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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of February 27, 2012

Missouri's death penalty was questioned Thursday morning by a task force for the American Bar Association.

The task force conducted a study of Missouri's capital punishment and published recommendations for the General Assembly.

Paul Litton, task force member and University of Missouri law professor, said, "Missouri has inadequate measures to guard against wrongful conviction."

Members of the task force said their report was neutral on whether there should be a moratorium on executions. Not one member, however, said that they supported capital punishment.

Some of the task force's recommendations included a review of how the police identify suspects and whether or not mentally ill people should be sentenced to death.

The team could not cite any particular past or present case that the recommendations would have changed.

The Missouri Senate beat the weekend deadline to approve House Concurrent Resolution 8 and voted in favor to reject the MO State Tax Commission's recommendation to increase the grades of agricultural land that could be taxed based on their productivity and yield.

The resolution was approved in a 19-8 vote.

Sen. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown, sponsored the bill, and said that in light of recent natural disasters that have afflicted Missouri, farmers can't afford to pay the increased taxes.

"Following 2011, where we had multiple disasters in 'Ag Country,' with the floods, droughts, straight winds, tornadoes...everything that really made 2011 not a very good year...I personally didn't think it was a good time to be raising taxes," said Munzlinger.

There was push back by senators from urban and suburban areas of the state, who said they doubted that the agriculture industry had as bad of a year as they claimed and said that it was unfair that farmers have not seen tax increases in 15 years.

"I have read articles that the farming industry was one of the bright spots in the economy this year," said Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis City.

The top budget leader in the Missouri House announced his plan to restore the proposed cut to public universities by eliminating a state program for the blind.

House Budget chairman Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, plans on ending a $28 million program for the blind in order to reverse the 15 percent cut to public universities called for by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.

"The governor's assault on higher education ends today," Silvey said.

Silvey's plan would add a total of $106 million more than Nixon's proposal giving colleges the same amount of money they are getting this year.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said he applauded Silvey's work to restore the cuts to colleges, but did not agree with taking money from the blind.

"I would rather go into the administration of state government for the cuts than the blind," Kelly said.

To restore Nixon's higher education cuts, Silvey took $28 million from the Supplemental Aid to the Blind program which provides care for 2,800 people, who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid. Blindness is the only disability in Missouri to have this special fund.

"It's about a fundamental question of fairness in the disability community," Silvey said.

The House passed a bill that would add a state lottery ticket for the Veterans Commission Capital Improvement Trust Fund.

It would require the state lottery to develop and begin selling the tickets July 1, 2013.

"This is very necessary, needed to insure that we continue to provide services to our veterans in our seven veterans homes. Without this resolution, the veterans home fund and trust fund will be bankrupt by the end of 2013," said the bill's sponsor Rep. Sheila Solon, R-Blue Springs.

All of the profits from the lottery would go toward veterans programs.

The bill passed by a vote of 137 to 14. It will now move to the Senate for approval and would require a public vote before the amendment is added.

The Senate Judiciary committee reviewed a bill that would eliminate the sentencing disparities between powder and crack cocaine. The current powder cocaine to crack ratio is 75 to 1.

Under current law, the penalty for possessing two grams of crack cocaine or 449 grams of powder cocaine is a class A felony, which is punishable by a 10 year minimum prison sentence or a maximum of a life term.

Shelley Blecha testified in favor of legislation that would enact rules and penalties for unlicensed child care providers.

The bill is named Nathan's Law after Blecha's son, who died in the care of an unlicensed child care provider when he was three months old.

The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Jill Schupp, D-St. Louis County, says she is pleased with the support the bill has garnered thus far.

However, Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, wanted more clarification on vague language included in the bill, and Kerry Messer, a representative from Missouri Family Network, opposed certain limits placed on how many children a provider can care for at one time.

A bill read before the Missouri Senate would change Missouri's corrections system to revamp parole and probation guidelines.

The sponsor of the bill, Sen. Jack Goodman, R-Mt. Vermont, said he hopes the bill would reduce the number of offenders in prison, as well as deter offenders from returning to crime, thus saving taxpayers money.

If this bill passes, it would be legal to kill a mountain lion.

Upon killing a mountain lion, you would have 24 hours to turn the carcass in to the Department of Conservation.

Animal advocacy groups argued these animals are native and killing them shouldn't be legal.

Nearly 400 people filed for public office on Tuesday.

