Friday, May 25, 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 Governor Matt Blunt and have received his stamp of approval. Other important measures including the much-needed, sweeping reforms of the state’s Medicaid system, now known as MO HealthNet, House Bill 444 – the elimination of state taxes on some Social Security benefits and non-private pensions, and the 13 bills that comprise the $21.5 billion budget await his signature. Constitutionally, Governor Blunt will have until July 14th to decide if he will sign or veto bills. Any bill he does not sign automatically becomes law after that date.
Lawmakers are expected to come back to the Capitol for the September veto session with some speculation there could be a special session in the works to fix an issue with emergency workers’ overtime pay. The next regular session of the 94th General Assembly starts on Wednesday, January 9th, 2008.
In the interim, legislators will have a chance to get back to their districts and meet with their constituents to hear their priorities to bring back to Jefferson City next year.
For more information about this and other legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

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 will now move on to the governor’s desk.
Senate Bill 62, which went to the governor this week, overturns a number of court decisions that require Missourians to retreat or await physical aggression before using deadly force against intruders in their homes or vehicles. Also called the Castle Doctrine, the legislation prevents frivolous lawsuits against those that use force in their defense.
The bill also repeals the requirement that Missouri residents must get permits from their local sheriff before buying a handgun. Other provisions in SB 62 include allowing people who have law enforcement training to skip weapons handling courses in order to get a concealed weapon permit, allowing law enforcement departments to sell confiscated weapons, and putting mental health information in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to determine eligibility to buy guns.
Legislation creating renewable energy targets for electric companies received approval from both the House and Senate. Under SB54, electric companies will need to make a “good faith effort” to ensure a percentage of their retail electric sales come from renewable energy technology. The legislation creates benchmarks of 4 percent by 2012, 8 percent by 2015, and 11 percent by 2020. The Public Service Commission will measure the progress of electric companies and will report the progress every two years.
The bill also allows for yard waste to be disposed of in bioreactor landfills— environmentally friendly landfills engineered to quickly break down waste. The gases created by the breakdown of the yard waste will be used as an alternative energy source. The Missouri Ethanol and Other Renewable Fuel Sources Commission will receive the more streamlined name of the Missouri Alternative Fuels Commission under the new law. The goals of the commission are to promote and educate the public on alternative fuels. The legislation also requires 70 percent of state fleet vehicles to be flexible fuel vehicles.
Another new law created this week will strengthen penalties for those selling controlled substances in or around parks. SB 198 makes it a Class A felony to distribute controlled substance within 1,000 feet of a public or state park. Fishing, hunting, trapping or retrieving wildlife on private land without permission has become a Class B misdemeanor under the new law. Individuals could also loose fishing or hunting licenses for a year in such instances.
Senate Bill 384 makes it easier to get replacements for stolen license place tabs. The bill, which went to the governor this week, changes the regulations in order to receive free plates after an individual reports their license plates stolen. Under the new law, in order to receive two free tabs from the Department of Revenue, one only needs to provide a notarized affidavit. License plates issued after January 1, 2009, would need to provide a police report as well as the affidavit.
Last minute efforts to finish work on several other high profile bills succeeded. House Joint Resolution 7, which turns the issue of having English as the official language for state proceedings over to the voters, and HB 1055, an omnibus abortion package were both completed Friday afternoon.
Friday marked the final day of the First Regular Session of the 94th Missouri General Assembly. In 2007, 710 bills were introduced in the Senate, and 57 were passed by both chambers. Four of those bills have been signed by the governor. Lawmakers convene again in 2008 for the Second Regular Session of the 94th Missouri General Assembly.


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Friday, May 18, 2007

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. Disabled workers whose gross income is at 300 percent of the federal poverty level and who have less than $1,000 in assets ($2,000 for couples) would be able to participate in this health insurance program.
MO HealthNet revises the women’s health program. Lawmakers have included a provision extending coverage for women earning up to $18,889 seeking counseling on family planning issues such as sexually transmitted diseases and birth control and testing. Cancer screening procedures like pelvic exams and PAP tests would also covered. Some 90,000 women are estimated to qualify for these expanded healthcare services.


