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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of March 12, 2012

Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed two bills Friday that would have changed state law concerning workers' compensation and workplace discrimination.

According to a statement issued with the vetoes, Nixon sent back the bills saying they would move Missouri backwards in a time when the state should "stay focused on the priorities that are truly aiding our moving forward with our economy."

Republicans have touted the bills as being priorities for them this legislative session and lawmakers managed to send both measures to the governor before they went on a week-long break.

Before going on break, some lawmakers said vetoes of the measures would not be unexpected. Republicans said they hoped to get the governor's input on the legislation while they still had time in the session to work on the bills.

Both measures had been backed by business interests and the legislators in charge of the bills said earlier that they sponsored the legislation due to concerns over changes that state courts had made to Missouri statutes.

The process of deciding the fate of Missouri's 52 delegates will begin in earnest as Republican caucuses across the state roll into action this Saturday. "The caucus is the first step in the process that will bind Missouri's national delegates to the Republican convention,"
said Jonathon Prouty, Communications Director for the Missouri Republican Party.

Missouri already held a non-binding primary on February 7, won by former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. The primary was not counted because of a conflict between the Republican National Party and individual states who wanted to hold their primaries at earlier dates in order to stay relevant in the process of selecting a candidate.

The Republican National Party told certain states who held their primaries before Super Tuesday, March 6, they would lose half of their delegates at the National Convention this August. The Missouri General Assembly failed to change or eliminate the primary date both in regular and special session last year prompting action from the state Republican party. 

The February date for the primary had already been set by state law so the state Republicans opted for a caucus later in March in order to avoid penalties.

After Gov. Nixon’s request for federal disaster assistance was rejected by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he is now asking the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) for help.

Nixon requested a disaster declaration on March 13 from the SBA, which would clear the way for financial assistance to Missouri residents and businesses affected by the severe storms and tornadoes, according to a news release issued by the governor's office.

If the SBA granted Missouri's request it would issue loans to homeowners, renters, businesses of all sizes and not-for-profit organizations to repair or replace real estate, personal property, machinery and equipment, inventory and business assets that have been damaged or destroyed.

FEMA denied the governor's request to declare 18 counties in Missouri major disaster areas on Monday. Local and state officials said the reason for the denial may because most of the structures damaged in the storms were insured.

“Even as we continue to work at the state level to ensure that communities have the critical resources, assets and personnel to rebuild and recover, I'm seeking this disaster declaration from the SBA to make this financial assistance available to help our citizens and businesses keep moving forward,” Nixon said in his statement.

Scott Holste, Gov. Nixon's spokesperson, said they did not know when SBA would respond to their request.

Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich issued a report Monday stating that state and local government officials are violating the 'Sunshine Law' routinely.

The Sunshine Law states that all meetings, records, votes, actions, and deliberations of public governmental bodies must be open to the public.

From 2010 to 2011, the State Auditor's Office said there were 34 violations of officials who failed to file voting records and reasons for closed door meetings.  

Deputy State Auditor Harry Otto stresses the importance of following the law.

"Even though its a closed session, they should keep minutes and record votes. Those generally don't see the light of day, but they are there for historical purposes. Also, the auditor's office, has access to those to see if the reason they actually went into closed session and the minutes kept are consistent," Otto said.

Communities and businesses across the state of Missouri are took cover on Tuesday as part of Severe Weather Awareness Week.

On Tuesday afternoon at 1:30 p.m., officials across the state conducted a tornado drill.

Mike O'Connell,Communications Director for Missouri Department of Public Safety, said it is extremely important because three Missouri residents have died and many have been injured in tornadoes already this year.

The drill is designed to inform people about how they should respond to a tornado siren and how to protect themselves.

Schools and businesses participated in this drill.

O’Connell said awareness is increasing across the state, and Missourians are more inquiring and more interested.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol says there has been a 30 percent increase in highway fatalities compared to last year.

