April 24, 2014

Bald eagle soars in Missouri House (VIDEO)

The Missouri House was visited by a bald eagle ahead of debate Wednesday morning.  The eagle, named Clark, comes from the World Bird Sanctuary in St. Louis.

School transfer proposal to be a focus for House in next two weeks

Attempts to fix issues with Missouri’s student transfer law will be one of the focuses in the last four weeks of the legislative session.

Representative Rick Stream (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Rick Stream (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Numerous lawmakers and groups have been working this session on possible changes to a 1993 law that lays out how students can transfer from districts that have lost accreditation to better-performing districts. That law has caused financial problems in unaccredited districts, who must pay for those transfers.

Representative Rick Stream (R-Kirkwood) is the handler of a Senate transfer fix bill (SB 493) that will be brought up in a House committee Tuesday.  Stream hopes the bill can clear the committee Tuesday and reach the House Floor the following Monday, three weeks before the end of the session.

He says it is a priority for House leadership. “The Speaker and the Floor Leader have promised to move it quickly … we’re going to move this bill fast.”

That bill, which cleared the Senate in February, already proposes determining whether individual school buildings are accredited and only removing an entire district’s accreditation if 55 percent of its buildings are unaccredited, disallowing transfers for students who have not lived in an unaccredited school’s jurisdiction for less than a calendar year, and allowing students to transfer to private, non-religious schools or accredited buildings in the same or an adjacent county.

Stream says after talking to many lawmakers in both parties and both chambers, education groups and the Legislative Black Caucus, three key changes to the Senate bill will be considered Tuesday.

One would be to ask sending districts to pay 70 percent of their own tuition to the school districts taking their students, rather than 90 percent of a receiving district’s rate as is currently written in the Senate legislation.

“That stabilizes what the sending districts are going to have to pay each year,” says Stream. He says that will make it easier for sending districts to budget for transfers. “They didn’t know this year how much money they were going to have to send out because kids were leaving and going to different districts … anywhere from Clayton which was $20,000 to Ladue which was $17,000, to Kirkwood which was $12,000, to Francis Howell which was $11,000.”

A second change would add charter schools to the places a student in an unaccredited school building can transfer.

“If our goal is to get all of the students in these unaccredited districts into a high-quality educational environment right away, then we have to give them the options to do that.”

A third alteration would have review teams help districts on the verge of unaccreditation figure out how to stop sliding.

“We put in a lot of assistance or review teams,” Stream tells Missourinet, “to come in and analyze what’s going on in these provisionally accredited districts and borderline accredited districts to help them turn their districts around so they don’t eventually slide in to unaccreditation or provisional accreditation.”

House Speaker Tim Jones (R-Eureka) says his caucus is trying to build a strong majority of support for student transfer legislation. Governor Jay Nixon (D) has said he opposes allowing the use of state money to pay for students to transfer to private schools, which SB 493 would.

Missourinet asked Jones if Republican leaders are gearing up for the possibility that Nixon would veto the transfer bill and they would have to try and overturn him.

“Everything’s going to have to be on the table to solve an issue that is extremely important for us to solve this year,” says Jones.

Senator wants lower tax, more consolidation in House 911 bill

The Chairman of the Senate Committee that has the House’s 911 funding legislation says there are some things that need to be shaken out in that bill before it can advance.

Photo courtesy of Senate Communications

Senator Brad Later (Photo courtesy; Senate Communications)

The proposal would let counties ask voters to establish a monthly fee of up to $1.50 no devices that can call 911 except for prepaid phones and service, which would be subject to a 3-percent sales tax.

Senator Brad Lager (R-Savannah) thinks those amounts are too high.

“Missouri would go from not having a 911 tax to being the highest in the country,” says Lager of the 3-percent rate. “I don’t think I’m comfortable with that move.” Lager isn’t sure what rate he thinks would be appropriate.

He also wants legislation to provide a financial incentive for call centers to consolidate.

“I have a couple in my district,” says Lager, “that are actually in, for all practical purposes, the same city block. Then a third one … like four blocks away. Taxpayers are having to fund every one of those.” Lager says taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for three call centers within four blocks of one another.

Representative Jeanie Lauer (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Jeanie Lauer (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House sponsor, Representative Jeanie Lauer (R-Blue Springs) says it is very difficult to mandate consolidation because of the differences among counties, but the bill does include one incentive.

Grants would be one of the things proceeds from the proposal would support, to pay for implementation of 911 service and other needs. Lauer says any counties who go to the pool for the grant money would have to have some plans for consolidation.

“It may be where they actually consolidate or it could just be where they go out for contract to another Public Safety Answering Point,” says Lauer.

Lager also dislikes that the legislation would allow a portion of the money it would generate to go to purposes other than 911, specifically poison control.

Both lawmakers are confident that a solution can be found by the end of session in a little more than a month.

The House legislation is HB 1573.

Charity fights pit state reps against one another

Two pairs of state representatives will pair off in fights later this month to raise money for the Children of Fallen Soldiers Relief Fund. The event is being dubbed the I-70 Grudge Match.

This poster promoting the "I-70 Grudge Match" includes a picture of Rep. English following a previous charity fight.  (Courtesy; the office of State Rep. Keith English)

This poster promoting the “I-70 Grudge Match” includes a picture of Rep. English following a previous charity fight. (Courtesy; the office of State Rep. Keith English)

The fights will pit Representative Brandon Ellington (D-Kansas City) against Representative Keith English (D-Florissant) and Representative Glen Kolkmeyer (R-Odessa) against Representative John Mayfield (D-Independence).

Promoter Brian Batton says English approached him about putting together a benefit event..

“He actually fought on one of my previous cards,” says Batton.

Though an e-mail promoting the fights refers to the “biggest boxing match” of the year, Batton can’t confirm whether the fights will be boxing or some other form of competition.  English has experience as a mixed martial arts fighter.

The event will be April 29 at 7:30 at the Capitol Plaza Convention Center. It will include other kickboxing and mixed martial arts matches, including between amateur fighters Skylar Belzer and Dallas Jennings and between Austin Broom and Brooks Ryan, with more to be scheduled.

Criminal Code path forward could hinge on federal transportation money concern

Whose version of criminal code legislation will advance could depend on how each might impact federal transportation money.

House and Senate lawmakers who have spent years working on an update of Missouri’s system of criminal laws and punishments must now decide which chambers’ version of that rewrite to go with.

Representative Judy Morgan (D-Kansas City) says one issue that must be considered was raised by the Transportation Department.

“What we found out in fiscal review,” says Morgan, “with the House bill we may be out of compliance with that mandatory minimum sentencing and it may cause us to lose $18-million in funds as a result of that.”

The sponsor of the House criminal code bill, Representative Stanley Cox (R-Sedalia), says he thought the issue had been resolved.

“We have distributed this and encouraged various state agencies,” he tells Morgan, “and really I thought that we had made MODOT happy, but we’ll certainly continue working on it.”

The sponsor of the Senate legislation, Senator Jolie Justus (D-Kansas City) says that issue has been dealt with in her chamber’s version.

“They brought that concern to us months ago. We fixed it months ago on the Senate side. It is not a problem.”

The Senate version of the bill is also smaller, having been reduced to about 700 pages while the House version is still around the 1000-mark.