Sen. Jim Lembke,R-St.Louis County, was not one of them pending on the approval of the redistricting maps.

Lembke could possibly file later on for district 15, which is now represented by China Hub bill sponsor Republican Senator Eric Schmitt.

Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St.Louis County, filed for district seven and filed a lawsuit against the new redistricting maps too.

Missouri may soon know how much the death penalty actually costs in comparison to a sentence of life without the chance of parole.

A bill presented to the Senate Governmental Accountability committee would require the state auditor to audit the costs of administering the death penalty, in the state of Missouri. The audit would compare both the direct and indirect costs born by both the county and state government in prosecution and defense of all homicide cases on or after January 1, 1977 where the death penalty was sought and where it would not. An equal number of cases will be chosen by a random sampling method.

The incarceration costs for individuals on death row cost more. Litton said most of the costs come from the trials and the preparation for the trials. He said the pretrial takes longer because the jurors must be death qualified and will follow the law.

American Civil Liberties legislative consultant, Jeremy Lafaver said he believes Missouri should have the study conducted by a state auditor. He said that the if interest groups conduct the studies, it would call into question the end result of the study.

The Senate Jobs Committee heard a bill establishing the Missouri Works Program.

The program would provide tax incentives to businesses for job creation and capital investment.

Republican Senator Eric Schmitt sponsors the bill. He says he believes it is the next step in improving job growth in Missouri as a manufacturing state.

Tax incentive credits alloted for fiscal year 2013 would total $111 million. The incentives would peak in fiscal year 2015 at $141 million.

Schmitt says the main goal of the bill is to reward companies for creating jobs and helping the economy grow.

The Missouri House approved a bill, and policy favored by pro-business groups, that would change the way damages are awarded in civil cases.

The measure paves the way to comparative negligence in civil suits, meaning those found guilty in multiple defendant cases would pay damages based on ho much they are at fault.

Currently, if one defendant does not have adequate funds to pay the damages, then the other defendant(s) must pick up the tab.

This is policy that the Missouri Chamber of Commerce has pushed in the past. The Chamber of Commerce states as part of the 2011 "Fix the Six" movement that this kind of tort reform is needed - so that businesses who may not be entirely at fault do not have to pay 100 percent of the damages.

If passed, this legislation would require exotic animal owners to obtain a permit for owning a primate.

The only primate owners who would be required to obtain a permit would be large ape and baboon owners.

If this bill passes primate owners would also be required to microchip their pets.

The bill passed through the committee with a vote of 6-1.

A special Senate Committee began its investigation into the Department of Social Services Tuesday.

Jennifer Tidball from the Missouri Department of Social Services summarized the major funding sources and grants for the department.

The report also gave options for the committee whether to eliminate or reduce a program.

One of the grants mentioned include Childcare and Development Block Grant. The purpose of this grant is to help low-income families to receive temporary assistance to pay for child support.

Tidball said the program costs the state $128.1 million of general revenue funds.

The Committee will meet next week to continue their investigation. They will be looking into the state's Medicaid "spend down" program. 

A leading St. Louis County conservative in the Missouri Senate has filed for office in the heart of Kansas City, after the new state Senate map moved her district across the state.

Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, filed for the 2012 election in her current Senate seat Tuesday, despite her district being moved across the state. The new seventh district includes the urban core of Kansas City and is currently represented by Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City.

As candidate filing began Tuesday, Cunningham said she may launch a legal challenge to the new Senate map, but filed in her old district anyway. Her only opponent so far is Rep. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City.

"I think I will do whatever is necessary to make sure it is constitutional," Cunningham said about the map.

The new Senate map was released by a bi-partisan commission appointed by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon. The map does not become final until March 12, when the commission has to take another vote for its adoption.

Members of Missourians for Responsible Lending and Metropolitan Congregations United said payday loans are too high. They want to cap the loans at 36 percent interest.

On Tuesday, they began their information session with a prayer and said it is against their religion to have high loan rates because the Bible teaches to take care of the poor.

Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia, has been trying to get loans capped at 36% for the last three years. She said the loans are hurting consumers.

"They get a loan, they don't quite understand the terms. Then they go get another loan...and then they get further and further in debt so it becomes a cycle of debt," Still said.

She said she hopes an initiative petition capping interest at 36 percent will have enough signatures to be on the ballot.

