Thursday, August 30, 2007

Senate Completes Work on House Bills 1 and 2

Legislation Now Goes to Governor for Approval

Lawmakers have completed their work after passing two bills that address the issues the governor asked the Legislature to address in his call for the special session. Senators were at the Capitol late on Wednesday night completing their work on House Bills 1 and 2.
House Bill 1, an omnibus economic development package, was brought about by the veto of HB 327, an economic development bill passed during the regular session. Lawmakers worked throughout the summer to craft a new economic development bill with a price tag of approximately $70 million a year, deemed to be more fiscally palatable compared to the approximately $200 million cost of the vetoed HB 327.
House Bill 1 includes increases in the amount of credits available for businesses participating in the Quality Jobs Act. Qualifying businesses are those that provide jobs with pay above the county’s average wage and pay 50 percent of health insurance costs for employees. Similar cap increases are contained in the legislation for Enhanced Enterprise Zones — an area with the potential to create sustainable jobs. The legislation also includes provisions allowing the sale or resale of tickets at any price to sporting and entertainment events in Missouri, defining “Greenfield areas” as they relate to Tax Increment Financing, and extending the New Job Training program currently in use at many community colleges.
Two other elements of the legislation include the Qualified Beef Tax Credit Act, a tax credit for cattle farmers who finish their cattle in the state, and the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit, which provides credits for developers building on qualified distressed land in urban areas. Opponents of the bill argued that the latter tax credit was unfair to taxpayers in rural areas of the state. Supporters said that the legislation contained credits that will benefit businesses throughout the state and improve the economy of Missouri as a whole.
More than 800 bridges will be repaired or replaced under the Missouri Department of Transportation’s (MoDOT) Safe and Sound bridge program. The innovative program will take 5 years to make the repairs and then include another 25 years of maintenance. House Bill 2 makes this timeline possible by changing the bonding statutes for such an expansive project. The project’s estimated cost is $400-600 million and a pay-for-performance structure will protect the state’s investment in the project. Lawmakers have stressed that no additional appropriations will be needed to complete the work.
House Bills 1 and 2 have received approval from the General Assembly and will now move on to the governor for his signature. The emergency clause incorporated in HB 2 will make the law effective as soon as it receives the governor’s approval. House Bill 1 will be effective 90 days from the final day of session.
The Missouri Senate will reconvene on September 12 for veto session, expected this year to largely be ceremonial as the one bill vetoed by the governor (HB327) was revamped as noted above.

Senate Approves Bridge Building, Economic Development Bills

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Senate yesterday (8/29) approved two bills addressed by the governor in a call to special session. Debate went into the early morning hours as senators discussed House Bill 1, an economic development package, and House Bill 2, a measure designed to get the Missouri Department of Transportation’s (MoDOT) bridge repair started.
House Bill 1 is an omnibus economic development bill brought about by the veto of HB 327, an economic development bill passed during the regular session and vetoed by the governor due to concerns over cost. Lawmakers worked throughout the summer to craft a new economic development bill with a price tag of approximately $70 million a year, deemed to be more fiscally palatable compared to the approximately $200 million cost of the vetoed HB 327. House Bill 1 includes increases in the amount of credits available for businesses participating in the Quality Jobs Act. Qualifying businesses are those that provide jobs with pay above the county’s average wage and pay 50 percent of health insurance costs for employees. Similar cap increases are contained in the legislation for Enhanced Enterprise Zones — an area with the potential to create sustainable jobs.
The bill also includes provisions creating tax credits for companies redeveloping land in a qualified distressed area as a part of the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act, encouraging production companies to film in the state with Film Production Tax Credits, and providing Qualified Beef Tax Credits for ranchers selling finished beef cattle.
Bridges in Missouri will receive repairs and replacements sooner thanks to provisions in House Bill 2. The Safe and Sound bridge repair program, which will repair or replace more than 800 bridges in the state, was stalled by state bonding statutes. The tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis-St. Paul encouraged the legislature to act quickly on the project, which had been in the works long before the tragedy in Minnesota. House Bill 2 provides a new set of rules for projects of this magnitude and length of time by changing performance bonding laws so the transportation department can contract to have the bridges fixed over the next five years and maintained for another 25 years. The bridge project’s total cost is expected to be between $400-600 million, and lawmakers stress that the agency will need no additional appropriations to pay that cost.
The bridge bill now goes to the governor; the economic development bill has been approved by the House and now moves to the governor.
For more information about this event or 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.

