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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of March 19, 2012

The House passed the state budget Thursday including a bill to allot funds to early education literacy programs.

The budget gives $392,000 to these programs, which is three times the amount allotted last year.

Debate quickly turned to St. Louis public schools, which have been unaccredited for the past few years.

Rep. Karla May, D-St. Louis, said the schools need more funds.

"I think we should continue to fund education, even though we are underfunding it. We need to find a way to fund it and if that way is increasing revenue, then, yes," said May.

Majority Floor Leader Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, said the funds won't make a difference.

"Spending more money and education results have no correlation," Jones said.

The debate lasted for over an hour.

House Budget Chairman Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, said that not one of the representatives who argued schools need more money suggested any amendments that would do so.

The bill passed by a vote of 133 to 22.

Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the request for $100,000 of education funds last year.

The Senate's only licensed physician filibustered a bill Thursday that would loosen licensure and inspection provisions in Missouri hospitals.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Dan Brown,R-Rolla, states only the Department of Health and Senior Services will be able to license and inspect Missouri hospitals and would eliminate all other regulatory agencies.

"It's designed to help save some health care costs and do it more efficiently," said Brown.

Sen. Rob Schaaf,R-Buchanan, blocked the legislation, saying altering the number of hospital regulatory bodies makes them less safe for patients.

"This eliminates what they call 'duplicative' inspections. Well, what's duplicative about it? If there are two inspections, how do you know they are looking at the same exact things?" said Schaaf.

Less than a month after the introduction of a bill to audit the actual cost of the death penalty, the House Corrections Committee voted against a bill to repeal the death penalty.

Vera Thomas, the mother of death row inmate Reggie Clemons, testified in support of the bill. Kevin Green, who served 16 years in a California prison after being wrongfully accused of the murder of his daughter, also came to testify in support. Greene spoke of his own experience, and his belief that life in prison is far worse than death.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Penny Hubbard, D-St. Louis City, said that she believes the system is flawed, and that changes need to be made in order to rectify the system.

Although no one came to speak in opposition, the committee decided to vote down not only Hubbard's bill but a similar bill sponsored by Rep. Mike McGhee, R-Odessa, as well.

After the hearing, Hubbard said that as long as she is in office, she will continue to introduce this bill.

Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, said Wednesday he would block anything that would generate a one-time money for the budget.

He said lawmakers were simply "patching" the budget and leaving the problems for future generations.

"I have had it with us not doing the right thing by setting up and addressing how we structurally fit these things," said Crowell.

Crowell also said there needs to be major changes to several state systems including tax credits.

State health officials would have stronger powers over persons infected with tuberculosis under a measure before Missouri's legislature.

The targeted testing program is a screening process that would identify individuals who have a much higher risk of spreading tuberculosis.

The bill would grant local public health authorities or departments the power to require individuals they suspect are infected with TB to get treatment. The bill deems any individual knowingly infected with TB, who acts in a reckless manner or violates the requirements of treatment, guilty of a class C felony.

DOT would require a member of the health care team to watch the patient take the medication. Frederick said this alternative is cheaper to the state than inpatient care. Frederick said he plans to create an amendment that would only require DOT for non-compliant patients.

The bill would require all faculty and students of universities to participate in the targeted testing program and to identify high risk populations.

After a lengthy debate, the Missouri House passed a bill prohibiting businesses from not allowing firearms on their property.

The bill would only allow business owners to regulate firearms in their company vehicles.

Some representatives voiced their concerns about the bill. Rep. Mary Nichols, D-St. Louis County, said she was concerned about the combination of guns and alcohol.

"And we all know alcohol and guns do not mix as well as emotion and gun carrying do not mix," Nichols said.

The bill awaits a final vote in the House before moving to the Senate.

Once a topic of debate in the Missouri Capitol, open enrollment has taken a backseat.

But, the Turner v. Clayton Schools case in St. Louis County has brought back the issue. This time, focusing on the situation involving students in the unaccredited St. Louis City school district. The case would determine whether or not students in unaccredited Missouri public school districts can attend any accredited district in an adjoining county.

One major alternative is the "Passport Scholarship Program" as apart of the omnibus education bill.

The bill would allow students in unaccredited school districts to accept scholarships with partial state funding for enrollment in private schools.

