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MPANewsBook: Statehouse News for MPA Members: 4/30/2010 - MPA NEWS: 4/30/10

Missouri's general assembly has passed the 2011 fiscal year budget, a week before deadline.

The budget approved by the House and Senate cut $484 million from the initial version proposed by Gov. Jay Nixon in January. Nixon had previously said $500 million would need to be cut from his initial proposal, meaning the governor may be required to make additional cuts.

One of the major cuts was to education funding, leaving the Foundation Formula for school funding underfunded by about $100 million.

In the Senate, Democrats remained largely silent, but House Democrats were vocal in their attacks about the size of a budget that their own governor had recommended.

House Minority Whip Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, called the budget "morally out of balance," while House Minority Leader Paul LeVota, D-Independence, said the House failed to consider ways to generate more revenue for the state.

State Budget Director Linda Luebbering said her office is concerned the budget passed by the legislature relies on measure that have not yet passed, including Medicaid cost containment, changes to the retirement system for state government workers and the elimination of a couple of state holidays for government workers.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Senate appropriations chairman Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said the state's grim financial situation led to the quick passage of the budget.

In a statement released by his office following the budget's passage, Nixon said he looks "forward to going through this budget line by line to ensure that MissouriansÔ019 tax dollars are spent in the most efficient and effective manner possible."

Get the full story here: http://www.mdn.org/2010/STORIES/HOBUD.HTM

Following a two-day period that sent an ethics bill bouncing between two committees and onto the House calendar, Republican leaders declared the issue "dead" and both sides pointed fingers at each other for letting the bill languish.

On April 27, 59 representatives filed to discharge the ethics bill from its original committee onto the House floor, drawing the ire of Majority Floor Leader Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, who said he will refuse to let the bill be heard.

It was done in response to move made the previous evening by the House Rules Committee to send the ethics reform language back to the Ethics Reform Committee, said Rep. Terry Witte, D-Vandalia, who drafted the committee substitute of the bill as well as Tuesday's motion.

Prior to the Rules Committee 7-4 vote along party lines, multiple members said they wanted ethics reform but not with the $5,000 cap on individual campaign donations attached.

Witte and Rep. John Burnett, D-Kansas City, who also serves on the Ethics Reform Committee, said it didn't make sense to pass a bill without limits. Both noted limits were enacted in 1996 with over 70 percent of the vote, until the legislature removed them two years ago.

But Tilley, who controls what bills are brought to the House floor, said he will refuse to hear the legislation because it circumvented the committee process.

Tilley said he was hopeful that pieces of reform not related to donation limits could still be attached to bills moving through the House in the session's final two weeks. He hoped legislation could be amended that would include caps on lobbyists' donations to lawmakers.

Get the full story here: http://www.mdn.org/2010/STORIES/ETHIKS.HTM

The state auditor called for more controls on tax credits Monday, leaving the legislature with less than three weeks to take action.

An audit released by Auditor Susan Montee's office cited inaccurate fiscal projections and a lack of government controls as the sources of inefficiencies within the state's tax credit program. The move was met with criticism, however, from House Speaker Ron Richard, R-Joplin, who responded by calling the audit part of a "dangerous and damaging political game" being played by Montee and Gov. Jay Nixon, both Democrats.

Just last week, Richard said he would reject the governor's call to reform tax credits this year and to reduce future funding by half, to around $314 million.

n response, the governor's office stressed the urgent need for tax credit reform and warned that a lack of action now could lead to exacerbated problems in the future.

According to the audit, state spending on tax credits exceeded official government estimates by $1.1 billion over the last five years. Montee said the gap resulted from incorrect "fiscal notes," or official cost estimates overseen by the state Oversight Division.

Get the full story here: http://www.mdn.org/2010/STORIES/CREDTAX.HTM

Gov. Jay Nixon held two public teleconferences April 27 to discuss his plan on reforming Missouri tax credits in spite of having less than three weeks left for the General Assembly to take action.

During the previous week, the governor met with public school teachers and leaders from elementary and secondary schools as well as community and four-year colleges and universities to discuss making a comprehensive plan for tax credit reform legislation.

During the teleconference, Nixon outlined three general ideas for tax credit reform: tax credit caps, accountability and transparency. He singled out two programs, Missouri's historic tax and low-income tax credits, as areas through which the state could save between $150 and $170 million in expenditures with his proposed reductions.

With only three weeks left in the legislative session, however, the tax credit reduction bill would have to pass both the House and the Senate before appearing on the governor's desk to be passed into law. Nixon said he is optimistic, and with one of the most seasoned and experienced legislatures Missouri has had in its history, he said he thinks the General Assembly will act swiftly and with support for tax credit reduction.

Get the full story here: http://www.mdn.org/2010/STORIES/GOVTELE.HTM

After several weeks of debate, the Senate cast a final vote consolidating Missouri's two education departments into one all-inclusive department.

The move would eliminate the Coordinating Board for Higher Education and the Higher Education Department and create a single entity under the authority of a six-member education board.

During the week of April 19, the Senate voted to pass a joint resolution to dissolve the higher education board and combine the departments, but a second joint resolution, which details the number of board members and the power given to the new board, created some contentious debate among senators. Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, said the two resolutions rely upon each other, and passing one without the other would complicate the consolidation.

