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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of February 6, 2012

Just two days after Governor Nixon announced a 40 million dollar decrease to higher education cuts, the governor met with college presidents about the future of higher education funding --- behind closed doors.

Newly named UM System President, Timothy Wolfe, said the governor talked about the 40 million dollars.

Wolfe darted out of the meeting, and when asked about what else was discussed --- he said it wasn't his to tell.

But, the governor's office refused to comment.

The House Tourism committee heard public testimony about adopting an official state butterfly.

Supporters said the bill will increase tourism by making the Regal Fritillary as the state butterfly.

Rep. Charlie Denison, R-Springfield, and Buck Keagy from Native Butterfly House said they plan to prevent the Regal Fritillary from going extinct.

If the bill is passed, the butterfly will grow in good vegetation and further attract tourists to Missouri.

After an hour long debate, Missouri House of Representatives passed a bill altering unlawful discriminatory practices in the workplace.

Opponents of bill complained this legislation would increase segregation and discrimination.

Missouri House Majority Floor Leader Tim Jones discussed how this bill would help out small businesses in eliminating issues of excessive litigation and taxation.

The bill would make Missouri's discrimination law more like the Federal law back in 2002.

Eliminating the state income tax was debated at The Missouri Press Association and The Associated Press Day at the Capitol.  

    Anne Marie Moy, of "Let Voters Decide" spoke in favor of the Missouri Taxpayers Relief Act, which would eliminate the state income tax.

"Missourians are taxed twice; both for the money they make and the money they spend. We seek to eliminate this double taxation," says Moy.

Opposing the end of state income tax was Jim Moody of Missourians for Fair Taxation and Jim R. Moody Associates, a lobbying firm.

"We rely on three forms of taxation: income, sales, and property," says Moody, "We cannot cut one leg off of a three-legged stool."

The bill comes in response to a University of Missouri policy issued in December that restricts students’ right to share lecture recordings.

The bill allows students to continue recording and sharing lecture records with anyone.

The bill sponsor, Paul Curtman, R-Pacific said, “The students can only use it for personal use and the bill will still protect the intellectual property rights and copy rights laws.”

Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, argued that a legislator should not be involved in the University’s decision making.

The bill is not yet on the house calendar, and a hearing has yet to be planned.

Fourth graders from John J. Pershing Elementary School in St. Joseph testified Thursday to make the jumping jack the official state exercise. This is part of a project the school started in 2009.

A field trip to the Pershing Museum inspired Kristy Lorenz's students after they learned that General Pershing created the jumping jack at West Point. Lorenz says it was the students' idea and each of her classes has continued the project since 2009. The students wrote letters to representatives, passed out brochures at the Capitol and on Thursday testified in front of the House Tourism Committee.

Fourth grader Brooklyn Jones said, "We need to recognize John J. Pershing for making up jumping jacks and to make jumping jacks the state exercise would be a great way to represent him."

If the bill passes, it would make Missouri the second state to adopt an official state exercise. In 2008, Maryland adopted walking as their official state exercise. The bill is not yet on the House calendar. Sponsor of the bill, Representative Pat Conway, said he expects the bill to be voted on within the next couple of weeks.

Charter schools may be expanding into more school districts but only after being held accountable for their performance.

The bill would create higher accountability standards for charter schools as well as allowing them to expand to more unaccredited districts. Charter schools are public schools that operate outside the traditional district. Currently, charters can only be sponsored by a higher educational institution or a school board in St. Louis or Kansas City.

"I think with having the sponsor more hands on and more accountable, (the sponsor) can intervene more quickly," the bill's sponsor, Rep. Tishaura Jones, D-St. Louis said.

Legislators have been calling for greater accountability and transparency after two charter schools in St. Louis unexpectedly closed their doors last year.

While the bill passed the committee with a vote of 14-4, those in opposition were vocal about their concerns.

"I want to see the accountability standards put in place and I want to see them work before we see any expansion," Rep. Ira Anders, D-Independence said. "That's why I will be opposing this bill."

Families of inmates who commit suicide may now have to prove gross negligence in order to bring lawsuits against correctional facilities.

Republican Representative Mike Kelley proposed a bill requiring proof of gross negligence in any case brought against prisons for inmate suicides. Kelley defines gross negligence as if someone knew the suicide would or could occur, and did nothing to stop it.

The bill would prevent some of the costly lawsuits being brought against correctional facilities, but would still provide protection for families if gross negligence did occur.

 
  Senate committee hears recommendations from tax policy experts 02/08/2012

As various parts of Missouri's General Assembly continue to look into the failed Moberly Mamtek project, a Senate committee received advice Wednesday on the legislature's tax credit policies.

Two members of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a national think tank advocating limited government, gave their perspective to the Senate Governmental Accountability Committee on how to prevent another Mamtek.