The legislature, once again, fully funded the phase-in target for the re-vamped Foundation Formula with all public schools sharing in a $132 million increase in funds directly to them and another $15 million set aside specifically for small schools. Colleges and universities also saw the direct budget money to them increase 4-5 percent while measures to rein in the cost of tuition made it through as well.
Other budget highlights include a significant increase in money for healthcare and social services. Lawmakers also moved to set aside $200 million in case the economy does not meet revenue projections.
A Senate omnibus higher education bill intended to make universities and colleges more accessible, affordable and accountable now goes to the governor, who is expected to sign the bill into law. Senate Bill 389 (sponsor, Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin) includes the governor’s Lewis & Clark Discovery Initiative, which will use nearly $260 million in proceeds from the phased partial divestment of the state’s higher education loan authority (“MOHELA”) to fund 28 university and college campus building projects. The measure also limits tuition increases proposed by most public colleges and universities to the region’s consumer price index (CPI). Teachers who work in unaccredited districts could receive an additional $5,000 a year for four years and a $1,000 stipend in the fifth year from the state. Bright Flight Scholarships have been increased from $2,000 to $3,000 for each student each year who tests in the top 3 percent in their college entrance exams. A new $1,000 a year scholarship will be offered for those testing in the top 3-5 percent.
Senators also teamed up with their colleagues in the House to pass House Bill 444. That legislation phases in an income tax exemption on Social Security benefits, Social Security disability payments, and certain non-private retirement benefits. The exemptions begin at 20 percent for the 2007 tax year, eventually becoming a complete 100 percent exemption by the 2012 tax year. Seniors 62 or over and all disabled residents will be eligible for the exemptions. An income threshold of $85,000 for an individual or $100,000 for a couple applies. Qualifying non-private retirement benefits include those from plans for firemen and police officers, railroad workers, teachers, as well as veterans and certain federal employees. These pensions will also be exempt from state taxes up to the maximum Social Security benefit (currently $32,500) by 2012. Missouri was one of just 15 states that still taxed Social Security.
Senate Bill 384 makes clearer the measures someone must take to replace stolen license plate tabs.
In total, the legislature considered more than 2,000 bills, not including amendments and resolutions.
For more information about this and other legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.
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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 program. “Whistleblowers” will have certain protections, and healthcare providers will be required to keep records to help track accountability.
The legislation also renews the state’s Ticket to Work Program. Disabled workers whose gross income is at 300 percent of the federal poverty level and who have less than $1,000 in assets ($2,000 for couples) would be able to participate in this health insurance program. Those individuals at more than 100 percent of the poverty level would pay a monthly premium. If a worker’s employer offers health insurance that is more cost-effective, the employee would have to participate in the employer’s plan.
MO HealthNet revises the women’s health program. Lawmakers have included a provision extending coverage for women earning up to $18,889 seeking counseling on family planning issues such as sexually transmitted diseases and birth control and testing. Cancer screening procedures like pelvic exams and PAP tests would also covered. Some 90,000 women are estimated to qualify for these expanded healthcare services.
House and Senate approval of MO HealthNet moves the healthcare reform package to the desk of the governor, who has been a longtime supporter of the changes.
For more information about this and other legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.
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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

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 permits from their local sheriff before buying a handgun. Other provisions in the bill include allowing people who have law enforcement training to skip weapons handling courses in order to get a concealed weapon permit, allowing law enforcement departments to sell confiscated weapons, and putting mental health information in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to determine eligibility to buy guns.
Twenty-five other states already have similar laws on the books. The bill has now been sent to the governor who is expected to sign it.
For more information about this and other legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send and email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.
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Friday, May 11, 2007

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 grow by 6.6 percent, the State Health Department will get nearly $7 million more than it did last year, and lawmakers have given the Department of Social Services a whopping 11.1 percent increase in state money. In particular, $16 million has been added to the funding to reimburse providers for Medicaid services. Nursing homes will also see their reimbursements from the state increase $9 a day for each patient. Lawmakers have moved to put $2.5 million more in the coming budget for Missouri’s foster care program, increasing the reimbursement to foster care parents about $30-40 a month.
Legislators found themselves in the unique situation of having a little bit of money leftover at the end of the day. They voted to save a $200 million surplus in case the state’s revenues fail to meet expectations in the coming fiscal year.
The 13 budget bills now await the governor’s signature. Fiscal Year 2008 begins on July 1st, 2007.
For more information about the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send and email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

