97th General Assembly convenes
The House of Representatives began the 97th General Assembly with the swearing-in of members and election of officers on January 9. The House welcomed 51 freshman lawmakers to the lower chamber, which now includes 109 Republican members, 52 Democratic members, and two vacancies.
Representatives elected Tim Jones (R-Eureka) as Speaker of the House. Other leadership positions that were filled include Rep. Jason Smith (R-Salem) as Speaker pro tempore, Rep. John Diehl (R-Town and Country) as Majority Floor Leader, and Rep. Jacob Hummel (D-St. Louis City) as Minority Floor Leader.
Speaker Jones delivered an opening address that focused on economic development, education, and energy priorities. He also referenced support for a bonding plan that could benefit higher education and other areas. The Speaker’s address can be seen here.Newly elected House Speaker Tim Jones addresses reporters during a news conference following his opening day address January 9. He is surrounded by other members of the Republican caucus.
Twelve freshman Senators were sworn in on opening day in the Senate. With 24 Republicans and 10 Democrats, the Republican party will maintain its veto-proof majority. Sen. Tom Dempsey (R-St.Charles) was unanimously elected President pro tempore and Sen. Ron Richard (R-Joplin) will serve as Majority Floor Leader. Sen. Jolie Justus (D-Kansas City) will be the new Minority Floor Leader.
Sen. Dempsey’s opening speech concentrated on the state’s need to build infrastructure, invest in education, and grow the economy. Dempsey also noted his support for moving forward on new capital investment for research, classrooms, and vocational technology using existing state revenue. Read the speech here.
House and Senate name committees
As lawmakers prepared to begin legislative work, several key committee chair announcements were made this week. Rep. Rick Stream (R-Kirkwood) will chair the House Budget Committee. Other members of the committee can be seen here.
Rep. Mike Lair (R-Chillicothe) will chair the House Appropriations-Education Committee. Other members of the committee can be seen here.
Rep. Mike Thomson (R-Maryville) will continue to chair the House Higher Education Committee. Other members of the committee can be seen here.
The Senate Appropriations Committee will continue to be chaired by Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) and its membership can be seen here.
Sen. David Pearce (R-Warrensburg) will retain his chairmanship of the Senate Education Committee. Other members of the committee can be seen here.
Senate refers MU Extension bill
Legislation to allow MU Extension to form single- or multi-county districts to better provide programming at the local level has been referred to the Senate Education Committee. Senate Bill 9, sponsored by Sen. David Pearce (R-Warrensburg) is expected to be heard in the coming weeks by the committee he chairs.
President Obama signs ‘fiscal cliff’ deal
On January 2, President Obama signed the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 to avert income tax increases on most Americans. The bill permanently extends the marginal tax rates from the Bush-era tax cuts of 2001 for families earning up to $450,000. In addition, the bill includes several provisions relating to higher education, including the following items:
- The American Opportunity Tax Credit was extended for five years. This allows for a tax credit up to $2,500 for educational expenses for student expenses.
- A permanent inclusion of graduate education in the IRS Section 127: Employer Educational Assistance. This allows for up to $5,250 per year in educational assistance paid for by an employer to not be considered taxable income.
- A one-year extension of the above-the-line deduction for qualified tuition related expenses up to $4,000.
The bill delays the impending cuts of sequestration, which were set to go into effect on January 2. The sequester is now scheduled to go into effect on March 1. The bill reduces the FY13 sequester cut from $109 billion to $85 billion to be split between defense and non-defense discretionary spending.
Included in the fiscal agreement is a one-year extension of the farm bill that was passed in 2008. The extension is set to expire on September 30. Changes from the previous farm bill include four programs under the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) that were considered mandatory spending but are now subject to appropriations. However, these programs were given authorized spending levels higher than previously allowed. The programs affected are the Organic Agriculture Research & Extension Initiative, Specialty Crops Research Initiative, Beginning Farmer & Rancher Development, and the Biomass Research & Development programs.
For exact language on the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, click here.
Governor Nixon holds press conference at UMSL
On January 4, Governor Jay Nixon held a press conferance at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Joined by UMSL Chancellor Tom George and a number of state and local law enforcement officers, Governor Nixon called for the reinstatement of important public safety exemptions to Missouri’s Sunshine Law. The exemptions expired at the end of 2012. The Governor called for a legislative renewal of the exemptions, as they help prevent the release of security plans and procedures that protect facilities such as schools, courthouses, and hospitals.
In the past, the General Assembly has extended these sections with broad bipartisan support and the Governor called on them to act on the issue early in the legislative session.