Tuesday's start for candidate filing period was filled with uncertainty as the state Senate map has yet to be finalized.

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, said he has not filed for the 2012 election because the preliminary Senate map puts him in a Democratic-leaning district.

“Based on what is happening in the redistricting process, there are still a lot of uncertainties. And I will keep all my options open.”

Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, is running against incumbent Sen. Robin Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis City, in 2012, but the map has drawn her home 200 feet out of that district.

Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, whose district was eliminated in the new maps has filed in a Kansas City based district that shares her current district number under the new map.

“I will do whatever is necessary to make sure it [the redistricting map] is constitutional,” Cunningham said.

Candidate filing is open until March 27. The new Senate map could be finalized as soon as March 12.

The Missouri House passed a bill that would change the laws regarding workers' compensation and unemployment benefits.

The bill sponsor Rep. Barney Fisher, R-Vernon, said there were two major changes to the current law.

The bill would allow certain claims to be delivered electronically rather than certified mail.

"This will allow them considerable savings of around $100,000 if they can get the statutory changed," Fisher said.

The bill also changes the requirement for quarterly electronic reports. Missouri currently requires that employers with 250 or more workers must submit a quarterly wage report to the division electronically. The bill would reduce the requirement to employers with more than 50 employees.

There was no opposition to the bill. It passed unanimously in the House.

A decision by U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, to challenge U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, for a congressional seat has left Democratic lawmakers hoping a primary between the two can be avoided with a Missouri court decision.

As candidate filing began Tuesday, Carnahan and Clay filed for the same congressional district, which includes all of St. Louis City and northern St. Louis County.

The Missouri Supreme Court is expected to rule within days on a legal challenge to the new congressional maps passed by the General Assembly after overriding a veto from Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.  

"We are still hopeful that the Supreme Court and this body will end up revisiting the maps, and we'll be able to work that out, because I would hate to see them run against each other," said Rep. Susan Carlson, D-Saint Louis City.

Rep. Tishaura Jones, D-St. Louis City, says the contest will not be pretty and will be divided along racial lines.

"This is going to be a very divisive race, for the city and for the region," Jones said, "It's going to be hard, its going to be nasty, its going to be ugly, everything that people don't like about politics, this race is going to embody that."

With less than a day to go before representatives can begin filing for candidacy, Missouri is still without newly established House districts.

Plaintiff Paul Wilson, representing the voters in the Supreme Court case Johnson v. The State of Missouri, said that the 7.8 percent standard deviation in population in the districts could be lowered. He said the high deviation violates the Missouri Constitution saying the districts should be as close as possible to being equal in population.

The Supreme Court judges and Wilson debated the language of the Constitution. The definitions of “possible,” “practicable” and “as may be” were questioned throughout the case.

The plaintiffs also argued the new maps violated the continuity requirement.

Plaintiff and former legislator, Joan Bray said it bothers her that rivers are barriers and prevent someone from moving around the district without leaving it.

Bray also said she believes the new districts are too big. She said if the population in one district is larger than another, an individual’s vote in the larger district does not mean as much.

Rob Hess, representing the legislators, said an intervening body of water does not break the continuity requirement.

There is no perfect map, and somebody is always unhappy with every map,” Hess said. “I think this map is a good map and I think it meets the constitutional requirements.”

The Supreme Court did not reach a decision on the new district maps, and the filing date has not been delayed.Candidate filing begins Tuesday at 8 a.m. with the assumption that the new maps are the established districts even if they are being debated. If the maps change, candidates will be required to refile under the new districts.

On the eve of the opening day for candidate filings, a petition was filed in Cole County circuit court asking for a temporary stall in when candidates can file for Missouri Senate districts.

Attorney General Chris Koster filed a temporary restraining order against any candidate filing anytime during the next 15 days, pushing the filing date back to at least March 12th.

Filing for the August primary opens 8am Tuesday. But maps for the Missouri Senate have not yet been finalized.

A tentative map was approved by the re-districting commission last week, but cannot take effect for two weeks and requires another vote by the commission.

As a result, at 8am Tuesday, persons wishing to run for the Senate would not have a definite answer as to the district of their residence.

The Monday court filing delayed the start of the Senate's session which had been in a filibuster last Thursday on a bill to delay the filing dates by one month.

The filibuster was led by Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, whose district effectively would be eliminated under the tentative map. Cunningham's term expires the end of this year and she would be blocked from running for re-election in her new district for two years.