The Senate voted 30-2 to pass the second joint resolution, with Sens. Frank Barnitz, D-Spring Lake, and Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, voting against the joint resolution.

Both joint resolutions will head to the House for further debate. Because the merger requires changing language in the Missouri Constitution, voters would get the final say when they vote on the consolidation in the upcoming November election.

Get the full story here: http://www.mdn.org/2010/STORIES/MERGER.HTM

A Senate resolution to combine state education boards would also lower the age that a child must enter kindergarten to 6 years old.

Currently, most children begin kindergarten as young 5 years old and have until they turn 7 to begin school.

The resolution covers public, private, parochial, parish schools, or full time equivalent, which opens up the possibility of home schools as well. Funding would also be increased for investigating neglected children who have not begun school.

The resolution must be approved by the House and then by voters on the November ballot before becoming law.

The Missouri Senate approved an substitute to an omnibus transportation bill that would ban the use of red light cameras throughout the state. The bill would also place a complete ban on texting while driving for Missourians of all ages, reduce the number of license plates issued to drivers by the state to one, limit the amount of money a city can collect from fees on traffic violations, and end the requirement for drivers to have their cars inspected every two years.

The Senate substitute passed 23-8 in a roll call vote. Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, was absent from the vote. Also not present were Sens. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, and Gary Nodler, R-Springfield, who have had red light cameras in their districts.

Sen. Yvonne Wilson, D-Kansas City, was the only senator to speak in opposition to the bill before the vote. She said red light cameras, which are used in her district, helps local governments raise revenue and can help to cut back on accidents caused by drivers who run red lights.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, said he agreed that the cameras help cities raise revenue, but said the cameras have raised "constitutional questions" where they have been installed.

The Senate version of the transportation bill was referred to the Fiscal Oversight Committee, where it would have to be approved before a final approval by the Senate.

Get the full story here: http://www.mdn.org/2010/STORIES/REDLIGH1.HTM

AT&T's sales tax license was revoked in over 200 municipalities in the state, on April 4, according to the Department of Revenue website. Operating without a valid sales tax license is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of $500 for the first day of operation and $100 for each succeeding day, with a maximum fine of $10,000, according to Revenue Department documents.

On April 26, Kerry Hibbs, a spokesman for AT&T, said he was unaware of the revocation of his company's license. Two days later, he said formatting issues in filing of the company's taxes led to the revocation of the telecommunication giant's ability to collect sales tax in the state. The issue is being resolved, Hibbs said, and the Department of Revenue has reinstated the company's license.

Businesses operating without a sales tax license in Missouri could face fines of $500 for the first day and $100 for each succeeding day with a maximum fine of $10,000, according to Revenue Department documents.

Hibbs said as far as he knows AT&T will not be fined for operating during the period of license revocation and this issue had "no impact on customer service."

Get the story on the license suspension: http://www.mdn.org/2010/STORIES/ATTTAX.HTM

Get the story on the license reinstatement: http://www.mdn.org/2010/STORIES/ATT2.HTM

Over one hundred World War Two veterans crowded into the Missouri House on April 27, and representatives offered up their seats in the veterans' honor.

Veterans from all over Missouri came together after seven Honor Flights have taken veterans to the War World Two memorial in Washington, D.C.

Many came to the Capitol because of their positive Honor Flight experiences, and others came to spend time with others who know what it was like to serve.

One veteran, Robert Thater, said he hopes people remember those who lost their lives.

Following their time in the House, the veterans were escorted to a reception hosted by Missouri firemen, legislators, and family members.

Representative Scott Lipke said legislation to require a prescription for Sudafed and other cold medicines probably won't pass for another four or five years.

The bill never made it out of committee, and Lipke said he doubts it will in the last few weeks of the legislative session.

Franklin County Seargent Jason Grellner said a prescription law is needed to protect Missouri's citizens as pseudoephedrine can be used in making methamphetamines.

Opponents, including Washington pharmacy manager Mark Weydle, worry that customers will cross the state border to get cold medicine if they find out they would need a prescription in Missouri.

Currently Missouri uses a real time monitoring system that tracks and limits the amount of pseudoephedrine products customers can buy.

A new Missouri information service connected with a national conservative organization has been denied membership in Missouri's association of statehouse news organizations by a unanimous vote.

The service, Missouri News Horizon, had refused repeated requests from statehouse reporters to disclose either its ownership or its funding source(s).

While refusing to identify its funding, the organization acknowledged the money came through a conservative-connected organization called the Franklin Center. According to The Associated Press, statehouse news associations in three other states have denied credentials to information agencies connected with the Franklin Center.

In addition to the Franklin Center connection, Missouri News Horizon has used an employment agency that advertises it serves "conservative and libertarian think tanks...dedicated to advancing the principles of limited government."

The Missouri organization had sought membership in the Missouri Capitol News Association after the House had ejected its representative from the House press gallery.

The representative was allowed back in after the Capitol News Association asked the House to allow access to visiting press. A local radio station had written the House stating that the Missouri News Horizon employee was also providing stories for the station.