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Jan 17 – Weekly Capitol Update

| January 17, 2013

NIXON CALLS FOR UNITY IN SECOND INAUGURAL ADDRESS

Invoking Missouri’s divided loyalties between the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War as a warning from history, Gov. Jay Nixon called for unity and cooperation on Jan. 14 as he was sworn into his second term as the state’s 55th chief executive. Although the state isn’t enduring the violent upheaval it experiered 150 years ago, it could be in for a period of political conflict as Nixon, a Democrat, begins his final four years in office with Republicans holding veto proof majorities in both the Senate and House of Representatives.

With his election in November, Nixon became just the fourth Missouri governor to be elected to two consecutive terms since the state constitution was changed in 1965 to allow the practice. Previously, incumbent governors were constitutionally prohibited from seeking re-election. The last two-term Missouri governor was Democrat Mel Carnahan, who was elected in 1992 and 1996

Also beginning second terms in office were State Treasurer Clint Zweifel and Attorney General Chris Koster, both Democrats. Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican, became just the second person in state history to be sworn in for a third term in that office, a feat first achieved by Frank Gaines Harris, a Democrat who served as lieutenant governor from 1933 to 1945. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Jason Kander, a Democrat, began his first term of office.

PANEL ADVANCES BILL ON FILLING STATEWIDE VACANCIES

Given the possibility that Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder might soon resign, House Republicans are fast-tracking legislation that would modify how vacancies in statewide elected office are filled. The House Elections Committee heard the bill, HB 110, on Jan. 15 and approved it on a vote of 11-1. The full House is expected to consider the bill in the coming days.

Under existing law, when a vacancy occurs in the office of lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state treasurer, state auditor or attorney general, the governor appoints someone to serve out the term. Under HB 110, the governor could still fill a statewide vacancy via appointment, but the appointee would only serve until the next general election in the event that more than two years remain on the original term, at which point a special election would be held to select someone to serve the remainder of the term. If less than two years remain on the original term, the appointee would serve out the term. The bill also would prohibit an appointed officeholder from running for the post at the next election.

Nixon vetoed similar legislation in 2011, but that version would have required that a special election immediately be called under all circumstances to fill statewide vacancies. Republican lawmakers are trying again with a scaled-back proposal since Kinder is pursuing the GOP nomination to run in a special election that will be held later this year to fill a pending vacancy in Missouri’s 8th Congressional District.

AUDITOR URGES LAWMAKERS TO FIX OR NIX INJURY FUND

State Auditor Tom Schweich, a Republican, is recommending that lawmakers either enact a statutory fix to Missouri’s insolvent Second Injury Fund or eliminate it. An audit released by Schweich’s office on Jan. 11 says that as of Dec. 31, the fund had a balance of $3.2 million and unpaid obligations of $28.1 million, leaving a $24.9 million deficit.

The SIF encourages employers to hire workers who previously have been injured by providing compensation to workers if they suffer a subsequent injury on the job, thus protecting employers from liability. Missouri originally created its SIF during World War II in response to large number of returning wounded veterans seeking employment.

Majority Republicans in the General Assembly created the insolvency problem in 2005 by capping the employer surcharge that provides the SIF’s revenue. Previously, the surcharge had fluctuated based on liabilities against the fund, but the surcharge is now capped at 3 percent of an employer’s workers’ compensation premium. As a result, revenues coming into the fund have fallen well short of matching its expenses.

Because of the shortfall, Attorney General Chris Koster, whose office is responsible for administering the fund, stopped settling SIF cases in 2009, and the state ceased paying new awards against the fund in 2011. Therefore, even if the legislature were to eliminate the SIF, the state would remain liable for pending claims for many years into the future.

GOVERNOR CALLS FOR ADDING SIX DAYS TO SCHOOL YEAR

Gov. Jay Nixon on Jan. 11 outlined his education agenda for the 2013 legislative session, including expanding the minimum number of school days a year required by law for public schools from 174 days to the national average of 180 days. According to a news release issued by Nixon’s office, Missouri currently has the fourth-shortest school year in the nation. Nixon said a longer school year would improve student performance.

Nixon’s education priorities also include seeking additional funding for early childhood education and expanding the A+ scholarship program, which allows qualified students from participating high schools to receive free tuition to attend public community colleges or technical schools.

Category: Weekly Capitol Update

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