July 29, 2014

Two House Republicans’ letter seeks to sway Nixon on transfer legislation

Two Republicans who have crossed party lines to work on Medicaid expansion say Governor Jay Nixon (D) needs to heed his own advice and work across lines to not veto the proposed transfer bill.  They have written a letter to Nixon on the issue.

Representative Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City) and Representative Noel Torpey (R-Independence) say Nixon has in more than one State of the State Address called for working across political, geographical and other lines to solve problems. Barnes says that’s what they’re asking him to do with the transfer bill.

“That’s exactly what happened with Senate Bill 493,” says Barnes. “You saw a bill that the Senate passed 29-3, the House passed it with a bipartisan majority of 89 votes – obviously a little bit closer – but this is a bill which required a lot of work, a lot of compromises all around.”

See Barnes’ and Torpey’s letter to Gov. Nixon

Torpey says the bill isn’t perfect, but he wants to work with Nixon in the interim and next session to address the problems the governor has with the bill rather than see it vetoed.

“Education is such a complicated issue like Medicaid. I think it’s important to work together and to go forward,” says Torpey, “but to simply just blow a bill up, I don’t think that’s the right approach.”

Nixon says he can’t support a bill that would allow tax dollars to go to private schools. Barnes says that would make him like “legislative absolutists,” who make progress on key issues impossible.

The pair write, “Instead of insisting on a bill which is “perfect” to you, we ask that you read the bill as a whole. If you do, we believe you will find that the private option is only a small portion of the bill – a portion we believe is vital and necessary, but a small one nonetheless.”

Barnes says Medicaid and the transfer bill are similar in that both will require compromise, but he and Torpey both say their letter is not to suggest that they won’t work with Nixon on Medicaid if he doesn’t do what they want on the student transfer bill.

Bill to triple abortion waiting period sent to Gov. Nixon

Missouri could become the third state in the nation to require a 72-hour wait for a woman wanting to have an abortion, under legislation that has been sent to Governor Jay Nixon (D). The bill, HB 1307, would triple the current 24-hour waiting period in Missouri.

The House voted 111-39 for the proposal, a strong enough vote to override a veto, but the Senate vote fell one short of the two-thirds majority.

Nixon has not said whether he would support the 72-hour waiting period, saying only that he has been consistent on such issues. In the past he has let other bills placing restrictions on abortion become law without his signature.

Proponents say the legislation isn’t about whether or not a woman should be allowed to have an abortion, but whether she gets all the information available and has time to consider that information.

“Lets get off the issue of whether there’s going to be an abortion or not,” argues Representative Jeanie Riddle (R-Mokane). “What we’re trying to do is get information to these women, we’re trying to give them healthy choices and we’re trying to lessen the suicide rate of women that are in turmoil.”

Representative Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City) argues 72-hours is not too long to wait before having a serious procedure.

“There is no more serious medical procedure than this,” says Barnes. “The last time we debated this bill we heard somebody get up and talk about how it took 6-months for her husband to decide whether he would get a knee surgery. A knee surgery, Mr. Speaker, and we’re talking about the ending of a human life.”

Opponents say the legislation is an attack on women’s ability to have an abortion led primarily by Republicans.

“The idea that a woman would not have taken this time already to take the time and have discussions with her doctor is insulting,” argues Representative Genise Montecillo (D-St. Louis). “You give them 72-this year … you’re going to be back for another day or two next year.”

The passage of the measure in the Senate came on a deal that saw that chamber’s Democrats end a filibuster of the bill in exchange for Republicans agreeing not to bring up bills on so-called “paycheck protection” and photo-ID.

State legislature asks voters to consider stronger gun rights

The state legislature is asking Missouri voters whether the Constitution should be changed to provide a stronger right to bear arms.

The legislature has sent to the November ballot a proposal to define the right to bear arms in Missouri as “unalienable” and to require the state to defend any infringement of that right. It would also guarantee a constitutional right to defend one’s family with a firearm.

The proposal cleared the state Senate 23-8 on Wednesday after the House passed it 122-31 the day before.

Representative Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City) says he’s opposed past proposals that he thought would have put gun rights above other rights, but this is different.

“It ensures that Second Amendment rights, by subjecting government regulations impacting them to strict scrutiny,” says Barnes, referring to a form of judicial review used by courts to determine the constitutionality of certain laws, “is given the same protection afforded every other fundamental right in the United States’ and the Missouri Constitution.”