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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 programs that include the Missouri Job Development Program and the Missouri Downtown Economic Stimulus Act (MODESA). After the governor reviews the budget, it will go into effect on July 1.
Senate Bill 389, an omnibus higher education bill, went to the governor this week after receiving approval from the full Legislature. The bill includes a plan to sell some of the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority’s (MOHELA) assets. The $350 million made in the gradual sale will go towards campus construction projects as laid out in companion legislation, HB 16.
The Senate education bill also includes a measure restraining tuition increases to the Consumer Price Index. Beginning in the 2008-2009 school year, if a university increases tuition at a rate greater than inflation, the state’s Coordinating Board for Higher Education could fine the institution up to 5 percent of their state appropriation. The coordinating board will also have increased power to hold colleges to quality standards.
The bill also combines two existing scholarships to create Access Missouri, a needs-based scholarship program that will grow from $25 million to nearly $75 million. Another scholarship opportunity comes from increased funding for the merit-based Bright Flight scholarship program starting in 2011.
Many seniors will no longer be taxed on retirement benefits with House Bill 444, which cleared the Senate and moved back to the House this week. The bill phases in an income tax exemption on Social Security benefits, Social Security disability payments, and certain non-private retirement benefits. The exemptions begin at 20 percent for the 2007 tax year, eventually becoming a complete 100 percent exemption by the 2012 tax year. Seniors 62 or over and all disabled residents will be eligible for the exemptions. An income threshold of $85,000 for an individual or $100,000 for a couple applies. Qualifying non-private retirement benefits include those from plans for firemen and police officers, railroad workers, teachers, as well as veterans and certain federal employees. These pensions will also be exempt from state taxes up to the maximum Social Security benefit (currently $32,500) by 2012.
Senate Bill 75 received House committee approval this week. The bill as it left the Senate allows veterans who have 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. The reduced rate would be available 10 years from the veteran’s honorable discharge. Qualifying veterans would need to maintain at least a 2.5 grade point average. The bill needs to be debated by the full House before moving back to the Senate, which could then agree to the House’s version, or initiate a conference to iron out any remaining differences.
The Missouri Senate will reconvene on Monday, May 14. The First Regular Session of the 94th Missouri General Assembly runs through Friday, May 18.


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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

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) will be tax exempt. Over the same timeframe, income from qualified public pension plans will be exempted up to amounts matching the respective Social Security exemptions.
Taxpayers will be able to choose the phased-in exemption amount or an existing base exemption of $6,000, whichever is most beneficial to the individual.
Missouri is one of 15 states taxing Social Security benefit income. Many believe beneficiaries should not be taxed on benefits they helped pay for through taxes drawn from their paychecks over their working lives. An estimated 240,000 Missourians could benefit from the tax shield, which proponents believe will help retain retiring Missourians and remove a cost consideration for out-of-state retirees contemplating a move to the Show-Me State.
Currently, up to half of Social Security benefits are taxable if total “provisional income” (adjusted gross income, tax-exempt interest and half of any Social Security benefits) exceeds $25,000 for individuals and $32,000 for married couples filing jointly. The Senate raised these income thresholds – but, to address concerns that the measure would provide benefits to those with comparatively healthy incomes, did not remove them entirely as was done by the House. The Senate provision continues taxing income over $85,000 for individuals and over $100,000 for married couples.
To address concerns that the loss of tax revenue caused by the tax cut (estimated to be $153.8 million by 2012’s full enactment) could jeopardize state-funded programs and services, the Senate ended a deduction for property taxes paid to other states, a move expected to annually garner $11 million in state revenue.
Following a strong 28-5 Senate vote, the tax relief act is now again before the House of Representatives, which can approve the Senate’s modifications or initiate a conference committee to negotiate a mutually agreeable version.
For more information about this and other legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send and email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.


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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

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 public two-year colleges, $1,000 to $2,150 for public four-year institutions, and $2,000 to $4,600 for private institutions.
Senate Bill 389 also empowers the oversight authority of the state’s Coordinating Board for Higher Education. Along with monitoring the CPI/tuition link noted above, the coordinating board will oversee the establishment of standardized performance measures; two measures originating with each school, and three universal measures developed by the state’s Department of Higher Education. The coordinating board will also ensure colleges make pertinent information regarding course offerings and instructors more widely available.
Senate Bill 389 includes the governor’s Lewis & Clark Discovery Initiative, which will use nearly $260 million in proceeds from the phased partial divestment of the state’s higher education loan authority (“MOHELA”) to fund 28 university and college campus building projects specified in a companion bill*. An additional $30 million goes to community college campus projects, and $15 million for business research hubs affiliated with universities.
The measure also:
Ø Establishes incentive payments to graduating teaching students agreeing to teach in unaccredited districts.
Ø Allows the state Coordinating Board for Higher Education to levy fines on schools of up to 1 percent of their state appropriations for violating board policies. Fine money would be returned to schools correcting violations within a year of the infraction.
Ø Requires two- and four-year institutions seeking increased state funding to develop with the state mutually agreed-upon competencies for certain entry-level courses to enable equitable credit transfers and easier student transitions between schools.
Ø Holds out-of-state public higher education institutions with presences in Missouri to similar operating standards applied to in-state institutions.
Ø Requires public colleges and universities to utilize binding dispute resolution on matters of jurisdictional boundaries or the use or state funding.
Ø Bars rejection of a faculty job applicant based solely on applicant’s lack of a graduate degree, so long as the applicant has an undergraduate degree and has served at least eight years in the state legislature.
Ø Ensures state needs-based financial assistance does not exceed a student’s cost of attendance.
Ø Beginning in 2011, increases merit-based “Bright Flight” scholarship amounts from $2,000 to $3,000 for students testing among the top 3 percent; and allows students testing among the top 5 to 3 percent to apply for Bright Flight scholarships of $1,000.

