CHANGES TO JUDICIAL SELECTION HEADED FOR BALLOT
Voters will decide whether to alter the state’s system for selecting judges after the House of Representatives on May 10 voted 84-71 to grant final approval to a proposed constitutional amendment that would make changes to the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan. The measure, SJR 51, cleared the House with just two more votes than necessary for passage and came on a largely party-line vote, with most Republicans in support and all but one Democrat opposed.
The Senate had previously approved SJR 51 on a vote of 19-12, with just one more supporting vote than needed. The proposed amendment bypasses Gov. Jay Nixon and automatically goes on the Nov. 6 statewide ballot for voter ratification.
Under the existing system, a seven-member commission is charged will selecting three finalists to fill vacancies on the Missouri Supreme Court and state Court of Appeals, and the governor is required to appoint one of those nominees or forfeit the selection to the commission. The commission consists of three lawyers elected by members of the Missouri Bar, three non-lawyers chosen by the governor and a Supreme Court judge, by tradition the chief justice. Because terms are staggered, the same governor doesn’t have the opportunity to appoint all of the non-lawyer commissioners until he is midway through his second term.
HJR 51 would remove the Supreme Court’s representation on the commission and fill the final voting spot with a fourth non-lawyer chosen by the governor. A retired judge would serve as a non-voting member of the commission, which would submit four finalists to the governor instead of just three. HJR 51 would also change the length of terms so that a governor could appoint a majority of the commission during the single term.
LAWMAKERS DEDICATE FUNDING SOURCE FOR VETERANS
The General Assembly on May 10 granted final approval to legislation that would create a dedicated funding source for state veterans homes and other veterans programs. HB 1731 would earmark most of the state’s casino entrance fee for veterans programs. The bill now goes to Gov. Jay Nixon, who is expected to sign it into law.
Entrance fee revenue had mostly gone to veterans programs until the late 1990s, when the bulk of the money was shifted to pay for early childhood education programs. Under HB 1731, early childhood programs would instead be funded by revenue from Missouri’s share of annual payments from tobacco companies that resulted from the settlement of a national lawsuit more than a decade ago.
FY 2013 STATE BUDGET CLEARS GENERAL ASSEMBLY
The House of Representatives and Senate on May 10 granted final passage to the 13 appropriations bills that make up the $24 billion state budget for the 2013 fiscal years, which begins July 1. Lawmakers wrapped up work on the budget just a day ahead of the constitutional deadline for doing so.
Lawmakers kept basic state funding for local public school districts at roughly the FY 2012 level, although public education funding remains well short of what the state’s education funding law calls for. On higher education, most of the state’s four-year colleges and universities received slight bumps, while funding for the four-campus University of Missouri System and Missouri State University was kept flat.
Two major points of controversy were omitted from the final budget. One was a plan pushed by House Republicans to eliminate a $28 million health care program for the blind. Under the final budget, that program will continue. The other major controversy involved language inserted by Senate Republicans that would have prohibited the University of Missouri-St. Louis from continuing the operate the Sue Shear Institute for Women in Public Life, which helps train women for careers in government and elected office. That language was also removed.
PETITIONS SUBMITTED FOR FOUR BALLOT MEASURES
Supporters of four ballot measures that separately ask voters to increase cigarette taxes, regulate predatory lenders, increase the state minimum wage and grant St. Louis city local control over its police force submitted initiative petitions to Secretary of State Robin Carnahan by the May 6 deadline for getting on the 2012 ballot. Carnahan’s office must verify that each petition contains the requisite number of valid signatures no later than Aug. 7. Those initiatives certified by Carnahan will go on the Nov. 6 statewide ballot.
The predatory lending proposal, which would cap the annual interest rates on short-term loans at 36 percent, faces an additional hurdle since a Cole County judge in April struck down the ballot summary prepared by Carnahan’s office. The ruling has been appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, but if the trial judge’s decision is upheld, signatures collected under the faulty summary likely would be declared invalid and prevent the measure from going on the ballot.
The other proposed initiatives would raise the state’s lowest-in-the-nation cigarette tax from 17 cents to 93 cents per pack, boost the state minimum wage from the current $7.25 an hour to $8.50 an hour and end the state’s control over St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department. State control was enacted by Missouri’s pro-Confederate state government in the early days of the Civil War in an effort to keep the police force from being used against advocates of secession.
DRED SCOTT INDUCTED INTO HALL OF FAMOUS MISSOUIANS
Dred Scott, a slave whose fight for freedom resulted in an infamous 1857 U.S. Supreme Court case that helped precipitate the Civil War, was inducted into the Hall of Famous Missourians on May 9. Scott was born in Virginia in 1795 but was living in Missouri in 1846 when he sued for his freedom. Not long after the Supreme Court’s decision, Scott’s supporters purchased his freedom, and he died in St. Louis in 1858. Scott’s great-great-granddaughter Lynne Jackson of St. Louis attended the Hall of Famous Missourians induction ceremony in the chamber of the Missouri House of Representatives. A bronze bust of Scott will take its place among the busts of previous inductees in the Capitol Rotunda.