Following up on a promise to move quickly on legislation that would affect future projects, state representatives heard testimony over a series of bills that place certain restrictions on economic development officials.

The bills, which were filed by members of the House Government Oversight Committee last week, collectively require stricter due diligence standards as well as new policy procedures for government officials and businesses involved in economic development projects. Among the suggested legislation is a requirement for better communication between the Department of Economic Development and local governments, the establishment of a five-star rating system for projects and a mandate for municipalities to provide bond insurance.

The legislation emerged after the General Assembly concluded two investigations into the financial collapse of an artificial sweetener plant in Moberly. The Mamtek project was supposed to bring over 600 jobs to the city, but failed after the company did not make a bond payment to Moberly. Members of both chambers of Missouri's legislature put forth recommendations earlier this month in order to give guidance to the state to make sure failures such as Mamtek did not happen again.

The proposals would also require municipalities to hold public hearings before issuing appropriation bonds. A separate bill, sponsored by Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, would add the requirement of a public vote as well. Opponents to the legislation said the new requirements would hinder business growth in Missouri, especially for time sensitive projects.

Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, who chairs the committee and led the House investigation into the collapse of Mamtek, advised opposition to act with "due speed" if they wanted to discuss changes with the committee members.

"The clock is not going to run out on these issues this session," Barnes said.

  Interstate 70 drivers share their thoughts about Missouri toll road proposals. 02/27/2012 plan to make the freeway a tollway passes with legislative approval.

Those who commute, travel and truck across the state are expressing their opinions about the proposal. Truck drivers disagree the most. Some commuters may use secondary roads to travel to work. Rural residents are afraid of extra costs and the economic impacts to travel from place to place.

However, some would be happy to see the toll as a user-fee for out-of-state travelers who may not buy gas in the state and many favor the improvements that would come from the plan.

Missouri drivers sound off on MoDOT's I-70 toll road proposal.

Although Missouri Employers Mutual Insurance Company, also known as MEM, was created under state statute, the company claims they are not a public company.

Schweich's office audited the company and found it's necessary for the legislature to make the decision if MEM is a public or private company.

The audit found the company to spend lavish amounts on employee bonuses and compensation for terminated workers.

Public companies are not allowed to give these severance packages to former employees.

After weeks of debate and discussion over the expansion of workers' compensation, the House Committee on Workforce Development and Workplace Safety passed Senate Bill 572.

The bill would expand coverage to include occupational diseases, thus restricting lawsuits for occupational disease awards.

Additionally, under the new change, persons in prison would not be covered.

The bill now moves to the full House.

Last Week

Missouri Commissioner of Education Chris Nicastro says Missouri leaving behind No Child Left Behind Act will improve student education.

Communications Coordinator Michele Clark says waiver will prevent public schools from poor rankings.

11 states that applied for the waiver have been approved earlier this month and Missouri hopes to be the 12th state.

Federal education officials will decide whether to approve the application or not.

The deadline for the second round waiver is February 28.

House Republican and Democratic leaders called for a new model for how Missouri handles redistricting.

The U.S. and Missouri House maps are currently being considered by the Missouri Supreme Court, while the state Senate map released Thursday received backlash from St. Louis County senators.

Minority Leader Rep. Mike Talboy, D-Kansas City, said the current "disjointed" process should lead to an evaluation of the state's procedure.

Rep. Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, said term limits have blocked looking at the redistricting process.

"And now with term limits the actors and all the stakeholders involved are likely going to be different every ten years so I think it's one of those things where you know politics everyone has short term memories to begin with and when you extend something and only do it once every ten years the memories just don't last that long," Jones said.

A bill that would change the filing deadline for state office by two weeks was filibustered by several members of the Senate today.

After the House approved the extension, the Senate refused to accept the terms and is instead opting for further discussion regarding the Senate map.

Early Thursday morning, a Senate redistricting map was released that would move Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St.Louis County, into a district where she could not run for reelection.

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St.Louis County, remains in his district, but will face stronger Democratic leaning constituents.

Failure to extend the filing date would mean that Senators would be required to file for election without knowing which district they are in.

The Senate unanimously passed a bill Thursday that would allow cell phones and fax machines to be included on the state's no call list registry.

The bill would also bar solicitation via text message.

The bill's sponsor, Senator Scott Rupp, R-Saint Charles, said the bill will benefit the citizens of Missouri.

