Republicans remain divided on budget as they began talks
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Republicans remain divided on budget as they began talks

Date: May 1, 2012
By: Jordan Shapiro
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The deep divisions among Republicans erupted again as the deadline approaches to pass the state's budget.

Efforts to move the state's budget along in the legislative process got delayed for a few hours Tuesday by the small renegade group of state Senators who have objected to the Senate's budget process.

Members of the group of nine warned of potential filibusters before the May 11 deadline for passing the budget if their demands were not met in negotiations with the House on the final version of the budget.

Ultimately, the Republican dissidents agreed to sending the budget to a ten-member House-Senate negotiating committee.

House and Senate Republicans also continue to be divided on many issues in the budget, including the passage of a $70 million tax amnesty program. The program would give people who have not paid their taxes a grace period to pay up without penalty.

The House has passed the program and included the anticipated $70 million in revenue when they crafted their version of the state's $24 billion budget. The Senate did not count on the money and passed their budget with additional cuts to programs including tourism and social services.

Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield, said passing tax amnesty would be rewarding bad behavior.

Another sticking point between the House and Senate is funding to a special health care program for the blind. The program costs the state $28 million a year and benefits 2,800 blind people who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid.

The House eliminated the program, but Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, put the money back on the Senate floor.

House budget negotiators are planning to hold firm on the program's elimination and Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, said she was removed from the conference committee because she would not agree to keep the cut to the blind. Lampe is a House negotiator on every other part of the budget.

Democrats are not the only ones questioning the cuts to the blind. Purgason said the state needs tax credit reform instead of cutting more welfare programs.

"I refuse to go after poor people while we have developers drawing down huge amounts of money," Purgason said.

The state is expected to pay $685 million in tax credit redemptions in 2013 and the fight to reign in tax credit programs derailed last fall's special session.

The House and Senate are expected to meet Wednesday afternoon to begin formal talks on the budget. The state budget must be sent to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's desk by May 11.


Circuit Court adds more uncertainty for school transfer students

A St. Louis Circuit Court tossed out the state statute allowing students in an unaccredited school district to enroll in an accredited school in a neighboring county.

The statute had been upheld by the Missouri Supreme Court in 2010, but ongoing lawsuits have prevented students living in the unaccredited St. Louis City school district from enrolling in St. Louis County Schools.

Tuesday, Judge David Lee Vincent ruled the school districts in St. Louis County were not required to accept transfers from St. Louis City.

If enforced, the student transfer law would effect the 72,000 students living in unaccredited school districts in St. Louis City and Riverview Gardens. The law requires the county schools to enroll these students with tuition and transportation costs paid by the unaccredited school. The law would also apply to the now unaccredited Kansas City school district.

Missouri's Senate has been unable to end a stalemate on adopting legislation to resolve the student transfer issue. Several plans have been put forward including allowing the receiving county schools to cap enrollment at a certain number. No plan, however, has received a vote on the Senate floor.  


House and Senate discuss expansion of No Call List

The House Utilities Committee has approved a bill that would expand "Missouri's No Call List" to include automated phone calls and cell phones.

Automated calls from school districts, Amber Alerts, and work-related phone calls would be exempt from the proposed legislation, but all others would be placed on the No-Call List.

The measure would further bar companies from using a fake aliases on caller-IDs. Violators would be subject penalties up to a $5,000 fine.

Groups making political phone calls would also be required register with the Missouri Ethics Commission.

The bill would also block solicitors from text message solicitation.

The Senate Commerce Committee also head testimony Tuesday regarding a bill that would add cell phones to the "Missouri No Call List."


Supreme Court declines to rule on Congressional redistricting

The Missouri Supreme Court declined to deliver a ruling on Congressional redistricting during their scheduled hand-down Tuesday.

The court heard oral arguments on the case in January and again in February, but have yet to issue their ruling. Earlier in the year, the court tossed out state Senate maps and upheld the state house maps.

There is only one more scheduled hand-down day before the General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn for the summer on May 18.


Missouri House moves closer to conflict with federal health care law

A bill that would attempt to block Missouri from following the federal law on contraception was discussed in a House committee.

The proposed bill would remove the requirement of employers to provide medical coverage for birth control and passed the Senate already this year.

The measure would require employers to provide birth control only if an employee has a medical need for it. The measure contradicts President Barack Obama's contraception mandate, which is part of the Affordable Care Act.

Under the Obama's administration contraception mandate, women would have access to birth control free of charge from their employer or insurance companies.

Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis County, sponsors the bill. He said the measure gives more religious freedom to employers so they don't drop health care coverage all together.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act in late June.