May 9, 2008

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Legislative Update

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Extension volunteers and staff visit with federal legislators

A delegation of 14 University of Missouri Extension volunteers and staff visited with Missouri´s senators, representatives or their staffers on Capitol Hill as part of the Public Issues Leadership Development conference April 28-30 in Washington, D.C.Ronda Elfrink with Rep. Jo Ann Emerson The conference was sponsored by the Joint Council of Extension Professionals.

Delegation members visited Sens. Kit Bond (R) and Claire McCaskill (D), and Reps. Ike Skelton (D), Russ Carnahan (D), Kenny Hulshof (R), Roy Blunt (R), Sam Graves (R), Emanuel Cleaver (D) and Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson (R).

Topics covered during the PILD conference included the status of FY09 federal appropriations, increasing extension´s presence at the local level, marketing messages to decision makers and socioeconomic shifts in America.

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General Assembly passes FY09 budgets

The Missouri General Assembly finished its work on the FY09 operating and capital budgets this week. For the University of Missouri, the operating budget in HB2003 reflects a 4.2 percent increase in the general operating core used for basic operation of the campuses and University Extension. The bill also includes a special allocation of $2.4 million to UMSL for an equity adjustment. The University´s total appropriation will increase from $430.9 million to $451.4 million for the next fiscal year.

Lawmakers also approved a capital improvements bill this week. HB2023 contains several University items, including $5 million for the Thompson Center for Autism at MU; $2 million for improvements of agricultural research facilities; $600,000 in planning funds for the new State Historical Society facility in Columbia; and $300,000 each in planning funds for the nursing and optometry facility at UMSL, the nursing and allied health facility at MU, and an expansion of the dental school at UMKC.

The bills now go to the governor, who will consider and sign them before the end of the fiscal year. The Missouri Constitution gives the governor the power to strike or reduce any budget item. The General Assembly meets again in September to consider overriding any bill vetoed or any appropriation reduced by the governor. The state 2009 fiscal year begins July 1.

Lawmakers approve tuition waiver for combat veterans

Combat veterans since Sept. 11, 2001, can have all but $50 per credit hour of their undergraduate tuition waived under legislation passed by the General Assembly and sent to the governor this week. SB830, the Returning Heroes Education Act, was sponsored by Sen. Maida Coleman (D-St. Louis) and cleared the Senate this week in the final step toward passage.

The bill limits the waiver to undergraduate courses taken within 10 years of discharge and requires that all federal, state and military financial aid and scholarships for which the veteran is eligible be applied first before the waiver is considered. Any amount beyond $50 per credit hour would be waived by the institution. It also requests that institutions report to the Coordinating Board for Higher Education the amount of tuition waived each year as part of the appropriations request for the following year, and that information then becomes part of the appropriations request sent to the General Assembly. Lawmakers would have the option of reimbursing institutions for the amount waived as part of the following year´s operating budget, although the legislation does not require the state to fund the reimbursement. Students taking part in the waiver would have to maintain a 2.5 GPA to remain eligible.

Omnibus military benefits bill awaits Senate consideration

An omnibus military benefits bill that is awaiting Senate consideration would provide up to 25 tuition grants to survivors of those killed in combat since Sept. 11, 2001. HB2062, which has passed the House and was approved by the Senate Pensions and Veteran´s Affairs Committee this week, would provide the grants to spouses or children of those killed in combat, subject to appropriations from the state. If more than 50 residents are on the waiting list for the grants, the legislation would allow the request of additional funds to support more grants.

Senate committee considers two new appointments to the Coordinating Board for Higher Education

Two new nominees for the state Coordinating Board for Higher Education were considered before the Senate Gubernatorial Appointments Committee May 7. Gov. Matt Blunt nominated Mary Beth Luna Wolf from St. Louis and Dr. Helen Washburn from Columbia for two vacancies on the higher education panel. The committee had no questions for the members. They must be confirmed by the full Senate before officially joining the board.

Luna Wolf, 33, is the managing supervisor in the public affairs office at Fleishman Hillard. She recently served as the St. Louis director and as senior policy analyst for education and child welfare for the governor´s office. She holds a bachelor´s degree from the University of Missouri and juris doctorate from St. Louis University. Her appointment is for a term ending June 27, 2012.

Washburn, 67, was formerly the president of Cottey College in Nevada, MO. She holds a bachelor´s degree in science education and a master´s degree in guidance and counseling from the University of Idaho and a doctorate in educational policy and management from the University of Oregon. She has served on the Stephens College Board of Trustees. Her appointment is for a term ending June 27, 2009.

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Congress unveils Farm Bill conference report

This week, Congress unveiled the conference report to H.R. 2419, the Farm Bill of 2007. After much discussion between the House and Senate, an agreement was reached and Congress is expected to consider and pass the measure next week. The conference report stays within a negotiated $10 billion increase over the baseline and uses an extension of customs user fees as an offset, thereby avoiding a tax increase. The bill has not been scored yet but is estimated to top $300 billion over five years. The measure would provide an additional $10.36 billion over 10 years for nutrition programs, including $7.9 billion to increase food stamp benefits and ease eligibility for that program, as well as $1.25 billion to purchase food for the Emergency Food Assistance Program, which provides food for food banks.

House appropriations unveils supplemental appropriations for Iraq, Afghanistan

The House unveiled their supplemental appropriations bill for Iraq and Afghanistan this week. Research universities across the country had lobbied Congress to include $500 million to fund America COMPETES priority agencies and STEM education programs at the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy Office of Science, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, as well as a $300 million increase in FY09 for peer-reviewed defense basic (6.1) research. Funding for these items were not included in the latest revisions of the appropriations bill.

H.R. 2642, the FY08 military construction-VA appropriations bill will be the legislative vehicle for the measure. The contents of the bill would be stripped and the measure amended by adding war money, domestic funding and policy sections. House version of the supplemental bill also will include expanded educational benefits for veterans and language to block Medicaid regulations proposed by President Bush. A bill to block those regulations, H.R. 5613, recently passed the House by a 349-6 vote.

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