Thursday, April 30, 2009

Budget Conferencing Continues

The 10 members of the budget conference committee have been hard at work this week, negotiating amongst each other to get a compromise on the 2010 state spending plan to the House and Senate as quickly as possible. With a May 8th constitutional deadline looming, the committee is expected to begin sending House Bills 2–13 (13 bills make up the FY 2010 budget; HB 1 has already been passed) to the House, and then the Senate, in short order.

In other news, HJR 10, the resolution that would change the state's judicial selection process, was laid over before it could come to a vote last night. To read more about the proposed changes, read this week's general column.

Today the House also passed Sen. Bill Stouffer's (R-Napton) bill that allows Missourians who make a contribution to a developmental disability care provider to receive a tax credit. The income tax credit would be equal to up to 50 percent of the donation made (SB 71). Also passed by the House was a wide-ranging tax measure (SB 215) sponsored by Senate Leader Charlie Shields (R-St. Joseph). Approved by the Senate today was HB 205, handled by Sen. Jack Goodman (R-Mt. Vernon), requiring all cigarettes sold in Missouri be "fire-safe."

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Capital Improvements Bill Passes Senate Committee

Missourians could soon cast their vote on whether to allow the state to sell bonds to pay for capital improvements projects for college campuses and state facilities. Today the Senate Appropriations Committee passed HJR 32, which makes it eligible for Senate floor debate.

The resolution would put a constitutional amendment before voters, that if passed, would allow the state to issue bonds up to $800 million for higher ed and state facility building improvements, construction, landscaping and land purchases. The Senate's version is slightly different from the House's, which caps the bond sales at $700 million. It also would allow up to $250 million to go to state buildings, parks and other state facilities.

A passing Senate vote sends HJR 32 back to the House.

Other news today: The Senate started debate on HJR 10, a bill that could change the way Missouri judges are selected. Debate will likely be long and heated.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Family Bills Head to Governor

Sen. Jeff Smith's (D-St. Louis) Senate Bills 140 and 141 were passed by the General Assembly today and will now make their way to the governor's desk.

SB 140 will give non-violent defendants in criminal non-support cases the opportunity to take part in some sort of education or work program or training, and/or a substance abuse treatment program to encourage them to get back on track with their child support payments.

If they successfully complete the court-ordered program or resume their payments, defendants may see their charges or penalties dropped or reduced.

The bill also makes criminal non-support a class A misdemeanor instead of a class D felony, unless the total payment due is more than 12 monthly payments combined, in which case, it will still be a class D felony.

Switching gears to paternity cases, SB 141 protects presumed fathers from false paternity claims by giving them the right to contest paternity on the basis of DNA evidence. If DNA testing reveals false paternity, the court is required to relieve the individual of responsibility and absolve his child support commitment. The court must also eliminate remaining child support payments, expunge any criminal non-support records, and order the Department of Health and Senior Services to change the child’s birth certificate.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Senate Sends Autism Insurance Coverage Bill to House

The Senate passed a bill today that would require health insurance carriers to provide coverage to Missouri children with autism. The bill, which was stalled in committee for a month, was revived before senators left for the weekend. After a second passing Senate vote, it was sent to the House for approval.

Coverage would be required for kids with autism who are younger than 18. Denying health insurance to a child based on his or her autism diagnosis would be prohibited.

Senate Bill 167 is the legislation and Sen. Scott T. Rupp (R-Wentzville) is the sponsor.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Budget Conference Committee Members Appointed

Budget negotiations between the Senate and House for fiscal year 2010 will soon get underway with Senate Leader Charlie Shields (R-St Joseph) appointing five senators to serve on the budget conference committee this week.

Senators Gary Nodler (R-Joplin), Rob Mayer (R-Dexter), Scott T. Rupp (R-Wentzville), Joan Bray (D-St. Louis) and Tim Green (D-St. Louis) will join five reps to hammer out the differences between the two chambers on 12 of the 13 budget bills (House Bills 2–13; HB 1 was already passed).

The Senate's version of the budget is around $23.2 billion, while the House's is about $22.9 billion—amounting to a $337 million difference.

The budget must be passed this year by May 8 as per the Missouri Constitution.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

General Assembly Sends Two Bills to Governor's Desk

Less than four weeks remain in the legislative session, so with little time to waste, today lawmakers sent two more bills to the governor. They are:

  • Sen. Tom Dempsey's (R-St. Charles) SB 355, which allows car, boat and powersport dealers to charge administrative fees associated with the sale or lease of certain vehicles and vessels. However, they cannot charge for the preparation of paperwork in connection with a sale or lease.
and
  • HB 382, handled by Sen. Delbert Scott (R-Lowry City), which further regulates the residential mortgage brokerage industry in Missouri.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Expanded Health Care Coverage Plan Earns Final Senate Vote

Around 35,000 low-income Missourians may soon have health care coverage under a plan approved by the Senate today.

The Show-Me Health Coverage Plan (SB 306), sponsored by Sen. Tom Dempsey (R-St. Charles), was voted out of the Senate and now moves to the House.

