Missouri lawmakers approve funding increases for K-12 and higher education

With tax revenue up, legislators were able to roll back previous years’ cuts to education appropriations


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri General Assembly has given its final approval to increases in funding for public schools throughout the state.

The funding increases were passed as part of Missouri’s state operating budget for the 2020 fiscal year, which officially begins on Monday, July 1, 2019.

The budget fully funds the school foundation formula for the third year in a row and provides a $10 million increase for school transportation. For the first time in a decade, the legislature has also increased core funding for four-year colleges and universities.

The funding boosts come as Missouri is seeing a modest year-on-year increase in tax revenue.

Altogether, the 2020 state budget appropriates nearly $6.3 billion for elementary and secondary education and more than $1.3 billion for higher education.

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The chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee expressed his satisfaction with the budget totals.

“Some of the highlights is the record amount of funding that we’re putting into public education,” Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, said. “Fully funded the formula now for at least the third year in a row. Put money into school transportation funding. For the first time in many years we’ve actually added to the core of higher education funding, and it’s nice to be able to see us able to do that.”

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Sen. Jason Hoslman, D-Kansas City, supports the budget increases for education, but said he was disappointed Missouri residents brought to the country illegally as minors would not be eligible for in-state tuition, a provision lawmakers discussed but which ultimately didn’t make it into the final legislation.

“You know, these kids deserve the best that we can offer, and offering in-state tuition to them is what we have our ability to do,” Holsman said. “And the House rejected that, and that’s unfortunate. And I’m disappointed by that.”

The provision was included in a preliminary version of the state budget as approved by a conference committee of senators and representatives, but was removed by Republicans after debate in the full House of Representatives. Following further discussion between lawmakers, the Senate agreed to pass the House’s version of the budget.

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During the summer months, the governor will go through each line item in the state budget as he determines which to sign into law. The legislature will have the opportunity to overrule any of the governor’s vetoes with a two-thirds supermajority vote in each chamber during the annual veto session in September.

Missouri Senate approves infrastructure funding proposal

The $301 million bonding package would finance repairs to 215 Missouri bridges

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — On Monday, the Missouri Senate approved legislation to generate funding for transportation projects throughout the state.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 14 allows the Office of Administration and the Highways and Transportation Commission to issue bonds of up to $301 million to finance the construction and repair of 215 Missouri bridges.

The debt would be repaid by the state over the next seven years, but the bonds would only go into effect if Missouri secures an infrastructure grant from the federal government.

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Supporters of the bonding plan view it as necessary to fund state infrastructure projects following voters’ rejection of a fuel tax increase in November.

Among the legislation’s most notable advocates are three of the state’s Republican leaders: Gov. Mike Parson, Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz and Senate Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden.

“I’m not sure anybody loves it, from all sides of the spectrum,” said Rowden, R-Columbia. “You know some folks didn’t want to bond, some people don’t want to use General Revenue, everybody knows there’s a problem. But it’s one of those things that it is progress, it’s movement forward, and it accomplishes what we all see as a need to accomplish.”

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Some senators said they would rather use existing state revenue to pay for bridge repairs, as opposed to issuing debt the state would be forced to pay back at a later date.

This opposing faction negotiated a compromise with the resolution’s supporters. The originally filed legislation had a larger bonding amount that would finance repairs to an additional number of bridges. The updated language lowered the bonding amount and added a new requirement: the resolution will only go into effect if Missouri successfully receives additional funding through a federal INFRA grant.

“Bonding debt is not my preferred way of dealing with this particular transportation issue,” said Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis. “I preferred the House position of appropriating money on a pay-as-you-go basis, and I really did support the House position. But I think we’re perhaps coming to a reasonable compromise on this.”

Senate Concurrent Resolution 14 now heads to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

Missouri Senate approves restrictions to state’s joinder and venue laws

Senate Bill 7 is an effort to limit the number of large punitive damage awards emanating from the St. Louis court system

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — On Monday, March 4, the Missouri Senate approved changes to the state’s joinder and venue laws, two of the most important rules of civil procedure.

In legal terminology, joinder is the process through which multiple plaintiffs combine their claims into a single lawsuit. Venue determines which courts can hear a plaintiff’s case.