"We're all better off if we aren't supporting failing businesses with a bad tax policy," ALEC Research Manager Christine Harbin said.

Among the advice presented to the council, the ALEC members told the committee it should look at how other states are dealing with not only tax credits, but income tax policy as well.

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, who is the committee chair and has been leading the Senate's investigation into Mamtek, said the ALEC representatives did not go into complete details, but that he would like to pursue further information.

"It's interesting to see what is going on in other states," Lembke said.

Lembke said he hopes to present the committee members with a draft report next week.

With Missouri lawmakers trying to find ways to cut costs, some legislators are once again discussing legislation that would allow the state to collect revenue from online sales.

Legislators in support of the bill believe the state could be losing more than $40 million in general revenue, since Missouri does not currently have a mechanism to effectively collect a tax on Internet sales.

Committee chair Rep. Doug Funderburk, R-St. Peter's, said joining the agreement would create a level playing field for Missouri business.

"Sales tax revenue is the life's blood of many of our cities and municipalities," Funderburk, one of the sponsors, said. "This would eliminate the competitive disadvantage other states have (over Missouri)."

The House Tax Reform Committee hearing held Wednesday was a mirror image of its predecessor last year, with two bills presented allowing Missouri to join in an agreement with other states over Internet sales tax policy. The agreement is a collection of states whose purpose is to reform state tax policy in order to make them more consistent, according to the Streamlined Sales Tax Governing Board, which is in charge of the compact.

The Missouri House has approved a ban on making Interstate 70 a toll road.

The House rejected the language Tuesday to remove the ban on making I-70 a toll road from approximately Wentzville to Blue Springs. The proposed bill would allow the Missouri Department of Transportation to enter into agreements with private companies to fund future improvements to the thoroughfare. This business method is known as a public-private partnership.

MoDOT officials expressed disappointment following the vote. Bob Brendel, MoDOT Special Assignments Coordinator, said it would be bad for any viable option to be taken off the table that would help fund infrastructure improvements in the state at time of decreasing resources and increasing need.

"We think it's good public policy to discuss every option for funding infrastructure in the state of Missouri," Brendel said. "But, ultimately MoDOT will follow the direction of the legislature." 

Brendel said it could take 20-40 years to make full improvements to I-70 without a toll and the current amount of resources at hand. However, Brendel said the project will take only six to eight years with public-private partnerships.

Primate owners from across the state came out to voice their opinions of a new bill that would put restrictions on primate ownership in the private sector. Missouri currently has some of the most lax laws when it comes to exotic animal ownership.

The Primate Curator for the St. Louis Zoo says these animals should stay in zoos where they are around other monkeys and not humans because they need animal interaction.

This bill would require those owning primates to obtain a license within 30 days of getting the animal. A change to the bill today would mean the rules do not apply to small monkeys, instead just large breeds.

Despite a new federal mandate that requires religious health care providers to cover contraceptives, a Republican-backed bill could exempt these providers from participating in services that "violate their conscience."

At a House Health Care Policy Committee hearing, bill sponsor Rep. Timothy Jones, R-St. Louis County, said this bill would act as protection of an employers' conscience.

Jones said he believes this is a timely bill, since President Barack Obama recently announced a law that would require all employers to cover birth control for women in their insurance. Republicans and religious groups strongly oppose Obama's mandate.

Jones' proposal would prevent health care providers in public and private health care facilities from being discriminated against or held civilly or criminally liable if they chose to opt out of participating in procedures that violate his or her conscience.

The House committee has not yet taken any action on this bill.

The House Children and Families Committee discussed a bill which would enact stricter laws against unlicensed child care providers.

The bill, also known as "Sam Pratt's Law," would stop unlicensed child care providers from providing any services if they have pending criminal charges.

Sam was an infant when he died at an in-home day care provider.

Sam's grandmother, Debbie Thrasher, testified in support of the bill. Thrasher owns her own licensed day care facility, and believes unlicensed facilities should be held accountable as well.

Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, provided one concern. He is concerned about providers losing their businesses just from the filing of a criminal charge.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Linda Black, D-Bonne Terre, responded that she was unsure about the procedure.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

The House Children and Families Committee debated a bill which would require schools to lay out detailed plans on how to deal with bullying.

The bill would require schools to create policies specifying exactly how they would deal with instances of bullying.

Sydney Wilhelm, a high school freshman, told the committee how her school's officials did nothing to stop her peers from bullying her.

Tina Meier, mother of Megan Meier, also testified in favor of the bill. She says that our approach to dealing with bullying must change given the technological advancements in the past decade. Her daughter Megan hanged herself after being bullied on her Myspace by an adult posing as a 16 year old boy.

While no committee members directly opposed the bill, Rep. Kurt Bahr, R-St. Charles, expressed a desire to hold the parents of the bullies accountable as well.

