March 13, 2009

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Legislative Update

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House budget committee completes work on spending bills

The Missouri House of Representatives Budget Committee completed its work on HB3 late Wednesday evening. The committee gave final approval to Rep. Alan Icet's (R-Wildwood) earlier recommendation that the University of Missouri receive level funding from the state for the next fiscal year that begins July 1, 2009. The university will receive approximately $451.6 million this year.

The committee also approved two increases of $1 million each for University of Missouri Related Programs that receive separate line item appropriations: University Hospital and Clinics appropriation was increased from $11.8 million to $12.8 million and the Missouri Rehabilitation Hospital in Mt. Vernon, Mo., was increased from $10.4 million to $11.4 million.

The Budget Committee also maintained current level funding for the Access Missouri scholarship program and the A+ scholarship program. The introduced version of HB3 included reductions in both programs, but the committee agreed to continue funding at current levels.

The full House is expected to give final approval to the state budget when they return from Spring Break March 23. The Senate Appropriations Committee is expected to begin deliberations a week later. The budget must be passed by the General Assembly by May 8, 2009.

University of Missouri students support Access Missouri changes

Rep. Gayle Kingery (R-Poplar Bluff) speaks at a press conference March 10 at the Capitol held by the Associated Students of the University of Missouri in support of legislation that would equalize the awards for Access Missouri scholarships. The legislators and students were encouraging support for SB390 and HB792, which would provide a cap of $2,850 for all Access Missouri students choosing four-year institutions regardless of whether they go to public or private schools. Currently, students at public schools are limited to $2,150 while students at private schools can receive $4,600.

SB390 has been sent to the Senate Education Committee, but no hearing has been scheduled. HB792 has yet to be referred to any committee for consideration in the House. University supporters are urging legislative leaders to move the bills along so they can have fair public hearings.

Nixon Announces health coverage initiative

Gov. Jay Nixon held a press conference with UM Health Care CEO Jim Ross March 10 at the Family Health Center in Columbia, Mo., to discuss his plan to expand health coverage to approximately 34,800 parents and caregivers. The proposal would increase the eligibility level for parents under MO HealthNet from 20 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) to 50 percent FPL. The proposal would use $52.8 million in hospital federal reimbursement and disproportionate share funds to generate $92 million in federal matching dollars, for a total of $143 million to fund the expanded coverage in FY10. The governor worked on the plan with Missouri's hospitals, which have agreed to fund the state's share of the proposal.

Senate passes bill to create at-large curator

Legislation that would create an at-large slot on the University of Missouri Board of Curators should Missouri lose a congressional district after the next census was third read and passed by the Missouri Senate March 9 by a 29-3 vote. SB255, sponsored by Sen. David Pearce (R-Warrensburg) changes statutory wording regarding board appointments to indicate that there must be "at least one but no more than two" curators from each congressional district. The bill has been reported to the House where it will be referred to the House Higher Education Committee. That panel has already adopted the same language in HB515, sponsored by Rep. Gayle Kingery (R-Poplar Bluff).

The legislation is needed because the Missouri Constitution requires a nine-member board to oversee the institution, and state statutes require that no more than one member can come from the same congressional district. If Missouri drops to eight districts after 2010, some change in wording would be required. SB255 and HB515 resolve the issue by providing the governor with flexibility of picking the ninth member from any congressional district, thus creating an at-large member. The board of curators adopted resolutions in support of the legislation in December.

Lawmakers consider bill to expand A+ scholarships

The Senate Education Committee heard a bill March 11 that would open the state's A+ scholarship program to all students meeting basic requirements for the first two years of higher education and providing the possibility of tuition grants that would cover the third and fourth year at public four-year institutions. SB558, sponsored by Sen. Rob Mayer (R-Dexter), who is chairman of the committee, would expand the existing scholarship to any high school graduate who meets certain requirements regardless of whether their school is designated as an A+ school. Those who choose it could receive full tuition for up to two years at a community college. If they graduate with an associate degree, they would be eligible to receive a partial tuition scholarship for the third and fourth year at any public four-year institution.

The program, called Missouri Promise, was a centerpiece of Gov. Jay Nixon's gubernatorial campaign and would require additional funding of nearly $76 million. The bill makes the program subject to the amount appropriated, and Mayer indicated an expectation that the bill would be phased in over time.

The Council on Public Higher Education, which represents all public four-year institutions, testified in support of the legislation. Those testifying in opposition raised concerns that the plan waters down the rigorous process that school districts go through to become A+ certified under the current program. Several committee members also recommended a needs test for the scholarship so that those in upper income levels were not eligible.

A similar bill, HB903, has been introduced in the House by Rep. Gayle Kingery (R-Poplar Bluff), but has not yet been heard.


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