Senate’s School Funding Bill Upheld by Circuit Court

JEFFERSON CITY — A state circuit court judge yesterday (8/29) upheld the equity, adequacy and constitutionality of Missouri’s school funding “foundation formula,” which is used to appropriate state money to Missouri’s 524 public school districts.
The ruling came some three years after more than 200 of these districts together launched a suit against the state contesting how — and how much — state money flows to districts via the funding formula.
In 2005, after the suit was filed, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 287, revising the foundation formula to where it now keys off of the needs of a district’s students — rather then the old model based on the taxes a district’s properties could generate.
As now written, the formula applies a universal minimum per-pupil dollar figure and adjusts this base to account for aspects like each district’s property values and living costs. The revised foundation formula has an increase phase-in schedule that eventually infuses an added $800 million to schools each year. For this fiscal year (‘08), that increase is $132 million, bringing foundation formula funding to $7.8 billion since July of 2005.
The court case largely decided yesterday refuted suing district assertions that the plan fails to provide an adequate education or ensure that funds are distributed equally to school districts. The current school funding plan, ruled Cole County Judge Richard Callahan, follows “the constitutional scheme and is a reasonable attempt to meet” the state’s obligation to provide free public education.
Yet to be ruled on is whether the state is meeting an added constitutional requirement of expending at least 25 percent of its budget on public education, a point of contention resting on differing views on how budget numbers are evaluated.
For more information about this event or 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.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Senate Committees Move Special Session Bills on to Full Senate

JEFFERSON CITY — The two bills regarding the subjects of the special legislative session have been approved today by their respective committees and have been sent to the full State Senate for debate and possible votes. The Senate Economic Development, Tourism & Local Government Committee has approved House Bill 1, the omnibus economic development bill, while the Senate Transportation Committee has approved House Bill 2, a measure to move forward the Missouri Department of Transportation’s plan to fix more than 800 of the worst bridges in the state.
House Bill 1 is an all-encompassing economic development bill brought about by the veto of HB 327, an economic development bill passed during the regular session. In his veto message, the governor said HB 327 had grown too large with an anticipated price tag of more than $200 million a year when it reached maturity in a few years. Lawmakers worked throughout the summer to craft a new economic development bill with a price tag closer to about $70 million a year, which the governor has indicated is more tolerable for the state’s financial situation. Highlights of the new bill include an increase to money to the Quality Jobs Program from $12 million to $40 million a year and the authorization of the Distressed Areas Land Assemblage Tax Credit Act, which gives a tax credit equal to 50 percent of the costs and 100 percent of the interest incurred for the acquisition of an eligible parcel of land. Eligible land is defined as a tract of at least 75 acres in an economically distressed area. The bill also includes $3 million in Qualified Beef Tax Credits, New Markets – Qualified Equity Investment Tax Credits of $15 million, and Film Production Tax Credits totaling $4.5 million a year.
The tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis-St. Paul is part of the impetus behind HB 2, although MoDOT officials and lawmakers are quick to point out that the plan has been in the works long before the tragedy in Minnesota. House Bill 2 will change state laws regarding the bonding mechanism so the state transportation department can contract to have more than 800 of Missouri’s worst bridges fixed and keep them maintained for 25 years after that. The project’s total cost is expected to be between $400-600 million, and lawmakers stress that the agency will need no additional appropriations to pay that cost.
The full Senate is expected to consider both bills on Wednesday, August 29th. Both measures have already passed the House. Any differences from the two chambers’ versions will have to be worked out in a conference committee.
For more information about this event or 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.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Most Senate Bills Take Effect on Aug. 28

Healthcare Reform, Higher Education Package, and Tax Incentives Among New Laws

JEFFERSON CITY — Most of the legislation passed during the regular session that ended in May will take effect on August 28. Among the new laws becoming effective are senate bills making changes to heath care, higher education, and tax incentives.
Senate Bill 577 makes several reforms to Missouri’s state-sponsored medical insurance, now called MO HeathNet. The new program focuses on preventative measures, rather than the more expensive reactive care by encouraging patients to take steps toward a healthy lifestyle such as losing weight or quitting smoking. In order to better combat fraud in the system, the program asks providers to keep stricter records and creates protections for “whistleblowers.” Programs to benefit the working disabled and low-income women are also contained in the legislation.
An extensive higher education package will also go into effect on Aug. 28. Senate Bill 389 calls for several construction projects on Missouri’s college campuses with funds gained from the sale of some of the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority’s (MOHELA) assets. The bill also contains scholarship increases for the state’s community college, university, and private college students. Beginning in the 2008-2009 school year, schools will no longer be able to raise tuition higher than the rate of inflation set by the Consumer Price Index or they will risk losing up to 5 percent of their state appropriation for that year. The Coordinating Board for Higher Education will have greater authority to enforce this and other policies affecting state colleges and universities.
Missouri manufacturers and businesses will be able to apply for several tax credits that will be available when Senate Bill 30 goes into effect. The bill creates an exemption from state and local sales taxes for the cost of utilities, chemicals, machinery, equipment, and materials used while manufacturing a product. The bill contains similar provisions for radio or television broadcasting. Senate Bill 30 also expands eligibility for the Property Tax Credit Claim, also known as the “circuit breaker,” a program to make it easier for seniors and the disabled to afford their rent or property taxes.

