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Legislative leaders call on governor to step down

Attorney General Josh Hawley issued a statement on Tuesday, indicating his office had reviewed evidence that he believed would warrant a charge against Gov. Eric Greitens for felony computer tampering. The action is in response to an open investigation into the governor’s campaign and its use of a fundraising list obtained from The Mission Continues, a 501(c)(3). The charity was founded prior to the governor’s campaign and was formed to assist veterans who are adjusting to life at home and to find purpose through community impact. The charity has stated that they did not authorize the list to be used for political purposes. Greitens has previously signed an ethics agreement that his campaign accepted the list as an “in-kind” contribution valued at $600 and agreed to pay a fine of $100 for failing to disclose the donation in previous reports.

The attorney general stated, “If proven, these acts could amount to the unauthorized taking and use of property, in this case electronic property. Under Missouri law, this is known as computer tampering and given the value of the list in question, it is a felony.” The attorney general forwarded the case to the St. Louis Circuit Attorney for review and possible charges, as the proper venue to the case would be the City of St. Louis.

Greitens has filed a restraining order in Cole County court, asking the judge to block the attorney general from investigating the governor, and requested the judge appoint a special prosecutor. 

Following the revelation by the attorney general, leaders in both legislative chambers issued statements calling on Greitens to step down:

HOUSE REPUBLICAN LEADERSHIP RESPONSE: A joint statement from House Speaker Todd Richardson, Speaker Pro Tem Elijah Haahr, and Majority Floor Leader Rob Vescovo stated, “At the outset of this process, we said the governor needed to be forthright and accountable for his actions. After thoughtful consideration of the findings in the House committee’s report and today’s news that the Attorney General has evidence to support another felony charge, we believe the governor needs to take responsibility for his actions. Leaders at all levels of government are entrusted with an incredible responsibility to the Missourians we represent. When leaders lose the ability to effectively lead our state, the right thing to do is step aside. In our view, the time has come for the governor to resign.”

SENATE LEADER RESPONSE: Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard said “For the last several months, I have been in constant contact with the speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives and the Missouri attorney general. We have reached a critical turning point in the allegations made against the governor. The decisions made going forward will have a significant effect on the state of Missouri. After speaking with the attorney general today, I believe the governor has no other respectable option than to resign from office.” He further stated, “We are past the point of concerning and alarming. Since his time in office, the governor has caused tension, conflict and hostility. The weight of his actions are being felt throughout the state. Now, these alleged illegal actions are further harmful to the people of Missouri and do not represent Missouri values. It’s time for the governor to find the courage in his heart and do what is in the best interests of the people he serves and step aside. This is not a sentiment held lightly. Serving the people of Missouri is an extraordinary honor, one I believe requires each elected official to rise to the occasion. Sometimes that occasion is knowing when it’s time to step aside. Because of the severity of the allegations, it is my wish that we immediately start impeachment proceedings.”

On Tuesday, House Minority Leader Rep. Gail McCann Beatty filed House Resolution 6783 to authorize the Special Investigative Committee on Oversight to introduce articles of impeachment against Gov. Eric Greitens upon a finding of good cause.

Speaker Richardson has indicated that he has collected a “substantial” number of signatures of members of the House that would be required to convene a special session to address the possible impeachment of Greitens.

While the controversies regarding the governor continue to overshadow the legislative session, both the House and Senate continued their work on bills as well as the state budget, leading up to the May 18 adjournment.

Virtual course access bill heard in House committee

The House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee heard SB603, 576 & 898 (Onder) that changes the Missouri Virtual Instruction Program (MoVIP) to “The Missouri Course Access and Virtual School Program” and allows any eligible student to enroll in program courses of their choice to be paid by the school district or charter school. The student must have been enrolled full time in a public school, including a public charter school, for at least one semester immediately prior to enrolling in the program. The course must also be approved by the school principal.

As outlined in the bill, a school district or charter school will pay 14 percent of the state adequacy target for any single year-long course and no more than 7 percent of the state adequacy target for any single semester-long course. School districts and charter schools may negotiate with the course providers for a lower cost. Payment for a full-time virtual school student cannot exceed the state adequacy target. If a student who is a candidate for A+ tuition reimbursement enrolls in a course under the act, the school shall attribute no less than 95 percent attendance to any such student who has completed such course, allowing for continued participation in the A+ program. Individual learning plans must be developed for all students enrolled in more than two full-time program courses.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will establish an authorization process for course providers and authorize those providers that submit all necessary information and offer courses that align to state academic standards. The bill also requires the State Board of Education to provide an easily accessible link for course vendors on the program website, allowing anyone to submit a course for approval. The bill requires vendors to accept monthly payments for students enrolled in their courses. Courses already approved through MoVIP will automatically be authorized to participate in the program.

