March 19, 2010

State relations

House Budget Committee passes appropriations bills

This week, the House Budget Committee, chaired by Rep. Allen Icet (R-Wildwood), considered all thirteen appropriations bills and passed the amended versions. A few changes were made to HB2003, the higher education appropriations bill. $1.5 million was decreased from the Bright Flight Scholarship program and redirected to two programs within the Department of Economic Development. The University of Missouri System received a few increases or restorations. The UM and Missouri State University joint pharmacy doctorate program, currently in development, received $2 million. University Hospitals and Clinics received $2.4 million, Missouri Telehealth Network received $161,000 and the Missouri Kidney Program received $200,000. These three additions restored the programs to a 5.2 percent cut from their Fiscal Year 2010 levels. Attempts were made to add funds to a few other UM-related programs, such as MOREnet and the State Historical Society, but they were ultimately unsuccessful. The appropriations bills should be considered by the full House next week.

In other budget news, Gov. Jay Nixon announced last week that he and the legislature must be prepared to reduce state spending by more than $500 million in the coming fiscal year, as state tax receipts continue to come in below projections and federal funding sources remain uncertain. The state constitution requires a balanced budget, so Nixon provided several suggestions, including combining the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education with the Department of Higher Education into one department.

To see the governor’s speech announcing these and other recommendations, click here.

Senators plan “work group sessions” March 23 to review budget cutting ideas

Facing the most dire budget challenges in a generation, Senate President Pro-Tem Charlie Shields (R-St. Joseph) announced this week plans to form eight working groups composed of four senators each to review ideas for cutting costs in state departments. The Senate will suspend normal operations March 23 to allow the groups to meet through the day to develop a specific set of suggestions for savings in each state department.

The groups will also review suggestions for savings sent in by the public through the Senate’s Web site.

Although testimony will not be taken at the meetings, they are open to the public. Locations had not been announced as of the afternoon of March 18.

The groups and Senate members of each area as follows:

Agriculture/Outdoors/Department of Natural Resources: Frank Barnitz (D-Lake Spring), Dan Clemens (R-Marshfield), Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) and Wes Shoemyer (D-Clarence).

Courts/Legal/Department of Public Safety: Matt Bartle (R-Lee’s Summit), Jack Goodman (R-Mt. Vernon), Jolie Justus (D-Kansas City) and Rob Mayer (R-Dexter).

Education: Rita Days (D-St. Louis), David Pearce (R-Warrensburg), Gary Nodler (R-Joplin) and Yvonne Wilson (D-Kansas City).

General Government/Office of Administration: Tim Green (D-St. Louis), Jim Lembke (R-St. Louis), Luann Ridgeway (R-Smithville) and Carl Vogel (R-Jefferson City).

Retirement: Jason Crowell (R-Cape Girardeau), Jane Cunningham (R-Chesterfield), John Griesheimer (R-Washington) and Joe Keaveny (D-St. Louis).

Social Programs: Joan Bray (D-St. Louis), Norma Champion (R-Springfield), Scott Rupp (R-Wentzville) and Eric Schmitt (R-Glendale).

Tax Structure: Tom Dempsey (R-St. Charles), Brad Lager (R-Savannah), Chuck Purgason (R-Caulfield) and Robin Wright-Jones (D-St. Louis).

Transportation: Kevin Engler (R-Farmington), Ryan McKenna (D-Crystal City), Delbert Scott (R-Lowry City) and Bill Stouffer (R-Napton).

Access Missouri scholarship legislation moves forward as presidents discuss compromise

Changing the allocation levels for the state’s needs-based Access Missouri scholarship plan was the subject of meetings this week in the Capitol and in Columbia. Discussions related to plans for equalizing award levels for students at both public and private institutions. Current policy provides more than twice as much funding for students who choose to attend private institutions.

A group of ten presidents representing public and private institutions met at Providence Point, home of UM system President Gary Forsee, March 16 to discuss common ground and work on a compromise. The group selected Higher Education Commissioner Robert Stein as spokesperson and issued a statement March 17 identifying eight points of agreement that emerged from the initial meeting. Click here to view more detailed information.

Most significant is the fact that the group agreed to have equal awards for the four-year sector. Discussions will continue regarding timing of the phase-in and sunset clause in the legislation, as well as other adjustments in the program, including GPA requirements for renewal. A final agreement is expected in the near future, and that agreement is expected to be reflected in future versions of legislation in both the Senate and House that relate to award levels for the program.

