This week in Jefferson City: House, Senate hold key debates on ballot measures, schools
JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri's state legislature is in the midst of another week of work, jam-packed with committee hearings as members and leaders seek to move along their priorities for the early part of the session. Those priorities include a number of proposed restrictions on schools and legislation aimed at health care and athletics involving transgender youth, as well as proposed ballot measures to make the initiative petition process more difficult. Follow our live updates.
Welcome to the News-Leader's statehouse live blog, where we'll bring you newsworthy tidbits and updates throughout the week from the Missouri State Capitol. Check back on this page throughout the week to see the latest, or visit news-leader.com to see separate stories on major developments, which will continue regularly.
Questions, tips or other feedback? Email or message politics reporter Galen Bacharier at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @galenbacharier.
House passes ballot measure making it more difficult to approve ballot measures
The House passed a measure Thursday that would ask voters to make it harder to amend the state constitution.
House Joint Resolution 43, sponsored by Speaker Pro Tem Mike Henderson of Bonne Terre, would require future constitutional amendments on the ballot to receive 60% of votes in favor to pass. Under current law, a simple majority — more "yes" votes than "no" votes — is required for approval.
Read more about the legislation, and debate on the House floor this week, here.
Senate budget chair throws cold water on governor's emergency spending request
Sen. Lincoln Hough, a Springfield Republican and chair of the Senate budget committee, said in a hearing Thursday morning that he did not intend to move forward with the governor's request for an emergency supplemental budget until his administration put a plan in place to deal with black vultures that have become increasingly present in the southern part of the state and killed cattle.
Hough, who owns a family cattle ranch, said the vultures had been an issue "for years and is costing our cattlemen and ranchers in southern Missouri, quite frankly, their livelihood."
He told state budget director Dan Haug that he wanted to see an amendment to the governor's spending request that would address the issue. Hough said the matter had to be addressed "if the administration wants to continue to run around the state and act like (agriculture) is actually important, and in his words, the number one industry in the state."
"It is not my intent to move forward with supplemental budgets until we have a plan to deal with this," he said, before adjourning the committee hearing.
Parson's request for emergency spending includes a pay raise for state workers; he had asked lawmakers to pass the budget bill by March 1. That timeline could be put in jeopardy if the Senate declines to move forward in the present state.
Senate debates schools bill imposing curriculum restrictions, transparency requirements
The higher chamber debated for several hours Wednesday afternoon on a combined bill aimed at addressing and changing curriculum in public schools. Senate Bills 4, 42 and 89 were merged into a single bill and are being led by education committee chair Sen. Andrew Koenig, a St. Louis Republican.
Democrats, primarily the Black members of their caucus, held the floor for several hours, harshly criticizing the bill for potentially restricting key conversations about Black history and systemic racism in Missouri. The Senate adjourned for the day after the bill was set aside without a vote.
The legislation includes:
Language prohibiting schools from telling teachers to "personally adopt, adhere to, or profess a position or viewpoint" that would espouse beliefs such as people of one race or ethnicity being superior to another. Districts could be held liable through legal action if they are found to have allegedly violated this measure;
A "Parents' Bill of Rights" and accountability portal, which would require schools to make materials used in curriculum and professional development public online;
Requirements for the state's education department to develop a "patriotic and civics training program." Teachers who complete the training would receive a one-time $3,000 bonus.
The measures have been touted by Republicans as necessary accountability for public schools, which they believe have not had proper oversight into how subjects like history and race are discussed and taught.
As Medicaid officials testify in House, Senate resolution would allow legislature to cut funding
Officials for the MO HealthNet program, which oversees Missouri's Medicaid funding and operations, are presenting their budget outline to a House budget subcommittee this morning. The low-income health care program has been the center of political jockeying for several years, since voters approved expansion of the program despite resistance among Republican lawmakers.
That resistance has continued and presents itself on the other side of the building this morning. A committee is holding a hearing on Senate Joint Resolution 4, from Sen. Andrew Koenig of St. Louis, which would ask voters to allow the legislature to determine how many people the "expansion" population of Medicaid includes, and allows the legislature to not fund the program for that expanded population if they so choose. It would also attach work requirements to the program.
A similar resolution was advanced through the House last year. It earned the support of many Republicans in the House but was spurned strongly by Democrats and many health care associations, who argue it would go against the will of the voters who approved expanding the program.
Some Missourians are expected to be removed from the Medicaid rolls starting in April, as a federal health emergency under COVID-19 expires and states revisit their eligibility requirements. Read more about that from the Missouri Independent.
Hearing on transgender issues brings another flood of testimony
As another slate of legislation focused on transgender youth receives a hearing Wenesday morning, members of the public and advocates again flooded the halls of the Capitol.
A Senate committee heard six proposals aimed at restricting the ability for transgender girls to play on girls' youth sports teams. Senate Bill 14, which would ban transgender people from changing the sex on their birth certificate for any reason "other than a medically-verifiable disorder of sex development," was initially scheduled to be heard but was removed from the committee's agenda.
Last week, a marathon House committee meeting on similar legislation went late into the night, with hours of testimony.
The chair of the Senate committee, Sen. Justin Brown of Rolla, can choose to hold votes on those bills and send them to the full chamber if approved.
Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden of Columbia said last week that there was widespread interest among Republicans to tackle issues related to transgender youth: "We're going to take action on that issue." He said nothing was off the table, including proposals to ban gender-affirming health care for minors.
The House general laws committee has not voted on their similar proposals. It does not have a hearing scheduled for this week.
Open enrollment legislation heads to full Senate
A bill that would allow K-12 students to attend school outside their resident district was passed out of the Senate education committee Tuesday morning.
Senate Bill 5, sponsored by Koenig, would allow districts and charter schools to opt in to the open enrollment transfer program. In the first two years of its existence, districts can restrict the number of students who may transfer away to a maximum of 5% of the district's enrollment.
Open enrollment has for several years been a priority of Republicans, who view it as a way to incentivize school excellence and allow families to more easily access quality education.
Many Democrats and school groups have expressed concern that the measure could further hurt districts who already struggle with funding and resources. At a rally in the Capitol rotunda on Tuesday morning, representatives of the Missouri State Teachers Association flagged the legislation for members and supporters, as well as another schools bill awaiting debate in the Senate.
Similar open enrollment legislation is also moving through the House — read more from last week by the News-Leader's education reporter Claudette Riley and myself. SB 5 is now poised to head to the full Senate for debate.
Senate committee holds hearing on film, TV, concert subsidies
The Senate committee on economic development held a Monday afternoon hearing on a slate of tax credit legislation that would incentivize production companies and studios to come film the next "Gone Girl" in Missouri (since the David Fincher hit, none of the major media properties you've seen set in Missouri have been filmed here).
Read more about the hearing, and how advocates within the entertainment industry say they could help create jobs and revenue, here.
These programs have been proposed for several years now but have always come up short — there's interest on both sides of the aisle, but some conservative lawmakers and libertarian-aligned groups have pushed back strongly against them.
Galen Bacharier covers Missouri politics & government for the News-Leader. Contact him at email@example.com, (573) 219-7440 or on Twitter @galenbacharier.
This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Lawmakers debate ballot measure changes, schools: Statehouse updates