For more information about this and other legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send and email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

* These projects are again called out in HB 17, a “re-appropriations” bill.

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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 bonds for rural water and sewer grants and loans; and an additional $20 million in bonds for grants and loans for storm water control in certain counties and St. Louis City.
Approval of these measure by the full House would move the bills back to the Senate, which could accept the House’s versions, or initiate conference committees to negotiate mutually agreeable language.
For more information about this and other legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit http://www.senate.mo.gov/. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send and email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

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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 senators can add their projects.
No calendar date has been set for any new measure, but time is of the essence since this year’s session ends May 18th.
For more information about the Missouri Senate, visit http://www.senate.mo.gov/. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send and email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

– END –

Friday, May 04, 2007

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 providers for Medicaid services. Nursing homes will also see their reimbursements from the state increase $9 a day for each patient. Lawmakers have moved to put $2.5 million more in the coming budget for Missouri’s foster care program, increasing the reimbursement to foster care parents about $30-40 a month.
Legislators have decided to save a $200 million surplus in case the state’s revenues fail to meet expectations in the coming fiscal year.
The 13 bills making up the budget will have final debates and votes in both chambers starting next week.
For more information about the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send and email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

– END –

Thursday, May 03, 2007

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 SB 376. The bill, which was approved by the Senate and the House this week, exempts schools from making up days missed during the severe ice storms that struck Missouri during that period. The bill also exempts districts from having to schedule two thirds of the missed time into the next school year’s calendar, as otherwise required of days lost due to weather.
Senate Bill 46 will create the Faith-Based Organization Liaison Act. The bill requires regional employees of the Department of Social Services to promote faith based organizations as a way of providing community services also provided through the public programs of the department. The liaison’s role will also include providing guidance to the faith-based organizations. SB 46 is waiting for the governor’s signature.
A bill ending income taxation on retirement benefits received first round approval from the Senate this week. House Bill 444 exempts Social Security benefits, Social Security disability, and non-private retirement benefits from being taxed. Residents age 62 or older and disabled residents of any age will be eligible for the exemption, which starts with a 20 percent deduction in 2007 and increases until 2012 when Social Security becomes completely exempt. The exemptions do not apply fully to those who make more than $85,000 and couples who make more than $100,000.
Supporters of the bill point out that Missouri is one of 15 states that still tax Social Security benefits, and that the provision will encourage retirees to stay. The bill has also been championed as a measure that would correct an unfair tax that makes seniors pay twice. Opponents argue that the estimated eventual $155 million price tag is too high, and that the lost revenue could be used for programs to help seniors.
A bill making changes to the way children are placed in foster care received final approval in the House this week. SB 84 changes the law regarding background checks for households that are taking a child under emergency circumstances. Current law requires the background check to be performed within 15 days and exempts certain family members, but SB 84 removes that exemption. A provision requiring foster parents to have a finger print check when recertifying their status as a foster parent will be removed under the legislation. The bill also contains a compact agreement making Missouri a member of the Interstate Commission for the Placement of Children to foster communication between states when a child is placed outside of Missouri.
Senate and House designees debated the state budget in conference committee this week. The $21.4 billion spending plan includes funding increases to education, social services, and healthcare. The constitutional deadline for budget completion is May 11.
An omnibus transportation bill, HB 744, was debated in the Senate and given first round approval. Part of the bill includes a Senate amendment making two major changes to current law. The first allows police to make traffic stops solely based on whether a motorist is wearing a seatbelt. Currently, officers can give tickets for failing to wear a seatbelt, but cannot stop a vehicle purely for that reason. The amendment also eliminates the requirement for vehicle inspections in many cases.
The Missouri Senate will reconvene at 2 p.m. Monday, May 7. The First Regular Session of the 94th Missouri General Assembly runs through Friday, May 18.

-END-

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 other necessities. They also believe it will work as an economic catalyst, attracting retirees to the state. Opponents doubted the economic benefit and argued the bill will end up costing in much-needed state revenues, and thus, end up costing much-needed state programs. The phase-in period was seen as middle ground to bring the two sides together, and in the end, the measure passed on a wide, bi-partisan vote, 29-3 (two senators were absent). Another positive vote in the Senate moves the measure back to the House.
Gov. Matt Blunt has expressed his support for the bill. The bill has also received the backing of the Association of Retired Missouri State Employees, the Missouri Retired Teachers Association, and the Advisory Council of the Missouri Kidney Program.
For more information about the Missouri Senate, visit http://www.senate.mo.gov/. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send and email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

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