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Showing posts from May, 2007

Bills Clear Final Legislative Hurdle

105 Bills Create MO HealthNet, Improve Patient Safety, Protect Crime Victims,
Set Aside More Education Money, and Reduce Taxes

JEFFERSON CITY — A flurry of activity last week that saw lawmakers and their staff rush from the two chambers, to hearing rooms, to their offices, and back to the House and Senate chambers for last-minute votes and debates has given way to calmer hallways this week. But important work still needed to be finished as Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons and Speaker of the House Rod Jetton affixed their signatures to 54 Senate and 51 House bills, today (May 25th), sending them on to the governor.
Among these are two priority initiatives advanced by Senator Gibbons: SB 3, improving safeguards for mental health care facilities and clients; and SB 429/HB 583, strengthening protections and expanding resources for victims of domestic violence and sexual assaults.
Several other bills such as the governor’s Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative were already given to Go…

Lawmakers Approve MO HealthNet, Castle Doctrine in Final Week

General Column - Week of May 14 - 18, 2007

Fifty Seven Senate Bills Become Law

During the final week of session, legislators worked quickly to complete several key legislative issues. The deadline for completing legislation was 6 p.m. on Friday, May 18.
A late night of negotiations and a morning of debate led to the passage of Senate Bill 577, which changes the name of Missouri’s state sponsored healthcare to MO HealthNet. The new plan focuses on proactive care rather than reactive treatment. The bill also includes provisions to prevent and punish fraud in the healthcare program and asks healthcare providers to keep records tracking accountability.
The state’s Ticket to Work Program will continue under the bill, allowing disabled workers to qualify for MO HealthNet benefits and raising provider reimbursements. The bill also expands coverage for women’s health services, allowing more women to qualify for cancer screenings and counseling for family planning issues. The legislation w…

Regular Session Closes with Several Senate Priorities Sent to the Governor

Highlights Include MO HealthNet, More Money for Education, and Less Taxes on Senior Citizens

JEFFERSON CITY — Several issues highlighted this year’s regular session of the 94th General Assembly. State Senators working with their colleagues in the State House passed and sent to the governor several pieces of legislation dealing with Medicaid reforms, funding for elementary and secondary education, and a comprehensive plan to infuse much-needed money into Missouri’s colleges and universities. Senators were also able to work out a deal exempting certain Social Security and pension benefits from state taxation, among the measures moving through this year’s legislative process.
Lawmakers were able to find compromise in the last hours of the session and passed sweeping reforms to the state’s Medicaid system, now known as MO HealthNet. MO HealthNet will shift healthcare’s focus from reactive treatment to proactive prevention. The legislation also renews the state’s Ticket to Work Program. …

Sweeping Medicaid Reforms Clear Legislature

Lawmakers Find Common Ground in Closing Hours of Session

JEFFERSON CITY — State Senators and Representatives worked late into the evening Thursday and moved quickly today (Friday, May 18th) to pass Senate Bill 577 (sponsor Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph), the Medicaid Reform measure, better known as MO HealthNet. The legislation is touted as changing the focus of Missouri’s system from treating the sick to making sure people stay healthy.
Under MO HealthNet, the driving principle has shifted from reactive treatment to proactive prevention. The shift in strategy from treatment to prevention is expected to give the program fiscal sustainability. Current spending on Medicaid is more than $5 billion annually. In 2005, nearly one of every four taxpayer dollars in state revenue was spent on Medicaid with about one out of every five Missourians on the program. The new program will be more accountable with provisions upping the punishments for those who knowingly try to defraud the pr…

Castle Doctrine Bill Sent to Governor

Measure Allows Citizens to Protect Their Homes and Families

JEFFERSON CITY— The State Legislature has given final approval to Senate Bill 62, a measure that modifies state laws regarding the use of force against an intruder. Current state law requires people to retreat before fighting back.
SB 62 allows people who have a reasonable fear of imminent peril or death to use deadly force against the attacker. Said attacker must have unlawfully or forcefully entered the defender’s dwelling or vehicle.
Lawmakers did put certain safeguards in the bill including a provision that says the defensive force may not be used against someone who has a legal right to be in the vehicle or home. In addition, the defender may not be engaged in an illegal activity at the time. Law enforcement officials who are clearly identified or believed to be peace officers performing their official duties would not be considered intruders.
The legislation also repeals the requirement that Missouri residents must get…

