April 18, 2015

Missouri Senate leader pulls support for key piece of chamber’s budget proposal

The plan to lump together the budgets of three state agencies and let them divide up their money has lost a key supporter.

Senate President Tom Dempsey

Senate President Tom Dempsey

House and Senate lawmakers were supposed to begin public negotiations Wednesday. The holdup has been the proposal of Senate Budget Chairman Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) to lump together most of the money for the Departments of Health, Mental Health, and Social Services into two pools, reduce the increases the House proposed for those agencies by 4 to 6 percent, and let them decide where in their programs to put money.

Senate President Tom Dempsey (R-St. Charles) says he can no longer support that.

“If you don’t have a willing participant in the governor’s office I think it makes it very hard to trim in the areas that Kurt and we would like to see greater efficiency,” said Dempsey. “What would happen potentially is the governor would make cuts in areas that are very harmful to the people that we are trying to serve.”

Without Dempsey’s support, Schaefer’s position to negotiate with House budget leaders is significantly weaker.

Republicans want to get the budget to the governor by the end of next week, so that if he vetoes or withholds proposed spending, the legislature will have time to consider an override.

Missouri legislature proposes shorter time limit for welfare recipients

The state legislature has sent Governor Jay Nixon (D) a proposal to tighten work requirements for receiving federal welfare money and cut by 15-months the lifetime limit for an individual to receive it. The changes apply to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, program, for Missouri households with children younger than 18.

Representative Diane Franklin carried the welfare legislation in the House.  (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Diane Franklin carried the welfare legislation in the House. (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The leader of the state House’s Republican majority says he expects Nixon to veto the bill, but is confident that veto would be overturned. The bill did clear both chambers with large enough majorities to overturn a veto.

The bill, SB 24, would limit a parent to receiving TANF benefits for 45 months in a lifetime rather than the current 60, with exceptions for those who receive benefits as children or in cases of hardship or abuse. Recipients who fail to meet the program’s work activity requirements could lose half their benefits.

The bill’s fiscal note, prepared by legislative researchers, says it would on January 1 immediately remove from the program 3,155 families who have been on it for more than 45 months. That is estimated to include more than 6,000 children.

House Sponsor Diane Franklin (R-Camdenton) said that note assumes those families will still be on the program through the end of the year. She said at the end of this year there will only be 38 families who are on the program now, that will have reached their 60-month limit, and said there are still appeals processes and hardship exemptions.

House Speaker John Diehl, Junior, (R-Town and Country) says those people who would be removed from the program, “have been on welfare long beyond any reasonable definition of temporary.”

See how State House members voted on the proposal

Senate President Tom Dempsey (R-St. Charles) said the money saved by the reductions in people on the program would go into getting recipients back to work.

“Some of the complaints you get are, ‘What do I do about childcare,’ or ‘How do I get to work?’ Those questions … we’re providing more funding by shortening that number of weeks for temporary assistance, we’re taking that money and putting into those areas which are going to help people be employed.”

Democrats, though, say the proposal will cost the state $400,000 for computer programs to track welfare recipients’ work participation.

“I just think that is just so bizarre,” said Representative Stacy Newman (D-St. Louis). “How many other programs have we not fully funded, and yet we’ve got to go back and find $400,000 … to be mean to poor people?”

The plan would set aside 2-percent of the money for TANF for alternatives to abortion services and another 2-percent for programs that encourage health marriages and responsible fatherhood.

 

How they voted: Missouri House on shorter lifetime welfare limit

The state legislature has approved a plan that would shorten the amount of time a person can stay on a state program that distributes federal welfare dollars.  Republicans say the proposed changes to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program would emphasize the need for recipients to work.

See how members of the state House voted on that proposal below:

How they voted - House on Welfare changes 04-16-2015

Click here to see who your state representative is using the search tool on the House’s homepage

 

Missouri auditor: traffic fine money not getting to the right schools

The state auditor’s office says if more money is going to be coming to the state under the Mack’s Creek law, the state needs to get that money where it’s supposed to go.

The little town of Macks Creek was disbursed after a state law was created said municipalities could no longer make most of their annual revenue with traffic tickets and fines.  That law now bears the former town's name.

