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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of April 27, 2015

State Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, announced Thursday, April 30, that he is running for the GOP nomination for governor.

Parson had been one of the most outspoken critics of a radio advertisement making fun of the appearance of State Auditor Tom Schweich that was aired shortly before his suicide.

Parson said that his opposition to negative advertising was a factor in his decision to make the race.

"Part of the reason is that I want to change that, the way we do business in Missouri," Parson said in an interview before his announcement. "When you start trying to destroy people or trying make false accusations about people, I don't think that who we are as Missourians."

Parson is a third generation farmer and a former sheriff of Polk County.

Parson was an unsuccessful candidate for Senate GOP leader in 2012.

He gained statewide visibility in 2011 when he negotiated a compromise that changed the voter-approved measure regulating animal breeders to address concerns raised by the agriculture community about some of the provisions.

After hours of debate, the Senate approved Thursday, April 30, a bill that would increase fuel taxes without approval of Missouri voters.

Under the bill, the tax on gasoline would increase by one and a half cents per gallon and the tax on diesel fuel would increase by three and a half cents.

Supporters said it would raise about $50 million per year in additional revenue for state highways and bridges. But that is far less than the nearly $500 million the Transportation Department has indicated in needs to maintain the existing system.

But the the amount raised by the Senate plan is low enough that it does not trigger a constitutional requirement to submit the increase to Missouri voters for approval.

Proponents said that Missouri's deteriorating roads and bridges are a major issue facing the state. The bill's sponsor -- Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff -- questioned the ramifications of not implementing a larger fuel tax.

"What are we really doing here? Are we going to make things even worse where people can't get to work?" Libla said. "Are we going to have companies not wanting to come to Missouri or expand in Missouri because they can't get their freight moved, they can't get their employees to work? What about our school districts when we start having buses that can't get across?"

Senator Ed Emery, R-Lamar, opposed the bill. He suggested bringing the issue to a vote so that Missourians could decide for themselves whether or not they wanted an increased fuel tax.

A majority of Republicans in the Senate voted against the tax hike, but it passed with full support from Democrats.

The measure requires one more in the Senate before going to the House.

In that chamber, the House Transportation Committee defeated a similar gasoline tax increase earlier this month.

As part of the Senate compromise to end a filibuster, the measure includes provisions by which some state highways could be operated and maintained by a private company. However, the Senate added a provision that any toll road used by the company to generate revenue would require legislative approval.

    The filibuster has historically been used to delay or even kill legislation that a senator does not like.

    One senator who is fond of using the filibuster is Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph.

    He says he uses it for multiple reasons.

    "Sometimes, I might use the filibuster to to drive [the legislation] to a compromise or sometimes I might have a principle that I just don't want to violate and just to stop legislation," Schaaf said.

    Rep. Kevin Engler served as Senate Majority Leader during his time in the Senate and he laments how the filibuster has changed over the years.

    "It used to be you filibustered when you were trying to get a bill altered or changed," he said. "Now, the tendency is if you're against the bill and you're going to vote no, instead of voting no, you try to filibuster."

    Phill Brooks, who is the "webmaster" of this news operation, has seen quite a few filibusters over his 40-plus years covering the Missouri legislature.

    None, however, compare to a 1971 filibuster on an income tax hike.

    Sen. Earl Blackwell led the filibuster against the income tax hike after "The governor of the state of Missouri at the time Warren Hearnes had inflated the state budget to the point the state was literally going bankrupt," Brooks said.

    Blackwell, the Senate President Pro Tem at the time, led a referendum to overturn the tax hike the legislature passed. The effort was successful, but Hearnes called a special session and Blackwell filibustered.

    Brooks says this put fellow Democrats in the position of having to get rid of their leader in the Senate in order to vote on the increase.

    Brooks recalled how that filibuster had ramifications for years to come.

    "The legacy of that lasted for years! More than a decade," Brooks recalls. "There were Democrats...who were angry at Warren Hearnes, angry at Democrats who supported Warren Hearnes."

    One way to get around a filibuster is to move for the previous question (PQ).

    It is a tactic that is not allowed in some states, but is allowed in the rules of Missouri's Senate.

    The move is usually orchestrated by the leadership on a measure they want passed and it requires five senators to sign their name on a sheet of paper.

    Once the paper has five signatures, the motion can be made and a vote can be had on the stalled legislation.

    Engler says the move should be used only rarely.

    "I think the PQ should be used rarely," he said. "It has to be the exception and it should only be done when the vast majority of the people want something done."

    University of Missouri political science professor Peverill Squire says senators should be mindful of when they move the previous question and shut off debate.

    "When the is that you're allowed to debate as long as you wish, most members come to value that and so they're reluctant to impose the use of the previous question," he said.

