2017 Session Reaches Final Week with Several Unresolved Legislative Priorities
As the Missouri House comes down to the final days of the 2017 legislative session, legislators have seen several of their top issues cross the finish line, but continue to wait for several other bills to receive approval from both chambers. To date the House has sent several of the legislative priorities of the House to the governor to become law, including bills that will:
• Make Missouri a Right-to-Work state to encourage more job creators to relocate to the state;
• End Project Labor Agreements to ensure public construction projects are more affordable for taxpayers;
• Establish a regulatory framework to allow rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft to expand throughout Missouri and create thousands of jobs;
• Implement substantive tort reform, including new expert witness standards that will make Missouri’s court system fairer for all; and
• Create penalties that will protect crops and farmland from the misuse of illegal pesticides.
Despite the successes the legislature has seen, several important bills that have received House approval have yet to receive final approval from both chambers. Some of the important pieces of legislation that members will work to finish in the coming days include:
• Ethics Reform – The House made ethics reform its top priority and made a ban on lobbyist gifts the first bill passed out of the House. The bill has since stalled in the Senate.
• Unemployment System Reform – Legislation that would keep the state’s system of unemployment financially stable. The bill would link unemployment benefits to the rate of unemployment, and ensure the state keeps more money in the unemployment trust fund.
• Missouri Works – Legislation meant to provide a boost to the state’s small businesses, including many in rural areas. The bill would expand the Missouri Works program so that more of the state’s small businesses would be eligible for workforce training benefits.
• Prevailing Wage – Legislation that would repeal Missouri’s prevailing wage law to help reduce the cost of construction and maintenance projects for municipalities and school districts.
• Reducing the Regulatory Burden – The House advanced a series of bills to remove the unnecessary government regulations that stifle innovation and job creation in the state.
• Tort Reform – The House also passed additional tort reform bills including one to put an end to “litigation tourism” and the many lawsuits that are filed in St. Louis by out-of-state parties, and another to clarify that an injured person involved in a lawsuit can recover only the actual cost incurred for medical treatment.
• Charter School Expansion – Legislation meant to provide young people in failing schools with additional educational opportunities by allowing charter schools to expand to areas where at least one school is performing poorly.
• Virtual School Expansion - Legislation meant to expand course options and access for K-12 students by changing the Missouri Virtual Instruction Program (MOVIP) to "The Missouri Course Access Program" (MCAP) and allowing any K-12 student to enroll in MCAP courses.
• Protecting Missouri’s Peace Officers - The House approved legislation to enhance penalties for individuals who assault officers of the law, as well as a bill to create a Blue Alert System to ensure law enforcement officials quickly receive the information they need to apprehend individuals who injure or kill peace officers.
• REAL ID – Legislation that would give Missourians the option to obtain photo identification that complies with the federal REAL ID Act.
• Prescription Drug Monitoring Program - Legislation that would implement a prescription drug tracking system in an effort to prevent opioid abuse in Missouri.
These bills and many others will have their final outcome determined in the last five days of the legislative session. Bills must receive final approval from both chambers and be sent to the governor’s desk by Friday, May 12.
House and Senate Finalize State Budget with Record Funding Levels for Education
With one day to spare, the Missouri General Assembly gave final approval to a state spending plan that fully funds the Foundation Formula for K-12 education for the first time. The legislature had until Friday, May 5 to get the operating budget across the legislative finish line, and final negotiations between the House and Senate took several days before finally resolving on Thursday. The budget that now heads to the governor’s desk invests approximately $27.7 billion in the state’s priorities while also dealing with the reality of sluggish revenue growth.
Lawmakers started the budget process with the challenge of finding a way to bridge a $500 million funding shortfall. The final version of the plan bridges that gap while also providing record levels of funding for K-12 education; funding necessary to protect Missouri’s most vulnerable citizens; and an additional $198 million on the bottom line for emergency and supplemental expenses, including additional expenses related to Medicaid growth.
The decision to fully fund the School Foundation Formula was put forth as the top priority for the House Budget Chairman at the beginning of the budget process. The version of the budget passed out of the House included a funding boost of $48 million to achieve full funding. The Senate then planned to scale back the increase, but during debate on the Senate floor a majority of Senators voted to agree with the House and move forward with full funding for the first time since the formula was approved by lawmakers in 2005.
The formula was created to ensure each school district in the state has adequate funding to meet educational standards. It was meant to be implemented over a series of years and fully funded by 2013, but the economic downturn in the late 2000s and early 2010s caused revenue shortfalls that prohibited the legislature from achieving full funding. Now, with the fiscally responsible decisions of the House Budget Committee, the legislature has been able to meet its obligation to Missouri’s public schools despite lagging revenue growth.
Also included in this year’s budget is a partial restoration of a cut proposed by the governor to in-home care and nursing home services for some of Missouri’s most vulnerable citizens. The governor had recommended increasing the eligibility requirements for these services, which would have resulted in approximately 20,000 seniors and disabled Missourians no longer qualifying for the state-funded care. The House then moved to fully restore them to their original levels so that no one would be cut off from care. The final version of the budget represents a compromise that increases requirements slightly, but also includes a provision that would restore all of the governor’s proposed cut if the Senate passes the Senior Services Protection Fund that was approved by the House earlier in session.
The Senior Services Protection Fund would end the renter’s portion of the senior citizens property tax credit in order to generate funds that would be used to protect the existing level of service to Missouri seniors and disabled citizens. If approved by the Senate, the bill would also restore funding for brain injury services provided by the Department of Health that have been withheld in previous budget cycles; restore a portion of a cut proposed by the governor to reimbursement rates for Medicaid providers; and provide additional funding for the state’s Area Agencies on Aging for use in the Meals on Wheels program that provides meal assistance to seniors.
The appropriations bills now move into the hands of the governor, who can sign the bills into law, or exercise his line item veto authority to object to specific spending lines in the budget. The governor also has the power to withhold certain spending items if it is necessary to keep the budget in balance. Now lawmakers will continue to monitor the state’s revenue growth with the hope that it meets projects so that all aspects of the budget can be funded fully.
Other highlights of the budget include:
• An additional $25 million to restore a cut proposed by the governor to public school transportation.
• $6 million to increase broadband Internet access in rural schools.
• $12.3 million increase for early childhood special education.
• $500,000 added to pilot a program to promote STEM education in middle schools.
• $4 million in additional funding for Bright Flight scholarships.
• $157 million to fund the Excellence in Mental Health Pilot Project. Missouri is one of a handful of states participating in the program to increase access to community mental health and substance abuse treatment services.
• Nearly $3 million in funding to help implement the system of voter identification that was approved by Missouri voters last year.
• $1 million for grants to volunteer fire fighter associations to help offset the increasing costs of workers’ compensation premiums.
• $250,000 to upgrade the state’s Amber Alert system to allow it to be integrated with the Silver Alert System and the Blue Alert System.
• Language that prioritizes DUI enforcement through the use of saturation points, which involve periods of increased numbers of law enforcement personnel on the roads, rather than checkpoints.
• $62 million in new funding for road construction.
• $25 million new federal dollars for rail, port, and freight program expansion.
• Funding to fulfill the state’s obligation to the biodiesel producer incentive fund.
• An funding increase for the state employee pension system, which brings the plan to a record level of state support.
• The final version of the budget continues to eliminate funding for abortion services.