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Negotiators approve state budget, Missouri House passes traffic fines and court reform bill

Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio

After more than five hours of talks that stretched into the early morning hours, House and Senate negotiators have signed off on next year's $26 billion state budget.

Both sides were at a stalemate for days over Senate Appropriations chair Kurt Schaefer's insistence on a flexible funding model for programs within the departments of Health and Senior Services and of Mental Health as a means of combating growth in welfare spending.

But Schaefer reversed course last night.

"Even though I think lump-sum is still a good idea, the issue is we need to bend this cost curve," Schaefer said, "and I think we've done some things in here to bend that cost curve."

Schaefer, R-Columbia, also said that some, but not all, of the proposed cuts to programs within the two departments will be reversed.  

Meanwhile, budget negotiators hit another speed bump that could have further delayed GOP leaders' plans for passing the budget early.

When the Senate passed House Bill 5, which covers the governor's Office of Administration, it added language that would have barred the use of money set aside for the Edward Jones Dome for any new NFL stadium in St. Louis. But Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, says House negotiators removed the language last night.

"Apparently the speaker of the House (John Diehl) is not a fan of that language and demanded that it come out … so it was pretty forcefully removed during the debate," Silvey said. "But it took the speaker several hours of arm-twisting to get it done."

Diehl, R-Town and Country, was not available for comment after budget negotiators finished their work, but House Budget Chair Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage, told reporters they were advised by attorneys to demand the stadium language be removed.

The full House and Senate are expected to vote on the final versions of all 13 state budget bills later today, which would send them to Gov. Jay Nixon. If they do, the "truly agreed and finally passed" votes would occur 15 days ahead of the legal deadline for passing the state budget -- one week before the final day of the regular legislation session.

The purpose of the early budget push is to force Nixon, a Democrat, to issue any line-item vetoes while lawmakers are still in session, allowing an override vote without having to wait until the annual veto session in September.

Municipal court bill back to Senate

The Missouri House last night passed its substitute version of Senate Bill 5, which would limit revenue use from traffic fines and place new restrictions on how municipal courts handle defendants who have been ticketed.

The House version would reduce the amount of revenue from traffic fines cities and towns can use in their budgets to 20 percent across the state, except for St. Louis County, where it would be 15 percent. The bill would also limit fines and court costs for minor traffic violations to $200 and would forbid judges from sending someone to jail for failing to pay a fine on a minor traffic violation.

"Some areas do have predatory practices when it comes to raising revenue," said House Speaker John Diehl.  "This is a problem I think which has been recognized across a wide swath of stakeholders across the state."

Diehl also sponsored an amendment that would set minimum standards for local governments in St. Louis County. They would include having a balanced budget and setting standards for police departments that include a written policy on the use of force.

If passed, the bill would amend the 1995 Macks Creek law, which limits local governments to using no more than 30 percent of the revenues they collect for their budgets. The rest has to be turned over to the Department of Revenue, which disperses it to local school districts. The sponsor, Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, says many local governments are not in compliance, with some keeping more than half the revenues they get from traffic fines.

The Senate version would limit use of traffic fine revenue for cities and towns in "suburban areas" to no more than 10 percent, while municipalities in rural areas would be limited to 20 percent.

The proposal is one of the top priorities for community leaders seeking reforms in the wake of the unrest in Ferguson, following the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by former police officer Darren Wilson.

Diehl was strongly criticized earlier this year by House Democrats for saying there would be no "Ferguson agenda," but he also strongly pushed for the proposals adopted in the House version of SB 5.

The House and Senate will now have to work out differences in the bill before passing it again and sending it to Nixon.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.