Sgt. Martin Elmore, Public Information and Education Officer for Troop G, says the Missouri Department of Transportation and other traffic departments are working to improve the roadways and intersections to make them safer.

MoDOT said the are taking a three pronged approach to solve this problem -- education, engineering, and enforcement.

"We have the Teen Spirit programs that are going on around the state to have the peer to peer training in and around those high schools to push that awareness. Just because you're a young driver doesn't make you safer," said MoDOT Program Administrator Bill Whitfield.  

A state apportionment commission unanimously passed a map Monday, finally establishing new districts for Missouri senators.

The map creates problems for two leading St. Louis conservatives in the Missouri Senate, Sens. Jim Lembke and Jane Cunningham. The map moves Cunningham's district, the seventh, out of the St. Louis to the western side of the state, making it impossible for her to run in the same numbered district. Instead, Cunningham would have to run in the district currently held by Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, which is not for election until 2014.

The commission's map makes some slight changes to St. Louis area districts but changes nothing for Cunningham and Lembke. According to The Associated Press, Commission Chairman Doug Harpool said the changes would more evenly distribute population but would not affect the political characteristics of the districts. 

The new districts also create problems for Lembke by placing his district, the first, with a larger Democratic constituency. Both Lembke and Cunningham are in odd-numbered districts, all of which are up for election this year. Contention over the maps has kept some lawmakers from filing for state office. A bill to push back the candidate filing period was proposed earlier in the session due to the ongoing redistricting process, but Lembke and Cunningham filibustered the same day as the map's release. The filibuster kept the Senate from acting on the bill and candidates have until March 27 to file for state office.

The commission's map is the third attempt at creating new senate districts after the 2010 census. An earlier commission deadlocked on creating new senate districts and a tentative map from appellate judges was thrown out by the state Supreme Court.

Get our earlier coverage on:

Last Week

House records show 8 women, including 6 Democratic Representatives, spoke during recent floor debate over contraception.

Majority Floor Leader Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, took to twitter on Thursday where he posted 7 tweets before noon calling the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board partisan, libelous and defamatory. "For some reason that particular publication has decided to become more of a tabloid and a gossip piece and the majority of their stories are focused on attacking individual members of the House and Senate," Jones said.

During a press conference on Thursday, Minority Floor Leader Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County, linked the situation to the Speaker of the House's decision to induct Rush Limbaugh into the Hall of Famous Missourians. "So I guess he knows how all the women that Rush Limbaugh attacks feels," Talboy said.

Tony Messenger was the author of the editorial in question. He said he's glad Jones read his piece and that Jones is free to talk about it however he likes.

In a 143 - six vote, the Missouri House passed legislation that will closely monitor prescription drugs in the state.

Rep. Keith Frederick, R-Rolla, sponsored the bill which will give pharmacists and doctors seven days to add the prescriptions they dispense to an on line database.

"The abuse of narcotics is a major problem not only in our state, but in adjoining states as well," said Frederick.

The bill received opposition in the Senate Wednesday from Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-Buchanan.

"Talk about big brother. This is the worst kind of government intrusion on our lives", said Schaaf.

The Missouri General Assembly heads off to spring break after passing a business agenda with many items still left to tackle this session.

The House and Senate sent two bills to Gov. Jay Nixon before they went on spring break that were both pushed by the Missouri business community. The legislation deals with changes to Missouri's workplace discrimination laws and worker's compensation.

Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said the first half of session was a "good start."

"I am pleased we were able to pass through the Senate three of our top priorities," Mayer said referring to changes in worker's compensation, workplace discrimination laws and a review of state administrative rules.

Speaker of the House Rep. Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, said the House had accomplished 70 percent of their legislative agenda already.

House Democratic leaders, however, had a different opinion of the legislative session so far.

"This has been the craziest 38 days I have ever had. There are a myriad of bad things," said Minority Leader Rep. Mike Talboy, D-Kansas City, referring to Republican priority legislation, including the workplace discrimination bill.

