Nixon’s SOTS: A call for “Healing & Hope”
January 22, 2015

(AP) – Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon implored lawmakers to embrace policies that “foster healing and hope” Wednesday as he delivered his first State of the State address since the unrest that erupted over the fatal police shooting of a black 18-year-old in Ferguson.

Nixon acknowledged that the death of Michael Brown – and the sometimes violent protests that ensued – had focused the eyes of the nation on Missouri during the past year, prompting discussions about “race and equality, education and economic opportunity, law enforcement and the courts.”

“The legacy of Ferguson will be determined by what we do next to foster healing and hope and the changes we make to strengthen all of our communities,” Nixon said in a nearly 50-minute speech to a joint session of the House and Senate.

The Democratic governor called for an update to Missouri’s law on the police use of deadly force as he outlined an agenda that also includes an increase in funding for public schools, albeit one that would still fall hundreds of millions short of what is considered a fully funded system. Nixon also advocated for the consideration of a gas tax hike or tolls for aging highways, stronger ethics laws and a renewed call to expand Medicaid eligibility to low-income adults.

Nixon’s proposed $26 billion budget for the 2016 fiscal year would keep spending relatively flat compared with the current year, a carryover effect from revenues that fell significantly short of expectations last year. He also asked lawmakers to approve $353 million of repairs and renovations at the Capitol, college campuses, state parks and office buildings under a bonding plan that legislators previously authorized.

Nixon has been criticized by some for his handling of the response to Brown’s shooting – first for not acting quickly enough to quell tensions between protesters and heavily armored police in August, and later for not preemptively deploying the National Guard to troubled spots in Ferguson when a grand jury decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson was announced in November.

During his remarks Wednesday related to Ferguson, Nixon said there often is “too much fear and too little trust.”

“Some folks feel they have to choose sides: Them or us. Teens or cops. Black or white,” Nixon said. He added: “The truth is real and lasting change is only possible when we stand together.”

As a first step, Nixon encouraged lawmakers to “reform municipal courts,” something Republicans also have embraced, in response to complaints from Ferguson protesters and other St. Louis-area residents about cities that derive a large percentage of their revenues from traffic tickets.

Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey said he also agrees with Nixon that Missouri needs to update its deadly force laws to be brought in line with U.S. Supreme Court precedent. The court had ruled in a Tennessee case a couple of decades ago that deadly force cannot be used against an apparently unarmed fleeing suspect who poses no serious danger to police or others.

Nixon said officials must recruit and train police who reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. And he implored lawmakers to “support policies that foster racial understanding,” create economic opportunity and strengthen failing schools.

Many of his suggestions received more applause from Democrats than from Republicans. But GOP lawmakers joined in a standing ovation when Nixon said he was proud of law enforcement officers.

House Speaker John Diehl, who delivered a Republican response speech, accused Nixon of poor leadership during the Ferguson events and pledged that legislators would investigate why the National Guard was not used in Ferguson on the night of the grand jury decision.

“Our governor failed to communicate his polices and fulfill his promises, and Missourians paid the price as Ferguson was looted and destroyed,” Diehl said.

Diehl said the Republican agenda includes removing “those who are capable of earning a living wage” from Missouri’s welfare rolls. He also pledged that lawmakers would pass a bill expanding the availability of charter schools and online schools for students in public schools lacking state accreditation.

Nixon’s budget plan includes a $50 million increase in basic aid for public schools. He said that could be boosted by an additional $79 million if legislators pass several measures to generate revenues, including expanding Medicaid eligibility under the terms of President Barack Obama’s health care law. But such proposals have failed in past years, and Republican legislators appear unlikely to pass them this session.

To fully fund Missouri’s school formula in 2016 would require a $482 million increase to the nearly $3.2 billion in basic aid that schools are due to receive this year.

Some education groups said a $50 million increase wouldn’t be enough to avoid cuts in certain school districts.

“This is going to create problems for our schools. … It could mean teacher layoffs,” said Mike Wood, the government relations director for the Missouri State Teachers Association.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said he would support an additional $100 million funding increase for public schools.

But House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Flanigan said he has no target yet for how much money he hopes to provide to schools. He said next year’s budget likely will be lean.

“New spending is going to be tough,” Flanigan, R-Carthage, said.

Missouri Republicans Start Session in Dominating Position
January 8, 2015

(AP) – Missouri’s Republican legislative leaders vowed to push back against big government as they started the 2015 session Wednesday with their largest numbers of Republicans ever, a significant shift in power for a place once known as a swing state.

The state served as a reliable bellwether for most of a century, correctly in line with presidential races for decades until Missouri voters chose Republican John McCain in 2008. Time has only made the Missouri Legislature redder.

House Republicans outnumbered Democrats 117-45 during swearing-in ceremonies Wednesday, and the party also has a veto-proof majority in the Senate, with 25 Republicans and nine Democrats.

