MDN Menu
MDN.ORG Mo. Digital News Missouri Digital News MDN.ORG: Mo. Digital News MDN.ORG: Missouri Digital News
 
NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of February 13, 2012

After the University of Missouri System tightened the ropes on creating audio recordings of lectures, a proposed bill in the Missouri House of Representatives would allow students to share those lectures with the public.

In December, the UM System issued a policy that restricts students’ right to share lecture recordings. The policy was issued in response to a posted lecture from a UM-Kansas City student. The video was edited to suggest the professor advocated union violence, said MU journalism associate professor Charles Davis.

The bill sponsor, Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific, said some UM students complained that the policy would inhibit their willingness and ability to learn. Curtman said although he understood why the university made that policy, it was a legislator’s responsibility to make laws that serve people’s rights best.

Curtman said students might enjoy sharing their recordings with their families and sometimes other students.

“This bill would allow students to continue their recording habits and sharing recordings with public in personal use only,” Curtman said. “The bill does protect intellectual property rights and copyright laws.”

The Missouri Senate voted on Thursday to extend the filing period to declare candidacy for the state primary elections.

Sen. Mike Parson, R-Polk, sponsored the bill that would move the statewide candidate's filing deadline from Feb. 28 to March 27.

The Senate passed the bill with a unanimous vote. The bill would give the citizens commission charged with drawing a map time so that candidates know which district to file in.

Parson said the bill was necessary because the state Supreme Court tossed out the state Senate map earlier this month.

The Missouri Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday regarding the constitutionality of changes to congressional districts in Missouri.

After the 2010 Census, Missouri had to redraw its congressional districts based on changes in the population. The General Assembly overrode a veto on its maps by Gov. Jay Nixon.

The Constitution of Missouri states that districts must be "as compact as may be."

Attorneys Jamie Landes and Gerald Greiman presented arguments against the "compactness" of the new maps. They say alternative maps could achieve more compactness than the proposed map of HB 193.

"County boundaries are important, so you want to split them as little as possible. ... The 5th District under HB193 covers five counties ... there is no reason whatsoever for it to cover five counties when it could cover one and a portion," Landes said.

Appellate Attorney Edward Greim defended the proposed map's compactness.

"It's about whether the territory is closely united enough to make a district. That's as good as we can do," Greim said.

A House committee cut $68 million of state funds from health care programs Thursday to boost funding for higher education, but some Democrats warned the cuts are not as effective as originally proposed.

The committee chairman Rep. Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage, said he would recommend to the full House Budget Committee that the cuts to social services be used to boost public university funding.

Missouri's public universities were facing a 15.1 percent reduction under Gov. Jay Nixon's 2013 budget proposal until Nixon used $40 million from a national mortgage settlement to soften his initial cuts. If the cuts from the social services budget are used solely to fund higher education, then the universities face only a 1.3 percent decrease from last fiscal year.

Long-time House Budget Committee member Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said he hadn't had a chance to look at the proposed social services cuts and their effects, but that he was "happy with the result" of more funds to higher education.

Some of the committee's cuts, however, may come back to cost the state money during the next fiscal year.

A Republican legislator's plan for improving Missouri's teachers came under bipartisan attack Wednesday for not going far enough. The senator's bill would require each school district to create a system of evaluating teachers and its own standards for "instructional improvement."

Two senators from St. Louis County, Republican Jane Cunningham and Democrat Maria Chappelle-Nadal, said the legislation fails to establish a quantifiable standard for student performance. Cunningham said that without specifying what qualifies as "learning," a district could create lower standards than what the state requires.

Cunningham said the bill, sponsored by Rep. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, comes too late in an existing conversation. Chappelle-Nadal said schools in St. Louis County, where she serves on a school board, already have these practices.

The Missouri Supreme Court is facing how to deal with students in unaccredited school districts for the second time since 2007, when St. Louis public schools lost state accreditation.

The Webster Groves school district presented its appeal against the recent Supreme Court decision in the case of Turner v. the School District of Clayton. In Turner v. Clayton, the court ruled that schools were required to admit students asking to transfer out of unaccredited districts. Webster Groves' attorney said this law is impossible to enforce.

The ability for students to transfer out of unaccredited districts is one of many education issues the state government is considering. The General Assembly is creating a package of education bills including tougher evaluations for teachers, the public school funding formula, accountability for charter schools and how to deal with the unaccredited districts in St. Louis in Kansas City.