University of Missouri students said they were outraged by the recent nomination of Rush Limbaugh by Missouri House Speaker, Rep. Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, into the Hall of Famous Missourians.

Limbaugh recently gained national attention after making a calling a law student a "slut." They said Rush Limbaugh is the appropriate figure to be put in the Hall of Fame.

An student Roze Pirvany said Limbaugh’s comment was insulting and discriminating toward women and minorities.

Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia, said she supported the protesters to express their view and objected to speaker Tilley’s induction.

House Speaker Tilley said despite Limbaugh’s respectless language, he is an extremely successful people with fame. Tilley said he will stay with his decision.

The Senate passed a bill that would require illegal discrimination to be a motivating factor, not just a contributing one, in all lawsuits, except adverse impact cases.

The bill passed by a vote of 23 to eight, but the bill's sponsor, Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, is expecting a veto from the governor.

"Hopefully what will happen is after we get back from Spring break, we'll have the opportunity to get some feedback from him and we still have the Senate bill in the House and we can always move that bill if we can come to an agreement," said Lager.

Governor Jay Nixon vetoed a similar bill last year. Sen. Maria Chapelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, spoke against the bill for five hours during the Wednesday night filibuster.

"I am very happy that the bill is going to be vetoed by the Governor and I don't think at this point there are enough votes to override that veto in the House," said Chapelle-Nadal.

The bill now moves to the Governor's office for approval.

Missouri's Senate gives final approval to judiciary overhaul bill.

The bill seeks to lower the number of non-violent offenders serving time in Missouri's prisons and prevent them from returning to jail.

The change requires the Department of Corrections to place certain offenders in a 120 program before revoking their probation and sending them back to prison.

Missouri Supreme Court judges have been urging such an overhaul for the past few years. Missouri currently spends about $600 a year for the Department of Corrections.

Sen. Jack Goodman, R-Mount Vernon, sponsored the bill, which also establishes a joint legislative committee to look into the state's entire criminal code.

The measure is a product of an interim Senate committee on corrections last fall.

The bill now goes to the House for consideration. On Thursday, the House passed a similar bill dealing with non-violent offenders.

Missouri Democratic Senators - with Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, leading the charge - are once again delaying a vote on the workplace discrimination bill, but this time it's the House's version of the bill. House Bill 1219 is identical to Senate Bill 592 - which Chapelle-Nadal filibustered for 10 hours, but was eventually passed out of the Senate. Senate Minority Floor Leader Victor Callahan, D-Independence, joined in the debate.

"This bill is a steaming pile of bad public policy," said Callahan. "I have confidence that the Governor will take his shovel and shovel this bill out the window where it belongs."

The bill would require someone suing over workplace discrimination to prove that the discrimination be a "motivating" factor, not just a "contributing factor" of termination. The bill would also put a cap on the amount of damages someone can receive in a workplace discrimination lawsuit.

Proponents say the bill would bring Missouri law inline with Federal workplace discrimination law.

Opponents like Chapelle-Nadal say it would undo years of civil rights progress that state has made.

The passage of this bill would send it to the Governor's desk.

Representatives tried to reduce the large cuts in funding to programs offering aid to the blind in Missouri in the 2013 budget substitute.

The House Budget Committee heard amendments proposed to Gov. Jay Nixon's proposed 2013 budget. Two of the proposed amendments would increase funding to the Blind Medical Subsidy Fund. Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, previously announced plans to end a $28 million program to the blind in order to eliminate the 15 percent cut to higher education.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, proposed an amendment to undo the $28 million cut made earlier in the session. His amendment would create a transfer of funds from the Economic Development Advancement Fund to the Blind Medical Subsidy Fund. The amendment would transfer $2 million to the Blind Medical Subsidy Fund.

