By Susan Redden
A state budget to be considered by the Missouri House of Representatives starting next week has more money for education, senior meals programs and core public health, a gathering of local business people was told Friday.
Joplin-area lawmakers offered a largely positive review of the current year’s legislative session when they spoke at an “eggs and issues” brunch sponsored by the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce. Lawmakers currently are on spring break and will resume the legislative session next week.
State Rep. Tom Flanigan, vice chairman of the House Budget Committee, said the panel is recommending a $24.7 billion state budget.
“Revenues are growing, we have $200 million more this year, but it will be gobbled up by programs like Medicaid,” he said.
Despite the urging of Gov. Jay Nixon and business and hospital groups, the budget adopted by the House does not include funding to expand the state’s Medicaid rolls.
Flanigan said it will include about $200 million more for K-12 education, plus spending hikes for higher education, senior meals on wheels and core public health programs.
“We’ll debate the budget starting next Tuesday,” he said. “We should finish it next week and send it to the Senate.”
The final budget will be produced by a conference committee of the House and Senate, then will go to the governor by May 6 to take effect July 1.
Representatives in the local delegation said more is getting done since Ron Richard of Joplin has become majority floor leader in the Senate.
Richard said responsibilities of the post include deciding which legislation gets debated and how long debates will last. He said the Senate is operating differently than in past years, when “rules and personalities kept a lot of bills from being heard.”
Changes in operation have included a few all-night sessions, Richard said, adding “the longer they work, the more they like compromise.”
He said his goals include getting bills acted on quickly and sent to Gov. Nixon, who has 15 days to decide if he will sign the legislation.
“If the governor vetoes it, we’ll have time to work on it and send it back to him,” he said. “That way we can save the state from having to have a veto session.”
State Rep. Charlie Davis, R-Webb City, said he is confident that legislation preserving the child-custody rights of deployed veterans will be passed this session, after the measure died in the Senate in past sessions.
Chairman of the House Veterans Committee, Davis said the panel is recommending a bill that would waive residency requirements for the children of military parents if they have to move to a new school district while their parents are deployed. Federal funds to pay college tuition costs for soldiers as they leave the military has been cut by federal sequestration, and Davis said the committee has recommended the expenditure of $1.5 million in state funds to cover that cost for members of the Missouri National Guard.
State Rep. Bill Lant, R-Pineville, is chairman of the House Workforce Development and Workplace Safety committee that is recommending measures that would allow counties and school districts to opt out of state prevailing wage requirements.
The committee also has heard three bills aimed at adopting right-to-work measures in the state. The first hearing attracted overflow crowds and had to be extended so the panel could hear all the speakers, he said.
“The second two didn’t attract more than 50; people just want to make sure they get an opportunity to talk and be heard,” he said.
State Rep. Bill Reiboldt, chairman of the House Agriculture Policy Committee, reviewed efforts to put a proposed constitutional amendment ensuring the “right to farm” on the 2014 ballot.
Eggs and issues brunches are a cooperative effort of chambers of commerce in Joplin, Carthage, Neosho and Webb City. Friday’s gathering attracted nearly 100 people and was held at the Continental Banquet Center.