The bill has been the result of many groups working together with legislative leaders over several sessions to provide appropriate and quality virtual learning opportunities for students across Missouri. While there was debate about possible changes to the legislation, the current bill is supported by a wide range of business groups, and education advocates.

Senate committee completes budget work

The Senate Appropriations Committee finalized the details of its version of the Fiscal Year 2019 budget.

The committee made changes to HB2002 (Fitzpatrick) which is funding for K-12 schools and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The committee approved an increase of $48 million for the foundation formula and a $25 million increase in school transportation. This differs from the budget passed by the House.  The House passed a budget that would fully fund the foundation formula with an increase of $98 million. The House plan for transportation was to increase spending by $2 million over what was distributed this year.

The Senate Committee approved increases over the House budget in the following areas:

$5 million to the public placement fund for districts that receive children due to juvenile court placement

$250,000 for the Missouri Charter School Commission

$1.5 million for Joplin School Disaster Relie

The Senate Committee reduced the following items that were included in the House budget:

$100,000 of Parents as Teachers money specifically for provisionally or unaccredited school districts

$750,000 increase for Teach for America

$500,000 for a K-3 reading assessment

$250,000 for STEM awareness program

$250,000 for the Scholars and Fine Arts Academies

$25,000 for Rural School Board Training

$1 million for School Broadband Distribution

The budget will move to the Senate floor where senators can offer amendment to the budget proposal. The budget will then go to a conference committee, where members of both the House and Senate will work to come to an agreement on a final version, before being finally approved by both chambers. The deadline for approving the budget is May 11.  The legislature is scheduled to adjourn on May 18.

Teacher on SBOE bill rejected by House committee

The House Special Committee on Government Reform failed to approve SB695 (Wallingford) that would have placed a teacher as a non-voting member of the State Board of Education.

Committee members did not appear to have issues with the underlying bill, but as the committee approved amendments, the bill lost support. The committee voted to add language to allow districts to contract early childhood programs as well as removing language that would clarify and stabilize the process for gubernatorial appointments of members of the State Board of Education.

MSTA is working with the sponsor of the bill as well as members of the Special Committee on Government Reform to have them reconsider the vote on the bill, so that underlying bill could move forward.

During the hearing on the bill, committee members seemed to agree with the provisions to place an active classroom teacher on the State Board of Education.

The teacher representative would attend all board meetings and participate in deliberations. However, the teacher representative would not have the right to vote on any matter or be counted for purposes of establishing a quorum. The bill states that the teacher must be a resident of Missouri, certified to teach, have at least five years of teaching experience, employed full time as a teacher in the state and not be on leave. The teacher must have the written support from their local school board before being appointed. The teacher representative’s term would be for four years and subsequent appointments made in rotation from each Congressional District, beginning with the First Congressional District and continuing in numerical order. In the event of a vacancy in the position of teacher representative, the Governor must appoint a replacement by and with the advice and consent of the Senate. The bill also includes a sunset date of Aug. 28, 2026, unless renewed by the legislature.

Currently, the board is made up of eight citizens appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Senate. Members serve staggered, eight-year terms so that one term expires each year. No more than four members of the board may belong to the same political party. No more than one member of the board may reside in the same county or Congressional district. When terms expire, members continue to serve until being replaced or reappointed.

No vote on State Board of Education appointment

Last week, Eddy Justice, Gov. Greitens’ appointee for the State Board of Education, was voted out of the Senate Gubernatorial Appointment Committee. While it was believed that he would be brought before the full Senate for consideration of approving his appointment this week, his appointment has stalled. The State Board of Education remains at a standstill, lacking a quorum to conduct business.

The previously scheduled meeting of the SBOE for April 17, 2018 was canceled due to a lack of a quorum.  The State Board of Education has not held a meeting since the Jan. 8, 2018 public hearing to take testimony from the public on the search for a new commissioner.  The next meeting of the State Board of Education is scheduled for May 15, 2018, if enough members are confirmed and a quorum is present.

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