The House did not take immediate action on the bill.

The House Children and Families Committee debated a bill which would protect foster parents from harassment by closing off certain personal information from the public.

Two witnesses were foster parents who spoke about how they have been affected by the current legislation. Both said they have been afraid for their families' safety.

Anne Anderson is a foster parent in Sedalia. She was contacted and warned by the grandmother of her two adopted children. The woman warned Anderson about the father of the children.

"He is 6 foot 8," Anderson said. "He is now released (from prison), he is on parole, and he has contacted the grandmother of our children. And she found me, and warned me that he has vowed he is getting his children back."

Rep. Karla May, D-St. Louis City, was the only committee member who voiced concern. She questioned whether the bill would take away the rights of biological parents.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, said the bill is only aimed at the general public and would not affect the rights of parents at all if the parents already had the foster family's information.

A substitute to the bill that would create restrictions on abortion pill distribution passed in the House Committee.

Rep. Jeanne Kirkton, D-St. Louis, proposed an amendment to the bill that would not require a woman to be in the presence of a physician for the second dose of the abortion pill. She said she believed there would be too many safety concerns for a woman leaving a clinic after receiving the second dose of the abortion pill because of the symptoms.

The House Committee passed the substitute 7-2.

The Missouri House committee of Crime Prevention heard a bill which aims to prevent the public from seeing crime photos.

Rep. Scott Largent, R-Clinton, a former coroner, proposed the bill after having concern over the leaking of graphic crime photos without the knowledge of the victims' families.

Several individuals came to support the bill, including John Jordan of the Cape Girardeau County Sheriff's Department, and John Clinton from the Missouri Coroners Association.

Although the release of photos so far has not been a large issue, Largent said he hopes the bill will prevent any issue or harm from occurring.

Although there was no opposing testimony, a member of the Missouri Press Association did testify that she wished to work with Largent to ensure the bill would not infringe on the first amendment and the rights of the press.

House Committee on Crime Prevention hears bill on preventing the release of crime photos.
 

The Senate passed a bill Wednesday that limits discrimination protections for employees.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, said the legislation's only purpose is to codify Missouri law and bring it in line with federal statute. These changes in state law would require discrimination be considered a motivating factor in termination of employment, instead of only a contributing factor. The bill also places a cap of $300,000 on punitive damages.

Passage of the bill comes after an extensive filibuster last week that kept Senators at the capital until the early hours of Thursday morning. The filibuster, which ended in a compromise between Republicans and members of Missouri's Legislative Black Caucus, was led by Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County.

Chappelle-Nadal only ended her filibuster after Republican leaders agreed to remove language in the bill regarding summary judgment in discrimination cases. The bill now awaits debate in the House, which approved it's own version of the legislation earlier this week.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Tishaura Jones, D-St. Louis City, makes several changes to the regulation of charter schools:

  • Allow charter schools to be sponsored in unaccredited or "provisionally accredited districts.
  • They are currently only allowed in the St. Louis and Kansas City districts.
  • Allows all four-year universities and some two-year vocational schools to sponsor a charter school.
  • Requires a sponsor to develop policies for evaluating a charter school's performance.
  • Establishes the Missouri Charter School Commission to sponsor "high quality charter schools"

A bill was discussed in the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee Wednesday that would change the number of attendance hours required in a school year.

By requiring a certain number of hours instead of days, the bill gives the districts more flexibility, said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Joe Aull, D-Marshall.

"I think it does give flexibility when extenuating circumstances come up to maybe alter the schedule," Aull said.

Aull cited the inefficiency of making up snow days at the end of the year and said this change would allow districts to make up the time in a more productive way. It increases the number of required hours from 1,044 to 1,073.

The committee also discussed the potential for financial benefits from the change. Several school districts have moved to a four-day school week to relieve financial strain.

The committee did not vote and will continue discussion on the bill before it moves to the full House.

The bill requires the Coordinating Board for Higher Education to create a library of credits that will transfer.

The board would also be required to create a policy to accept Associates degrees from transferring students who have the required amount of hours.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, will now move to the House.

Gov. Jay Nixon announced Tuesday he plans to soften his proposed cuts to Missouri's public universities with $40 million from a pending national mortgage settlement.

Nixon proposed a 15 percent cut to all higher education institutions for the 2013 fiscal year. The pending settlement is worth $140 million, but $100 million of that will go directly to homeowners. The other $40 million would cushion Nixon's higher education cuts and reduce them down to 9 percent from what the legislature appropriated last year.

Attorney General Chris Koster said he supported the proposed national settlement, but that negotiations were still ongoing.

"My intention is to settle this portion of the state's case against the banks returning more than a $100 million directly to mortgage holders in our state and adding tens of millions of dollars to the state's general revenue fund in these difficult economic times," Koster said in a statement.