"It's the fifth year in a row we have gotten unanimous out of the Senate, we are just trying to help our businesses and everybody thats getting calls on their cell it deals with the annoying robo calls, especially during the political season," said Rupp.

The legislation will now move on to the House.

On the House floor Thursday morning a heated debate led to the passing of a bill that would require driver's license exams to be administered in English only.

Representatives debated had an extended debate over the bill and brought up concerns regarding immigrants who come to America with legal documents.

Opposers of the legislation said the bill does no good to welcome growth and economic development in the state of Missouri with other countries.

Two of the legislature's leading conservative voices are the losers in the new state Senate map released early Thursday morning.

The maps released by a bipartisan commission appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon moved Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, whose term expires this year, into a district where she could not run for reelection.

"I am not drawn anywhere. I am in nowhere land," Cunningham said.

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, would still live within his current district, but would be facing a more Democratic leaning electorate. Like Cunningham, Lembke's term expires this year.

"I am very surprised and disappointed," Lembke said.

Senators are elected for four-year terms with half up every two years. This year, odd-numbered districts are up for election and Cunningham currently represents the 7th Senate district.

Under the new map, Cunningham would find herself living in Sen. Brian Nieves', R-St. Louis County, even-numbered district that will not be up for election until 2014.

A senate committee continued its investigation of possible fraud within social services programs. The Senate Government Accountability Committee heard testimony from directors of the Family Support Division about issues with the Medicaid 'spend down' program.

The Medicaid 'spend down' program is a program that allows individuals, 65 and older or disabled, whose income is greater than the eligibility criteria to spend down their income to become Medicaid eligible and receive benefits. The spend down amount is the difference between the individuals income and the non-spend down income limit.

The investigation began because Department of Social Services employees failed to obtain proper documentation of medical bill payments.

Seven female representatives voiced outrage at being ignored by Republican House leadership during a discussion on a resolution to President Barack Obama's contraception mandate.

The House debated a resolution Wednesday that opposed the federal health care mandate. Republican representatives argued that the mandate would impede religious freedom and the federal government should not be involved in religious organizations.

Several women Democrats were not recognized by The Republican presiding officer, Rep. John Deihl, R-St. Louis County, when they rose to speak against the resolution.

Following adjournment, seven female House members, calling themselves "the silent seven," held a news conference on the Capitol steps.

Deihl said he was not available for comment.

The resolution was voted on and adopted by a 114-45 vote. While only one Republican voted in opposition, 12 Democrats joined the other side in favor of the resolution.

Women in the group said they will continue to stand and demand recognition on the chamber floor until they are recognized.

Newly hired Missouri public school teachers would not have the possibility of tenure under an omnibus education bill approved by the House Education Committee. Eliminate the measure of job security in favor of yearly contracts is one of several potentially controversial issues lumped together in a bill attempting to improve Missouri's schools.

The bill encompasses the biggest education policy issues of the current session, such as:

Rep. Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood, sponsors a bill requiring Missouri high school students to be taught CPR before graduating.

The bill, if passed into legislation will take effect in the 2014 school year.

After testimony from teachers and those whose lives were saved by CPR, the House Health Care Policy committee voted unanimously to adopt it.

Once again, the Senate debated additions to no-call legislation in Missouri.

The additions would add personal cell phone numbers to the no-call list and restrict some automated calls.

Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County, says that "people get very upset with these political robo calls that get called in to their home."

One change to the bill took out automated online polls from the list of exceptions to the automated calls.

The Senate transportation committee held a hearing Wednesday morning to hear public testimony on a bill that would allow Interstate 70 tolls.

Kevin Keith, MoDOT director, said the state has a unique opportunity to use public-private partnerships and place a toll to make future improvements. He says for $4 billion, a two lanes for cars and two lanes for trucks can be built both ways across Missouri.

Bill sponsor Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, says he doesn't like the idea of tolls but is better than a gas tax increase alternative.

However, Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, Senate transportation committee chairman, says he favors a direct tax such as fuel or sales tax.

Tom Crawford, President and C.E.O. of the Missouri Trucking Association, is afraid part of the plan discriminates against interstate commerce and gives local residents a free pass.

Ron Leone, executive director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, says the toll will take away business from his members. He argues that roads are public assets and should not be used for profit.