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Senate Bill 7 stipulates that joinder cannot establish venue, codifying a recent ruling by the Missouri Supreme Court. The bill also specifies the proper venue for lawsuits against insurance companies and cases involving underinsured motorists, and provides a remedy for improperly joined claims.

The bill is primarily a response to recent awards of large punitive damages in St. Louis courts, which Republicans in the state legislature have decried as antithetical to their pro-business message. The most notable of these cases was last year’s ruling against Johnson & Johnson, which ordered the pharmaceutical giant to pay nearly $4.7 billion over concerns its talcum powder product may have caused ovarian cancer in some women.

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Supporters of the bill say it clearly delineates procedural rules in light of new judicial precedent that upholds the legislature’s own interpretation of tort reform legislation it passed in 2004. Some argue Senate Bill 7 will also cut down on “forum shopping,” a tactic where plaintiffs intentionally sue in the jurisdiction thought to be most favorable to their cause.

“The Court in the Johnson & Johnson opinion basically said we were right all along, that we were interpreting the statute correctly, and that joinder cannot be used to establish venue,” said Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, the sponsor of the bill. “The substitute acknowledges that court opinion. It pulls in different language because of that court opinion, and helps to establish methods for disjoinder, where that joinder is no longer accurate.”

However, opponents of the bill say it puts Missouri’s joinder and venue rules out of line with nearly every other state, making it harder for plaintiffs to effectively sue large corporations. Some also worry it could inadvertently increase the number of lawsuits in state courts.

“I think plaintiff joinder is something that allows us to resolve important disputes more efficiently, and, in that regard, I am still concerned that you are going to see more lawsuits than you otherwise would,” said Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton.

Senate Bill 7 now heads to the House of Representatives for its consideration. The 2019 legislative session will conclude on Friday, May 17 — the last day for the General Assembly to approve new legislation.

Missouri Senate votes to cap low-income housing tax credits

Supporters hope Senate Bill 28 will restore the frozen tax credit program

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Senate unanimously approved a bill supporters hope will restore the state’s ability to issue tax credits for low-income housing.

In December 2017, the Missouri Housing Development Commission placed the program on hold over concerns about the credits’ cost and effectiveness. Gov. Mike Parson has asked the state legislature to reform the program before reinstituting the credits.

Senate Bill 28 places a cap on the amount of credits issued. Under the legislation, Missouri cannot authorize more than 72.5 percent of the amount of federal credits allocated to the state.

Lawmakers believe this bill is a good compromise that will help get the low-income housing program back on track.

“So working with all entities, we really came up with a true compromise on moving forward, and I appreciate all their efforts,” said Sen. Dan Hegeman, a Republican from Cosby and the sponsor of the bill. “It seemed like nobody was particularly excited about the final version. In many people’s minds there’s an old adage: If nobody likes it, then it must be a good compromise.”

“Nobody got everything they wanted in this bill, but I don’t see that as a fault,” said Sen. Gina Walsh, a Democrat from Bellefontaine Neighbors and the minority floor leader. “That’s how this process works in this building. I have confidence that the new administration will continue to make this program more efficient and more effective, so that the people most in need have a place to call home.”

Senate Bill 28 now heads to the House of Representatives for its consideration.

Missouri lawmakers give final approval to first bill of the 2019 legislative session

House Bill 448 names a portion of St. Louis County highway in honor of the late Rep. Cloria Brown

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri General Assembly truly agreed to and finally passed its first bill of the 2019 legislative session.

House Bill 448, approved by the legislature on Feb. 6, commemorates the service of former state Rep. Cloria Brown by naming part of a St. Louis County highway in her honor. She is remembered for her efforts to combat human trafficking and promote the interests of women and children.

During discussion on the bill, lawmakers paid tribute to Rep. Brown’s legacy.

“We’re grateful for her contributions and think this honor is very fitting,” said Sen. Scott Sifton, a Democrat from Affton.

“It made all the sense in the world for us to do it, to do it early, and make sure that she is properly remembered for the tremendous impact that she left on the people of Missouri,” said Sen. Caleb Rowden, a Republican from Columbia and the majority floor leader.

In the coming weeks, the Missouri Senate will hold floor discussion on a wide range of legislative proposals. The 2019 legislative session concludes on Friday, May 17.

