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4 things on deck in the second half of the 2024 Missouri legislative session

The Missouri State Capitol on Thursday, May 11, 2023, in Jefferson City.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
The Missouri State Capitol on Thursday, May 11, 2023, in Jefferson City.

The annual state budget and a tax that funds the bulk of Missouri’s Medicaid program are two things that must pass this session.

With eight weeks left in the 2024 Missouri legislative session, the House and Senate have passed several bills on their own, but none has passed through both chambers.

Items that still must pass this year include the state budget and the Federal Reimbursement Allowance, which is a tax on hospitals and other health care that creates around $4 billion for the state’s Medicaid program.

Here are four things to look out for in the second half of the session.

A less flashy state budget

The past few state budgets took advantage of federal COVID dollars and a surplus in general revenue to fund larger projects. That included last year’s funding of an I-70 expansion to three lanes both directions across the state, as well the approval of a list of projects improving colleges through the Federal American Rescue Plan Act.

While the first draft of this year’s operating budget totals not quite $50 billion, it is roughly $2 billion less than Gov. Mike Parson initially asked for.

It also lacks some of those larger, big-ticket items, in part because those federal dollars have already been allocated.

“The Missouri House budget brings that ongoing spending back within the range of the revenue estimate, and we are prioritizing balancing that budget with our ongoing revenues with an eye on sustainability going towards the future,” House Budget Chair Cody Smith, R-Carthage, said.

Smith said this year’s budget emphasizes public safety, transportation infrastructure and education.

What is included in this budget is over $727 million toward rebuilding Interstate 44, money to fully fund the state’s foundation formula for public schools, as well as the state’s share of school transportation funding and $8 million for the Missouri National Guard to go to the Texas-Mexico border.

On the topic of education spending, Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said the adequacy target that is a part of calculating school funding hasn’t been updated in years.

“In real dollars, that's a reduction every year as inflation happens. So yeah, we're fully funding our foundation formula, that's because we're actually spending less on our kids,” Merideth said.

The budget still must go through both the House and the Senate, meaning the final product will differ come May.

Changes to a resolution making it harder to amend Missouri’s constitution

Speaking before the House began its week away from the Capitol, House Speaker Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, talked about a resolution that would ask voters to make it harder to amend Missouri’s constitution.

“IP reform will get done. The Senate did it. It's coming over here, we have that ready to go,” Plocher said.

However, what the final resolution will look like is unknown.

Sen. Mary Elizabeth Coleman, R-Arnold, recently angered Senate Democrats when she asked a House committee to add back in a series of additional provisions that were ultimately stripped out of the Senate resolution before it passed out of that chamber.

Coleman herself referred to those provisions on the Senate floor as ballot candy, which is a term describing language included to make a ballot proposal appeal more to voters.

When asked what would happen to the bill in the Senate if that language was added back on, Coleman referred to the previous question motion, which is used to end debate.

“Often there’s a willingness to use more procedural measures, or there is a willingness to stand longer as we get to a final step,” Coleman said.

Coleman’s comments led to a shutdown of Senate work one day later by Democrats.

“Maybe it’s the first time certain people have had people from the other side of the aisle have the ability to stand up for themselves and that’s unusual, but we can do that over here because there’s a process and we respect one another,” Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, said.

On whether the House will add those provisions back into the resolution, House elections committee Chair Peggy McGaugh said she did not have a definitive answer yet and referenced the actions by Senate Democrats.

“I think they made it clear that they don't like the plan that we were working toward. So, I think there's going to be a lot of give-and-take there,” said McGaugh, R-Carrollton.

An omnibus education bill getting House input

Before they went on spring break, senators passed an over 150-page omnibus education bill that included priorities for both Republicans and Democrats.

“We were able to put together something that I'm not sure anybody can say doesn't move the needle and move the ball down the field as it relates to K-12 education, whether you're talking about the choice side, traditional public, etc.,” Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said.

That bill contains language that allows charter schools in Boone County and expands the state’s K-12 tax credit scholarship program.

It also raises the statutory minimum pay for teachers in the state to $40,000 and changes how Missouri calculates school funding by factoring in school enrollment.

“Currently, schools are funded on attendance, ignoring the reality of fixed costs involved in operating a school. We changed this to the hybrid approach that has half attendance and enrollment that will increase public school funding,” Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, said.

That particular provision will be fully implemented over several years.

While no Democrats voted for the legislation, they did ultimately end their filibuster over this version of the bill and let it come to a vote.

However, that bill now must go through the House, where it will likely undergo changes. Whether those changes would be enough to once again cause Senate Democrats to filibuster against the bill remains to be seen.

Tough discussions over the Federal Reimbursement Allowance

This session, lawmakers also must pass a tax that funds that bulk of Missouri’s Medicaid program.

Originally, legislation that would reauthorize the Federal Reimbursement Allowance was the first bill lined up for debate on the Senate floor.

But ultimately, that bill was laid over and has not been brought up since.

“They themselves put it on the calendar as the top bill, and then decided to put it on the backburner, I guess, indefinitely,” Rizzo said.

The FRA was last up for renewal in 2021. It took a special session in order to pass it then.

With only eight weeks left, the FRA must be passed by both the Senate and the House. If it isn't, they will have to again pass it during a special session.

“We need to get it done. I believe that we will get it done. And we'll have a lot of conversations about that,” Senate Majority Floor Leader Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, said.

The heart of the conflict is whether the FRA should include language that bars public dollars from going to abortion providers or their affiliates like Planned Parenthood. The consensus from Democrats and some Republicans is that the language should not be included.

“I believe it's a bipartisan belief that we need to pass it clean,” Plocher said.

However, the opinion remains from some Republicans that anti-abortion language should be included within the FRA.

Currently, a statute change that stops public funds from going to abortion providers or their affiliates like Planned Parenthood, has passed the House, while a similar Senate bill has been up for debate once.

According to Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, that legislation must pass in order to consider passing an FRA without that language.

“If we're able to defund those that are doing harm and be able to help fund those that aren't, we're willing to and able to make that happen,” Brattin said. “But until that happens, it's going to be an issue with this Freedom Caucus.”

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade believes the legislature will again have a fight over the FRA like the last time it was up for renewal.

“We are not only having discussions in this building about access to reproductive health care, and the other side, coming after things like birth control, which is what happened last time, now, IVF is an active part of this discussion,” Quade said.

The last day of the legislative session is May 17.

Copyright 2024 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Sarah Kellogg is a first year graduate student at the University of Missouri studying public affairs reporting. She spent her undergraduate days as a radio/television major and reported for KBIA. In addition to reporting shifts, Sarah also hosted KBIA’s weekly education show Exam, was an afternoon newscaster and worked on the True/False podcast. Growing up, Sarah listened to episodes of Wait Wait...Don’t Tell Me! with her parents during long car rides. It’s safe to say she was destined to end up in public radio.