Senate, House Send Budget to Governor

Senators Put Final Touches on $21.5 Billion Spending Plan

JEFFERSON CITY— State Senators and Representatives found common ground and finished their work on the Fiscal Year 2008 state budget. The $21.5 billion spending plan includes funding increases to education, social services, and healthcare. It now goes to the governor’s desk.
Working together, senators and representatives were able to once again fully fund the re-vamped Foundation Formula for public elementary and secondary schools. All will share in a $132 million increase in their money and small schools will collectively enjoy a $15 million increase in the money appropriated to them compared to last year’s budget. Colleges and universities in the state are also seeing a significant 6.5 percent increase in the funds they receive from the state.
Healthcare and social services programs in Missouri will see more money as those budgets have seen good-sized increases. The Department of Mental Health saw its general revenue money …

Senate Moves Budget to Governor - Balanced and On Time

General Column - Week of May 7 - 11, 2006

Lawmakers Approve Senate Higher Education Bill

With only one week left in the year’s regular legislative session, lawmakers finished several major pieces of legislation this week. The state’s budget and an expansive higher education plan went to the governor.
The budget for fiscal year 2008, encompassed in House Bills 1-13, was delivered balanced and on time. The spending plan appropriates funds to programs, projects, and departments throughout the state. The budget totals $21.5 billion in state, federal and other funds, and features increases to education, agriculture, and economic development programs. Elementary and secondary education receives a total of $2.8 billion in state funding (including a full funding of the re-vamped Foundation Formula), and Higher education will receive $936 million. Agriculture’s budget increases to a total of $51.6 million in state funds and the economic development budget increase to $64 million to support progra…

Senate Crafts Far-Reaching, Fiscally Responsible Tax Relief Act

Social Security Benefits for the Disabled and Many Seniors
Shielded From State Income Tax

JEFFERSON CITY — The Senate yesterday (5/8) approved a measure gradually exempting from state income tax Social Security retirement and disability benefits and portions of retirement benefits from certain public pension plans.
Under the Senate’s version of House Bill 444, the state will begin phasing out the taxing of Social Security benefit income paid to the disabled and those 62 or older. Also included in the phased exempting are retirement benefits from certain non-private pension plans such as those for firefighters, police officers, teachers, veterans, railroad workers, and certain federal civil service employees.
The tax phase-out starts with a 20 percent exemption in the 2007 tax year for Social Security benefits. The exemption percentage will continue to rise each year until 2012, when 100 percent of Social Security benefits (the current maximum annual Social Security benefit is $32,500) wil…

Senate’s Higher Education Expansion Package Moves to Governor

Legislation Curbs Tuition Increases, Spurs Campus Construction,
Expands Scholarship Funding and Strengthens Accountability Standards

JEFFERSON CITY — A Senate omnibus higher education bill intended to make universities and colleges more accessible, affordable and accountable cleared the House yesterday (5/7) and now goes to the governor, who is expected to sign the bill into law.
Among several provisions, Senate Bill 389 (sponsor, Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin) limits tuition increases proposed by most public colleges and universities to the region’s consumer price index (CPI); schools enacting tuition increases higher than the inflation index would have to return 5 percent of their annual state funding.
The Access Missouri component of SB 389 combines two existing scholarship plans and nearly triples needs-based financial assistance from $27.5 million to more than $72.5 million over the next three years. Maximum annual Access Missouri scholarship amounts will range from $300 to $1,000 for p…