Missouri Senate begins 2019 legislative session

Last week, lawmakers officially convened the 100th Missouri General Assembly

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Lawmakers returned to the State Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 9, to begin the 2019 legislative session, marking the official start of the 100th Missouri General Assembly.

In the Missouri Senate, nine new senators took the oath of office following the results of the November election. Eight senators returned for a second term after winning re-election.

The Senate also selected a new president pro tem, Sen. Dave Schatz, a Republican from Sullivan.

After the first day of session, lawmakers from both the House and Senate participated in the traditional Grand March and Legislative Ball in the Capitol rotunda.

In the coming weeks, legislative committees will begin meeting to evaluate some of the hundreds of bills and resolutions filed by lawmakers so far.

The president pro tem said one of his goals this session is to evaluate alternative sources for transportation funding following voters’ rejection of a fuel tax increase in November.

“I think that we see deferred maintenance is going to continue to cost more at the end of the day,” Schatz said. “But I think it’s going to be challenging. But there could be some new revenue streams that we could look at and have those conversations that may be able to help us fill that gap that we feel is there.”

The Senate’s minority floor leader, Sen. Gina Walsh, a Democrat from Bellefontaine Neighbors, expressed optimism about this year’s legislative session.

“I believe this session is going to be calmer and more focused, not just because of some issues that were put to rest on the second floor, but because we have put other issues to rest, and the people have spoken on right to work, Clean Missouri, the minimum wage,” Walsh said. “And I think that, as a body, we should respect the will of the people moving forward.”

The 2019 legislative session will conclude on Friday, May 17.

Missouri legislature concludes veto and extraordinary sessions

The General Assembly approved bills relating to STEM education and state treatment courts

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with additional details.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri General Assembly recently concluded its annual veto session as well as an additional extraordinary session.

Ultimately, the legislature as a whole chose not to override any of the governor’s vetoes, although the House of Representatives did vote to overturn a few line item vetoes in the state’s 2019 operating budget. The Senate confirmed several gubernatorial appointees, and the legislature passed bills dealing with STEM education and drug treatment courts.

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The STEM education bill approved by the legislature, House Bill 3, will allow high school students to take a computer science course, as a substitute for one mathematics, science or practical arts course, to fulfill part of their graduation requirements. It also allows for funding to train computer science instructors and creates a STEM Career Awareness Program for middle school students.

Supporters of the bill hope it will fill a growing demand for workers in computer science and related fields.

“Here in Missouri, 10,000 computer science jobs go unfilled every year because of a lack of graduates in those fields,” Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis, said.

Others voiced concerns that allowing students to swap math for computer science will leave graduates unprepared for the rigors of college-level math. Supporters of the bill argued computer science and math are overlapping disciplines, and so substituting one for the other will not harm a student’s education, especially when the substitution is only for one course.

“Three credits in math,” Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, said, referencing current high school graduation requirements. “One of those credits can be substituted for a vocational training course. Another one of those credits can be substituted by taking an agricultural course. And now that third credit in math can be substituted by taking computer science.”

House Bill 3 contains a provision requiring a student to be “on track” to complete math and science courses that require and end-of-course evaluation under the Missouri school improvement plan, so it’s not clear high school students would be able to forego math entirely and still graduate.

The General Assembly also approved House Bill 2, expanding the state’s drug court system, which helps offenders suffering from addiction become productive members of society. Studies have shown these types of programs lower recidivism rates, leading some lawmakers to support them on the basis of fiscal responsibility.

Under House Bill 2, Missouri’s alternative courts, such as drug and family courts, will be consolidated under one banner: that of “treatment” courts.

“Because treatment courts work,” Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, said. “As we heard in committee, a 49 percent reduction in recidivism rate if you’re looking at it, as defined, as it is, as the individual not coming back and being arrested for a felony offense.”

State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, proposed an amendment to the bill establishing separate courts for mental-health-related offenses. Some supporters of the bill as written argued mental health courts were unnecessary, as mental health already falls under the larger umbrella of “treatment” and is often a concurrent factor in many drug and substance abuse cases.

Nasheed’s amendment was voted down before the Senate gave its final approval to the bill.

During the week’s veto session, the Senate officially welcomed a new member: Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City. Arthur, who won a special election for the seat vacated by former Sen. Ryan Silvey in June, was sworn into office by Missouri Supreme Court Judge Mary Russell.