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5 things to know for 2015 Missouri legislative session

by Summer Ballentine, The Associated Press | January 7, 2015 at 4:59 a.m. | Updated January 7, 2015 at 4:59 a.m.

Missouri lawmakers will return to the state Capitol today to kick off the 2015 legislative session, with an agenda that will include issues related to the fatal shooting of a black 18-year-old in Ferguson by a white police officer and renewed attempts to rewrite Missouri's laws for struggling schools. Here are five things to know about the Missouri legislative session:


Representatives will meet at noon for a swearing-in ceremony and to officially elect their leaders. Republicans have nominated state Rep. John Diehl, of Town and County, to take over for

current House Speaker Tim Jones, who is term-limited. Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey is expected to be re-elected by colleagues to lead that chamber. Lawmakers also will introduce bills for the session, which runs through May 15. They will hold an inaugural ball in the evening.


Republicans will begin the 2015 session with their highest numbers ever seen in the House. The GOP will have a 117-45 majority over Democrats in the House with one vacancy. Republicans will hold a 25-9 majority over Democrats in the Senate. The GOP numbers in both chambers exceed the two-thirds majorities required to override vetoes, potentially making compromise unnecessary with Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and minority Democrats.


Lawmakers are expected to spend time dealing with issues that surfaced after Ferguson police Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown on Aug. 9, spurring protests that sometimes turned violent in the St. Louis suburb. Proposed bills include measures to require police to wear body cameras and to have special prosecutors handle cases involving police shootings. Other proposals would curb the revenue cities can receive from traffic fines and court fees.


Ethics legislation is expected to draw lawmaker attention following an October article in The New York Times claiming state Attorney General Chris Koster is one of many across the country influenced by lobbyist gifts and donations from companies facing lawsuits from his office. Koster has denied claims he was influenced by any contributions or perks. But filed bills include bans or limits on lobbyist gifts, caps on campaign contributions and greater reporting requirements for donations. Nixon and other lawmakers also have said they will push for bond issues to pay for improvements to public buildings and the Capitol. Several bills would change Missouri's student transfer law in response to complaints from failing schools that paying for students to transfer is a financial burden.


Lawmakers will have additional budget powers this session after voters amended the Missouri Constitution in November to allow legislators to try to override the governor's decisions to freeze or slow spending. Republican lawmakers who first sent the constitutional amendment to voters said Nixon has abused his budget-balancing powers by blocking billions of dollars of budgeted spending, sometimes when tax revenues have exceeded projections. Nixon has frozen about $700 million of spending this fiscal year, citing concerns about the state's revenues. State budget director Linda Luebbering has said Missouri needs a roughly 11 percent increase in general revenue to fully pay for everything in the budget. A revenue report released Monday shows a 5.1 percent growth so far this fiscal year.


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