Conway’s Column–An Update From Jefferson City
By State Rep. Pat Conway (D-St. Joseph)
The results of last week’s elections were significant. I hope that the success of the ballot measure insures that our children will get the best surroundings possible to achieve a superior education. I am pleased that the school board acted on an issue that can be divisive. My point today is the School board’s along with County Commissions, City Councils, Fire Districts, Water Districts and all of the other elected boards need to be given the latitude to operate in the best interests of their constituents.
One of the major flaws I see in a large amount of our legislation is that we tend to over legislate and not give these elected officials room to operate. Government by the people at the grass roots is the best type of governance. The Legislature should only move into areas of local interest as a last resort. We should let the local elected officials do what they are supposed to do and not overregulate them.
Here are some other Jefferson City happenings.
SENATE PANEL STICKS WITH HOUSE ON HIGHER ED BUDGET
The Senate Appropriations Committee has agreed to follow the House of Representatives lead on sparing public colleges and universities from funding cuts in the state operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Gov. Jay Nixon had recommended reducing higher education appropriations by about $66 million when he offered his proposed $24 billion state operating budget.
The Republican-controlled House, which passed its version of the budget last month, spared colleges and universities from cuts in part by eliminating a $30 million program that provides health care for the blind. The Senate committee, which is also Republican controlled, has yet to decide if it will go along with the elimination of that program, which the governor opposes.
The Senate committee also modified a plan to provide many state employees with their first pay raises in four years. Nixon had recommended giving all state workers a 2 percent increase but not until Jan. 1 – halfway through the fiscal year. The House approved providing an immediate 2 percent raise, but only for employees who earn less than $70,000 a year. The Senate committee endorsed providing the immediate raise only to workers earning less than $45,000 annually.
Once the Senate committee finishes work on the 13 appropriations bill that make up the state operating budget, the bills will go before the full Senate for debate. After the Senate approves them, negotiators from both legislative chambers will work out a final version of the budget, which must win approval by a constitutional deadline of May 11.
SENATE VOTES FOR HIGHER HURDLE FOR TEACHER TENURE
The Senate on April 5 gave first-round approval to legislation that would double the amount of time a teacher must work for the same public school district in order to earn tenure. The bill requires another Senate vote to move to the House of Representatives.
SB 806 originally would have eliminated teacher tenure outright, but the Senate on April 3 voted 17-15 to gut the bill by amending it to merely call for a study of tenure, not its elimination. That action prompted the bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, to temporarily shelve the measure before revising it to extend the years of service a teacher must put in to earn tenure from five years to 10 years. The longer vesting period would apply only to teachers who haven’t yet earned tenure by Aug. 28 of this year.
Opponents of teacher tenure contend it makes it virtually impossible to fire bad teachers. Supporters say that simply isn’t true and tenured teachers can still be dismissed for poor performance or other legitimate cause but that tenure merely entitles them to due process. The tenure bill is SB 806.
HOUSE COMMITTEE SEEKS TO REPLACE VOTER ID LANGUAGE
The House Elections Committee on April 3 approved a resolution aimed at replacing ballot language that a circuit judge invalidated a week earlier on a proposed constitutional amendment slated for the November statewide ballot that would grant the lawmakers the authority to impose photo voter identification requirements. It is appears unlikely, however, that the resolution would achieve its purpose.
The General Assembly passed the photo voter ID amendment, SJR 2, last year and in it included misleading ballot language that asked voters to approve the “Voter Protection Act,” even though the actual proposed amendment makes no mention of such an act and would instead restrict voting rights and potentially disenfranchise Missourians who don’t have a government-issued photo ID. In vacating the legislative ballot language, Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce said lawmakers should be given another opportunity to write valid language. It doesn’t appear, however, that lawmakers still possess the legal authority to modify legislation that passed a year ago.
HCR 53 nonetheless makes the attempt by creating replacement ballot language. The problem is the measure is a concurrent resolution without force and effect of law. As a result, it doesn’t appear that the Secretary of State’s Office, which is responsible for certifying ballot questions, could legally accept the new language. HCR 53 now goes before the full House of Representatives for debate.
HOUSE APPROVES ALLOWING ADVERTISING ON SCHOOL BUSES
The House of Representatives on April 5 narrowly approved legislation to allow school districts to sell advertising space on their buses. The bill, HB 1273, passed 83-65 and with just one more vote than the minimum necessary to send it to the Senate.
Supporters said allowing advertising on school buses would provide local districts a way to generate much-needed revenue. Opponents are concerned it would provide advertisers another opportunity to market junk food and other products to children. Although the bill wouldn’t prohibit most advertising targeting children, it would bar ads relating to alcohol, tobacco products or gambling, as well as those that are sexually explicit, political or religious in nature.