Silvey also proposed an amendment that would provide appropriation authority for the Blind Medical Subsidy Fund. Silvey's amendment would increase funding to the Blind Medical Subsidy Fund by $6 million if his bill passed that would eliminate the exemption from state and local sales tax on the sale of newspaper supplies and equipment used to produce newspapers.

Rep. John Rizzo, D-Kansas City, proposed an amendment that would decrease University of Missouri System Funding by $300,000.  Rizzo proposed another amendment that would use the $300,000 and create grants to purchase gunshot detection technology.This technology would be able to pinpoint the exact location of fired shots.

The budget substitute passed in the House committee almost unanimously. Only two bills received dissenting votes, mostly along party lines.

Republican State Auditor Schweich's name appears on a document filed with the Internal Revenue Service under the organization name of "Schweich for U.S. Senate."

Schweich's treasurer Joseph Passanise filed the document on March 6th.

However, Schweich has yet to file for candidacy or make an official statement.

Schweich's competition includes Democratic U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, and GOP candidates Former Missouri Treasurer Sarah Steelman and U.S. Representative Todd Akin.

The deadline to file for primary candidacy is March 27th.

The Missouri Senate is in support of Bill 772 that would keep companies who've invested more than $1 million with Iran from doing business with Missouri.

Senator John Lamping, R-St. Louis County,  is the sponsor of the bill.

The bill would put pressure on Iran, who is trying to develop nuclear programs.

Florida and California passed similar legislation and New York legislation is in progress.

A bill that would replace teacher tenure with multi-year contracts was approved by the Senate General Laws Committee on Tuesday.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, is similar to a provision in the education package bill awaiting debate in the House.

Both bills would establish the "Teacher Multi year Contract Act," eliminating the possibility of tenure for new hires beginning July 1, 2013. Cunningham's bill replaces tenure with a system of renewable contracts as well as requiring the department of education to define "student growth" as a way to evaluate teachers.

After being passed out of committee, the bill will likely move to the House floor after the legislature's spring break.

State representatives passed a bill Monday that would limit an employee's right to sue a coworker for an injury sustained on the job.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County, reverts worker's compensation back to the standard before a 2007 court case altered the law. In addition to restricting co-employee liability, the bill adds occupational disease back to worker's compensation coverage.

The House, which passed the bill with a 87-68 vote, will send the legislation to the governor who has 15 days to sign or veto the bill.

Republicans made worker's compensation a top priority this session and last after receiving word from businesses about their concerns.

The House General Laws Committee held a hearing Tuesday on a resolution expressing support for Israel.

Rep. Randy Asbury, R-Higbee, said the resolution would strengthen the bond between Missouri and Israel.

"Our relationship with Israel has been naturally valuable and productive," Asbury said.

Missouri has had long standing economic ties with Israel. During the years 1997 through 2010, Missouri conducted $672 million of trade with Israel.

Asbury said this resolution seeks to further strengthen those economic ties.

The House Minority Caucus sent a letter to Speaker of the House Steven Tilley, Tuesday, calling on him to abandon his plans to induct Rush Limbaugh into the Hall of Famous Missourians.

Assistant Minority Caucus leader Tishaura Jones, D-St. Louis City, says that Limbaugh is not worthy of the honor. She said, "There's nothing about Rush Limbaugh, especially in light of his recent comments about Ms. Fluke that shows that he deserves that honor."

But Speaker of the House Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, says he is still going through with his plans.

48 House members signed the letter, which says the induction of Limbaugh is an endorsement of misogynistic attitudes.

Minority Caucus Leader Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County, said, " begs the question as to some of the treatments and view points toward women..."

The Council on American Islamic Relations along with a number of other groups came to the Capitol to speak out against legislation they say would oppress their communities. Many signs at the group's rally specifically identified legislation by Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County.

Kraus sponsors a bill that would require schools to check the citizenship status of students at the time of enrollment.

Faizan Syed, executive director of the Council of American Islamic Relations, spoke at the rally.

