Missouri Press Legislative Update Part 1

February 22, 2019

The most excitement in the State Capitol this week centered on debate and passage of a controversial House bill originating from the “Clean Missouri” constitutional amendment approved by Missouri voters in November. A portion of the constitutional amendment requires state legislators’ records to be subject to Missouri’s Sunshine Law. However, House Bill 445 closes a number of public officials’ records at all levels of government. It passed, 103-47, and now moves to the Senate. One House member opposed to the bill said it “upends almost five decades of open records and transparency in government. It’s the most radical undermining of open records in the history of the state.” The bill’s sponsor said he is open to negotiating with the Senate on the closed records provisions. Meanwhile, action this week in the Senate chamber was limited to several non-controversial bills.

The House Budget Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee continued their work hearing from statewide officials and state agencies on their 2019-2020 budget requests. Both chambers are reviewing the Governor’s proposed budget in preparing its own budgets. This review includes core items that have been in past budgets and new decision items. The House will conclude its work and send its budget over to the Senate. The Senate then prepares its budget. The two chambers then meet and confer on the differences and pass a final budget. Once passed, the budget moves to the Governor for his review. An issue of continued interest is the revenue shortfall in the current fiscal year. At the end of January, the state was down almost 7% from 2018. Unless this shortfall is made up, it is something that the current budget negotiations will have to address. We continue to monitor the budget situation daily and will keep you aware of any developments.)

State Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick presented his office’s 2019-2020 budget requests this week in separate hearings with the House Budget Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee. During his presentation on Feb. 6, in the House, some questions were raised about the Unclaimed Property program, managed by the State Treasurer. Last year $40 to $50 million in unclaimed property was returned to its owners. Rep. Lavender (D-Kirkwood) inquired about how the public is notified of available unclaimed property, including notices required by law in local newspapers. She asked if the State Treasurer was exploring digital options for such notices. Treasurer Fitzpatrick said he was “boxed in by statutes,” and social media presence of the program is limited by his budget. Rep. Brenda Shields (R-St. Joseph), asking if there are different ways to advertise, mentioned the Secretary of State recently said prices of newspaper advertising are out of control. Treasurer Fitzpatrick said if pricing is not fair, and we have the opportunity to opt out in some counties, then that would be good. “Where I live, newspaper is very valuable if the price is right,” he said. When the State Treasurer appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Feb. 7, there were no questions from senators about public notices or unclaimed property notices in newspapers.

House Bill 26 (Stacy, R-Blue Springs), beginning Jan. 1, 2021, allows established political parties to use a state funded, closed political primary system conducted by local election authorities. The local election authority will allow registration of voters as members of a particular political party and enforce time limits on registration or changing political parties as specified in the bill. Local election authorities shall notify registered voters of the primary election system requirements using current election mailings that would otherwise be mailed to registered voters, and party affiliation changes will be noted beginning Jan. 1, 2020. Hearing conducted Feb. 6, by the House Elections and Elected Officials Committee. Supporting testimony by Concerned Women for America-Missouri. Opposing testimony given by the Missouri National Education Association. Information only testimony presented by the Greene County Clerk, Republican and Democratic Election Directors of St. Louis County; the Boone County Clerk; and Mark Rhoads, submitting testimony from two county clerks who could not attend the hearing due to weather. The committee took no action on the bill.

House Bill 214 (Trent, R-Springfield) requires certain state purchases in excess of $10,000 (currently $3,000) to be based on competitive bids with specified exceptions. The bill requires the Commissioner of the Office of Administration to advertise and solicit bids on state purchases with an estimated expenditure of $100,000 or more (currently $25,000 or more). The commissioner is authorized to hold reverse auctions for the purchase of merchandise, supplies, raw materials, or finished goods if price is the primary factor evaluating bids. If the commissioner determines that the use of competitive bidding is either not practicable or not advantageous to the state, he or she is not required to advertise or solicit a proposal on any purchase where the estimated expenditure is $100,000 or more (currently $25,000 or more). Under the proposal, purchases of $100,000 or more from a single feasible source would not be advertised or proposals solicited (currently $25,000 or more). Information technology purchases of up to $150,000 (currently $75,000) are allowed to employ informal methods of procurement. Bill voted “do pass” Feb. 4, by the House Downsizing State Government Committee.

This report is compiled for Missouri Press Association members by Lathrop Gage Consulting.