TOP ISSUES AWAIT ACTION WHEN LAWMAKERS RETURN
When the General Assembly reconvenes March 30 following its annual spring recess, all of the top issues of the 2015 legislative session will still be awaiting resolution. Spring recess serves as a symbolic midpoint to the 17 ½-week-long session, but because it was held later than normal this year, lawmakers will have just seven weeks – roughly 30 legislative days – to wrap up business before the session ends at 6 p.m. on May 15.
When lawmakers left for break on March 19, they had granted final passage to just three bills – a supplementary spending measure for the current fiscal year, legislation tweaking state election laws and a bill granting taxpayer subsidies to dairy producers. Republicans overwhelmingly outnumber Democrats in both legislative chambers – 25-9 in the Senate and 118-44-1 in the House of Representatives. As a result, the GOP sets the legislative agenda.
Perhaps the highest profile issue when the session began in January – instituting reforms to eliminate racial bias and establish fairness in the municipal justice system following last year’s civil unrest in Ferguson – so far has made little progress. The Senate passed legislation on Feb. 12 that would further limit how much revenue municipalities can generate from traffic fines and fee in an effort to discourage excessive – and often unconstitutional — ticketing practices. However, the House has yet to take any action on it. And although dozens of Ferguson-related bills have been filed, few have even been granted committee hearings.
For the third straight year, it appears Republican lawmakers will again refuse to expand Medicaid eligibility in Missouri to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, which translates to an annual income of $32,500 for a family of four or $15,856 for an individual. Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government would pay the full cost of the expansion until 2017 and at least 90 percent of the cost thereafter.
By not expanding Medicaid, Missouri will lose another $2 billion in federal funding and the economic stimulus and jobs it would provide to the state. Because of the Republican-controlled legislature’s failure to expand Medicaid, two rural hospitals have already closed – Sac-Osage Hospital in Osceola and Missouri Rehabilitation Center in Mount Vernon. Others are expected to follow if the legislature continues to refuse the federal funding.
Other remaining issues include passage of the $26.1 billion state operating budget for the upcoming 2016 fiscal year, a fix to the state’s student transfer law and possible consideration of taxpayer funding for a new football stadium for the St. Louis Rams.
AG DISMISSES EIGHT CITIES FROM LAWSUIT, THREE REMAIN
Attorney General Chris Koster on March 24 dismissed another eight municipalities from a lawsuit he originally filed in December alleging that many cities in north St. Louis County were in violation of a state law that prohibits them from deriving more than 30 percent of their annual budgets from traffic fines and fees. Legal action continues against three municipalities – Hillsdale, Moline Acres and Normandy.
In a news release, Koster said the eight cities recently dropped from the lawsuit are now complying with the law. They are Bellerive Acres, Calverton Park, Hanley Hills, Kinloch, Uplands Park, Velda City, Velda Village Hills, and Vinita Terrace. In all, Koster has sued 17 cities for allegedly generating excessive revenue from tickets. Six others were dismissed as defendants in January after coming into compliance.