JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Nearly 300 of Missouri’s local municipal officials gathered today at the Capital Plaza Hotel to learn the latest legislative updates at the 45th annual Missouri League Legislative Conference. 74% of Missouri citizens reside in municipalities, so naturally it is important that the municipal officials work with the state government.
Key speakers today included Sen. Joseph Keaveny (D-4), Minority Floor Leader, Rep. John Diehl (R-89), Speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives, Rep. Jeanie Lauer (R-32) and Keith Faddis, Public Safety Program Director, Mid-America Regional Council. Tomorrow morning the conference continues with the Missouri Local Leaders Partnership Presentation and Dan Ross, Executive Director, Missouri Municipal League. Finally at 8:30 a.m. Gov. Jay Nixon will speak.
Sen. Keaveny touched on many current issues in the General Assembly including SB5, or the Macks Creek Law. He explained that the senate perfected the bill earlier today, reducing the threshold from 30% to 20% at which a city, town, village, or county must send excess revenues from traffic violations to the Department of Revenue to be distributed to the schools, beginning January 1, 2016. The bill further reduces that threshold to 10% beginning January 1, 2017.
“If you lower the threshold that cities can collect, you are most likely going to put some cities out of business,” said Rep. Diehl. “You have to plan for that.”
Diehl is working on creating minimal standards for municipality loss as well as removing barriers to make it easier for two municipalities to merge.
The state plans to spend 400 million in the next two years on improving state infrastructure and higher education campuses. Keaveny explained that the state had deferred maintenance on the Capitol building for too long.
“We haven’t done a good job maintaining the assets that we have,” said Keaveny.
He also discussed Sen. Ron Richard’s (R-Joplin) ethics bill that recently passed out of the Senate. It requires a two-year cooling off period before a legislator can become a paid lobbyist and also prohibits any out of state travel or accommodation. Like almost any ethics reform, the bill is too much for some and too little for others.
“I personally think we should have campaign contributions,” said Keaveny.
Many municipal officials inquired about Medicaid expansion, Internet sales tax, MODOT budget cuts and 911 funding. Currently, 17 counties in Missouri have no 911 funding and 18 have very little. Keaveny explained that this is an issue that greatly concerns public safety, and does not see anyone disputing that, however the issue is where and how the state plans to obtain 911 funds.
An MML council member best described the voice of the local municipal officials gathered today when the issue of state interfering with city zoning came up.
“If you take away the city’s ability to act immediately, you take away our ability to react,” said Kyle Vogul. “When do we get some kind of guarantee from the state that municipalities are going to be allowed to run their municipalities.”
Diehl explained that the House significantly altered its committee structure so that it is more vertically integrated. In the old system there were usually three or four committees that could review local government bills, but there was no consistency or quality control with what happens to those bills. This session, they put together groups with local government and other types of committees also looking at local government issues, and then have those chairmen sit on a select committee to review the bills, with a goal of more consistency.
Tomorrow, a right-to-work bill will be up on the House floor. Last year, the bill failed to gain a majority of votes in the House, but that is not the case this time around, according to Diehl. Next week, the House will tackle the School Transfer Bill. Last year Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed this bill due to a private option. The bill will provide more options to children and families in failing school districts, and provide charter school options for those students. He expects this bill to pass out of both the House and the Senate, and thinks it can solve a lot of long-term problems in the state.
“Kids that don’t have access to quality K-12 education have a very high correlation to adults that don’t have access to economic opportunities,” said Diehl. “We start seeing cycles of poverty and cycles of circumstances like Ferguson.”
There are about 50-80 Ferguson related bills that have been filed so far, and Diehl plans to refer them all to local government and public safety committees.
The full agenda for the MML conference can be found on their website: http://www.mocities.com/events/event_details.asp?id=520826&group.