This week the House Select Committee on Education passed out HB 2234, my legislation to establish a statewide student portal to ease accessibility to higher education in Missouri. The bill highlights information of programs, financial aid, transfer of courses, as well as other areas of information. The bill now moves to the House floor for a vote.
Also, this week the House Rules Committee voted out as a consent bill, HB 2429. This bill adds volunteers for veterans organizations to be exempt from workers' compensation requirements. As volunteers are important to the functioning of our veterans organizations, this is a money-saving feature that will help the bottom line of these organizations.
Finally, we passed several bills out of the House this week.
House Budget Committee Moves Forward With Cautious Approach to FY 2017 Spending Plan
The governor's revenue growth estimate and spending plan have led the House Budget Committee to revive the Surplus Revenue Fund to ensure a fiscally responsible state operating budget for Fiscal Year 2017.
House Budget Chairman Tom Flanigan said the fund is necessary because the House is basing its budget bills on a more conservative 3.1 percent revenue growth estimate, which is a full percent lower than the optimistic 4.1 percent growth estimate put forth by the governor.
Flanigan this week offered substitute versions of the appropriations bills that make up the FY 2017 state operating budget, and filed HB 2600 to implement the Surplus Revenue Fund, which was created and utilized in 2014 when the governor and the General Assembly could not reach a consensus revenue estimate. The plan put forth by Flanigan and the members of the House Budget Committee bases the budget on 3.1 percent revenue growth, but also puts the surplus fund in place to capture any additional dollars that come in if revenue growth is closer to the governor's estimate.
Flanigan noted that if revenues come in at the higher estimate, the fund would provide an additional $46.6 million for the school foundation formula, which would bring the total increase to the formula to $70 million for FY 2017.
Surplus revenues would also be used to increase funding to additional programs such as:
* K-12 Foundation Transportation - $5 million
* Higher Education Performance Funding - $9,911,149
* Community College Equity -- $4,504,016
* State Tech Equity - $373,979
* Tourism - $4.5 million
* Public Defenders - $4 million
* Medicaid - $104,155,079
Not considering the Surplus Revenue Fund, the spending plan introduced this week by Flanigan and the House Budget Committee would appropriate $27.1 billion for Fiscal Year 2017. Flanigan said some of the highlights of the budget include:
* $2 million increase for river ports
* $2 million increase for business startups through the Missouri Technology Corporation
* $30 million to revive the state cost-share program to fund transportation projects
* Increase Medicaid provider rates by three percent
* 2 percent pay increase for state employees
* $500,000 increase for the Alternatives to Abortion program
* $1.75 million increase to library funding over the governor's recommendation
The budget chair also announced this week that the House Budget Committee would move forward with a spending proposal that makes targeted cuts to funding for the University of Missouri System.
The version of the higher education funding bill as introduced has $8 million less in state aid for the University of Missouri System than the current year's budget.
For the FY 2017 budget, the House will not appropriate a lump sum to the system, but will instead budget to seven different lines -- University of Missouri-Columbia, University of Missouri-Kansas City, University of Missouri-St. Louis, Missouri University of Science and Technology, Extension, endowed professorships, and the "UM System". The reduction proposed by Flanigan will be made in two places.
First, UMC's appropriation is reduced $402,059, or the equivalent of three salaried positions (Dr. Melissa Click's position, one division chair in communications, and the dean of arts and science). Second, the reduction in the state appropriation is also targeted to administration.
The UM System primarily consists of the board of curators, president's office, and other multi-campus functions and is cut $7.67 million (approximately half the reported amount for FY16). Flanigan noted that the reductions are not only about Dr. Melissa Click and her actions.
He said, "For several months legislators have had stories relayed to us from current and past students, staff, and faculty of a vast bureaucracy that rivals the Pentagon in terms of red tape and delays. Additionally, appropriators are deeply concerned with the faculty waiver process, how conflicts of interest are addressed, and the inability to terminate employees who participate in conduct unbecoming the University of Missouri and our state. The cuts we have put forward are intended to send a strong mess age to the administration without harming our students, who deserve better."
This is the first stage of a long process between the House and Senate that will end in late April or early May. As of this afternoon, the University Board of Curators has determined that Melissa Click should be released from her contract subject to her appeal.
Missouri House Approves Bill to Help Elderly and Disabled Missourians (HB 1565)
The House approved legislation this week that would implement more reasonable asset limits for elderly and disabled Missourians who hope to qualify for Medicaid. Current law allows an individual to have only $1,000 in assets to qualify for Medicaid assistance. A married couple has an asset limit of $2,000, limits set in 1972. The bill approved by the House would steadily increase these limits to $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for a couple by 2021.
After that, the limits would continue to increase with the rate of inflation. The bill received strong bipartisan support in the House.
More Bills and Resolutions
The members of the Missouri House approved legislation to expand the state's newborn screening requirements to include severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID). HB 1387 is meant to save lives and give children diagnosed with SCID an opportunity for a healthy, normal life. The Missouri House also approved legislation this week that seeks to place a greater emphasis on the need for research for veterans who might have been exposed to toxic chemicals during their service. HCR 96 requests that Congress to create a national center within the Department of Veteran Affairs that would research treatment and diagnosis of health conditions for these veterans, as well as their descendants.
This week the Missouri House again addressed the issue of the EPA's most current clean air regulations by passing HCR 69 that calls on the attorney general to take necessary legal actions to prevent the "unlawful obligations" of the plan from being imposed on Missouri families and businesses. As the resolution points out, Missouri generates more than 80 percent of its electricity from coal. The requirement to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 would cost the state more than $6 billion according to Missouri's energy providers.
The resolution notes that "the Clean Power Plan is based on emission reduction measures that interfere with the regulation of electricity by individual states and that will have a major impact on energy resources, electricity ratepayers, grid reliability, jobs, and the economy of the United States." It also points out that a total of 29 states do not believe the Clean Power Plan is consistent with the EPA's authority under the Clean Air Act. The legislation now heads to the Senate for approval.