View from the Capitol by State Rep. Ed Schieffer
The 2014 legislative session got underway on Jan. 8 with the top leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives taking diametrically opposed positions on the need to make changes to an existing state law that allows students in unaccredited school districts to transfer to nearby accredited districts at the expense of their home district. Republicans control both chambers, outnumbering Democrats 24-9 in the Senate and 108-52 in the House.
Although the student transfer law has been on the books since 1993, it went largely unused until the St. Louis Public School District lost its accreditation in 2007. Implementation of the law remained tied up in litigation for another six years until the Missouri Supreme Court rejected constitutional challenges to it in June, a position in reaffirmed in a separate case in December. While the St. Louis district has since regained provisional accreditation and is no longer subject to the law, three other districts, Riverview Gardens and Normandy in North St. Louis County and Kansas, are now unaccredited.
Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said modifying the transfer law, which has caused financial and logistical problems for both unaccredited districts and accredited districts that have accepted transfer students, is his top priority for the 2014 session. However, House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, said he sees little need for changes.
Another issue that will top the 2014 agenda includes a second attempt at enacting a large tax cut, which Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed last year because it would have blown an $800 million a year hole in the state budget while mostly benefitting just corporations and wealthy individuals. Republicans, especially those in the House, also will pursue legislation to prohibit companies from negotiating labor agreements that require employees to be union members. Democrats note that right-to-work laws have led to lower average wages in the states that have adopted them.
Expanding eligibility in the state’s Medicaid program to leverage billions in additional federal health care dollars and create an estimated 24,000 new jobs in the health care field alone is the top priority for Nixon and Democratic lawmakers. Despite strong support from traditionally Republican business groups such as the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Associated Industries of Missouri, GOP legislative leaders remain steadfastly opposed to expansion. Under the federal Affordable Care Act, the federal government would pay the full cost of expansion through 2017 and at least 90 percent of the cost thereafter.
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