- Associated Press - Monday, December 1, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon reversed course Monday and dropped plans for a special legislative session aimed at providing funding for the state’s public safety response to protests in Ferguson and elsewhere in the St. Louis area.

Nixon, who had announced plans for the special session just three days earlier, said it no longer was necessary because lawmakers had pointed out a way by which he could cover the costs through the existing budget.

Protesters set fires and looted stores in suburban St. Louis after a prosecutor announced Nov. 24 that a grand jury had decided not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who is white, for the Aug. 9 fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was black. Brown was unarmed when he was killed.

Although Nixon had activated the Guard in advance of the announcement, he increased the number of Guard members deployed to the area after the outbreak of arsons and thefts.

Nixon, a Democrat, said Friday that the state’s costs were on track to exceed the state’s annual appropriation for emergency duties and that additional money was quickly needed to pay the Guard on Dec. 15. He cited a $4 million annual allotment for emergency duties by the National Guard and a $3.4 million appropriation to the State Emergency Management Agency for expenses incurred by state entities such as the Highway Patrol.

Republican legislative leaders said they doubted additional money was necessary. They said the state’s accounting system showed a sizable balance remaining in both of those funds.

In a letter Sunday to other senators, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer said the governor could use a separate $12.5 million budget allotment for the State Emergency Management Agency or part of the general operating funds for the state Highway Patrol.

House and Senate leadership issued a joint statement Monday similarly asserting that the governor could tap into existing budget items to pay for the security in and around Ferguson. Nixon ultimately embraced their suggestion.

“This interpretation of the law will allow these essential public safety operations to be funded without the need for a special session,” Nixon said in a written statement later Monday.

Although there will be no special session, Republican legislative leaders said they want to press ahead with hearings by a joint legislative committee examining the way Nixon has handled the state’s response in Ferguson.

“We still have no idea how he’s spent the money, or how intends to spend it in the future, and we intend to look into that,” said House Majority Leader John Diehl.

If it turns out that additional money is needed, the Legislature can consider that during its regular session that runs from January through mid-May, Schaefer said.

“We are always going to do what’s necessary to support the Missouri National Guard and the Missouri State Highway Patrol, but it appeared there were ample funds available … without calling a special session,” Schaefer said.


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