Two days after a similar bill was laid over in the Senate, state representatives discussed a bill that would alter the law requiring witnesses to report child abuse and neglect.

The House Children and Families committee heard testimony on Wednesday over the bill, which would require witnesses of child abuse to directly report the abuse instead of relying on a chain-of-command system.

Senators took up a similar bill on the chamber floor Monday, but the bill has been held over due to extensive questioning from legislators concerned about language in the bill.

The respective sponsors of the House and Senate bills; Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-St. Louis, and Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County; both said they introduced the bills to prevent a situation like the one at Penn State from occurring in Missouri.

The House committee also debated a bill that would ensure First Amendment rights for alternatives to abortion agencies, such as maternity homes or pregnancy resource centers. Bill sponsor Rep. Chuck Gatschenberger, R-Lake St. Louis, would prohibit the government from interfering in the alternative centers' rights to practice religion.

Most of the debate centered around why such legislation would be needed, since the First Amendment is already in place. Gatschenberger said his bill served the purpose of keeping the centers out of the courts.

A representative from Planned Parenthood said the committee was being hypocritical and said that if Planned Parenthood was required to present certain information to its visitors, then the other organizations should be required to as well.

The Education Omnibus bill was adopted by the House Education committee on Wednesday.

The bill encompasses the biggest education policy issues of the current session:

-Allowing the state Board of Education to enter an unaccredited district to determine an "alternative form of governance."

-A fix to the school funding formula to account for underfunding and attempt to redistribute funds more equitably.

-Increased accountability standards for charter schools, similar to the current Department of Elementary and Secondary Education standards for traditional public schools.

-Removal of teacher tenure for teacher hired after June 30, 2013 and the elimination of seniority-based layoffs.

-A "fix" for the Turner v. Clayton Supreme Court decision which would create a tax credit program allowing students to transfer from unaccredited public schools to private or parochial ones.

The committee substitute for the original version, a compilation of several bills, was adopted with a vote of 13-9, almost exactly down party lines.

Two Republican representatives, Mike Thomson of Maryville and Paul Fitzwater of Potosi, voted against the legislation.

Thomson sponsored another bill revising the school funding formula that passed out of committee weeks ago. He said he voted against the bill because it was overreaching.

Using government money for private purposes sparks debate in the House committee. 02/21/2012

The House Education Committee heard Tuesday to discuss a bill creating a tax credit for kids to go to private and parochial schools.

Rep. Scott Dieckhaus, R-Washington, sponsors the bill.

Rep. Dieckhaus says the passport scholarship program will allow every student in Missouri to receive a high quality education.

The $40 million program sparked debate among opponents for using general revenue money.

Dieckhaus told the committee that the real cost is less than $14 million.

Supporters of the bill say that the program is a good way for the state to save money and give kids the education they deserve.

The committee chairman says the committee will vote later today.

Lawmakers are urged allowing government money to private schools.

One month after crosshair stickers were placed on the door of six lawmakers in the capitol building, St. Louis City Senator Robin Wright-Jones, sponsored a bill to put security cameras in the hallways of the statehouse.

The cameras could cost upwards of one million dollars, depending on the technology.

During the hearing, Wright-Jones notified the Senate General Laws committee of an email received by President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, threatening four state senators.

The email contained foul language and is from someone in Eastern Missouri.

Senators Callahan, Goodman, Wright-Jones and Justus were the focus of the email.

The email was sent early Tuesday morning and an apology email, from the same account, was sent Tuesday afternoon.

Both Republicans and Democrats attacked Gov. Jay Nixon's administration on how they manage the state's $23 billion operating budget during a House Budget Committee hearing Tuesday.

House Budget Chairman Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, accused the governor of running the state like Enron, referring to the failed energy company.

"It is not actual money, it's fake money," Silvey said while discussing the 2012 budget restrictions imposed by Nixon.

Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-St. Louis, added to the criticism and accused Nixon's office of using "fuzzy math," to put the budget together.

At issue is $111 million withheld from various programs in the budget by Nixon at the start of the 2012 fiscal year even though funds were appropriated by the General Assembly. The governor can withhold money during the fiscal year if state revenues fall below their expected levels.

Silvey and others on the committee asked State Budget Director Linda Luebbering why more withholds have not been released given the current revenue collection and the governor's request for an extra $1 million to the MOSIRA program. The MOSIRA program would have pooled money to be distributed to new science and technology companies in Missouri.