Koster is part of a lawsuit with other attorney generals in the country filed against the five largest mortgage companies, who were indicted for fraudulent foreclosure practices during the 2008 budget crisis.

The General Assembly would also still need to approve the use of additional funds. State Budget Director Linda Luebbering said the funds would not be available until the start of the fiscal year in July.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said he was "delighted" Nixon listened to the higher education community on restoring some his cuts.

"I am so proud of higher education," Kelly said.

Gov. Jay Nixon's office budget was under fire from the House General Administration Appropriations over employees billed to other state agencies.

Committee Chairman Mark Parkinson, R-St. Charles, questioned John Watson, the governor's chief of staff, over employees working for the governor, but who are listed under the Department of Insurance and paid by other state agencies.

"Why not do the right thing and put them on the governor's office budget?" Parkinson asked.

Watson said the employees in question deal exclusively with the governor's appointments to various state boards and commissions.

"What we have tried to do is the resources that those folks are handling on a day to day basis for their duties are being paid for out of those resources by which they are doing the work," Watson said.

House Budget Chair Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, said he was not surprised by Nixon's employee shuffle.

"King Jay is going to do what King Jay wants to do," Silvey said.

The House has approved a bill Tuesday that will require Missourians to provide photo identification when voting.

The bill was perfected in a 104-54 vote Tuesday. Sponsor Rep. Shane Schoeller R-Greene, said that this bill will ensure that "every ballot that is counted is fair and accurate."

Opponents of the legislation said that the bill would negatively affect many people in the state of Missouri, such as African-Americans and the elderly.

House Veterans Committee hears testimony on a bill to allow Missourians to donate casino winnings.

Under the plan, Missourians would be given the option to donate part or all of their winnings to help fund Missouri's Veterans homes.

The bill sponsor Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, says that he is committed to raise money for the Missouri's Veterans homes.

House Veterans Committee Chair David Day says he hopes the committee will have a funding bill for Veterans within the next two weeks.

The Committee has discussed a bill which would allow the plastering of advertisements on public school buses, and passed a bill providing children easier access to their incarcerated mothers through to the House.

While the bill on advertising met no resistance, the committee asked for clarification on the specifics of the bill. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Mike Kelley, R-Lamar, said in the hearing that the advertisements would be local and general, and only placed on the passenger side of the buses. He said similar legislation has been successful in several other states.

The Committee also discussed a bill which would provide children transportation to two area prisons in Vandalia and Chillicothe to see their incarcerated mothers. The program would be tested for two years. The bill passed through the Committee to be discussed in the House.

The voter ID bill that Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed last year is back in the House this year. Lawmakers are again at odds if Missourians should be required to have a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot.

Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis County, says the bill infringes on voter's rights.

"If there's one eligible long-time voter who cannot vote under this, it's constitutionally and horribly wrong for this body to even consider," said Newman.

Other Democrats criticized the bill by saying it was part of a political agenda.

"No one can look themselves in the eye and say it has any other purpose than decrease the probability that older, poorer African-American women will vote. Mr. Speaker I'm ashamed to be here today," said Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia.

Proponents of the bill say it's to protect voter right and prevent fraudulent votes. Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, co-sponsors the bill. He represents part of Reynolds County. He says there are more people registered to vote in the county than people that actually live there.

"But when Frisky the dog gets to cast a vote in Reynolds County. That will cancel out their [people's] vote," said Smith.

If the bill passes, the voters will still have to approve a constitutional amendment before it is enacted. After two hours of debate, the House adjourned without voting on the bill Monday. The House plans to take up the bill again this later this week.

Senators officially entered a discussion Monday with the introduction of a bill that could put Interstate 70 on the path to becoming a toll road.

The Senate bill, introduced by Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, authorizes the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission to form a partnership with a private company. The company would provide funds for the upkeep of the highway and, in return, would be allowed to establish a tollway on I-70 between Wentzville and Blue Springs for reimbursement.

Kehoe said the proposal was a way to begin the discussion of potential options.

"Projects like this are going to have to become part of Missouri's transportation conversation," Kehoe said. "Whether this is the solution or we come up with another solution. Something has to be done."

Missouri doesn't have enough money to give public schools all the funding they are supposed to receive. However, there is nothing in the law that tells the state how to decide which schools' funding should be cut.

Rep. Mike Thomson, R-Maryville, is sponsoring a bill that would attempt to "minimize the hurt" schools feel in the 2013 fiscal year. The state is currently $268 million below what is needed to fully fund Missouri's schools and Thomson said that deficit could continue to grow if no action is taken.

It does this by using a "negotiated average" to decide which schools will not receive full funding in 2013. Schools who have not experienced an increase in funding in the last seven years will have a smaller percentage of cuts than districts that have received an increase in funding.