A House committee approved a bill Wednesday that would eliminate the sales tax exemption for newspapers. Revenue from collection of the taxes would be used to fund health care programs for the blind.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, is a part of the state's ongoing budget process. Silvey, the House budget chair, put forth the proposal as a means to counteract budget cuts for programs for the blind, with those cuts being put into Silvey's budget as a way to counteract Gov. Jay Nixon's proposed cuts to higher education.

Silvey said his proposal was not retaliation against Missouri newspapers, many of which have published editorials about how the state could fix its budget shortfall, but rather a response.

"It has occurred to me that if we were (to do away with corporate welfare)....why wouldn't we start with the corporate welfare and corporate giveaway that goes to the people who are suggesting we get rid of them," Silvey said. "If they think we should raise taxes and get rid of corporate welfare, they should be the first in line."

The Director of the Missouri Press Association, Doug Crews, said there was a "historic background" on why newspapers, along with other manufacturers, had tax exemptions.

"I don't consider this corporate welfare, I consider this as we are a manufacturer, just like any other manufacturer in Missouri," Crews said.

The House gave first-round approval to the budget on Tuesday, maintaining level funding to higher education while cutting the blind health care programs.

Missouri's House gave initial approval to the state's $24 billion operating budget Tuesday with level funding for higher education and cuts to health care for the blind.

House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, said the House should be proud of the budget they passed.

"We have produced another balanced budget for the state of Missouri," Silvey said.

Missouri started the budget process with a $500 million shortfall from last year due to the expiration of federal stimulus funds and a decrease in the federal government's reimbursement rate for Medicaid costs.

The cuts caused by a budget shortfall left some Democrats calling for more revenue as the budget was debated.

Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, said this budget reflected a choice between higher education and social services programs caused by a reluctance to raise taxes.

"We are making false choices because we have not addressed the revenue stream," Lampe said.

Silvey said the House did the best they good with a certain amount of money.

"A lot of people in this chamber wish we had more money, but the fact of the matter is that we don't ... we have to deal with the now," Silvey said.

On Tuesday, Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, continued to delay a vote on a plan to create a statewide database to monitor prescription drug use.

Schaaf said the plan infringes on the liberties of Missourians. He also said it would create roadblocks that would be in the way of patients getting the true medication they really need.

Sen. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville, also spoke against the legislation. She says the plan assumes everyone is a crook who is going to abuse the prescription pad. "We're making government for 100% of the people to address the 10% or the 8% or the 2% of the people who are the problem," Ridgeway said.

Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, is the bill sponsor. He said the state already keeps track of prescriptions bought using insurance or through Medicaid. "The only one is ones that pay cash, the ones that are selling them primarily in the secondary market do we not keep track," Engler said.

Earlier this year, a similar bill passed overwhelmingly in the House by a vote of 143 yes to 6 no.

Missouri House Transportation committee discussed a joint resolution that would prohibit the Missouri Department of Transportation to operate toll roads unless the decision is voted on by the people.

Resolution sponsor Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, said, according to some of MoDOT’s proposals of turning I-70 into a toll road, the cost is unbelievably expensive, and it will cause disruption to Missourians.

“My whole goal of it is to make sure, if we do have toll roads in the state of Missouri that the people will decide. I don’t believe that it should ever be decided by just the general assembly, or whether just implemented by MoDOT,” Smith said.

Three Missouri lobbyists spoke in favor of the resolution during the committee hearing, while no one spoke against the resolution.

MoDOT did not testify during the hearing. Jay Wundderlich, Governmental Relations Director of MoDOT, said they have no opinion the resolution.

The committee has not voted on the resolution.

The Senate Rules and Ethics Committee heard a bill that would place a cap on campaign contributions.

It would place limits on both individuals and committees. Surcharges would also be imposed upon committees who accept or give contributions that exceed the contribution limit.

Sponsor of the bill Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Howell County, said this is an issue of ethics, because certain individuals are gaining too much control of the government.

"The one area where everyone seems to agree is this exact issue. It's something that I think people in Missouri and across the country are interested in reforming," said Sen. Jolie Justus, D-St. Louis County.

Missouri removed limits on campaign contributions in 2008.

The bill will need to be heard by the committee a second time before being voted on.

A bill to increase security at the Missouri Capitol was debated in the Senate Tuesday.

The bill sponsor Sen. Robin Wright-Jones, D-St.Louis City, said the measure was created in direct response to cross-hair stickers appearing on some senator's doors this January.