Turner v. Clayton goes to trial next month in St. Louis County Court.

Missouri's General Assembly ended its investigation into the failed Mamtek project in Moberly on Wednesday with the release of the Senate's findings.

In its investigation report, the Senate Governmental Accountability Committee released a series of recommendations that advocate stricter restrictions of the issuance of industrial bonds by local governments. The report also recommended the Department of Economic Development establish a five-star rating system to evaluate businesses seeking incentives for development projects.

Committee chairman Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, said the recommendations were put forth to prevent future failures. Lembke also maintained that the DED did not do its due diligence while looking into Mamtek U.S. Inc., the domestic branch of the China-based company.

The Senate committee released the report two days after a House committee put out a similar report. The House and Senate panels were only two of a series of investigations into the artificial sweetener plant. The Securities and Exchange Commission as well as Missouri's Attorney General have also investigate the financial collapse of Mamtek.

While the House report suggested the General Assembly look into adopting legislation that would mandate increased due diligence and responsibility from the DED and local economic development departments, the Senate's recommendations focus more on discussing changes with the current DED.

The recommendations do, however, suggest legislation requiring voter approval for municipal issuance of appropriation bonds. Lembke said he plans to work on improvements for the future, which includes filing legislation to deal bond issues.

Students from the University of Missouri delivered 6,000 letters to Gov. Jay Nixon and other legislators to protest higher education budget cuts.

The letters are part of the "More for Less" campaign started by the Missouri Students Association.

Zach Toombs, MSA director of student communications and the creator of the campaign, is hopeful the letters will have an effect on legislators.

The House passed a bill that would protect Southeast Missouri rice farmers’ water supply. The bill now advances to the Senate.

The measure would allow for injunctions against operations that use more than 100,000 gallons of water per day.

Rep. Kent Hampton, R-Malden, sponsors the bill. He says the bill would not only benefit agriculture, but also other industry and small business.

Rep. Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis, is a critic of the bill. He says this is no different than water restriction and would prevent industries, like bottling companies, from being established in the area.

Teens would be restricted from tanning salons if two bills pass that would require parental consent.

Donna Payne, the owner of a tanning salon in Jefferson City, said she is not worried about the bills.

The first bill, sponsored by Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, would ban the use of tanning beds to children under the age of 15. A substitute put forth by the House Health Care Committee would make the punishment for a first offense a $250 fine and a $500 fine for a second offense, as opposed to a class C misdemeanor, which the original bill proposed.

The second bill would require parental consent for the use of tanning beds to teens 17 years and younger.

The committee members said prompt action will be taken.

Rep. T.J. Berry, R-Clay County, presented a bill to the House International Trade Committee that would create a "safe zone" in the Kansas City area. The bill would essentially create an agreement between Kansas and Missouri to match economic incentives within a 30 mile radius of the cities.

If Kansas doesn't pass matching or similar legislation, the bill would mandate the state spend $1.50 on economic incentives in the Kansas City area for every $1.00 offered by Kansas.

Representatives are worried about the state facing debt issues if the bill is passed.

The Senate Education Committee passed three bills out of committee on Wednesday.

  • SB483 establishes a scholarship program for high school students that graduate in less than 36 months. the scholarships will equal the amount of state aid their school would receive for their graduation. 90 percent of the money goes toward the scholarship, the remianing 10 percent goes to the school as a grant.
  • SB562 expands the right to lease land to all state universities. The University of Missouri is currently the only university which holds the titles to its own land.
  • SB563 changes the terms for the Missouri State University Board of Governors so no more than three members' terms can expire in one year. 

The Missouri Senate passed a proposal Wednesday that would alter state workers' compensation rules.

The biggest changes that the bill proposes deal with clearly defining the term "co-employee" to ensure that employees can not be sued by their colleagues for a workplace injury. The bill establishes that occupational diseases are covered under workers' compensation law and separates the Second Injury Fund from workers' comp.

Bill sponsor Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County, said his bill would give clarity to laws concerning workplace injury cases. Dempsey's bill also serves the purpose of codifying rules established by a 2010 court ruling, which permitted employees to seek civil action against other employees for a workplace injury. This type of lawsuit is not currently covered under workers' compensation.

The Senate proposal will head to the House, which is still holding committee hearings over its own workers' compensation legislation.