The General Assembly is attempting to decide how to distribute funds fairly when there are no guidelines about how to make those choices when there is not enough money. Without a change to the law this session, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has to make these decisions without legal authority, which could result in funding increases for some schools and decreases for others, Thomson said.

The current formula calculates school funding based on student attendance, property tax rates and local wealth. The formula also incorporates an "adequacy target," calculated by finding the average annual spending per student and recommending that as the minimum spending for all districts.

Thomson's bill was passed out of committee last week and will move to the House for debate.

Representative Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, presented a bill that would require sixteen years of public office from Missouri legislators to be eligible for retirement benefits.

As of now the requirement is six years, the bill would more than double it if passed.

During the committee hearing many of the representatives voiced their opposition.

Ahead of Missouri's Feb. 7 Primaries, the Santorum is looking ahead to the contest.

Hogan Gidley, the National Communications Director for the Santorum Campaign, says the absence of Newt Gingrich on the Missouri GOP primary ballot will provide the first real head-to-head match up between Santorum and front-runner Mitt Romney.

However, Missouri House Minority Leader Mike Talboy, D-Jackson Co., says the up to $8 million primary is an embarrassment and only a dress rehearsal for the March 17 caucuses.

As the U.S. winds down its military presence in the Middle East, Missouri's For Leonard Wood is one of the sites where American soldiers plant their first steps back in their home country.

Sergent Michael Zimmerman serves at the 55th Mobile Augmentation Company. In Afghanistan, he was working on one of the most dangerous jobs, clearing homemade bombs on the roads.

His wife, Valerie Zimmerman, said she knew her husband could leave at any moment when they married two years ago.

10 days before Valerie gave birth to their son Henry, Michael was deployed. He missed the birth of the boy, yet he is always the hero of the family.

Valerie said they talk about the father all the time. "Daddy calls all the time, he skypes with them all the time. They know, hopefully he knows who daddy is. I told Michael it might be a little bit adjustment to come home. You have a new baby that doesn't really know you."

Now Henry will be 1-year-old on Feb. 10. He can call Michael "Ba-ba-."

Valerie said as an army wife she has gained more than what she has given up.

"He knows that I love him and I know that he loves me," Valerie said with tears. "It's really hard not having him here."

Valerie was not the only one who was looking forward to the family reunion.

More than 90 soldiers returned home from Afghanistan this day.

After 12-month being apart, the Welcome Home Celebration was a spirit of excitement.

The Lieutenant Colonel Christopher McGowan, 5th Eng. Bn. commander, said although the next deployment date is unknown, the soldiers are always prepared to say goodbye.

"For the family, it's a little different," McGowan said. "They have the same stress and anxiety as the soldier does who's deployed. but they are at home and can't be close. I think for the soldiers it's really just, you are worried about your family, and how they are being taken care of. That really would help."

The returning hero, Michael Zimmerman, said is ready for his job as a father. "I'm just happy. I love it. I want more and more and more. That's my plan," said Zimmerman.

At a House Appropriations meeting Monday Representative Jason Hummel, D-St. Louis County, questioned the Lt. Governor on his proposed budget for the fiscal year.

Hummel asked Kinder why he would request the same budget of $400,000 this year, when last year, an audit deemed $60,000 of his travel expenses questionable. Kinder reimbursed the state with a $60,000 personal check.

Kinder explained to the committee that over the past 8 years, despite budget cuts, he has returned an average of five percent of his budget to the state. He responded to Hummel by saying he has the facts wrong.

Kinder told Hummel two audits have reviewed his past expenses and found nothing to comment on. He ended by saying he would not be spending more than he did in previous years. 


Facing expected Senate rejection of his confirmation, Jason Hall announced his resignation as director of the Department of Economic Development.

Hall's resignation was announced in a news release issued by the governor's office as the Senate began meeting on gubernatorial nominations.

Neither the governor nor his communications staff were available for immediate comment.

During Senate debate, Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said that at age 36, Hall was too young and lacked sufficient business experience to manage the agency that handles business promotion for the state.

During his earlier confirmation hearing, some members expressed frustration that Hall would not directly answer questions about his positions on various economic development issues.

The department has been under legislative review since last year when a Chinese investment project promoted by the department failed, leaving $39 million in bonds that had been issued by Moberly.

Gov. Jay Nixon one of his staff lawyers, Chris Pieper, as acting director of the department. He becomes the fourth economic development director during Nixon's administration.

Hall's resignation came as several other nominations by the governor were blocked in the Senate or withdrawn as the Senate met for the last time before a deadline to act on nominations made before the legislature began it's 2012 session.

At one point, legislators complained about the lack of communication by the governor.

Even a Democrat -- Sen. Ryan McKenna, D-Jefferson County -- voiced frustration with the failure of Nixon to talk with Senate members or for staff to coordinate effectively with the legislature.