Constitutionally, bills that the governor does not veto are effective 90 days from the last day of the regular session unless an emergency clause is adopted. There are 55 such senate bills that will go into effect on August 28.

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 an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

Senate Convenes for Special Session

Lawmakers returned to Jefferson City this week to begin a special session meant to address two issues. The gavel calling the Senate into an extraordinary session fell on Monday at 1 p.m.
During the regular session, which ended in May, the General Assembly passed an omnibus economic development package. House Bill 327, a bill created to increase caps on the Quality Jobs Act, passed the Senate and House, but was vetoed by the governor due to concerns over the cumulative cost of the various tax breaks contained in the bill. House Bill 1, a slimmed down version of HB 327, was introduced this week.House Bill 1 provides for a series of tax credits meant to stimulate economic development in the state. It includes increases in the amount of credits available for businesses participating in the Quality Jobs Act. Qualifying businesses are those that provide jobs with pay above the county’s overage wage and pay 50 percent of health insurance costs for employees. Similar cap increases are contained in HB 1 for Enhanced Enterprise Zones — an area with the potential to create sustainable jobs. The bill also includes provisions decriminalizing ticket scalping, creating tax credits for companies redeveloping land in a qualified distressed area, and providing tax credits for ranchers selling finished beef cattle. The legislation offers credits to film producers that choose Missouri as the location of their shoot, and extends a new job training program at community colleges. As it is now written, HB 1 is estimated to cost about $51 million in its first year and rise to $70 million when it reaches maturity.Supporters of the bill maintain that the tax credits will encourage job growth and stimulate Missouri’s economy. Detractors note that, while the bill’s cost is significantly less than $200 million called for in the earlier HB 327, the legislation is still overloaded with legislators’ favored projects.
House Bill 2 will allow the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) to get a jump start on an innovative plan to replace or repair more than 800 bridges in the state. The plan gives a single contractor five years to complete the repairs and replacements and then holds the contractor responsible for another 25 years of maintenance. The project, with an estimated cost of $400-600 million, is too large to conform to the state’s current performance bonding statutes. House Bill 2 will provide a new set of rules for projects of this magnitude and length of time. A pay-for-performance structure will protect the state’s investment in the project.
Both bills have passed the House and will be taken up by the full Senate when the body convenes at 1 p.m. on August 29.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Judicial Commission Invited to Meet With Senate Committee

JEFFERSON CITY — Senator Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, today extended an invitation to the members of the Appellate Judicial Commission to meet with the Senate Committee on Rules, Joint Rules, Resolutions and Ethics next month to discuss the process used to select candidates for the Missouri Supreme Court.
“As a member of the Commission you will have the opportunity to explain to the committee as well as other interested Missourians how the process was used to select the panel and why you believe the work of the Commission is not covered under the State’s open meetings law,” Shields wrote in a letter dated and sent to each commissioner today, August 23, 2007.
The seven-member Appellate Judicial Commission is comprised of four lawyers including Supreme Court Chief Justice Laura Denvir Stith and three commissioners appointed by governors. The commission met earlier this summer without publicly posting the times or locations of their meetings, which Shields contends violates state “Sunshine” laws.
“Missourians deserve openness, accountability and transparency, not secret meetings that the public is not notified about,” Shields wrote. “The citizens of our state deserve an open process in the selection of unelected Supreme Court Justices.”
Shields invited each member of the commission to appear before the Senate committee, which he chairs, on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2007. The committee hearing is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m.
For more information about this event or 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, August 22, 2007

Senate Interim Committee Formed to Protect Consumers

JEFFERSON CITY—Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, this week created a five-member Senate Interim Committee on Consumer and Financial Protection. The committee will be examining opportunities for the Legislature to protect consumers from dishonesty and fraud.
The committee is charged with examining ways to prevent consumer fraud in investing, real estate, and insurance. Examples of issues being examined by the committee will include Stranger-Owned Life Insurance (STOLI) schemes that take advantage of seniors by promising “free life insurance,” mortgage fraud that employs dishonest real estate practices, and the practice of “naked short selling” where investors profit off of shares they have never possessed. The committee will hear from experts on these and other matters to make legislative recommendations to the General Assembly by Jan. 31, 2008.
The bipartisan committee will include Senators Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, (Chair); Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City; Carl Vogel, R-Jefferson City; Joan Bray, D-St. Louis; and Victor Callahan, D-Independence.
For more information about the committee or legislation in the Missouri Senate, visit http://www.senate.mo.gov/. To contact Senate Communications, dial (573) 751-3824 or send an email to newsroom@senate.mo.gov.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Special Session Officially Called For August 20th; Majority of Senate’s Work Expected Week of August 27th