The ballot issue would also remove wording in the Missouri Constitution that say the right to bear arms does not justify wearing concealed weapons. Representative Linda Black (D-Desloge) says that brings to the Constitution up to date.

“Several years ago we passed that conceal and carry law, that we have the right to carry after completing sufficient course,” says Black. “So, it is something that needs to be changed. It’s inaccurate in our Constitution. It’s an error at this point in time that needs to be fixed.”

Representative Stacey Newman (D-St. Louis) thinks the changes would hinder the prosecution of criminals that use guns.

“Current law allows those city prosecutors to file criminal charges for those who ignore the law,” says Newman, “and yet this resolution takes that tool away.”

The language for the November ballots reads, “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to include a declaration that the right to keep and bear arms is an unalienable right and that the state government is obligated to uphold that right?”

House passes student transfer fix with scaled back private school option

The state House has approved a plan to change a 21-year-old law that lets students transfer out of failing schools into better ones. House Republicans pared back significantly a provision that would make private schools one of the places those students could go.

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

Representative Rick Stream carried the student transfer fix legislation in the House.  (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Transfers have been occurring this year in two suburban St. Louis Districts and the cost of paying to transfer their students prompted lawmakers to try to change the law.

Under the bill, students who have been in an unaccredited school in an unaccredited district for at least one semester could first go to a better-performing school in that district. If no space is available, those students could then transfer to a neighboring district or to a charter school or nonreligious private school in the same or an adjoining county.

The changes to the private school portion would limit it to Jackson County, St. Louis County and St. Louis City. Private schools accepting transfer students would have to follow state laws regarding safety and student performance. Local voters would have to approve such transfers.

“We have taken away every argument usually used by the folks I would call the ‘education establishment’ against the private option,” says Representative Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City).

Some Democrats were not satisfied. Representative Margo McNeil (D-Florissant) says she spent much of the session working on the bill and now can’t support it.

“This is the purpose of this entire bill,” says McNeil. “Really it has not been about fixing the transfer problem, which was a very simple problem. It has been, ‘How do we get passed in the State of Missouri … a bill that puts public money in the hands of private schools?”

The House proposes having sending districts pay 70 percent of their own tuition costs for students who transfer, plus additional money to cover transportation. Receiving districts could also set class size standards to avoid overcrowding.

The House passage means the bill goes back to the Senate. It is expected to wind up in a conference between the two chambers.

See how House members voted on the transfer proposal

House sends $26.6-billion budget to Senate (VIDEO)

The state House has approved a $26.6-billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The House’s proposal now goes to the Senate.

Because legislative budget makers disagreed with Governor Jay Nixon (D) on an estimate of how much revenue Missouri will receive in the next fiscal year, House budget makers propose spending up to their projection, then propose appropriations out of a new surplus revenue fund any amounts higher.

The spending plan includes a $122-million increase for K-12 education out of general revenue, with another $156-million possible out of the surplus revenue fund.

House Budget Committee Chairman Rick Stream (R-Kirkwood) outlines some key items in the House’s proposed budget (courtesy; Jonathan Lorenz, Missouri House Communications):

During Thursday’s discussion in the chamber, House Democrats offered their strongest criticism of the two-tiered approach.

House Budget Committee Chairman Rick Stream (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

House Budget Committee Chairman Rick Stream (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

“Underestimating revenue means that the $156-million recommended by the Governor for the foundation formula will not be distributed to local school districts until everything else in the state budget is funded this year,” said Representative Margo McNeil (D-Florissant). “It means that money will not be available for this school you. You cannot budget for something you don’t know that you will receive. Underestimating means that Missouri school districts will plan less and will achieve less.”

McNeil was critical of the House budget having a 1-percent decrease in the number of state employees and the change from a 3-percent raise in state employee pay partway through the year recommended by the Governor to a 1-percent increase.

Representative Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City) says the revenue projections used by House budget makers are more realistic.

“The Governor brought us a budget based on pixie dust predictions and long shot legislation.”

The proposal does not include federal money for the expansion of Medicaid. Republicans saying accepting that federal money would increase the national debt and continue to put money into an inefficient program. Democrats say expansion would extend health care to hundreds of thousands of Missourians and would free up more money in the budget for other needs such as education.