We had another busy week at the Capitol! I had two of my bills pass out of their respective Senate committees: HB 2429, which exempts volunteers of veterans' service organizations from workers' compensation requirements, and HB 2234, which establishes the statewide student portal for Internet access to college information in the state of Missouri.
House and Senate Complete Fiscal Year 2017 State Operating Budget
After long hours of discussion and compromise, the Missouri House and Senate came to a final agreement on the state operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year that begins in July of this year. In its final form the budget checks in at $27.26 billion. Because the House had based its original budget on a more conservative revenue estimate than was used by the governor and the Senate, the House version also contained a surplus revenue fund to capture any additional revenues that would come in above the estimate. The compromise version of the budget does away with the surplus revenue fund and instead is based on a slightly higher revenue estimate than was originally used by the House. The end result is fiscally responsible and makes wise use of taxpayer dollars.
Highlights of the Fiscal Year 2017 state operating budget as it now heads to the governor's desk to be signed into law:
-- $70.3 million increase for the Foundation Formula, which funds K-12 public schools
-- $5 million increase for K-12 transportation
-- $537,000 in additional funding for the Parents as Teachers Program to be dedicated to struggling school districts
-- $37.2 million increase in performance funding for Missouri colleges and universities, which includes approximately
$17.8 million in new funding for the University of Missouri System. (The budget includes a $3.8 million cut to the
MU system's administration.)
-- $750,000 to fund a commission to review the MU system's administrative structure, campus structure, auxiliary
enterprises structure, degree programs, research activities, and diversity programs.
-- $3 million to assist the University of Missouri -- Kansas City and Missouri Southern in a joint project to create a
dental school in southwest Missouri
-- $4 million increase for the Access Missouri needs-based scholarship program.
-- $2.5 million increase for the A+ Scholarship program
-- $500,000 increase for the Bright Flight scholarship program
-- $2.5 million for 2015's Dairy Revitalization Act
-- $4.55 million increase for business startups through the Missouri Technology Corporation
-- $1 million to open five new trade offices to help promote international trade and Missouri agriculture
-- $20 million to revive the state cost-share program to fund transportation projects
-- Increase Medicaid provider rates by three percent
-- $4.3 million for the Alternatives to Abortion program
-- 2 percent pay increase for state employees
-- $500,000 for a pilot project to utilize current technology to allow for better monitoring of offenders on probation
-- $600,00 for the Missouri State Highway Patrol to hire and train 10 additional troopers
-- $4.1 million to improve technology for local sheriff's departments
Ethics Proposals Continue to Move Forward (HB 1983 and HB 1979)
The Missouri House continued to make good on the promise made by the House Speaker as it saw another piece of ethics
reform legislation signed into law this week. The bill that is set to become law on August 28 will prohibit statewide elected officials, members of the General Assembly, and candidates for those offices from receiving compensation as political consultants who are paid for profit to engage in specified political activities on behalf of other individuals holding office as statewide elected officials or members of the General Assembly.
Also this week, the Senate gave final approval to another piece of ethics legislation and sent it on its way to the governor's desk. The bill requires members to wait six months after their term expires before becoming a lobbyist. If signed into law, the bill will add Missouri to the list of more than 30 states that require a waiting period before a lawmaker can become a lobbyist.
Improving Access to Effective Medications (SB 875)
Earlier in the legislative session the Missouri House approved legislation to proactively update Missouri's pharmaceutical laws to provide citizens with better access to effective medications. While that bill continues to work its way through the Senate, this week the House approved an identical Senate bill that is now on its way to the governor's desk to be signed into law.
The legislation is meant to help Missouri keep pace with the rapidly advancing technological developments available in health care. The goal of the bill is to give Missourians better, more affordable access to interchangeable biological products, which are similar in nature to the generic versions of traditional medications. These products are used in the treatment of chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and various forms of cancer.
Missouri law currently allows for the safe substitution of generic medications, but the law does not allow for the substitution of biological drug products. The legislation that is now one step from becoming law would simply update Missouri's law to allow for the safe substitution of interchangeable biosimilar medications. It's a move that 20 states have already made to improve access to these affordable medications that have been proven to be safe by rigorous FDA testing.
Education Funding Bill Receives Final Approval (SBs 586 & 651)
The House and Senate have given final approval to legislation that would reinstitute a cap on the amount the state needs to provide each year to the foundation formula that funds public schools in Missouri. The House approved legislation last week that included the cap as part of a broader education reform package. The legislation approved this week, which is now on the way to the governor's desk, focuses primarily on the funding cap.
Under current law, the funding formula increases each year, and even as the legislature increases school funding, it continues to falls short of the amount called for by the formula. The funding plan previously had a five percent cap in place to control the rate of growth, but the cap was removed by the legislature in 2010. The sponsor of the bill has said putting the cap back in place would give the legislature a realistic chance to fully fund the formula in future years.
Despite the fact the legislature has approved an increase of more than $70 million for the foundation formula in the Fiscal Year 2017 budget, the formula calls for an additional $550 million in funds. In addition, without the cap in place, the formula would grow by another $400 million next year. Lawmakers who supported the change said the cap will put an attainable level of funding in place for the legislature going forward. They said setting an attainable target for funding and hitting that target will have positive results for schools, students, and the state.
The bill is now in the hands of the governor, who has publicly stated he does not support the measure. If he vetoes the bill, the legislature will then be put in position to consider a veto override, which requires a two-thirds vote in both chambers.