Session has three weeks left

Only three weeks to go.

Missouri’s Constitution requires lawmakers to complete work on the state’s budget, for the business year that starts July 1, by 6 p.m. on the “first Friday following the first Monday in May” (May 10 this year) — and it’s the only set of bills the Constitution requires to be passed in a legislative session.

Then they have until 6 p.m. the following Friday to finish work on any other bills and resolutions they can agree on.

“We’re getting down to ‘crunch time,’” Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, told reporters Thursday. “We worked hard Monday evening to pass the budget out, (and) I would suspect that we’ll be going to conference (committees) at some point (this coming) week.”

State employees’ pay raises are included in each of the budget bills, because separate bills pay for the

operations of each state agency, and each agency or department’s employees’ “personal service” costs are listed as part of that department’s budget costs.

Both the House and Senate budgeted a $500 per employee raise, beginning Jan. 1, 2014, covering the second half of the budget year.

So those across-the-board raises appear to be set.

Senate Floor Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said things have been moving well this session.

Compared with previous sessions, Richard told reporters, “We’ve taken up more bills ... and we are at a pretty high standard.”

Mid-Missouri lawmakers have championed several measures still waiting for debates and votes.

They include:

• Allowing the state’s three regulated electric companies to add a surcharge on customers’ monthly bills, for work done to repair or improve the companies’ infrastructure. The bill sponsored by state Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, is on the Senate’s informal debate calendar.

Richard said Thursday the Senate will debate that bill “some day,” without being specific.

Kehoe said he’s still talking with other lawmakers about the measure, trying to answer their questions and line up support for it before that debate.

The House version, sponsored by Rep. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, has not been placed on the House debate schedule yet.

• Kehoe’s proposed 1-cent sales tax for transportation projects, including rebuilding Interstate 70 across outstate Missouri, cleared the Senate March 14 on a 24-10 vote, and is waiting to be debated by the House.

If both chambers approve it, the proposal — which is a constitutional amendment — would be placed on the November 2014 election ballot for voters’ approval.

If the voters adopt it, the tax would end after 10 years unless voters statewide continued it.

The House version of the tax proposal, sponsored by Rep. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, still is in the House Rules Committee and has not been scheduled for debate.

• Measures restoring the “closed records” status for schools and public buildings’ emergency and security plans have been passed in each chamber, but have not been debated in the other house.

Supporters say the bill is needed because the previous law closing the records to the public and the media expired last Dec. 31.

Kehoe’s bill cleared the Senate Feb. 14 on a 34-0 vote, but has not yet been given a hearing in the House General Laws Committee.

Before senators passed the bill, though, they adopted Sen. Kurt Schaefer’s amendment making a number of other changes in the state’s Sunshine Law.

Schaefer’s separate bill making those other changes cleared the Senate’s Judiciary and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee on Feb. 4, but never has been scheduled for debate.

Rep. Caleb Jones, R-California, sponsored the House version of the Security Records measure, and it cleared the House on Feb. 14 with a 148-3 vote.

The Senate’s Judiciary Committee recommended the Senate debate and pass the bill, but it has not yet been placed on the Senate’s debate calendar.

• Rep. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, sponsored a bill allowing state employees to keep weapons in their vehicle while parked on state lots. It passed the House April 11 on a 126-25 vote, and has been recommended by the Senate’s General Laws Committee for full Senate debate.

• Schaefer’s bill to eliminate solid waste management districts and have the Natural Resources department do the work has not been debated yet by the full Senate. But some of the changes he proposed were included in the state budget plan likely to be discussed in the conference committees later this week.

• Gov. Jay Nixon’s push for expanding Medicaid services to more Missourians never found support among the Legislature’s Republican leaders.

Rep. Jay Barnes’ proposed Medicaid reform package — but the House Rules Committee on April 15 took no action to send it to the full House for debate.

Last week, Barnes, R-Jefferson City, told colleagues the Senate didn’t “have the stomach” for Medicaid expansion or reform this year.

But, Dempsey told reporters Thursday: “I think ‘desire’ would have been a better word to choose. ... I am going to name an Interim Committee on Medicaid reform.”

• The Senate earlier this year passed a bill creating a gradual income tax decrease and a sales tax increase.

The House last week made changes to that bill — including the addition of a tax amnesty measure that Senate leadership has not supported.

Dempsey said the Republicans, who have a 24-person majority in the 34-member Senate, will caucus this week to see what they want to do.

Nixon has promised to veto the bill in its current form.

• The Legislature last week sent Nixon the House version of a bill changing the name of Linn State Technical College to “State Technical College of Missouri,” effective July 1, 2014.

• Earlier this month, the governor vetoed a bill seeking to restore sales taxes on vehicles purchased out of state. Kehoe has said he’ll try to add language he can accept on to another bill before the end of this session.

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