Missouri Legislature Snowed Out
February 16, 2015

(AP) – The Capitol will be quiet Monday because winter weather is in the forecast.
Missouri Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard says he’s calling off Monday’s session. Richard says the Senate won’t convene until 4 p.m. Tuesday. The Missouri House, meanwhile, is calling off all of Monday’s committee hearings.
The National Weather Service is predicting that a storm system will move into the state Sunday night. Snow accumulations of 3 to 6 inches are predicted across central Missouri, with 1 to 3 inches expected along the Missouri River.
The Legislature typically meets from Monday afternoon through Thursday afternoon.

How Far Will RTW Go?
February 12, 2015

(AP) – A statewide right-to-work measure passed in the Missouri House on Thursday, potentially setting the stage for an intense fight in the Senate where one Democrat who’s a retired union member said she would “fall on her sword” to block it.

The measure, approved 91-64 with two members present but not voting, would bar unions statewide from collecting fees from non-members. Final passage, after an initial vote in support on Wednesday, marks a political victory for Republican supporters who had failed to gain the needed constitutional majority last session for approval.

House Speaker John Diehl said it was a historic vote and that even if Missouri didn’t become a right-to-work state this year, it was “inevitable” and the issue would keep coming up until it does pass.

But getting it to the desk of Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat who has said he opposes right-to-work, may be a challenge.

Sen. Gina Walsh, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors, would not say whether she would filibuster but noted that, as a retired union member, she strongly opposes the measure.

“I would absolutely fight that bill. It’s one of my core values and beliefs,” Walsh said. “To me, that’s a bill that I’m willing to fall on my sword for.”

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.

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