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View from the Capitol by State Rep. Ed Schieffer

Posted on Wednesday, March 26, 2014 at 9:49 am

Rep. Ed Schieffer

Rep. Ed Schieffer

The House Budget Committee on March 12 approved its version of the state operating budget for the 2015 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The committee version authorizes $26.63 billion in total spending, which is more than a $1 billion below the $25.67 billion Gov. Jay Nixon had requested.

Much of the difference comes from the refusal of Republican committee members to accept federal funding to expand the state’s Medicaid eligibility threshold to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

The expansion is authorized by the federal Affordable Care Act and would extend health care coverage to roughly 300,000 additional Missourians.

The House version of the FY 2015 budget also takes an unorthodox approach to funding local public schools.

Instead of outright providing the full $278 million funding increase recommended by the governor, the committee guarantees school districts just $122 million.

As much as $156 million in additional funding would be provided if certain revenue projections are met.

However, that means the additional funding wouldn’t be made available until late in the fiscal year, which presents uncertainty for school districts as they prepare their budgets for the coming school year over the summer.

The committee also applied the two-tiered approach to higher education funding.

Two-year and four-year institutions would receive a 2 percent increase in the coming fiscal year, with the potential for a total bump of 3 percent if revenue collections prove sufficient.

Nixon had recommended a 5 percent increase for four-year institutions and a 4 percent increase for community colleges.

The higher education budget also includes a controversial provision that would prohibit public colleges and universities from offering in-state tuition to students who live in Missouri but aren’t legal U.S. residents.

By a vote of 84-63-1, the House of Representatives on March 13 approved legislation that would provide municipalities the legal authority to operate traffic enforcement cameras to ticket motorists who speed or run red lights.

In a string of recent decisions, various panels of the Missouri Court of Appeals have ruled local traffic camera ordinances are “void and unenforceable” because they conflict with existing state laws.

Under HB 1557, municipalities could operate traffic cameras, subject to various restrictions, including requiring a certified police officer to review all alleged violations before issuing a ticket.

A violation resulting from an automated traffic enforcement system would be considered an infraction punishable by up to $135, with no points assessed against a driver’s license.

Supporters say cameras are an important tool to promote compliance with traffic laws and improve public safety.

Opponents say cities primarily use them to generate revenue.

They also say prohibiting points from being assessed against a offender’s license allows bad drivers to rack up numerous violations without fear of losing their driving privileges, thus undermining the public safety argument.

HB 1557 now advances to the Senate.

Missouri’s 2016 presidential primary would be shifted from Feb. 2 to March 15 under legislation the House of Representatives approved on March 13 by a vote of 97-48.

The bill, HB 1902, is prompted by rules adopted by the national Republican and Democratic parties in recent years that prohibit all but certain states from holding presidential primaries or nominating caucuses earlier than March.

After Missouri lawmakers failed to enact similar legislation in 2011, the state faced the loss of delegates to the 2012 national party convention.

The state Democratic Party received a waiver from the national party from the early primary rule and was awarded its full slate of delegates.

The state Republican Party opted to ignore the results of Missouri’s 2012 Republican presidential primary and instead held county nominating caucuses that March to award delegates to presidential candidates.

HB 1902, which now advances to the Senate, is intended to avoid a repeat of that situation.

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