JEFFERSON CITY — The governor has officially called lawmakers back into special session this coming Monday, August 20th at 1:00 p.m. to consider legislation to speed up the Missouri Department of Transportation’s Safe and Sound Bridge Improvement Plan, a strategy to fix 800 of Missouri’s worst bridges and keep them maintained for 25 years after, and to work out a new economic development bill and funding. The recent tragedy of the bridge collapse in Minnesota and the veto of House Bill 327, an omnibus economic development bill, have precipitated the call.
While the official start of the session is set for Monday with all Senators and Representatives asked to be present, the bulk of the Senate’s work won’t begin until a week later. The Senate will have two technical sessions that only a few senators would need to attend next week. On Monday, August 27th, the Senate will hold hearings on the bills considered by the House, and debate before the full Senate is expected on August 29th.
The special session call asks lawmakers to consider amending statutes to authorize the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission to use a “design-build-finance-maintain” method for the Safe and Sound Bridge Program and to permit the commission to change and enforce a bid or proposed bond to finance and move forward the program.
The original economic development bill, House Bill 327, was vetoed by the governor because he said it had grown out of control to an estimated $200 million a year in tax breaks and incentives. State Senators have been working throughout the summer with their colleagues in the House to craft a compromise that will include about $51 million in tax breaks in its first year, rising to about $70 million by the time it hits maturity.
For more information about this event or 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.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Senators Prepare to Come Back Into Session

JEFFERSON CITY — Lawmakers will come back to Jefferson City on August 20th as part of a special legislative session. The governor is calling the session to speed up the fixing of the state’s bridges and to address issues with a new economic development bill and funding. The recent tragedy of the bridge collapse in Minnesota and the veto of House Bill 327, an omnibus economic development bill, have precipitated the call.
The collapse of the Minneapolis-St. Paul bridge last week has prompted the Missouri Department of Transportation to re-examine other bridges of similar designs in this state to make sure there are no problems. In addition, MoDOT has been working to implement the Safe and Sound Bridge Improvement Program to fix about 800 of the worst bridges in Missouri in the next few years. Transportation officials say the amount of funding to fix roads and bridges in Missouri drops off dramatically from about $1.2 billion a year now, to just $569 million in 2010. Legislation to be worked on in the special session will allow contractors to access bonds needed to move the project forward.
In his veto message, the governor said HB 327 had grown out of control to an estimated $200 million a year in tax breaks and incentives — too much, in his opinion, for state coffers to support. State Senators have been working throughout the summer with their colleagues in the House to craft a compromise that will include about $51 million in tax breaks in its first year, rising to about $70 million by the time it hits maturity.For more information about this event or 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.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Transportation Panel Considers Options

JEFFERSON CITY — The Joint Committee on Transportation Oversight met Tuesday at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Jefferson City to discuss funding options for transportation infrastructure in Missouri. The meeting featured presentations by MoDOT Director Pete Rahn and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation David Horner.
The meeting was billed as the 2007 Transportation Funding Summit, and attendees reviewed what other states are doing regarding transportation infrastructure funding.
“Today we want to take a look at where Missouri is as far as funding for transportation is concerned, then we want to go to a national panel that will help us learn what’s coming down from the federal level, and hear what other states are doing and how other people are addressing the issue,” said Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, co-chair of the Joint Committee.
The other co-chair of the Joint Committee is Rep. Neal St. Onge, R-Ellisville.
“The needs are very real for Missouri and soon to be very serious,” St. Onge said. “I think we have about 300 people in the room and there’s probably 300 different solutions in the room. The ultimate goal that we have is to come together with a solution that will be put before the people that benefits all of Missouri.”
MoDOT Director Pete Rahn told the panel the state faces a “perfect storm” in transportation funding, a storm caused by lower state revenue, increasing construction costs and fewer federal dollars. Rahn told the Joint Committee about several options for raising revenue, including a proposal to increase taxes. Rahn noted that Missouri voters would have to approve any revenue-boosting proposal.
The committee is required by statute to meet at least twice a year, and the agenda must include but may not be limited to the following:
(1) Presentation of a prioritized plan for all modes of transportation;
(2) Discussion of department efficiencies and expenditure of cost- savings within the department;
(3) Presentation of a status report on department of transportation revenues and expenditures, including a detailed summary of projects funded by new state revenue as provided in paragraph (a) of subdivision (1) of subsection 3 of this section;
(4) Review of any report from the joint committee inspector general; and
(5) Implementation of any actions as may be deemed necessary by the committee as authorized by law.
Sen. Stouffer, co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Transportation Oversight, also serves as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. Other senators serving on the Joint Committee include Scott Rupp, R-Wentzville, John Griesheimer, R-Washington, Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City, Frank Barnitz, D-Lake Spring, Joan Bray, D-St. Louis, and Rita Days, D-St. Louis.
For more information about this event or 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.