The House Election committee heard testimony Tuesday morning on a bill that would establish a closed primary election system in Missouri.

If the bill passed, Missourians would need to register as part of a specific political party in order to vote for that party's ballot in any and all primary elections.

The bill sponsor Rep. Sue Allen, R-St. Louis County, said it is the party’s responsibility to pick their candidate and this system would eliminate voter fraud and minimize questionable results.

Allen said there have been past events where voters have voted for the opposite party’s weakest candidate in order to mess up the primary election. She said this bill would work to stop this from occurring.

House committee member Rep. Don Wells, R-Cabool, opposed the bill and said he didn’t see any benefit of it.

Seven witnesses spoke in favor of the bill. No one testified in opposition during the hearing.

The committee did not take immediate action on the bill.

The Senate debated a bill that would eliminate the requirement of an employer or health plan provider to pay for medical coverage for abortion, contraception or sterilization, if it goes against their moral or religious beliefs.

Under Obama's mandate, employers would be required to cover medical costs for contraceptives such as birth control. Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, proposed an amendment to the bill that would remove contraception from the bill.

"For every dollar that's spent on birth control, you actually save money on health care costs and not just because of preventing pregnancy, it's because of all the other diseases that are managed with birth control pills," Justus said.

Current Missouri law allows religious organizations to opt out of coverage if it goes against their beliefs. This bill, however, adds sterilization to the list and requires the Attorney General to bring civil action, if the law is violated.

Sen. Victor Callahan, D-Jackson County, said the bill is too broad because it gives employees and employers responsibilities that should be taken care of by medical agencies.

"You are extending this authority to employees who can have any basic objection to a plan and now they have civil claims paid for by the AG...the bill isn't very good," Callahan said.

The Senate delayed voting on this bill and it remains on the Senate informal calendar for perfection.

Following the Missouri Supreme Court's decision last week to strike down 2010 ethics legislation, Senate President Pro-Tem Rob Mayer R-Dexter says new ethics legislation isn't a priority in this legislative session.

"I think the last one took some time and quite a bit of work and here it is almost March so it'll be difficult to get that done in this session," said Mayer.

In light of the recent Supreme Court ruling, Gov. Jay Nixon has urged legislators to expedite ethics laws before the filing deadline.

Earlier this month, Rep. Jason Kander D-Kansas City filed a bill which would reinstate all legislation thrown out by the Supreme Court. It would also add an additional provision that states contributions over $500 must be reported immediately.

"Ethics reform is good for the people of the state. It might be bad for politicians, but that is not a very good reason not to do it," said Kander.

The House Election Committee passed a bill that would require all presidential and vice-presidential candidates to submit their proof of citizenship to be on the Missouri ballot.

The committee passed the bill with a 7-2 vote.

Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis County, voted against the measure. She said she was surprised that the bill was passed from the committee.

“It is a kind of silly piece of legislation when our state has got more crucial things,” Newman said.

The bill will now go on to the House.

The House Urban Issues Committee passed through two bills to the House floor.

One bill allows advertisements on school buses, while the other closes certain criminal records to the public after a period of five years.

While no representatives spoke against either bill, Representative Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, says she has received emails expressing concerns about the school bus advertisement bill.

The other bill was passed through after changing the language from "expungement" of criminal records to the "closing" of criminal records. The new language means law enforcement officers will still be able to access the records.

A bill requiring driving tests to be given in English has been given preliminary approval by the House.

While the House heard several personal testimonies and much heated discussion against the bill, it was still given preliminary approval with a vote of 91-59.

Representative Sylvester Taylor, D-St. Louis County, expressed disappointment with the Department of Revenue.

The Senate will receive the bill next.

Mo. Gov. Jay Nixon urged Missouri lawmakers to take up and quickly pass the ethics legislation the Missouri Supreme Court threw out last week. That call seems to fall on deaf ears. Neither leaders in the House or Senate made any progress on the issue today and don't have any plans to do so.

House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, says his caucus is "considering" legislation while his Senate counterpart says it's a non-starter without direct communication with the Governor's office.

Senate President Pro-Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, says the ethics legislation isn't a priority and the deadline for filing new bills is less than two weeks away.

"I think the last one took some time and quite a bit of work and here it is almost March so it'll be difficult to get that done this session," said Mayer.

The Missouri Supreme Court struck down the law passed in 2010 on procedural grounds.

