April 23, 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.

Nixon to discuss actions on proposed tax cut in stops today

Governor Jay Nixon (D) will make a series of stops in the state today to discuss what he will do with a proposed income tax cut sent to him last week by the state legislature.

Governor Jay Nixon

Governor Jay Nixon

Nixon’s office issued releases saying he will “discuss his actions on Senate Bill 509,” but it doesn’t say what those actions will be or whether he will execute them today.

Nixon is expected to veto the bill that he has called a “reckless fiscal experiment,” and has said looks much like HB 253 that he vetoed last year. He says the legislation would take $620-million annually from public education and other state programs.

Republicans say the bill’s tax cuts would only be triggered in a year after net general revenue increases by at least $150-million.

The proposal would reduce the top personal income tax rate of 6-percent to 5.5-percent by 1/10 of a percent annually beginning in 2017 if state general revenue continues growth. The bill would also phase in a 25-percent individual income tax deduction for business income.

Republican legislative leaders say if Nixon vetoes the bill they will attempt to override it before the end of the session May 16.

Nixon will discuss his intentions this morning at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, this afternoon at Missouri State University in Springfield and at his office in the State Capitol, and this evening he will discuss “the impact of Senate Bill 509 on public education” at the Columbia Public School District.

Legislature will try to get criminal code rewrite to Gov. Nixon next week

State lawmakers who have spent years crafting an update to Missouri’s system of criminal laws and punishments hope to send Governor Jay Nixon (D) a bill next week.

Representative Stanley Cox (courtesy; Missouri House Communications)

Representative Stanley Cox (courtesy; Missouri House Communications)

House and Senate versions of that rewrite were passed last week, and lawmakers in both chambers met this week to discuss differences between those versions and reach a compromise. They plan to attempt to make those changes to the Senate bill (SB 491) in a House committee, and get it through both chambers and to the Governor next week.

“We have a bill which is satisfactory to the sponsors in both houses,” says Representative Stanley Cox (R-Sedalia), the sponsor of the House legislation.

One of the major differences between the two versions dealt with penalties for first-time possession of small amounts of marijuana. The Senate version would eliminate jail time for possession of less than 35 grams of marijuana, while the House version would maintain the current penalty of up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Senator Jolie Justus (courtesy; Missouri Senate Communications)

Senator Jolie Justus (courtesy; Missouri Senate Communications)

Senator Jolie Justus (D-Kansas City) says the two sides struck a “tentative” compromise.

“We kept it so that if you have 35 or less grams of marijuana and it’s a first-time offense it’ll be a Class-A misdemeanor which is what it is now, but if you have 10 grams or less of marijuana and it’s a first-time offense then it will be moved to a Class-D misdemeanor, which is not going to be subject to jail time. It will be fine only.”

In response to concerns about the size of the legislation expressed by Governor Nixon, Senate lawmakers had removed some 400 pages that reclassified certain felonies and added a fifth level of felony offense. Justus says that will be restored.

“When we sat down and worked it out with the House members, frankly, we realized that cutting that out was kind of defeating the purpose of what we’d set out to do in the first place without really addressing the Governor’s issues,” says Justus.

The proposal will still come out smaller than the House’s more than 1000-page bill, though. Cox says that’s because those from his chamber agreed to remove language dealing with weapons penalties.

“There were lots of issues with that,” Cox says. “We thought it best not to try to address that. Some of it had to do with other legislation passing through the legislature this year.”

The bill still won’t be broken down into smaller pieces based on subject matter, which is what Nixon had indicated he wanted. Justus says lawmakers don’t feel that can be done.

Nixon says the size of the bill leaves too much room for error, and he dismisses legislators’ position that the bill will be vetted after passage by the Missouri Supreme Court and its effective date has been pushed back to 2017, to allow time for changes if necessary.

Justus and Cox both say if necessary, they think the legislature could overturn the Governor if he were to veto the bill.

“Obviously we’ll take a look at the veto message if there is one,” Justus says.

If the bill is sent to Nixon it would be the culmination of years of work for both lawmakers.

“The closer we get the more nervous I get,” Justus tells Missourinet, but adds she is confident the bill has been thoroughly vetted starting with its drafting by a Missouri Bar committee, followed by five years of committee work leading up to full chamber consideration.

Cox agrees. “I feel confident that we’ll get it done this year.”

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.

House early voting proposal advances to Senate on bipartisan vote

A proposed constitutional amendment to set an early voting period has passed the House with bipartisan support, despite some Democrats decrying the measure as a “sham” and misleading to voters.

Representative Tony Dugger (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Tony Dugger (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

It would allow nine days of early voting excluding Sundays ending the week before federal and state elections beginning with the 2016 General Election.

Representative Stacey Newman (D-St. Louis) asks if the bill is only meant to be a counter proposal by Republicans to an initiative petition that if passed would allow early voting for six weeks and require accommodation of voters on Saturday and Sunday for three weeks before federal or state elections.

“The question that pops in my mind is why is the most popular day of voting across the country … a Sunday, why is that purposely excluded in this amendment?” Newman asks. “The very day that men and women of every stripe, of every profession, the day that most working voters have off.”

“I’m telling you beware,” Newman says, “this is political attempt once again to convince us that the majority party here actually cares about increasing access to voters.”

Of the claim that his legislation is a “sham,” Representative Tony Dugger (R-Hartville) says, “I don’t think so. I mean, it’s clear what I’m doing.”

Dugger says Sundays during the early voting window were exempted to preserve it as a day off for those who would have to work if early voting continued on that day.

“Sunday is basically a day for families to get together. A lot of people attend church on Sunday, get together for lunch,” Dugger tells Missourinet. “We would literally be forcing thousands of people to go to work on Sunday because you’re going to have to have the Secretary of State’s Office open, you’re going to have to have every election authority’s office open in the state plus every [early voting] center.”

The proposed amendment was passed 126-24. It moves on ot to the Senate.