Appropriations bills move to Senate floor
The Senate Appropriations committee, chaired by Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia), finished its work on the FY14 budget bills on April 17. The bills are scheduled for floor debate in the Senate on April 22. In House Bill 3, the higher education funding bill, the committee decided to include $34 million in additional funding, which may be awarded to institutions on the basis of how many performance measures are met. The amount constitutes a $14 million increase over the House version of the bill. The committee also elected to add back the small portions removed by the House from each institution’s operating budget in order to create a veterans tuition assistance fund. The change was initially made due to uncertainty about the continuation of federal veterans’ tuition assistance under sequestration. That issue has been resolved, so the committee agreed there was no longer a need for the language.
The House added $1 million to UM’s operating budget for the large animal veterinary medicine program and the Senate committee agreed. The committee also took the House recommendation on the UM-related items in the budget, awarding funding level with FY13 to the Telemedicine program, Missouri Rehabilitation Center in Mt. Vernon, the Spinal Cord Injury Fund, and the Missouri Federal and State Technology partnership (otherwise known as MOFAST). The committee also agreed with the House in adding $250,000 to the Missouri Kidney Program. The State Historical Society would receive a $400,000 increase under the Senate plan, which is a $100,000 reduction from the House version due to the fact that the Society received $100,000 in a released withholding earlier this fiscal year.
The bill also includes a few new decision items benefiting the University of Missouri, including $10 million to increase the medical student class size at MU through a public-private partnership with CoxHealth and Mercy in Springfield. The funds will provide thirty additional medical school graduates per year to help address the physician shortage in southwest Missouri. A new line was also added in the amount of $620,000 for fire fighter safety training, which is a service provided through MU Extension.
House Ways and Means Committee advances tax bill
Senate Bill 26, sponsored by Sen. Will Kraus (R-Lee’s Summit), is a bill that would increase the statewide sales tax and decrease income and corporate taxes. The bill was passed by the House Ways and Means Committee on April 16. Concern has arisen in the education community about the reduction in state general revenue that could potentially result from the implementation of the bill, which would decrease funds available to fund elementary and secondary as well as higher education.
By a vote of 7-5, the House committee adopted a substitute version of the bill that includes a reduction of the tax cuts, an additional increase in the sales tax, and earmarking of some of the funds for transportation and mental health. The new version of the bill also includes a tax amnesty program and a trigger mechanism to prevent the tax cuts from going into effect until state revenues rise to a certain level. The bill must now be considered by the full House and, if passed, reconciled in a Senate-House conference committee prior to May 17.
Extension bills take on additional agriculture proposals
This week, the House Agri-Business Committee voted out two different agriculture omnibus bills that both contain the University of Missouri’s Extension districting proposal, which is a UM legislative priority this year. A committee substitute for Senate Bill 9, sponsored by Sen. David Pearce (R-Warrensburg), now contains a dozen additional agriculture proposals, but the Extension language remains unchanged. On April 18, the committee passed a substitute version of Senate Bill 342, sponsored by Sen. Mike Parson (R-Bolivar), that also includes the Extension language among other provisions. Both bills will need to be considered by the Rules Committee before being reported to the floor, where they will be taken up by the full House.
The Extension bill making its way through the Senate, House Bill 202, sponsored by Rep. Bill Rieboldt (R-Neosho), is awaiting report from the Senate Education Committee, after which it will be placed on the Senate calendar for floor debate. Both chambers approved the basic Extension language by wide margins earlier in the session.
MU Extension holds workshop for legislators at the Capitol
On April 15, representatives from MU Extension visited the State Capitol to train legislators and staffers on accessing maps and demographic data that can help legislators better understand the composition of their districts. Several legislators participated in the workshop with members of their staff.
University scientists testify on resolution encouraging mining of thorium in Missouri
Three UM researchers were among scientists testifying this week in support of a resolution that encourages the mining of the element thorium. House Concurrent Resolution 32, sponsored by Rep. Dave Schatz (R-Sullivan), has been introduced the last two years. The resolution has helped members of the House Utilities Committee understand the prospect of processing thorium mined from Missouri locations. Testifying on the resolution on April 17 were Associate Director for Special Projects at the MU Research Reactor Michael Flagg, MU Chemical Engineering Professor Dr. Patrick Pinhero, and Missouri S&T Associate Professor of Mining and Nuclear Engineering Dr. Shoaib Usman.
Immigration reform legislation filed in US Senate
On April 17, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and seven other senators filed S 744, the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” after spending three months drafting the legislation.
The legislation includes the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which allows illegal immigrants who entered the United States before the age of 16 and have completed a high school diploma or GED to obtain Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status.
As outlined in the bill, 120,000 visas will be allocated according to a points system at first. Factors such as the applicant’s education and employment, whether the applicant has family living in the US, and the applicant’s length of residence in the US will form the basis for awarding points. Half of these merit visas will be set aside for high-skilled individuals, and half will be for lower-skilled workers.
The H-1B visa program for non-immigrants is also changed in the proposed legislation to nearly double the H-1B visas offered, which brings the total number of H-1B visas up to 110,000. The bill also creates the INVEST visa, a visa for foreign entrepreneurs who seek to come to the US to start their own companies. This 3-year visa will be available for immigrant entrepreneurs who have a qualified investor in the US, and it can be renewed if certain benchmarks relating to jobs and revenue are met.
These components of the bill propose a pathway to American citizenship for the roughly 11 million people living in the United States illegally. The bill also authorizes $4.5 billion in federal spending to hire additional border control agents and strengthen fences along the borders and allows the use of drones to locate places where individuals are crossing into the United States illegally.
For the official outline of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, click here.