contribution. However, that could delay the project indefinitely.

Supporters of the downtown arts campus said it would help revitalize downtown Kansas City and provide a strong economic stimulus for the city. HCR 19 enjoyed widespread support in both chambers, passing 117-39 in the House of Representatives and 28-4 in the Senate. In a statement, Greitens, a Republican, called it “wrong” to use public money for the project, notwithstanding the fact that it would be a public facility at a public university.

Lawmakers could attempt to override the action when they convene for their annual veto session on Sept. 13 but that is considered unlikely. Although the measure passed by veto-proof margins, many Republican lawmakers who originally voted for it might be reluctant to override a governor of their own political party.

 

SCOTUS RULES AGAINST MISSOURI IN PLAYGROUND CASE

In a 7-2 ruling issued June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court said the Missouri Department of Natural Resources’ exclusion of a Columbia church from state grant program to fund the installation of recycled rubber playground surfaces unconstitutionally discriminated against the church on religious grounds.

Trinity Lutheran Church applied for a grant in 2012 to resurface the playground at its adjacent preschool. In rejecting the application, the department cited a state constitutional provision that prohibits public funding from being used to directly or indirectly aid any church or religious organization. The church sued claiming its exclusion from the program based solely on its religious affiliation violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Both a federal district judge and the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that argument and upheld the department’s action.

In reversing those decisions, the Supreme Court said that because the grant program was for the purely secular purpose of resurfacing a playground, the state can’t automatically reject churches from participation. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts said “the exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution.”

In a strongly worded dissent, Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the majority ruling leads “to a place where separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment.” The case is Trinity Lutheran v. Comer.

 

CUTS TO DRUG BENEFIT WILL AFFECT 63,000 MISSOURIANS

More than 63,000 Missourians will lose their prescription drug coverage under the state’s MORx Program when the new fiscal year begins July 1, according to the Missouri Department of Social Services. The change is expected to save the state an estimated $15 million and was approved earlier this year by the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

Under the change to MORx, which provides prescription drug assistance for senior citizens, people with incomes falling between 85 percent and 185 percent of the federal poverty level will no longer qualify for a 50 percent reduction in prescription drug costs.