Senate’s Veterans’ Tuition Relief, Water Management Measures Closer to Law

JEFFERSON CITY — Two Senate measures advanced through House committees this week, allowing for their debate by the full House and possible advancement to the governor’s desk.
The House Veterans Committee today (5/8) approved Senate Bill 75 (sponsor, Sen. Maida Coleman, D-St. Louis). As it left the Senate, the bill allowed veterans who served in armed combat after September 11, 2001, to receive a discounted tuition rate of $50 per credit hour at any college or university receiving state funds. Qualifying veterans would need to maintain at least a 2.5 grade point average. The rate would be available 10 years from the veteran’s honorable discharge.
The House Energy and Environment Committee today (5/8) approved Senate Bill 391 (sponsor, Sen. Rita Heard Days, D-St. Louis). As it left the Senate, the bill allowed the state to issue an added $10 million in bonds for water pollution control, improvement of drinking water systems, and storm water control projects; an additional $10 million in b…

Senate Pauses on Education Bill

Sponsor Decides to Open Small Bill to Bigger Components

JEFFERSON CITY— After a marathon session last night, State Senators have set aside a bill originally intended to make a small change to the rules regarding due process hearings in special education cases.
Sen. Scott T. Rupp (R-Wentzville) was handling House Bill 265 in the Senate. The measure was to require five-business-day notices for all special education due process hearings, including those expedited hearings. However, senator after senator rose to add their amendments to the bill. Additions included a provision to make a hate crime out of bullying schoolchildren based on their sexual orientations as well as a measure that would improve drug testing for school employees.
After 19 amendments, plus amendments to those amendments and substitutes, that kept debate going until midnight Monday evening, Sen. Rupp moved that the Senate set aside HB 265. That move will allow him time to offer a substitute for the bill to which fellow se…

Senate, House Conferees Finish Budget Negotiations

Chambers Take up Appropriations Bills Next Week to Meet May 11th Deadline

JEFFERSON CITY— State Senators and Representatives meeting in a conference committee throughout this week have finished their work on the Fiscal Year 2008 state budget, a $21.4 billion spending plan that includes funding increases to education, social services, and healthcare. The final budget will have to be approved by both full chambers and sent to the governor by Friday, May 11th.
The re-vamped Foundation Formula for public elementary and secondary schools once again has been fully funded with all schools seeing a $132 million increase and small schools enjoying a $15 million increase in the money appropriated to them compared to last year’s budget. Colleges and universities in the state are also seeing a significant 4.2 percent increase in the funds they receive from the state.
Healthcare and social services programs in Missouri will see more money as $16 million has been added to the funding to reimburse pr…

Lawmakers Send Several Bills to the Governor

Week of April 30 - May 4, 2007

Senate Advances Bill Ending Taxes on Retirement Benefits

Jefferson City — Several bills received final approval from lawmakers this week. The legislation will move on to the governor for approval before becoming law.
Licensing provisions for a variety of professions will change under Senate Bill 272, which will move to the governor’s desk awaiting a signature. Veterans returning to a profession requiring licensing after their service will be able to renew their certification within 60 days under the new legislation. The bill is a combination of a variety of separate bills filed throughout the session. The bill changes stipulations for licenses for endowed care cemeteries, landscape artists, chiropractors, funeral directors and embalmers, physical therapists, professional counselors, social workers, therapists, pharmacies, and real estate appraisers.
Schools that closed for weather between Jan. 11 and Jan. 22 will not need to make up the missed days under

Senate Moves to End Tax on Social Security Benefits

Lawmakers Finish Months of Work on Bill

JEFFERSON CITY— State Senators worked into the early morning hours today but were finally able to pass a measure that exempts from state income taxation Social Security benefits and several other pensions including those for firefighters, police, teachers, veterans, railroad, and federal employees in civil service security.
House Bill 444 is a priority for State House Speaker Rod Jetton (R-Marble Hill) and is being managed in the State Senate by Sen. Jason Crowell (R-Cape Girardeau).
The measure phases in over the next six years beginning in 2007 with a 20 percent exemption. The percentage would continue to increase until 2012, when Social Security and the non-private pensions would no longer be taxed. Missouri is one of 15 states that still taxes social security.
Supporters say Missouri’s senior citizens should have the same benefits as those in a majority of other states, and those senior citizens need every cent to pay for medication, food, and o…