The Missouri Senate blocked the nomination of Columbia attorney Craig Van Matre to the MU Board of Curators Thursday.

Several Senate Republicans filibustered Van Matre's nomination citing a 2007 editorial in the Columbia Daily Tribune where he called members of the Missouri Republican Party "minions" and said they wanted to create a Christian theocracy.

Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, opposed Van Matre's appointment and said he should not expect the Senate to approve his nomination after the words used in his 2007 editorial.

"I told him [Van Matre] won't have to temper his comments on the Board of Curators because he won't be on the Board of Curators," Engler said.

In 2007, Van Matre attacked a Republican legislator's plan to eliminate the state's non-partisan plan to appoint judges. He accused Republicans of being in control of the anti-abortion group Missouri Right to Life.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, sponsored Van Matre's nomination and withdrew it after opposition from members of his own party. Schaefer said Van Matre was qualified for the position, but that his appointment faced "insurmountable hills" in the Senate.

For the second week in a row, the Missouri House held a technical session instead of meeting on Thursday. It was a choice that got criticized on the Senate floor.

Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, said, "I was just commenting to our county commissioners who were up here from back home that the Senate's working and the House was not working."

House Floor Majority Leader Tim Jones responded to the complaint by saying the Senate should worry about their own business and leave the House business to the House.

Following an extensive filibuster, Missouri Senators finally gave approval to a bill that would limit discrimination protection for workers in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Senators reached a compromise after members from both sides of the aisles met behind closed doors to negotiate the bill's language while the filibuster continued. The two sides eventually reached a deal by eliminating parts of the bill dealing with summary judgment in discrimination cases.

Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, led the day-long filibuster against the business-backed bill. Earlier this week members of Missouri's Legislative Black Caucus spoke out against the bill, saying they supported their members in the Senate, and would continue to oppose the bill until it is defeated. Chappelle-Nadal said she would restart her filibuster if the proposal reached the Senate floor after being through the House.

As the Senate was locked down in a filibuster, private negotiations were underway with some member of the Black Caucus to force a compromise.

House Republican Leader Tim Jones said the goal was to get a bill passed that the governor would sign.  Nixon had vetoed a similar bill last year.

The House Education Committee approved a measure that could give extra state funds to lower-funded schools in a year when the state is facing the potential of a near standstill budget for public education.

Missouri's current formula for allocating funds to local schools is based an expectation of major funding increases to correct unequal levels of per-student spending among Missouri's school districts. 

The state's stagnant economy, however, has prevented the state for the last few years from meeting the formula's funding requirements.  For the next fiscal year, the state would be about $500 million below the "full funding" requirement of the law.

The measure approved by the House committee effectively would impose cuts per-student state funding for better off districts, called "hold-harmless" districts in order to free up funds for the poorer districts.

A similar plan to scale back state funding to hold-harmless districts, many in suburban areas, was blocked last year from a vote in the Senate by opponents who said it would be unfair to their districts that could see a reduction in state funding.

    Administrators from Planned Parenthood and the Missouri Catholic Council clashed over a House bill that would create more restrictions on the administration of abortion drugs.

    "This bill would seek to protect women by placing reasonable regulations and giving women basic information before using an abortion-inducing drug," bill sponsor Rep. Andrew Koenig, R- St. Louis County, said. "I believe it would reduce the number of abortions in the state"

    The bill would restrict the sale of RU-486 and other abortion inducing drugs that terminates a pregnancy in the first seven weeks. A prescription would be required 24 hours before administration of the drug by a licensed physician in a hospital or abortion facility. It would also prohibit "tele-med" abortions which allow a woman to have an abortion in her home under the supervision of a physician via teleconference.

    According to Planned Parenthood, they adopted tele-medicine to increase clinical availability in rural areas.

    The current abortion-pill distribution procedure requires the woman to come into the clinic for blood work, an ultrasound and a meeting with a physician. Within the next 72 hours the woman returns to the clinic to receive the first dose. She is then given the second dose, misoprostol, and pain medication along with instructions on how to self-administer the drug at home 24 to 48 hours after the first dose.

    The committee has not yet taken any action.

    A proposed bill would allow the Missouri Department of Transportation to only pay for the relocation of billboards not meeting state standards in construction zones.

    Many signs do not meet standard due to a 2002 law regulating the distance between billboards.

    Under current law, MoDOT has to pay for the removal and replacement of billboards.

    Republican Senator Jason Crowell questioned spending plans for the St. Louis Rams Stadium improvements Wednesday at a senate appointment hearing. Sports Complex Authority nominee James Shrewsbury told senators he does not believe the economy is stable enough to support major government funding.

    Crowell said if state money is needed for improvements, he wants it brought before the general assembly. He added he does not agree with funding a new dome when higher education is at 1997 levels.

