February 11, 2016

Lawmakers vote to eliminate budget increase for University of Missouri

State lawmakers who don’t like how University of Missouri leadership has responded to protests and dealt with embattled professor Melissa Click have voted to eliminate its funding increase in the next state budget.

Donna Lichtenegger (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Donna Lichtenegger (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

A state budget subcommittee voted to reduce the 6-percent increase Governor Jay Nixon (D) proposed for the state’s colleges and universities to 2-percent for all of them but the University of Missouri. MU was to get a 26.8-million dollar increase in the next state budget.

Chairwoman Donna Lichtenegger (R-Jackson) proposed eliminating MU’s increase and said it’s because, in part, of how University leaders dealt with Click, who was seen on video asking for “some muscle” to keep a student reporter away from protesters on campus last fall.

“I think they need to start showing some leadership,” said Lichtenegger. “The only one that I have seen show leadership in anything was the Journalism School, and the Journalism School right away said we’re not going to have this and took Melissa Click’s privileges away … had the chair of Mass Communications done the same thing we wouldn’t be in this mess right now.”

She also cited how the Board of Curators dealt with being interrupted by members of Concerned Student 1950 during its meeting last week.

“That doesn’t show me that they have students on their campus that are respectful and that know why they’re supposed to be there. They are there to learn, not to protest all day long … and when the Curators immediately didn’t do something about that problem, that was kind of like the last stroke for me.”

Representative Stephen Webber (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Stephen Webber (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Stephen Webber (D-Columbia) says University leaders won’t be the ones affected.

“Retaliatory action from the General Assembly, the legislature, is not going to be felt by administrators that people are frustrated with. It’s going to be felt by students by way of higher fees and reduced educational opportunities,” said Webber.

Lichtenegger said she has heard from others, including constituents and major donors to MU, who wanted lawmakers, “to literally just take as much as we could, and I fought not to do that. The best thing I could get was not doing the 2-percent increase.”

In all, the increase in Fiscal Year 2017 state aid to colleges and universities would be reduced from the $55.8-million proposed by Governor Nixon to $9.9-million. Nixon announced his proposal in September as part of an agreement with the state’s colleges and universities that they would freeze tuition in the 2016-17 school year. Many of their boards have voted to do just that.

The proposed higher education budget moves next to the full House budget committee, then the full House, before going through the Senate. More changes could be made before it must be delivered to Governor Nixon.

Lichtenegger said she is hopeful no more cuts are made, but is doubtful the increase to MU would be restored along the way.

“Unless some big things happen at the University, no,” said Lichtenegger.

Missouri House wants Congress to fight President’s gun order

The state House has voted to urge Congress to reject President Barack Obama’s recent executive order regarding gun laws.

Representative Jered Taylor (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Jered Taylor (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

The chamber’s Republican majority led the vote on a resolution that called the order an “executive overreach,” that “clearly and intentionally subverts the legislative process and violates the constitutionally established separation of powers,” and said it would infringe on American citizens’ rights to gun ownership.

The resolution does not change law or policy. It was sent to the Senate for consideration.

Representative Jered Taylor (R-Nixa) offered it.

“I think that it’s important that we protect those Second Amendment rights,” said Taylor. “The Constitution states that the right of the American people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Representative Stacey Newman (D-St. Louis) supports greater gun control, and criticized the Republicans’ priorities.

“As the resolution sponsor stated it’s more important that we concern ourselves with the rights, but yet the right of people to remain alive – even our kids – is something that this body continually ignores,” said Newman.

Newman had her own criticism of the president’s order, saying it doesn’t go far enough.

“There is no reason to even assume that the president has overstepped his constitutional authority, because of what this action actually does,” said Newman.

The resolution is HCR 63.

Proposed Missouri budget change could allow attempts to defund the death penalty

A proposed change in the state budget could allow opponents of the death penalty to attempt to pull funding for it.

Representative Jeremy LaFaver (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Jeremy LaFaver (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Members of Missouri’s execution team are paid in cash to keep their identities hidden, per the law – that includes the doctor that administers a lethal injection and a compounding pharmacy that makes the pentobarbital used. That money has come out of a fund for expenses and equipment in the Department of Corrections’ budget, so state lawmakers and others looking at the budget didn’t know how much was spent on executions.

A House subcommittee approved Representative Jeremy LaFaver’s (D-Kansas City) proposal to create a specific line in the budget for executions.

“Including it in the budget in this fashion I think is going to allow for a little better transparency and tracking of this important task that our state does,” said LaFaver.

If his action stands, legislators who oppose the death penalty could now see where it’s funded in the budget and by how much, and could propose pulling that money. LaFaver wouldn’t say if a proposal to pull the money for executions will be offered.

The idea passed a mostly-Republican committee chaired by Representative Kathie Conway (R-St. Charles), who says she supports the need for transparency as long as no identities of execution team members are released. Conway also said there is little chance an effort to defund executions would clear the Republican legislature.

