Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Senate Advances First Funding Bills

JEFFERSON CITY — The Senate yesterday (1/28) passed three supplemental budget bills that will now move on to the governor’s desk for signing into law. Each session the legislature considers funding needs that arise during the middle of the budget year and makes adjustments accordingly through supplemental budget bills.

House Bill 2015 provides $6.4 million in additional funding to Missouri’s Utilicare program, which was established in 1979 to help low-income families with their utility costs. In recent history, Utilicare has been funded solely by the federal government, but in 2006 the state began to once again supplement the program with state dollars so more Missourians could receive assistance. Specifically, the additional funding will be added to the Utilicare Stabilization Fund for the purpose of aiding the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). LIHEAP ensures that approximately 22,000 Missouri families who would likely otherwise have their service terminated because of nonpayment have heat through the winter.

The Department of Conservation will also receive financial assistance through House Bill 2021. This legislation gives the department spending authorization for $10 million from the Conservation Commission Fund in order to complete a variety of slated projects. HB 2021 will cover funding for projects the Conservation Commission has committed to complete through June 30, 2008, such as a nature center that will promote conservation and natural history education in Northwest Missouri. The center, currently under construction in St. Joseph, requires $500,000 in additional funding. HB 2021 will provide the amount needed to complete the project.

House Bill 2022 allocates additional funding to the special anti-methamphetamine task force, the Missouri Sheriff’s Methamphetamine Relief Team, or MoSMART. The program employs 40 narcotics officers specifically trained to investigate meth activity in Missouri, which annually ranks at or near the top in meth production among the states. MoSMART had previously been federally funded but Congress failed to approve the money to reauthorize the program. MoSMART will receive $1.9 million in additional funds through HB 2022.

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

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Senators Join Fellow Lawmakers for State of the State Address

JEFFERSON CITY — Lawmakers from both the Senate and the House of Representatives gathered last night (1/15) for the governor’s State of the State Address. The speech reviewed the accomplishments of 2007 and outlined priorities for 2008.

The speech praised many accomplishments from the previous year. Senators worked hard last session to pass several Senate bills including one reforming Missouri’s healthcare system (SB 577) and another funding capital improvement projects and increased scholarships for higher education in the state (SB 389). Both bills were signed by the governor and became law last year.

The governor’s address echoed many items that senators have announced as the top of their legislative agendas. Healthcare will again be a concern this session as lawmakers work to increase the availability of affordable health insurance. Property tax reform is another issue the General Assembly has been working to address with several bills already filed that are attempting to find solutions to rising property taxes. Fighting illegal immigration will also be a priority for the Senate this year, a goal the governor reiterated in the State of the State.

Last night’s speech also included the governor’s budget priorities. The governor has proposed a $22.9 billion budget for fiscal year 2009 (begins July 1, 2008). The budget proposals include increases for higher education, elementary and secondary education, and health care. The plan also includes tax cuts and economic incentives. The Senate Appropriations Committee continued discussion on these incentives at a committee meeting this morning (1/16).

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

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Senators Begin Work on Legislation

Second Regular Session of 94th Missouri General Assembly Begins


Jefferson City — Missouri lawmakers gathered this week at the state Capitol to begin the 2008 Legislative Session. Senators gathered in the Senate Chamber at noon on Wednesday, Jan. 9. Work has already begun on a legislative agenda as senators continue to add to the more than 200 measures already filed.

Introductory remarks by the Senate President Pro Tem set several priorities for lawmakers as well as a desire to create legislation that will make life better for Missourians. Issues that will be a priority for the Senate include the rising cost of property taxes, the problems created by illegal immigration, and making healthcare more accessible to more people.

In addition to the more than 200 Senate bills that were prefiled before the session began, 12 measures were introduced on the floor this week. Before work can begin on specific legislation, bills must first be referred to committees. Some of the referrals were made this week, and the task will continue when the Senate convenes next week. Committees will then meet, discuss legislation, and hear public testimony before deciding whether to return the legislation to the full Senate.

The Senate Interim Committee on Funding for County Sheriff Offices met on Thursday to discuss recommendations. The committee has been studying current funding levels for county sheriffs offices across Missouri. The recommendations reviewed during this week’s meeting could be formed into legislation that may be debated this session.

One piece of business that was completed this week was a resolution that changed the rules of the Senate. Senate Resolution 1472 changed the number of senators on several standing committees. The number of members on the committees was adjusted due to a change in the number of senators in each party (previously there were 13 minority members and 21 majority members, but the count changed to 14 and 20 when a member switched parties this summer). The resolution was adopted unanimously on Thursday, and adds a member to the following committees: Agriculture, Conservation, Parks & Natural Resources; Commerce, Energy and the Environment; Economic Development, Tourism & Local Government, Education; Financial, Governmental Organizations, and Elections; and Seniors, Families and Public Health. The Small Business, Insurance & Industrial Relations Committee loses one member.

To follow these and other issues facing the Missouri Senate, visit www.senate.mo.gov. Visitors can track legislation as it passes through the General Assembly, learn more about their Senate district, or listen to streaming audio of legislative debate as it happens.

The Missouri Senate will reconvene at 4 p.m. Monday, Jan. 14. The Second Regular Session of the 94th Missouri General Assembly will run through Friday, May 16.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Senators Prepare for 2008 Legislative Session

Missouri General Assembly Convenes January 9
Jefferson City — Lawmakers are making the final preparations before the start of the 2008 legislative session on Jan. 9. Prefiled legislation was numbered and available to the public on Dec. 1, and senators have continued to file legislation since that date.
To date (1/3), senators have prefiled more than 200 bills for the 2008 legislative session. Lawmakers have until March 1 to file legislation. A Senate bill is first discussed in committee where lawmakers hear testimony and then vote on whether or not to send the measure forward to the full Senate. Once the Senate approves a bill, it goes to the House for committee discussion and debate. House bills begin the same process in House committees before moving on to the Senate. Any disagreements on legislation are ironed out in a conference committee. When the Legislature completes work on a bill, it is sent to the governor for final approval before being signed into law.
Throughout the interim, committees met in order to prepare for the upcoming session, and many of those meetings could result in legislation this year. The Interim Committee on Consumer and Financial Protection and the Interim Committee on Funding for County Sheriff Offices are expected to produce recommendations in their required reports that could lead to legislation. The Blue Ribbon Panel on Autism, a panel of experts and lawmakers that worked through the interim to study the problem of autism in the state, recently released a report containing 36 recommendations for improved diagnosis, services, and opportunities for those with the disorder.
Current events have stirred interest in several issues that gave way to prefiled bills. In an effort to make an impact on illegal immigration, there have been bills filed to increase limitations on illegal aliens including restricting access to driver’s licenses, higher education at public universities, and employment throughout the state. Rising property assessments have caused some homeowners to question their county’s policy on rolling back property tax levies. This issue has lead to several pieces of legislation to put an end to what supporters are dubbing “back door tax increases.” Legislation to place penalties on those who use the Internet to bully others has also been prefiled. The issue became a focus when a young girl in St. Charles committed suicide, allegedly due to cyber-bullying.
The Missouri Senate will convene at 12 p.m. Wednesday, January 9. The Second Regular Session of the 94th Missouri General Assembly runs through Friday, May 16.
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