The Webster Groves school district presented its appeal against the Supreme Court decision in the Turner v. School district of Clayton case.

The previous case upheld a state law allowing students in unaccredited districts to transfer schools, and leaving their former school with the bill.

The Webster Groves case is arguing that schools often don't receive those funds and that the statute is impossible to enforce. The eligibility of the student to transfer is also in question; they currently attend a private school in St. Louis, but live in the unaccredited district.

The Turner case is set to go to trial next month.

State senators suspended chamber rules Wednesday in order to fast-track a bill that pushes back candidate filing dates for Missouri's August 2012 primary.

Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, said he sponsored the proposal in order to give candidates an appropriate time frame to file for candidacy since Missouri's district maps are still being debated by the courts.

"Hopefully the commission can get a map done by that point," Parson said.

Parson said the changes only apply to the 2012 election and that the governor was on board with delaying the filing period.

The bill pushes back the filing period a month to between March 27 and April 24. The proposal also includes a provision that would require the Secretary of State to reimburse local governments for costs incurred while advertising the new filing date.

Parson asked the Senate to suspend the chamber's rules so that senators did not have to wait for a day before voting.

The Senate still has to give second-round approval to Parson's bill before it heads to the House. 

The state General Laws committee heard a bill Tuesday afternoon that will make a few adjustments to the Missouri Constitution.

Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles, sponsors the bill.

Rupp says if the bill is passed, it would remove the section in the Missouri Constitution that prohibits distribution of public funds to religious organizations.

Testimonies of proponents and opponents followed after Rupp's proposal.

The committee took no action on the bill Tuesday.

Two bills that would get rid of the non-partisan election of judges were heard by the House Judicial Reform Committee for the first time.

Representative Stanley Cox is the sponsor of one of these bills. He said the current selection of judges is undemocratic because the general population does not have any input. Under his plan, judges would be appointed by the governor and the Senate would vote to approve these judges. Judges would also be reevaluated every 8-12 years.

The current non-partisan plan has a judicial committee that selects judges based on merit. The governor then picks one of three judges to serve.

The Missouri Bar Association opposes these bills.

President of the Missouri Bar Association Lynn Vogel said, "the least political way to select judges is non-partisan."

No action will be taken on these bills until they are heard by the committee for a second time.

The Senate General Laws Committee passed a bill to allow students in failing school districts to use state tax credits to attend private or parochial schools.

Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, sponsored the bill, which addresses students attending the unaccredited St. Louis and Kansas City School Districts. Suburban St. Louis school district Riverview Gardens has also lost its accreditation.

"This would provide students an automatic accredited education," Cunningham said.

Catholic school leaders had previously urged lawmakers to allow students in failing districts to attend their schools. tw

According to Cunningham, the tax credit would allow students living in a failing school district to attend private schools without violating the so-called "Blaine Amendment" in the Missouri Constitution, which prohibits state funds to religious institutions.

The committee passed the measure with a 7-1 vote. The only "no" vote was Sen. Kiki Curls, D-Kansas City, who said the tax credit would not reach the targeted population of students.

In a unanimous decision, the state's high court threw out a package of ethics laws passed in 2010.

The measures imposes penalties on lobbyists for filing false information, gives the Ethics Commission power to launch its own investigations, requires electronic filing of more campaign finance reports and restricts transfer of funds between political committees.

The provisions had been passed in the aftermath of stories of a federal grand jury investigation into former House Speaker Rod Jetton and campaign contributions.

Supporters argued the heightened exposure of campaign contributions would balance the legislature's action to remove the cap on campaign contributions.

But Missouri's Supreme Court held that the legislature had violated a state Constitutional provision that prohibits expanding a bill beyond it's original topic.

The original bill covered only state contract bidding and procurements.

"The multiple provisions relating to campaign finance, ethics and keys to the capitol dome are not logically connected or germane to procurement," the court wrote in its decision.

The reference to the dome relates to a section tacked onto the bill that requires the administration to provide legislators with keys to the top dome above the Capitol rotunda.

The Senate business committee has passed a bill on Tuesday allowing businesses to not provide insurance coverage for birth control or abortion, if it's against the employer's religious beliefs.

The bill's greatest supporter, besides sponsor St. Louis County Senator John Lamping, is the Catholic Church.

Representing every Catholic Bishop of Missouri, Bishop John Gaydos of Jefferson City said it is imperative for this bill to be passed quickly.