    The discussion happened on the same day the Convention and Visitors Commission presented a plan for the Edward Jones Dome improvements to the Rams. The Rams have until March 1 to respond.

    The Senate Gubernatorial Appointments Committee refused to vote on the Governor's choice to head the Department of Economic Development.

    Jason Hall's appointment runs out Friday - and will be banned from the position - if he's not confirmed by the Senate or Gov. Nixon withdraws his nomination.

    Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, chairs the appointments committee and says the Governor hasn't talked to the Senate about the nomination - and Senators are concerned about Hall's work history.

    "Many of the Senators feel that he lacks experience. He has very little experience in private industry or business," Mayer said.

    But the President of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, Dan Mehan, disagreed.

    "He's intelligent, he knows economic development, and he knows how to consummate a deal," Mehan said.

    Governor Nixon's office issued a statement that says Jason Hall is "highly qualified," but did not address demands for the Governor to talk with legislators.

    A bill that would replace teacher tenure with continuing contracts was questioned today in a House Education Committee hearing.

    Representatives questioned the bill's sponsor Rep. Scott Dieckhaus, R-Washington, about the emphasis on "data" and "student growth" in teacher evaluations.

    Teachers would be evaluated for renewal of their contract annually. 50 percent of the evaluation would be based on teaching standards, 50 percent on student growth.

    Dieckhaus assured members of the committee that districts would have flexibility in creating standards for student growth and would not be locked in to state testing standards.

    The committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. today to hear the remaining testimony and go into executive session on the bill.

    Despite previous failures, legislators are once again attempting to create an international trade hub in St. Louis.

    The hub came before the General Assembly last session, but died when the House refused to take action on the bill. Legislators heard the same proposal during the special session, but members of each chamber could not compromise on the bill, effectively ending all hope of passing it, until the current session.

    The House Economic Development Committee unanimously passed the bill Tuesday, which grants a total of $60 million in tax credits over eight years to freight forwarders who direct cargo out of St. Louis to international destinations.

    St. Louis and Kansas City Catholic school leaders offered to take students from failing urban districts at a Senate Committee hearing Tuesday.

    The offer came during a Senate General Laws Committee hearing on bills to address the unaccredited St. Louis, Kansas City and the St. Louis County Riverview Gardens school districts. Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, led the efforts.

    Superintendent for Catholic Schools in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese Dr. Dan Peters told the committee his schools could provide a quality education for half the cost of public schools. Associate Superintendent for the St. Louis Archdiocese Dr. Robert Oliveri also told Senators his schools have about 7,700 empty seats to accommodate students from St. Louis Public Schools.

    "We want to allow students like ours the chance to choose a caring educational environment," said Leon Henderson, President of Cardinal Ritter Catholic High School in St. Louis.

    In 2010, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld a law in Turner v. Clayton that allows students living in unaccredited school districts to go to an accredited school in a adjacent county. In St. Louis, county schools have resisted letting students from St. Louis City enroll, citing a lack of availability.

    Cunningham's plan allows St. Louis City students to attend county schools, but also allows those same schools to set limits on enrollment. The bill also includes a tax credit, which opponents call "vouchers", allowing students in unaccredited districts to attend private schools.

    For the Kansas City school district, Cunningham calls for an annexation of the Kansas City school district by surrounding suburban districts with stronger academic reputations.

     The Army Corps of Engineers took the heat for their handling of the 2011 Missouri River floods at a Senate committee hearing Tuesday.

    Victims of last year's flood voiced their opinions to The Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy and the Environment committee.

    Representatives from the governments of Holt and Atchison County testified and said they had concerns in regards to the role of the Corps.

    Atchison County Commissioner Curtis Livengood spoke against the Corps' approach to the 2011 flood.

    "This didn't just affect Mid-Missouri and we have a huge loss of revenues," "We needed immediate assistance and relief after the inevitable flood damage," Livengood said.

    Livengood said that more areas can be improved by preparing citizens in better ways.

    The University of Missouri System announced Tuesday it wants system curators to approve as much as a 7.5% tuition increase.

    The decision comes after Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon proposed a 12.5% funding cut to higher education in his FY 2013 budget. Factoring in withholdings from previous budgets, the slash may be as high as 15.1%.

    In documents posted online, the system recommended increases on all four UM system campuses at a 6.5% average--although the spike needs approval from the Missouri Department of Higher Education.

    A bill that would bar public sector unions from withholding fees from employee paychecks ended in filibuster and discussion about the future of the Senate's calendar Tuesday.

    Senator Tim Green D-Saint Louis filibustered the bill, sponsored by Senator Dan Brown R-Rolla.

    Senator Victor Callahan D-Independence then questioned the importance of bills being placed on the Senate's priority list.

    The House Higher Education Committee unanimously approved a bill Tuesday forcing Missouri's public universities to accept transfer credit from sister institutions.