In the Senate, SB784, sponsored by Sens. Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) and David Pearce (R-Warrensburg), was reported from the Senate Education Committee to the Senate floor March 18. The bill grandfathers in current Access Missouri recipients at existing levels and would phase in the equalized awards at $2,850 for four-year schools and $1,250 for two-year schools beginning in 2015.

In the House, HB1812, sponsored by Rep. Gayle Kingery (R-Poplar Bluff), was discussed and passed in an executive session of the House Higher Education Committee March 16. After debate and consideration of amendments to move up the phase-in date, the committee adopted a House Committee Substitute identical to the Senate bill that would begin the change in 2015. Kingery subsequently reported the bill out of committee, and it was assigned to the Rules Committee for consideration before going on the House calendar for debate.

Ethics reform

The Special Standing Committee on Ethics Reform and Government Accountability met this week to discuss HB2300, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Wilson (R-Neosho), which changes the laws regarding conflicts of interest and lobbying, ethics and campaign finance. The key provisions of the bill include a ban on committee-to-committee transfers of campaign donations, a prohibition on legislators serving as political consultants, the requirement that legislators wait at least one legislative session before becoming a lobbyist and a $5,000-limit on campaign contributions. The committee expects to vote the legislation out March 23. It will then proceed to the House floor for further debate.

The Missouri Senate has already approved legislation to modify the state’s ethics laws. SB577, sponsored by Sen. Charlie Shields (R-St. Joseph), is awaiting a hearing in the House. SB577 does not contain campaign contribution limits, but would require legislative candidates to report within 48 hours a contribution of more than $250 received while in session.

Rep. Calloway receives award

Rep. Don Calloway (D-St. Louis) received the Brain Injury Association of Missouri’s award of appreciation for his work on HB1548, which establishes the High School Brain Injury Prevention Act. The association also honored Sen. Tom Dempsey (R-St. Peters) for his work in the area of brain injury prevention. The ceremony took place on Brain Injury Awareness Day, March 6.

Thomas Martin,  clinical associate professor of health psychology in the MU School of Health  Professions and president of the Brain Injury Association of Missouri presents  Rep. Calloway with award of appreciation.

Thomas Martin, clinical associate professor of health psychology in the MU School of Health Professions and president of the Brain Injury Association of Missouri presents Rep. Calloway with award of appreciation.

Insurance coverage for autism bill moves to the House

The Senate gave final approval to SB618, sponsored by Sen. Scott Rupp (R-Wentzville), March 18. The bill would mandate insurance coverage for the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders. As it is currently drafted, the bill would require coverage of unlimited visits up to $55,000 per year for individuals under 21.  A waiver is possible for employers who can demonstrate increased health insurance costs of 2.5 percent or more over a 12-month period.  The bill now moves to the House.

Sen. Kit Bond presents  his views about the future of life sciences in Missouri’s economy during a  presentation as part of UM’s Life Sciences Summit March 8-9 in Kansas City.

Sen. Kit Bond presents his views about the future of life sciences in Missouri’s economy during a presentation as part of UM’s Life Sciences Summit March 8-9 in Kansas City.

Federal relations

Democrats announce agreement on overhaul of student loan system

Congressional Democrats outlined the final agreement on legislation to overhaul the student-loan system March 18, promising annual inflation-adjusted increases in the maximum Pell Grant and billions of dollars in additional aid for higher education. That measure is expected to face final votes in the coming week, both in the House and the Senate.

The student-loan portion of the plan would end the bank-based system of distributing federally subsidized student loans. Instead, the plan would have the U.S. Education Department give all loan money directly to colleges and their students. The final plan, outlined March 18, would use $36 billion of savings from consolidation to increase the maximum value of a Pell Grant by the rate of inflation each year for the next 10 years. Currently, Pell Grants are scheduled to reach $5,550 per individual for the coming academic year. The Obama administration had asked Congress to approve an annual increase equal to the rate of inflation plus one percentage point.

The plan includes $255 million per year to help historically black colleges, as outlined in the House bill. It also includes $750 million over five years for College Access Challenge grants, which would support state efforts to enroll and graduate underrepresented students. This figure is down from the $3 billion over 10 years outlined in the earlier House version. An additional $2 billion over 10 years is also included to help community colleges.

Finally, the bill includes $1.5 billion over 10 years to finance the administration’s proposal to limit mandatory monthly payments on a federally subsidized student loan to 10 percent of discretionary income, down from the current 15 percent, and to forgive the loan entirely after 20 years instead of the current 25 years.

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