The GOP’s control of the Legislature “is a continuation of work started in the early 2000s, when our predecessors fought and won control of the House for the first time in decades,” said John Diehl, who was elected unanimously to serve as the new House speaker.

Although Republicans have their largest combined number of seats, their Senate total was slightly higher a few years ago and they had a slightly larger percentage of Republicans in the House in the 1920s, when there were fewer House seats.

Republicans plan to use their numbers to tackle such topics as changes to ethics laws, curbing municipal fines and overhauling a state law allowing students to transfer from failing schools – issues Democrats similarly outlined as important. But Republicans also pledged to resist the policies of President Barack Obama’s administration.

Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey said GOP lawmakers intend to “push back against the federal government,” particularly against the health care law and regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Ferguson, Muni Courts, Ethics to Lead Missouri Legislature
January 7, 2015

(AP) – The 2015 Missouri legislative session is underway with lawmakers vowing to address issues related education, ethics and law enforcement.

Legislators convened around noon Wednesday for the start of the annual session, which runs through May 15.

House Republicans outnumber Democrats 117-45, with the most GOP members ever in the chamber. The party has a veto-proof majority in the Senate, as well, with 25 Republicans and nine Democrats.

Topics on this year’s agenda include issues that surfaced after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. Bills filed so far include measures that would curb the revenue cities can receive from traffic fines, which protesters say can unfairly lead to arrests of low-income residents.

Other issues include proposals to revamp Missouri law allowing students in unaccredited districts to transfer to other nearby schools.

Missouri Legislature Opens at Noon Wednesday
January 7, 2015

(AP) – A state panel looking for financial efficiencies within the state’s public school system will recommend that school districts be audited annually, but it stopped short of endorsing a limit on required teacher negotiation rights.
The Wichita Eagle reports the K-12 Student Performance and Efficiency Commission on Tuesday approved the final draft of its recommendations. The commission was appointed last year to identify potential cost savings in school spending plans.
The group decided to recommend a bill requiring annual audits, but added language saying the Legislature must pay for them after former Republican Sen. John Vratil, a commission member, chastised the panel for considering a measure that included an unfunded mandate.
The commission had until early this month to make its recommendations.

AP’s 5 Fast Ones for Jeff City on Opening Day
January 6, 2015

Here are five things to know about the Missouri legislative session:
FIRST DAY
Representatives will meet at noon for a swearing-in ceremony and to officially elect their leaders. Republicans have nominated state Rep. John Diehl, of Town and County, to take over for current House Speaker Tim Jones, who is term-limited. Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey is expected to be re-elected by colleagues to lead that chamber. Lawmakers also will introduce bills for the session, which runs through May 15. They will hold an inaugural ball in the evening.
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REPUBLICAN CONTROL
Republicans will begin the 2015 session with their highest numbers ever seen in the House. The GOP will have a 117-45 majority over Democrats in the House with one vacancy. Republicans will hold a 25-9 majority over Democrats in the Senate. The GOP numbers in both chambers exceed the two-thirds majorities required to override vetoes, potentially making compromise unnecessary with Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and minority Democrats.
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FERGUSON
Lawmakers are expected to spend time dealing with issues that surfaced after Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown on Aug. 9, spurring protests that sometimes turned violent in the St. Louis suburb. Proposed bills include measures to require police to wear body cameras and to have special prosecutors handle cases involving police shootings. Other proposals would curb the revenue cities can receive from traffic fines and court fees.
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OTHER ISSUES
Ethics legislation is expected to draw lawmaker attention following an October article in The New York Times claiming state Attorney General Chris Koster is one of many across the country influenced by lobbyist gifts and donations from companies facing lawsuits from his office. Koster has denied claims that he was influenced by any contributions or perks. But filed bills include bans or limits on lobbyist gifts, caps on campaign contributions and greater reporting requirements for donations. Nixon and other lawmakers also have said they will push for bond issues to pay for improvements to public buildings and the Capitol. Several bills would change Missouri’s student transfer law in response to complaints from failing schools that paying for students to transfer is a financial burden.
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THE MONEY
Lawmakers will have additional budget powers this session after voters amended the Missouri Constitution in November to allow legislators to try to override the governor’s decisions to freeze or slow spending. Republican lawmakers who first sent the constitutional amendment to voters said Nixon has abused his budget-balancing powers by blocking billions of dollars of budgeted spending, sometimes when tax revenues have exceeded projections. Nixon has frozen about $700 million of spending this fiscal year, citing concerns about the state’s revenues. State budget director Linda Luebbering has said Missouri needs a roughly 11 percent increase in general revenue to fully pay for everything in the budget. A revenue report released Monday shows a 5.1 percent growth so far this fiscal year.

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