    The bill, sponsored by Representative Mike Thomson, R-Maryville, would streamline the process of transferring credits by requiring the universities to create a list of 25 transferable lower-division courses.

    The measure also allows students to use credits from public four-year universities to get an associates degree, after leaving a community college.

    Thomson says the current system of transferring credits isn't always to the student's benefit.

    "They're not universal. They're not all the way across the state and we often time have students that transfer from school to school that don't really lose a credit, they still have it, but it doesn't really count for what they intended it to," said Thomson, a former school administrator.

    Representative Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, is opposed to the bill.

    "It's a bad idea to tell universities how to conduct transfer credits because the legislatures don't know anything about [the process]," Kelly said.

    Senators questioned Monday whether Gov. Jay Nixon's choice for the new Director of the Department of Economic Development is experienced enough to turn around the state's decade-long economic struggle.

    At a Gubernatorial Appointments Committee hearing nine senators delayed action to vote on Jason Hall's approval to efficiently serve as Missouri's DED Director. Committee Chair and Senate President Pro Tem, Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said the committee will meet again Wednesday to further discuss Hall's potential appointment.

    Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, showed frustration in the meeting after Hall told him he had no opinion on several legislative proposals. Crowell asked Hall his stance on the state's prevailing wage law, right to work law and minimum wage law. Hall told Crowell he had not "had much experience" with those legislative proposals and had no opinion.

    Rep. Penny Hubbard, D-St. Louis City, who has worked in the St. Louis corrections department for over 25 years, proposed the bill. The bill would give state funding to a two-year pilot program to provide transportation for children to visit their incarcerated mothers once each month.

    The program would provide transportation for children and their caregivers to the two primary Missouri female corrections centers in Chillicothe and Vandalia.

    Hubbard said that often when a parent is incarcerated, the children are left in the care of relatives or foster families, many of which do not have the means or time to transport these children to see their mothers on a regular basis. Hubbard also said that reconnecting these women with their children would give support to these children, who often feel abandoned or resentful for being taken away from their mothers.

    “We have to love these children more, we have to try to reach them.” Hubbard said.

    Missouri Legislative Black Caucus members held a press conference Monday opposing a bill they say will erase years of progress for civil rights and worker discrimination protection.

    Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, sponsored the bill and said he wants to bring Missouri statute in line with federal law.

    The bill changes current state law to require discrimination to be considered a motivating factor for termination of employment, instead of a contributing one. Lager's proposal also puts a cap of $300,000 on punitive damages.

    The press conference was held a week after three Democratic senators began a filibuster to stop the chamber from taking action on the bill. Sen. Kiki Curls, D-Jackson County, said she would continue the filibuster for as long as it takes to defeat the bill.

     

    In order to fund future improvements to Interstate 70, the Missouri Department of Transportation wants to create a toll on the highway through Missouri. The toll would be in place on a stretch of interstate between Wentzville and Blue Springs.

    Missouri lawmakers are trying to find an alternative to the toll. Rep. Thomas Long, R-Springfield, is sponsoring a bill that would ban MoDOT from implementing the toll and put the venture into a public-private partnership. A public-private partnership is when a government enters into a project with the funding, or joint funding, of a private company.

    Marah Campbell, MoDOT Director of Customer Service Relations, says the cost to improve the roadway could be up to $2 billion. With state funding of $600 million per year, she said this is impossible.

    "It's just not possible to think that we would ever be able to tackle a project of the magnitude I-70," Campbell said. "In reality, tolling I-70 may be the only way this project could ever get accomplished."

    MoDOT does not have a time table for future road construction.

        The sister of a resident at a state-run home for the "intellectually disabled" testified against a bill that would close such homes and integrate their residents into community life. 

    The bill would require the Department of Mental Health to develop a plan to move intellectually disabled persons out of state-funded facilities and into community based living.

    Dolores Sparks, Chair-Elect of the Congress on Disability Policy, said she believes that the state should assist people in transitioning into an acceptable environment.

    Sparks said she believed the proposed bill would accomplish this.

    She said she believes Missouri is doing a good job transitioning individuals into the community. She said the challenge is the cost of care in the institutional settings.

    According to the Department of Mental Health, the average cost of supporting individuals in the community, in 2011, was $211 per day. The average cost for a resident in an institution can range from $353 to a high cost of $578.

    Vitale said the estimated cost of living for these individuals in the community is inaccurate. 

    Many expenses such as dental, medical, therapies, transportation costs, room and board and day programming are included in calculating habilitation costs, but not in community costs.

    The House bill follows a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1999, known as the Olmstead Act. This law would transition "people with disabilities into the least restrictive type of care," Rep. Zachary Wyatt, R-Green Castle, said.

    The House did not take immediate action.

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    Missouri Digital News is produced by Missouri Digital News, Inc. -- a non profit organization of current and former journalists.