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Missouri lawmakers to tackle budget, student transfers, and Macks Creek fix this week

Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio

With less than a month left in the 2015 session, Missouri lawmakers could debate and pass some of the year's top priorities this week.

State budget

House and Senate negotiators are scheduled to meet Monday night to work on the Fiscal Year 2016 state budget, which takes effect July 1. Last Thursday's meeting was canceled, in part because the House wants to allocate specific dollar amounts for programs within the two state agencies that handle Medicaid dollars.

The Senate's top budget writer, Appropriations chair Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, wants to use a lump-sum funding model that would allow more flexibility on how much money those programs get. But it could also result in cuts of 4 to 6 percent for the departments of Social Services, Health, and Mental Health.

However, Senate President Pro-Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, has backed away from that plan.

"If you don't have a willing participant in the governor's office, I think it makes it very hard to trim in the areas that we would like to see (trimmed)," Dempsey said.  "What would happen potentially is the governor (would) make cuts in areas that are very harmful to the people that we're trying to serve."

Senate Majority Floor Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin, has also dropped his support for the lump-sum funding plan. 

Meanwhile, neither House nor Senate leaders think much of Gov. Jay Nixon's proposal to add $80 million to the state budget, which he bases on the passage of a tax amnesty bill and higher-than-expected revenue growth.

"All of a sudden, a couple of days after both bodies passed a version of a budget, which has to go into conference, the governor magically finds $80 million," said House Speaker John Diehl, R-Town and Country.  "I guess he opened up another desk drawer or something in his desk and found $80 million ... frankly, it's not factoring into our discussions at all at this point."

Municipal courts

The Missouri House this week is expected to take up its proposal to reform the Macks Creek law, which currently caps the amount of revenues cities and towns can garner from traffic fines at 30 percent.

A substitute version of Senate Bill 5 is expected to be debated and voted on at today's House judiciary committee meeting.  The House version would reduce the current cap to 15 percent for St. Louis County and 20 percent for the rest of Missouri.  It would also require municipal judges to conform to rules set by the Missouri Supreme Court and would forbid judges from sentencing people to jail for minor traffic violations.

Diehl says he also wants to make sure their bill addresses findings in a recent audit in which some school districts were not receiving their share of excess revenues from traffic fines.

"We knew that the whole system, the whole accountability system, on the so-called Macks Creek law has been broken for a while," Diehl said, "so what we're trying to do, I think you'll see, (is) that we really tighten up the process."

If the bill is voted out of committee today as expected, it could be debated by the full House later in the week.

A link to the House substitute version of Senate Bill 5 was not available at press time.

Student transfer law

Negotiations have not yet begun on a final version of House Bill 42, this year's chosen vehicle for fixing the student transfer law. That should change this week, once House and Senate leaders choose conferees to hammer out the differences, the main one being the amount of tuition sending schools will have to pay for the students they lose.

The House and Senate versions of the bill would change the accreditation system so that individual schools within a district would be accredited separately, instead of the district as a whole being accredited as it is now.

The 2015 Missouri legislative session ends May 15.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.

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