Mar 19, 2015 – Weekly Capitol Update

STATE BOARD RECLASSIFIES NORMANDY SCHOOL DISTRICT

The Missouri State Board of Education on March 17 voted to reclassify the Normandy Schools Collaborative as “unaccredited” after a judge rejected the board’s attempt to invent a new classification status for the district in order to free it from following the state’s student transfer law. Under the law, students in unaccredited district are allowed to transfer to a nearby accredited district of their choice, with their home district required to pay tuition to the receiving district.

Thousands of Normandy students took advantage of the transfer law during the 2013-2014 school year, and tuition costs pushed the district to the brink of bankruptcy. In response, the state education board took control of Normandy last summer and initially reclassified it as having “no accreditation status” in hopes of sidestepping the transfer law. The state board later changed Normandy’s designation to “new accreditation as a state oversight district” after questions were raised regarding whether the first classification change was sufficient to avoid the transfer law.

However, St. Louis County Circuit Judge Michael Burton ruled in August that Normandy students retained the right to transfer since the state board had no legal authority to create new accreditation status for the district. After hearing additional arguments, Burton reaffirmed that decision in February.

SENATE COMMITTEE ENDORSES RIGHT-TO-WORK MEASURE

The Senate Small Business, Insurance and Industry Committee on March 17 passed legislation that would prohibit companies from voluntarily negotiating labor contracts that require employees who benefit from union representation to pay dues for the services they receive. The measure, SB 127, now heads to the full Senate.

The House of Representatives has already approved a similar bill, which supporters dub “right to work,” several weeks ago, but the House measure has yet to be heard by a Senate committee. The House passed its bill, HB 116, on a vote of 91-64-2, falling well short of the 109 votes needed to override an expected veto by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon in the event a right-to-work bill reaches his desk.

HOUSE APPROVES BANNING MUNCIPAL BAG BANS

The House of Representatives on March 19 voted 114-38-2 in favor of legislation that would prohibit Missouri cities from prohibiting merchants from using paper or plastic bags for customer purchases or from imposing a tax or fee for providing such bags. The bill, HB 722, now advances to the Senate.
The bill was filed in response to a proposed Columbia city ordinance that would have prohibited grocery stores and other retailers from using plastic bags and required merchants to charge a fee for providing paper bags. The ordinance, which the Columbia City Council ultimately decided not to pursue, was intended to reduce landfill waste and encourage customers to use reusable sacks.

HOUSE APPROVES HALVING LIFETIME WELFARE BENEFITS

The House of Representatives on March 18 voted 115-44 to slash the maximum lifetime benefits a welfare recipient could receive from the existing 60 months to 30 months. Under the House version of the bill, SB 24, roughly 18,000 of the Missouri’s poorest residents, about two-thirds of whom are children, would lose their cash benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.

As originally passed by the Senate, SB 24 would cut lifetime benefits to a maximum of 48 months. The House and Senate must negotiate the differences between their versions before a final vote can be taken to send the bill to the governor.

NIXON PICKS EX-JOPLIN POLICE CHIEF AS DPS DIRECTOR

Gov. Jay Nixon on March 19 nominated retired Joplin Police Chief Lane Roberts as the next director of the Missouri Department of Public Safety. Roberts, a 42-year law enforcement veteran, was Joplin police chief from 2007 until 2014.

According to a news release from the governor’s office, Roberts was instrumental in coordinating the local, state and federal emergency response following the tornado that devastated Joplin on May 22, 2011. Since his retirement last year, Roberts has taught criminal justice at Crowder College in Neosho.

If confirmed by the Senate, Roberts would replace Dan Isom, who resigned as public safety director on March 2 after just six months on the job.

LONGTIME MENTAL HEALTH DIRECTOR RETIRING

Dr. Keith Schafer will retire as director of the Missouri Department of Mental Health effective June 26. Schafer has served 16 years as DMH director spanning two separate tenures over nearly three decades. Schafer first held the post from 1986 to 1994 and again from 2007-2015.

Unlike with most state departments, the governor doesn’t appoint the DMH director. Instead, the Missouri Mental Health Commission, which oversees the department, will choose the next director, subject to confirmation by the Senate. The commission plans to launch a national search for a new director and conclude the hiring process this summer.