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.

Can I Drive 75?
January 5, 2015

(AP) – A state lawmaker wants to increase the speed limit on Missouri’s rural interstates and freeways from 70 mph.
State Rep. Mike Kelley of Lamar filed legislation recently to boost the speed limit on those roads to 75 mph.
Kansas increased speed limits from 70 mph on some roads in 2011.
The Kansas City Star reports traffic-related fatalities and injuries in Kansas are up on roads with newly increased 75 mph speed limits. But transportation officials say it’s too early to blame that on the speed limit.
Numbers from the Kansas Transportation Department show a 54 percent increase in highways deaths on those roads since the speed limit was raised. Injuries are up about 13 percent compared with the two years before the new speed limit went into effect

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