The bill would establish security cameras to monitor all public spaces inside the Capitol. It would also authorize the Office of Administration to allow armed security guards separate from the Capitol police to patrol the Capitol and other state-owned facilities.

Wright-Jones called upon all of the senators targeted by the cross hair stickers during the bill's discussion, including Democratic Senators Kiki Curls, Maria Chapelle-Nadal, and Victor Callahan.

In addition, Wright-Jones cited the U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords shooting in Arizona as a reason for heightened security.

"We have a Capital that is open to the public and I think that is a wonderful thing, it belongs to the people. But I also think the state needs to be prudent in how it takes care of its visitors," Wright-Jones said.

Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis County, voiced opposition to the bill's language regarding licensing outside security firms.

"Why do we want to have a private security firm when we already have Capitol police?" said Green.

Missouri organic farmers are facing problems with the trespass of Monsanto’s bio-engineered seeds.

Pollen from corn can travel through the wind and land on an organic farmer’s land.

“Our biggest challenge right now is just keeping old corn varieties free from contamination,” said Jere Gettle, a farmer who grows organic seeds at Baker Creek Heirlooms in Mansfield.

Most farmers in Missouri, however, choose to grow biologically engineered crops.

Monsanto said farmers choose to use the genetically modified seeds because of economic benefits.

“Some of the benefits of biotechnology crops include increased yields and lower production costs as well as an increase in the adoption of soil tillage practices and that reduces soil erosion,” said Sara Miller, Monsanto corporate communications affairs manager.

Members of the state chapter of the National Organization for Women delivered 504 rolls to the office of the Speaker of the House as a part of their "Flush Rush" campaign. The campaign was designed to protest the Speaker's choice to place a bust of Rush Limbaugh in the Hall.

Earlier this month the Speaker, Rep. Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, said he would induct Limbaugh into the Hall despite recent controversial comments Limbaugh made about, law student Sandra Fluke. Limbaugh called Fluke a "slut" on his nationally broadcasted show after she spoke in support of the president's birth control mandate.

Tilley said he would donate however many rolls were sent to his office and he hoped people would continue to exercise their right to protest so that his office could continue to donate goods.

House Democratic Caucus is pressuring the legislature's Republican leadership to reform ethics laws in Missouri.

The caucus said during a press conference Monday, they hope to reform ethical standards in Missouri's state government.

Republican Senate leadership said they do not believe this bill will go anywhere in the next two months of session, which ends May 18.

The bill would cap the amount of a single contribution at $5,000. A donation exceeding $2,000 must be disclosed electronically to the commission within 48 hours of receipt.

The bill would also:

Earlier in the year, the Missouri Supreme Court reversed an ethics law passed in 2010.

Missouri House Representatives passed a bill that prohibits tax credits in order to prevent business relocation from Missouri to Kansas.

Kansas has yet to draft similar legislation.

However, House Minority Floor leader Rep. Mike Talboy says he thinks it is important to begin the process.

A top aide to the mayor of St. Louis urged lawmakers to keep their hands off the city's firefighter pension fund.

Sam Dotson, operations director to the Mayor in St. Louis, said the city is wasting millions more dollars each year on maintaining the pension system and needs a comprehensive reform.

But a representative for Lewis Reed, president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, said he supports the state legislation.

The House Retirement Committee could vote on the bill later this week.

The proposed closed primary system would force voters to vote for the party they registered under.

The restriction would make it a crime to cast a vote for a different party ballot.

Republican Senator Jane Cunningham told bill sponsor Senator Jay Wasson the bill is unfair for independent voters.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

Unrelated to the recent cuts proposed to deaf and hard of hearing services in the state budget, the House Committee on Disability Services heard testimony on a House concurrent resolution to establish a "Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children's Bill of Rights."

The resolution would endorse guidelines to provide services for a equal and quality education to deaf and hard of hearing students.

The House Committee on Disability Services heard testimony on a bill that would increase the fees collected on citations issued outside city limits in Missouri.

Currently, there is a $2 surcharge on the fees. The bill would increase the surcharge to $10.

The bill would also set up a 10-member committee with members from state organizations and groups to meet annually to determine funding regulations.

Also, the state Department of Health and Senior Services would be required to seek waivers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to use funds for the cause out of Missouri HealthNet program.

Last Week

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.

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