Gaydos said, ""Regulators proceeded to write a rule that violates the moral and religious convictions of Americans."

A spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Missouri says medical treatments would be even more difficult to access.

The committee passed the bill by a six to two vote along party lines.

The bill will now move to the Senate floor.

The General Laws House Committee heard testimony Tuesday in favor of the addition of cell phones and fax machines to the Missouri No Call List Registry.

Currently, the law only protects land line residential users from telemarketers.

Assistant Attorney General Joan Gummels spoke in favor of the bill.

"We receive numerous calls statewide from people wanting register their cells phone numbers or to file a complaint against unwanted solicitation," Gummels said.

Rep. Todd Richardson R-Butler is sponsoring the legislation. The Committee took no action on the bill.

The House debated a bill which would require all driver license tests to be taken in English.

The bill would not allow driver's test to be given in any language other than English. Currently, tests are offered in 12 languages, including English.

Opponents said they fear that the bill would limit immigrants ability to drive and go to work.

Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-St. Louis City, said the deaf or hearing-impaired could not have a interpreter at the exam under the bill.

"I've got a lot of immigrants in my community and they want to be able to get to work and they want to be able to get their drivers license," said Rep. Karla May, D-St. Louis County.

The bill was tabled and remains on the House calendar.

The Senate Health, Mental Health, Seniors and Families Committee heard testimony on a bill to further regulate child care centers.

One aspect of the bill is called “Sam Pratt's Law” and would allow the Department of Health and Senior Services to investigate and shut down unlicensed day care centers and will prohibit day care providers who has pending criminal charges continue working.

The bill also includes “Nathan's Law,” which allows a child care provider to be exempt from licensing if the person is caring for four or fewer children exclude children related to them.

Two Witnesses supported the bill and said this bill would protect children in Missouri.

Over the last 35 months, 54 children died in day care centers in Missouri. The bill sponsor Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St.Charles, said the law would address this problem and it had a good chance to pass.

The committee took no action on the bill Tuesday.

Questions about President Barack Obama's citizenship surfaced during a House committee hearing Tuesday.

The House Elections Committee conducted a public hearing on a bill that would require all presidential and vice-presidential candidates to submit their proof of citizenship to be on the Missouri ballot. The bill's sponsor Rep. Lyle Rowland, R-Cedarcreek, said his measure responds to "controversy" about our current president.

"We are here in the Show-Me State and we just want to be shown if what they [candidates] claim to be is true," Rowland said.

Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis County, opposed the bill and called it an "utter waste of time."

Newman said that presidential candidates are nominated by the National Republican and Democratic Parties, who are responsible for vetting their qualifications.

Managers of economic development projects could soon be held to stricter due diligence measures if Missouri's General Assembly takes the suggestions of a House committee in charge of looking into the downfall of the Mamtek Moberly project.

The advice from the committee includes new laws mandating increased due diligence from state officials and a more exhaustive vetting process of companies seeking state incentives for economic development projects. Some of this proposed legislation would require the Department of Economic Development to produce copies of "all information it has about any company seeking both state and local economic development incentives" with all local governments of counties competing for the business. A similar law proposed by the report would mandate local officials to report any negative information they receive about a company to the state.

Both of Missouri's legislative chambers, along with the the Securities and Exchange Commission and the state Attorney General, have been investigating the domestic branch of the China-based company since its financial collapse last fall. The investigation was prompted after Mamtek U.S. Inc., failed to make a $39 million bond payment to the city of Moberly. Mamtek was supposed to make the payment as part of a project to develop a sucralose plant, which Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, said would create over 600 jobs.

Currently cell phones are not on the state no call list.

Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County, sponsors the bill.

The bill met no objection today in the Senate. Kraus says he thinks the bill will move through the Senate this week and once in the House it will meet little objection.

Supporters of Planned Parenthood spoke out against Senate legislation that would allow health care providers to limit coverage for moral reasons. That would include items such as birth control and abortion services.

Democratic Representative Chris Kelly said the Catholic Church as a business shouldn't be exempt from the Affordable Care Act. He said hospitals and other facilities associated with the Church should provide the same services as any other institution.

On the other side, Senator Scott Rupp sponsors one of the bills, SJR 49. He said no health care provider should be obligated to provide services that he or she is morally against.

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.

Get the radio story

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. 


<="" div="">

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

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