The plan relies on federal dollars and existing hospital taxes to provide the insurance to working individuals and parents who are eligible. Participants would have access to a health care account from which they would pay for their medical services.

Down the road the plan has the potential to open up to 200,000 uninsured Missourians.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Senate Passes $23.2 Billion FY 2010 Budget

While thousands of Missourians were swarming the post offices on today's Tax Day, the Missouri Senate passed its complete version of the 2010 fiscal year budget (running July 1, 2009, through June 30, 2010).

The $23.2 billion budget accounts for a $63 million increase for the K–12 public school foundation formula, as well as a $60 million increase in one-time funding to four-year colleges and universities. Health care coverage was another priority as the Senate set aside nearly $147 million to provide health insurance to the uninsured.

Twelve of the 13 bills that make up the FY 2010 budget (House Bills 1–13) will be sent back to the House (HB 1 wasn't changed by the Senate, so it is now ready for the governor's signature). If the House doesn't agree with the Senate's changes, the bills will be negotiated in a conference committee made up of both Senate and House members. After a compromise is reached, the bills will once again be sent to the House, and then to the Senate, for approval.

This year's constitutionally mandated May 8 deadline is looming, with only three weeks to go until the budget must be passed and sent to the governor.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Bill Establishing PSRS Committee Gets First Senate Vote

After a long night—or morning, depending on how you look at it—discussing the House's version of the eco devo bill (HB 191), the Senate met for a few hours on Thursday before leaving for an extended Easter holiday weekend.

One piece of business was giving a first-round vote to SB 383, sponsored by Sen. Tom Dempsey (R-St. Charles), which would establish the Joint Interim Committee on the Public School Retirement System (PSRS) of Missouri.

The 10-person committee, which would be made up of Senate and House members and meet during interim, would study the PSRS, including contribution rates by employers and members, the long-term solvency of the program, and issues affecting other state retirement systems that may also impact PSRS. The committee would be expected to report its finding to the Legislature next year. SB 383 needs another Senate vote to move to the House.

The full Senate will convene next Tuesday at noon.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Increased Spending Allowance for Long-Term Care Residents Advances

Today the Senate gave a first-round passing vote to a bill that would gradually increase the monthly personal needs allowance the state currently gives to residents of long-term care facilities.

SB 538, sponsored by Sen. Norma Champion (R-Springfield), would increase—beginning in 2010—the current $30 per year by no more than $5 annually until the amount reaches $50 per year. After that, the allowance would only increase through annual appropriation.

Another Senate vote sends the bill to the House.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

'Green' Sales Tax Holiday Offers Tax Break with Purchase of Energy-Saving Appliances

Missourians will soon be able to take advantage of a sales tax holiday with the purchase of qualified Energy Star home appliances as a result of a Senate bill the General Assembly passed last year.

Senate Bill 1181 (2008), sponsored by Sen. Kevin Engler (R-Farmington), created the Show-Me Green Sales Tax Holiday, which runs April 19–25 in conjunction with the celebration of Earth Day this month.

During that week, the purchase of a qualified Energy Star-rated home appliance, up to the first $1,500 on each appliance, will be exempt from state sales tax, amounting to a savings of at least 4.225 percent. Local government entities have the option of participating in the holiday, and according to the Missouri Department of Revenue, nine counties, 57 cities and eight special districts have opted to offer the tax savings to consumers. In some areas, this amounts to a savings of nearly 8 percent.

Energy Star-certified appliances that qualify for the sales tax exemption include:

  • Clothes washers
  • Refrigerators
  • Freezers
  • Dishwashers
  • Water heaters
  • Furnaces
  • Air conditioners
  • Heat pumps

Not all appliances currently meet Energy Star guidelines, and are therefore not included in the sales tax holiday this year. Clothes dryers, trash compactors, conventional ovens, ranges and stoves are examples of unqualified appliances. For an appliance to be considered Energy Star-rated, it must perform as well or better than similar appliances while using less energy.

Because only the first $1,500 is eligible for the tax exemption, any cost greater than that amount is subject to the regular sales tax rate.

 

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Bill Protecting Men from False Paternity Moves Forward

Today the Senate gave final approval to Senate Bill 141, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Smith (D-St. Louis), which protects men from false paternity. The bill has now moved to the House.

A presumed father would be able to challenge paternity if new evidence exists—such as a DNA test—that did not when paternity was originally assigned.

If a DNA test reveals the man is not the father, the court is required to relieve him of responsibility and set aside the previous judgment of paternity and his child support commitment. The court must also eliminate remaining child support payments, expunge any criminal non-support records, and order the Department of Health and Senior Services to modify the child’s birth certificate.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Data Breach Notification Bill Earns First-Round Senate Vote

In an attempt to protect consumers from identity theft and other financial harm, the Senate gave initial approval to a bill today that would require businesses that own or lease personal information about Missourians to divulge when the security of that data has been breached.

When notifying consumers of the security breach, companies must include certain info, such as the type of personal information compromised, the steps being taken to protect consumers from further breaches, and advice and contact information.

The bill is Senate Bill 207, sponsored by Sen. Scott T. Rupp (R-Wentzville). Another vote sends it to the House for approval.