Thursday, December 06, 2007

Public Hearings Guide Senate Appropriations Planning

Pre-filed Bills are Numbered and Available to the Public

The Senate Appropriations Committee marked the official beginning to the budget-planning process this week by holding public hearings. In addition, this was the first week that the public was able to access numbered, pre-filed legislation.
The Senate Appropriations Committee, led by the newly appointed chairman Sen. Gary Nodler (R-Joplin), met on Monday (12/3) and Tuesday (12/4) in order to hear public testimony on appropriations concerns. Citizens from throughout Missouri came to Jefferson City to offer both praise and suggestions for the state’s spending plan. While this week marks the official beginning of the planning process, actual discussion and preparation for the Fiscal Year 2009 budget (which begins on July 1, 2008) began before the previous legislative session had even concluded. The public hearings, which were held in December instead of January to allow the testimony to better impact the committee’s planning, allow members of local communities the opportunity to explain their opinions on state spending.
The number of citizens offering testimony for the committee to consider was higher than in previous years. The two days of testimony were grouped based on the state agency, program, or issue that it would affect. On Monday, this included elementary and secondary education, higher education, corrections, and public safety. Tuesday’s testimony included health and senior services, social services, mental health, and agriculture. The committee received a variety of opinions that ranged from thanks for increased autism funding in FY 2008’s budget to ideas on how to improve the way mental health programs are funded in the future. Witnesses included veterans, teachers, parents, and business owners.
Public hearings are the first official step towards planning the FY 2009 budget. The process continues when the budget bills are proposed by the House Budget Committee and are approved by the full House before advancing to the Senate. The Senate Appropriations Committee works independently from the House to develop its own recommended spending plan. During the legislative session, the Senate Appropriations Committee amends the House budget plan to reflect the Senate spending plan. Once approved by the Senate, differences are ironed out through the conference committee process. Once the House and Senate agree on a final plan, it is sent to the governor. The General Assembly’s constitutional deadline for completion of the state operating budget is one week before the end of the legislative session.
This week also marked the first week that pre-filed legislation was available to the public. Senators began prefiling legislation on July 1st and can continue to file legislation until March 1st. Bills filed by senators include legislation addressing property tax practices, requiring universities to offer lower tuition to veterans, and creating a quality rating system for early childhood and before- and after- school programs.
The Second Regular Session of the 94th Missouri General Assembly will convene on January 9, 2008.