This week at the capitol was fierce. Budget getting done a week early means maybe we'll have some time for some good legislation to pass (cash being traded for casino chips not withstanding). The biggest item (besides the budget) that was debated in the House this week was a bill that delayed the implementation of the new school funding formula (for formula schools) for one year. The main issue with the bill is the fact that it doesn't take money away from school districts which are designated as "hold harmless." These districts have had money frozen at 90's levels and tend to be from wealthier areas than formula schools. Many House Democrats said the bill creates winners and losers by cutting money only from formula schools. To put it in the words of one House Democrat, "they're sitting on a pile of money." St. Louis County Rep. Tim Jones responded to the comment with a pirate inspired "arrgh" amongst his Republican friends, signaling all of the gold he has buried in a chest in his backyard (I have the map). Other drama at the capitol Thursday included who put a smiley :) on Democrat talking points next to a piece on veterans video funding being cut. This is all in the wake of the Central Missouri Honor Flight showing up at the capitol on Thursday. The coup de grace of the whole week was Marion Rep. Rachel Bringer making 3 analogies to the school funding issue. One was about fence height (apparently it's easy for cattle to step over a fence with one board, but not three), another was about a family (how it is not OK to send your youngest child to work when your 25 year old son is still living in your basement) and the last was about football (I'm not sure how many times she's put on shoulder pads, horrible 90's pant suits notwithstanding). Next week looks pretty good for news, lots of debate now that money isn't an issue (if you believe that, I have some snow to sell) and hopefully somebody breaks down because this legislative stuff is just too darned fun.
Last week we had some interesting hearings go down in Jeff City. The first of these (which I covered for MDN) was SB 848 which counts energy from Methane gas as renewable under proposition C (2008). This stuff is pretty cool. Basically, they put some bacteria in cow feces to speed up the rate at which methane is released. This methane is then used to power farms and surrounding businesses (if the operation is big enough). What is important to note is that we are still on the frontier of this technology. In 20 years, who knows how much of our home energy will be comprised of this methane. It is important for Missouri because the state's renewable resources are limited. There isn't a ton of wind and the hydro infrastructure is just not there. This could be the Midwest's new gold mine of electricity. This is a nonpartisan issue for the most part. Who doesn't want cheaper power and less methane in the air? The bill passed unanimously in the Senate and the House will probably go forward with it this week.
Also passed in the house was HB 1473 which affects the Access Missouri scholarship. This is a need based scholarship. The bill gives everyone who receives the scholarship a maximum of $2,850. The scholarship used to give $4,300 to those who attended private schools in state and $2,150 to those attending public universities. This was supposed to help the cost of private schooling. Quite frankly, the policy is not that important. What I'm interested in (and would like to speak on as point of personal privilege) is the Emergency Clause. The EC lowered the GPA for the scholarship from 2.5 to 2.0. This seems to be a small change. To receive $2,850 free of charge from the state government you now need just a C- average. That's right, a just below average, average. Once again, this is a need based scholarship, based on FAFSA forms and Pell grant calculations and I think that more education for anybody is a good thing. These things may only be interesting to me.
Over and Out
The title is the statement of Sen. Matt Bartle in response to several lobbyists about a medicaid fraud bill last week. It was probably one of the most direct and simple things I've heard since I've been here in JC.
This is almost as comical as the discussion heard last week in HR 3 when HCR 77 was up for debate. That's a little bit of gibberish for those not all into the capitol lingo. It was a House committee debating whether to send a formal resolution to Attorney General Chris Koster, demanding he sue the federal government over Obamacare. The debate circled around the issue of states rights with many suggesting the question had been settled in the civil war. Rep. Don Calloway even suggested that given all the anti-federal government resolutions, the state should have legitimate talks about seceding from the union. This all happens in evening meetings at the capitol. Everything gets hotter when the sun goes down.
The best of the bunch was Thursday with history lessons from the Speaker of the House. I enjoyed the information about the mural in the back (it's French) and the stained glass behind the speaker (and press gallery). Just minutes later, Rep. Brian Nieves starts echoing about a mother's right to defend her unborn child. He gets animated to say the least; a passionate man. The large elementary school group in the left upper gallery decides this is a great time to vacate the chamber. Great timing.
Should be a fun last couple of weeks. Over and out.
A radio story will be coming soon.
No business of much importance on the Senate floor today but SCR 1 was buzzing with housing lein reform Tuesday as Sen. John Griesheimer R-Washington talked about his two bills introduced two weeks ago before the committee of General Laws. Th.exe?FORM=SB&NUM=934">Shock" and "Awe." Griesheimer said he doesn't want either bill (or for that matter, SB 867 which was also presented) to pass in current form but was tired of different parties being excluded from the discussion and thought this would be a good way to get everyone to the table. Griesheimer was straightforeward, offering this piece of candor. (sorry for the audio quality, the Mult-box in SCR 1 is iffy at best) To be honest, I don't really know what these were about either. (and hence my lack of a radio story on the meeting)
The highlight of the whole affair was the 3 minute timer that the chair of the comittee, Sen. Jack Goodman R-Mt. Vernon kept on every witness. Sen. Dan Clemens R-Marshfield said the timer going off sounded like inmates were being released for recess time. I knew better. I was waiting for this to happen. Goodman explained the 3 minute rule is a policy of the General Laws committee. I think this policy should extend to all committee meetings (slime included). They could even post an over/under on it. I'm serious, think of the stimulus this could bring to the Missouri tailoring industry (not to mention the spectator value of committee meetings).
Other events at the capitol this week included the House passing a bill which requires autism coverage by insurance companies. This legislation was relatively non controversial except for the premium increase that might be a bit excessive for small businesses. The reason insurance companies had, at this point, not covered by autism is that the best way to treat it is through comprehensive behavioral therapy. Therapy is much more expensive than a mass-produced tablet that can be given to a child once a day. While I normally think mandates on the free market are invasive and without merit, I think that both sides of the aisle were happy to see this legislation go through.
Making a quick U-turn, I climbed the half flight of stairs to the press observation deck and sat down at my seat. After 2 weeks of covering the senate, I was thrust into a governing body with 5 times the members and maybe a quarter of the decorum. I had a lot to comprehend in a short amount of time. In the Senate, there is a press table on the floor and it's pretty simple to tell who is who. In the House, I should have packed binoculars; rookie mistake. In the Senate, everyone speaks from their desk. In the House, you look at who's talking and try to match a face to the roster. In the 2 weeks I spent there, I had never seen any senator attack anther's character. This took approximately 45 minutes in the house. In fact, for all the senate resembling a sports club where everyone plays by the rules, the house reminds me more of the racetrack.
The bell sounds and they're off. What is the issue today? Drug testing for welfare recipients. Just watch the pretty colored board and see who wins, anyone betting on this? I know tracks around the country are facing dim times but here the gallery is only 10% full. Personally, I find the voting just as exciting. The seating is stadium style, but where are the cup holders? The bill passed convincingly, but for a minute there, I was sure that it was going back to the committee of origin. At the end of the day, I had a story with a little fighting, and a little flair. At what sporting club do you get that?