The little town of Macks Creek was disbursed after a state law was created said municipalities could no longer make most of their annual revenue with traffic tickets and fines. That law now bears the former town’s name.

That money, which comes from cities that collect too high a percentage of their annual revenue from traffic tickets and fines, is supposed to go back to schools in the same county it came from.

Chief litigation counsel for the state auditor’s office, Darrell Moore, says instead it’s going into funds from which it is disbursed to schools statewide.

“Some of those counties did receive money back but were shortchanged,” Moore told Missourinet. “St. Louis County was seriously shortchanged, to the tune of about $197,000.”

That was in February of this year, alone. In the same month, St. Francois County in eastern Missouri lost about $37,000 and Crawford County in east-central Missouri lost more than $1500.

The auditor’s office thinks the state Office of Administration and the Department of Revenue are using a different interpretation of where that money should go.

“They need to work with the legislature to make sure that everybody’s on the same page,” said Moore. “Of course our argument is the money should have been returned to the counties where the money originated from to be distributed to the school districts in that county. If they disagree with us, we believe they ought to work with the legislature to fix that one section that already exists.”

The legislature has this session been considering changes to the current Mack’s Creek law to further restrict how much money cities can make from traffic tickets and fines, and Moore said the auditor’s office is trying to capitalize on that.

“We’re not trying to chastise anybody,” said Moore. “We’re just saying now that this is coming back to life and money’s actually coming in, it needs to be looked at.”

The law currently says cities shouldn’t make more than 30-percent of their annual revenue from traffic tickets and fines.

Tom Schweich suicide investigation continues, no motive found

The investigation into the death of Missouri auditor Tom Schweich is not over. Police in Clayton say they all the evidence, including gun residue findings and an autopsy, says Schweich died by his own hand, but they still aren’t ready to say why.

Clayton Police Detectives Don Bass (left) and Tom Bosch

Clayton Police Detectives Don Bass (left) and Tom Bosch

Investigators said Tuesday they had that day confiscated Schweich’s work computer that he used in St. Louis, and today confiscate his work computer from Jefferson City, as they continue looking for evidence of a motive for his suicide February 26 at his home in Clayton.

So far Detective Tom Bass says investigators have already searched data from two cell phones, a laptop, and a mainframe computer, for evidence of that motive.

“None was found,” said Bass.

Nor, say police, can they confirm the existence of a whispering campaign that friends and family have told investigators and media that Schweich believed was being conducted against him. Schweich believed Missouri GOP Chairman John Hancock was telling people Schweich was Jewish – something Schweich believed was intended to hurt him in his race for governor.

“We found only one person with firsthand knowledge, and that was David Humphreys, whose already made an affidavit statement that he’s released to the press,” said Detective Tom Bosch. “He reaffirmed that affidavit when he talked to us.”

Humphreys’ affidavit said Hancock had told him Schweich was Jewish in November, but later said he had the date wrong in his original statement and said the conversation had actually taken place in September. The change in the date is significant because Hancock has said he had mistakenly thought Schweich was Jewish and might have said so, but said that stopped after Schweich corrected him in November. Hancock has denied he ever mentioned Schweich’s faith in an effort to hurt him politically or in fundraising.

Clayton police talked to Hancock.

“He denied making any statements,” Bosch said.

Clayton Police also released a 40-page report that details their investigation into the events leading up to and following Schweich’s death. Police write that in an interview, Jack Danforth aide Martha Fitz said Schweich was, “Fierce and confrontational,” in a phone conversation just before his death, when she told him that he should not attempt to expose the alleged whispering campaign. Schweich, she said, ended his part in that call by saying, “I’m going to kill myself,” and dropping the phone.

Police say Schweich’s wife Kathy told them she saw him squatting down with a gun box and thought he would “probably just point the gun at himself and not pull the trigger.” It was while her back was turned that she heard a shot.

Schweich had talked to family about killing himself before, Bass said.

“It was something that, according to his wife, he had mentioned off and on for several years,” Bass said.

Detectives say the family still believes the whispering campaign was the chief issue on Schweich’s mind at the time of his death.

Kathy Schweich told investigators she believed he acted spontaneously when he killed himself, according to the report. Fitz, it says, told investigators, “Clearly he felt like he was alone.”