"Whenever there's intolerance, whenever there's injustice, whenever there's bigotry or hatrid we go after those people who are starting the problem because we are the solution," he said.

Kraus said his legislation would just ask schools to check citizenship so that the state can find out how much it's costing to educate illegal citizens.

A proposed resolution which would prohibit any person or employer from being forced to participate in any health care program was debated in the House General Laws Committee on Tuesday.

The resolution would block the federal health care called "Obamacare" by its critics.

Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific, sponsored the resolution.

Curtman told the committee the resolution will protect the freedom and liberty of Missourians.

Rep. Mike Colona, D-Saint Louis City, says the resolution is a ploy to draw conservative voters to the polls in the November elections.

If approved by the House and the Senate, the resolution would be on the November ballot.

House gives first round approval to a bill that would create a prescription drug monitoring program in Missouri.

Rep. Keith Frederick, R-Rolla, is the bill sponsor and said on the floor that some patients are gaming the current medication system by getting multiple drug prescriptions from multiple physicians or pharmacies. Frederick said his bill would help reduce this problem.

The plan would build a statewide database to help licensed pharmacies track patients’ prescription records.

Frederick also said Missouri is one of only two states without a prescription drug monitoring program in place.

Rep. Gail McCann Beatty, D-Kansas City, and Rep. Jeanne Kirkton, D-St. Louis County, spoke in favor of the bill.

No one spoke against the bill during the House debate.

The bill needs one more vote in the House before moving to the Senate.

Three bills that would have allowed students to serve on the UM Board of Curators were shot down Tuesday in a House committee.

Rep. Jill Schupp, D-St. Louis, sponsored one of the bills, which stated that one of the nine curators may be a student, who would have full voting rights.

Each congressional district in Missouri has a representative on the board. After re-districting, the state will lose one district and therefore one curator.

Rep. Zachary Wyatt, R-Kirksville, sponsored similar legislation which would have required that the ninth member of the board be a student of graduate or professional standing. The student could be from the same congressional district as one member of the board.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, had a similar bill that does not specify that the student curator must be a graduate or professional student.

With a 7-4 vote on all pieces of legislation, none of the bills were adopted by the committee.

People who abuse narcotics often go to multiple doctors to get prescriptions.

Senator Kevin Engler proposed legislation to monitor prescription drugs to prevent this doctor shopping.

Senator Rob Schaaf, who is a doctor, says this bill will not prevent any drug related deaths and infringes on our liberties.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, has proposed a bill to allow students from the University of Missouri System to have a student curator.

The student curator would fill a soon-to-be vacant seat on the UM Board of Curators. Each Congressional district has representation on the board. The vacancy will come as the state loses one district.

Student leaders testified before the Senate Financial and Government Organization and Election committee on the bill.

There was no opposition at the hearing.

The committee may vote on the bill the week of March 19.

A week after he called a Georgetown University law student a "slut," radio personality Rush Limbaugh is slated to be inducted into the Hall of Famous Missourians.

House Speaker Rep. Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, said he was "proud" to be the one the induct Limbaugh.

"He certainly is deserving of being in the Hall of Famous Missourians," Tilley said calling Limbaugh one of the most recognized radio personality in the county.

Limbaugh drew heavy criticism for his comments last week when he called law student Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute" on his radio show. Limbaugh later apologized for his remarks and said his "choice of words were not the best."

Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, said she is "praying" that Tilley reverses his decision to honor Limbaugh, calling the induction a "slap in the face for all the women in Missouri."

The House Government Oversight committee approved a bill Monday that places greater due diligence standards on state and local officials.

The packaged legislation combines a series of bills put forth by Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, suggesting additions to Missouri law in order to prevent future project failures.

The bill places requirements on the Department of Economic Development to have greater communication with local government officials while investigating economic development projects. The legislation also mandates the creation of a five-star rating system, criminal background checks for the creators of start-ups and third-party verification of a company's finances.

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