The law required campaign contributions over $500 to be reported within 48 hours among other ethics laws.

A Missouri Senator is sponsoring a bill to make violent vandalism and disruption at a house of worship a crime. The Senate judiciary committee discussed the bill that would make offenders punishable by jail time and fines. No one testified against the bill.

Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said he sponsored the bill as a partial reaction to the Westboro Baptist Church's protest during the funeral of 9-year-old Christina Green. Christina was killed during the shooting of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Arizona lawmakers passed similar legislation to prevent a protest at her funeral.

A law requiring anyone over 18 to report an incident of child abuse came under more scrutiny in the Missouri Senate than expected. Several senators said they were concerned about the unintended consequences of making failure to report abuse a Class A misdemeanor.

Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, said he sponsored the bill to prevent a situation like the one involving Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky from happening in Missouri.

The current law only requires those involved in "child care or treatment," such as teachers or medical professionals, to report abuse. The law does not specifically include university employees.

With the candidate filing date one week away, the House Election Committee passed a bill to push it back one month.

The purpose of the legislation is to allow enough time for new senate district maps to be redrawn according to the 2010 census.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mike Parson,R-Bolivar, is now headed to the House floor for debate.

Currently the filing date it set for February 28th, if the bill takes affect it will be pushed back to March 27th.

The Missouri Senate is scheduled to debate a bill sponsored by Sen. John Lamping, St. Louis County, allowing religious institutions out of the federal mandate to provide birth control as part of their employees' healthcare insurance plan.

Lamping said employers currently have the option to offer health insurance plans. His bill is intended to protect employers from federal mandates that violate an organization's religious or moral beliefs.

"We currently have a Democratic president and a liberal-thinking health secretary but who's to say in the next election cycle it won't be the exact opposite," Lamping said. "The day will come when you don't like the topic and the power (to mandate) still resides."

Lamping said employers would not be exempt from the Affordable Care Act under this legislation and would not restrict access to contraceptive healthcare, but would prevent organizations from having to make a choice contrary to their mission statement.

"The first response is not to like the bill but then when they understand and read it and start to think it through, in no way, shape or form does this restrict access to anything," Lamping said.

Majority Leader Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County, said he did not know if there would be a lengthy debate on the bill. Lamping said he expected those with dissenting opinions will want to be heard during the floor debate on Tuesday.

Following the conclusion of the General Assembly's investigation into a failed artificial sweetener plant in Moberly, a state representative has filed legislation that would take steps to ensuring another failure does not happen again.

The introduction of the legislation comes a week after the House Government Oversight Committee released the results of its investigation into the financial collapse of Mamtek U.S. Inc. A Senate committee also released its findings and recommendations last week, ending the legislature's investigations into the economic development project.

The legislation largely follows the House committee's recommendations, which include requiring any municipal government to provide insurance for bonds issued for economic development projects. One of the bills follows the lead of the Senate's recommendations by proposing the implementation of a five-star rating system for economic development projects.

If passed, the legislation would also require greater due diligence standards from the Department of Economic Development and third-parties involved in investigating projects.

Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, is the chairman of the House committee and sponsored five of the seven bills.

Nurses, physicians and health care experts argued over a controversial bill that would give more power to nurses.

The legislation would allow advance practice registered nurses to prescribe controlled substances on their own. It would also let nurse anesthetists provide anesthesia services without supervision.

Proponents said the bill would give nurses more freedom to run their own clinics. On the other side, opponents said nurses simply aren't trained to work independently of a doctor.

Rep. Billy Pat Wright, R-Dexter, proposed a bill to establish Caylee's Law in Missouri. The law was inspired after the controversial acquittal of Casey Anthony, who waited over thirty days to report her child, Caylee Anthony, as missing.

The bill would require parents and guardians to file a missing child report within 24 hours of discovering the child's whereabouts are unknown.

The Missouri Senate Redistricting Commission is getting back to work on trying to redraw the state's Senate districts.

This is the third group trying to redraw the districts after the original commission deadlocked and the maps released by a group of a appellate judges were thrown out by the Missouri Supreme Court.

Doug Harpool, the chair of the commission, said the commission is working under an expedited schedule because of the fast-approaching filing date.

The commission met over the weekend at Jefferson City and has scheduled public hearings later this week.

The commission will meet Monday in Kansas City and Tuesday in St. Louis before returning to Jefferson City on Wednesday.

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