“From what I heard happened in the Senate [Monday], yes I think that most Republicans are [in favor of the death penalty]. Personally, I am,” said Conway.

On Monday the state Senate debated a proposed repeal of the death penalty. Most Republicans spoke against it and the issue was tabled.

The line LaFaver’s action created includes a proposed amount of half-a-million dollars. Conway expressed concern about tying up that much money with the expectation that few executions will be scheduled during the 12 months it covers, beginning July 1.

LaFaver agreed to offer an amendment to reduce that amount to more closely reflect the execution-related expenses the Corrections Department expects, but he also wants additional money to cover potential federal fines. He referred to the Corrections Department Director, George Lombardi, last week telling the budget committee that the state has not issued federal tax reporting forms, or 1099s, to members of its execution team going back to the mid 1980s.

LaFaver said money in that line beyond the projected costs of executions, “would also allow for the payment of any penalties that would be assessed to the state from the IRS for not complying with the federal tax law requirements of issuing a 1099.”

LaFaver said he will work to come up with a figure more reflective of potential execution costs and IRS penalties to propose to the full budget committee when it considers the corrections budget.

The full budget committee is the next stop for that bill.

Missouri Supreme Court: Amendment 5 doesn’t give nonviolent felons gun rights

The state Supreme Court has ruled a 2014 constitutional amendment strengthening Missourians’ rights to own firearms does not allow nonviolent felons to have guns.

The Missouri Supreme Court

The Missouri Supreme Court

Three men charged with being felons in possession of firearms had challenged those charges, arguing the passage by voters of Amendment 5 in 2014 negated state law against nonviolent felons owning guns. That amendment declared the right to keep and bear arms “unalienable” and subjected laws restricting gun rights to a higher legal standard of evaluation. Lower courts had ruled in favor of those individuals.

Attorneys for those individuals argued the language of Amendment 5, which excluded a, “convicted violent felon,” meant only violent felons could not possess guns, and that courts would have to make a determination whether a felony was “violent.”

The Supreme Court ruled 5-2 in both cases that the constitution does not bar the legislature from keeping violent felons from having guns. In one of the cases it additionally ruled that the constitution as it existed before Amendment 5 applies to cases of crimes committed before that amendment was adopted.

Both cases were sent back to the lower courts they came out of, so the cases against the three men charged with being felons in possession of firearms may continue.

Earlier stories:

Missouri Supreme Court hears more cases about felons possessing guns

Missouri Supreme Court upholds gun rights amendment to the state Constitution

Republicans want more info on $50-million settlement before filing tobacco bill

The Attorney General says legislation must be passed to protect as much as $1-billion in future tobacco settlement payments, but Republican legislative leaders want more information.

Senator Kurt Schaefer (photo courtesy; Harrison Sweazea, Missouri Senate Communications)

Senator Kurt Schaefer (photo courtesy; Harrison Sweazea, Missouri Senate Communications)

Attorney General Chris Koster (D) says he’s reached an agreement to preserve a $50-million tobacco payment to Missouri for 2003, plus future payments, but it’s contingent on passage of a bill to stop tobacco companies that weren’t part of the settlement from recouping payments into an escrow fund, or the allocable share fund.

Those companies were required to pay into the fund in case they get sued, but can recoup the money after a time if not sued. Koster says they are recouping payments under a “loophole” that all other states in the settlement have closed, and that only existed because of a drafting error in the law.

A bill to repeal the allocable share fund has been called for since 2002.

Republicans say they’re not prepared to file a bill until they know more about the agreement Koster says has been reached. The last time a repeal was proposed, Senator Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) carried it in 2014. He says he’s not sure there’s a settlement.

“If there is a settlement agreement I think we need to see it. I think we need to see what the requirements are as far as what would have to be in legislation. We haven’t seen that yet,” said Schaefer.

Senate president Ron Richard (R-Joplin) says until the legislature studies that agreement, it’s not prepared to take up the issue.

“Not at this time … we haven’t even had our attorneys look at it,” said Richard. “I think what the senator’s saying is we don’t even know what the deal is.”

The 2003 payment was reduced under an arbitration decision in 2013. Koster’s office is still challenging that ruling in a case now pending before the state Supreme Court.

Schaefer says the legislature still has questions about whether due diligence is being done by the Attorney General’s office in regard to prosecution, as required by the tobacco settlement.

“Remember we lost that arbitration for the year 2003 because the attorney general at the time did not diligently enforce the settlement agreement. It’s not because the state didn’t have allocable share,” said Schaefer. “The finding of that arbitration is that the attorney general did not diligently enforce the settlement agreement and there’s a multitude of reasons why they found that. That’s an issue that doesn’t have anything to do with allocable share.”

Schaefer isn’t sure that the legislature should count on that $50-million payment in the budget it’s crafting now, for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

“I would assume that would be an issue for [next year’s legislative session], but we have to see the terms of how fast that would be paid. Again, that would be part of the settlement we haven’t seen,” said Schaefer.