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

Missouri Senate Plans to Look at Ferguson During 2015 Session
November 7, 2014

(AP) – Missouri senators said Thursday they hope to pursue legislation next session to address issues that have arisen from a fatal police shooting of an 18-year-old in Ferguson that sparked sometimes-violent protests.

Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey said Republicans still are hashing out the details of what those proposals might look like.

Sen. Joe Keaveny, who was chosen to be the next Senate minority leader on Thursday, said Democrats aim to discuss topics such as school funding, job creation and other underlying issues that surfaced after Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown in August.

The shooting of Brown, who was unarmed and black, by a white officer stoked underlying racial tensions in the predominantly black St. Louis suburb that is patrolled by a mostly white police force. It also has brought attention to a variety of social and legal issues, including the fact that some cities in the lower-income parts of St. Louis County draw a substantial portion of their revenues from court costs and fines.

“We need to address some of the inequities up there, and there’s a myriad,” said Keaveny, of St. Louis. “And it’s not just Ferguson.”

But Senate efforts to pass legislation related to issues that have come from Ferguson could face resistance in the House.

Newly nominated House Speaker John Diehl said Wednesday that Republican House members are reluctant to pass legislation involving the shooting.

“The temptation is to run out and say, ‘Let’s pass a law to fix this,'” said Diehl who’s from the St. Louis suburb of Town and Country. He added that he doubts statutory changes are the best way to help.

The potential division between Republicans in the House and Senate over how to address Ferguson shows that even though the GOP won commanding supermajorities in Tuesday’s elections, its members may not always agree on priorities.

But the two chambers may align more closely on budget and job issues.

Diehl and Dempsey both said helping the economy – whether through job creation or support for small businesses – was among their top priorities for next session. Republicans also could use new voter-approved powers to override Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s decision to freeze about $700 million in spending for state programs.

Dempsey, of St. Charles, was nominated to serve another term as president pro tem, but must be confirmed by the full Senate when it convenes in January. Diehl also must be confirmed by the House.

Democrats in the Missouri House have voted to retain their current leadership in next year’s legislative session.

The caucus on Thursday elected Jacob Hummel of St. Louis as minority leader and Gail McCann Beatty of Kansas City as assistant minority leader.

Tuesday’s elections and the decision by a Democratic incumbent to join the Republican Party widened the partisan gap in the 163-member House. Republicans gained eight seats this week and head into 2015 with 118 House members to the Democrats’ 45.

Transportation Tax Bombs in Missouri. Now What?
August 6, 2014

(AP) — Missouri voters have said they don’t want to hike sales taxes to pay for roads and other transportation projects. But there appears to be no immediate Plan B for plugging a looming gap between the state’s available highway funding and its anticipated needs.

The defeat of the transportation sales tax in Tuesday’s primary elections marked the second time in a dozen years that Missouri voters have turned down a major highway tax plan. The measure commanded the most votes on a ballot that lacked competitive races for the top statewide and congressional offices.

The proposed three-quarters cent sales tax known as proposed Constitutional Amendment 7 would have raised at least $540 million annually for 10 years, making it the state’s largest-ever tax increase. The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission had approved a list of over 800 projects that would have been funded, led by the widening of Interstate 70 to three lanes in each direction between Kansas City and St. Louis.

That list now will be shelved, and transportation commissioners are to meet later Wednesday to discuss what to do next.

Commissioners have said previously that the state’s road and bridge budget is projected to drop to $325 million by 2017 from a recent high of $1.3 billion annually, leaving the agency without enough for needed maintenance, much less major new projects.

“I think Missourians have a clear understanding that more resources need to be invested in our transportation infrastructure, but there just isn’t any consensus on how to pay for it,” state transportation commission Chairman Stephen Miller said in a written statement after Tuesday’s election. “We need to continue working toward that end.”

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