SENATE PASSES DISCRIMINATION BILL AFTER 15 HOURS
African-American members of the Senate ended a 15-hour filibuster of legislation weakening Missouri’s anti-discrimination laws after the bill’s Republican sponsor agreed to eliminate a provision of the bill that sought to require judges to rule in favor of employers in most workplace discrimination lawsuits. The Senate granted preliminary approval to the amended bill, SB592, on a voice vote shortly after the filibuster ended at around 1:20 a.m. on Feb. 2.
Although opponents agreed to stop blocking the bill in exchange for concessions, that doesn’t translate into support of the measure. The leader of the filibuster, state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, said opponents will continue to fight efforts to undermine anti-discrimination laws. The House of Representatives debated a similar bill on Feb. 1, but Republican leaders pulled the measure, HB 1219, after about hour amid fierce opposition by the Legislative Black Caucus and other House Democrats.
Making it easier for employers to escape accountability for wrongful discrimination is a top priority for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the state’s other major business groups. Since Republicans hold overwhelming majorities in both legislative chambers, a discrimination bill is ultimately expected to be sent to Gov. Jay Nixon’s desk. However, Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed similar legislation last year and has indicated he will do so again this year.
HOUSE COMMITTEE ENDORSES EDUCATION FUNDING CHANGE
The House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee on Feb. 1 approved legislation that would modify the formula for distributing state funding to local public school districts to account for the fact that the K-12 education is being funded at levels well below what the formula calls for. HB 1043 is intended to prevent massive shifts in funding among the state’s 522 public schools districts that could occur in upcoming fiscal year if action isn’t taken.
Missouri’s existing education funding formula law was enacted in 2005. Because the state at that time lacked the $800 million necessary to fully fund the new formula all at once, funding increases were to be phased in over seven years, with the formula being fully phased in for 2013 fiscal year, which begins July 1. In recent years, however, the state hasn’t had sufficient revenue to phase in the new funding on schedule.
Unlike previous formulas, the existing law doesn’t contemplate under funding. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, however, dealt with the situation by imposing equal percentage cuts on each district.
But a provision of the law could require the state to redistribute the available funding next year, imposing massive cuts on some districts while giving big increases to others. HB 1043 would minimize the funding shifts, although some districts would still gain or lose funding under the bill.
SENATE BLOCKS NIXON’S ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PICK
Missouri Department of Economic Development Director Jason Hall resigned Feb. 1 after the Senate Gubernatorial Appointments Committee refused to advance his nomination to the full Senate for confirmation. Since Nixon appointed Hall to the post on Dec. 30 when the General Assembly wasn’t yet in session, Hall was able to take office immediately. In order to keep the job, however, the Senate had to approve the appointment by Feb. 2.
Although Hall’s selection had been endorsed by the state’s major business groups, some senators questioned whether he had the necessary experience for the job. An attorney, Hall had served as executive director of the Missouri Technology Corporation, a state-sponsored agency that promotes the growth and science and technology companies, until taking the economic development post.
Nixon has named Chris Pieper, a deputy counsel in the governor’s office, as interim department director until a permanent replacement is selected. Hall was the third economic development director since Nixon took office in January 2009.
NIXON APPOINTS NEW SENATE REDISTRICTING COMMISSION
Gov. Jay Nixon appointed a new commission on Jan. 31 that will make the latest attempt at drawing new state Senate districts to reflect population changes based on the 2010 U.S. Census. The 10-member commission, which consists five Democrats and five Republicans nominated by their respective parties, will meet for the first time on Feb. 18.
The Senate redistricting process is entering its second round, creating uncertainty for the 2012 election cycle. A previous partisan commission failed to agree on a new Senate redistricting plan last year, and under the Missouri Constitution the task passed to a separate commission of six state appellate judges. Although the appellate commission filed a redistricting plan in November, the Missouri Supreme Court last month ruled that plan violated the general constitutional prohibition against splitting counties among Senate districts.
As a result, the whole process begins from scratch with a new partisan commission, which will have until Aug. 18 to submit a final plan. If it fails to do so, another appellate commission will again take over and have until Nov. 16 to complete the job. If the process runs it full course, however, there is no way it could be completed in time for the either the Aug. 7 party primaries or the Nov. 6 general elections.