    Squire also says a filibuster can be used most effectively when time is running out in the final days of a legislative session.

    Last year, Kansas City Democratic Sen. Jolie Justus filibustered a gun bill in the final hour of session and as a result, the bill did not receive a vote.

    Two weeks are left in the 2015 legislative session as the legislature adjourns Friday, May 15 at 6 p.m.

    The House passed a measure Thursday, April 30, that expands who can use deadly force on private property.

    The bill sponsored by Rep. Joe Don McGaugh, R-Carrollton, allows a person who is on another person's property to use deadly force if necessary if they have permission from the property owner.

    McGaugh defended his bill against attacks that it would allow more guns into society.

    "What this bill does is a common-sense expansion to say, 'if I'm not the owner of that property, but I've been given the authority of that property owner to protect my family and my property, that they can act in the same manner in what the public policy of the state of Missouri is now,'" McGaugh said.

    Opponents said the bill is unnecessary.

    "My [constituents] are not saying the answer to gun violence is more guns," Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, D-Kansas City, said.

    The bill passed the House by a 112-34 vote and now heads to the Senate.

    A bill that would cut the lifetime limit for recipients in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program was met by Gov. Jay Nixon's veto pen.

    Nixon announced his intention to veto at an event in Kansas City on Thursday, April 30, saying the bill is unfair.

    "Senate Bill No. 24 is a misguided measure that punishes poor children in the legislature's zeal to reduce reliance on government assistance," Nixon is quoted in saying in his veto letter to lawmakers.

    The bill passed by lawmakers on April 16 cuts the lifetime limit on TANF benefits to 45 months.

    Another provision of the bill Nixon objected to is requiring those who want TANF benefits to participate in finding work or work activities.

    Nixon said this provision hurts children.

    "There are ways that the legislature could ensure that parents are held accountable for their decisions while at the same time protecting kids -- for example, by providing benefits through a responsible guardian,” Nixon said in a statement explaining his veto. “But again, legislators left children unprotected. They say they’re trying to crack down on adults, but they’ve made kids the collateral damage.”

    The measure's sponsor -- Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville -- expressed disappointment with the veto.

    "Instead of embracing the Legislature's proactive reform of our welfare system, the governor is sticking to the status quo; a broken welfare system that discourages work and needlessly creates welfare dependency," Sater said.

    Sater said he has the votes to override the governor's veto. In both the House and Senate, the measure had been approved with more than the two-thirds vote that will be required for an override.

    A bill that would keep Missouri from being pushed further into debt has yet to be voted on.

    House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage, gave no commitment on whether there will be a vote on the bill before session ends.

    The bill prohibits Gov. Jay Nixon from using bonds to pay for a new football stadium for the St. Louis Rams without legislative or voter approval.

    Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, says if the bill is not passed the legislature will not pay for the issued bonds.

    "If the Governor goes and manages to get bonds issued and go into debt to build a stadium without the vote of the legislature, we're probably not going to pay on those bonds," Schaaf said.

    Schaaf says it isn't right to make Missourians pay for something they never asked for.

    "My concern is that the people of Missouri won't be on the hook for paying for bonds that we didn't ask for," he said. "We are the legislature that represents the people. If they go and issue bonds, just don't expect us to pay for them."

    The last day of session for the Missouri General Assembly is May 15.

    The Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill that would allow companies to add sales tax to their products rather than collecting it separately from customers.

    The bill would also allow companies to advertise to costumers that they pay the tax for them.

    Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph was the only senator who opposed this part of the bill.

    Schaaf said this bill causes desensitizing and deception for customers when companies say they will pay your tax for you.

    "They're paying the tax, but it is just buried in the price that you're charging them," Schaaf said. "I want people to know every time they purchase something that the government is sucking away certain amounts."

    Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County, the bills holder, said most people already know there's a sales tax.

    "We're in the 21st century, everyone is used to paying it so I don't think it's necessary anymore," Sen. Krause said.

    Kraus also said the amount of the sales tax would still be listed on the customer's receipt.

    "I saw this as more of a freedom issue that was enabling merchants to pretty much do what they please in terms of how they sale their product," said Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar. "So if they want to sell their products as tax included and promote them that way it gives them the opportunity to do that."

    The bill is now headed to the Senate Government Oversight and Accountability Committee.

    Get the bill.

    A bill given first round approval in the House would make red light cameras illegal.

    According to bill sponsor Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Union, studies have shown that red light cameras have led to an increase in traffic collisions.

    Currently courts decide if movement caught by a red light camera constitutes a moving violation.

    "This is absurd and it serves as a perfect illustration of why people distrust their government in some cases," Curtman said.

    Rep. Bryan Spencer, R-Wentzville, said camera companies based outside of Missouri and the United States are the ones profiting from these tickets.

    "Usually the camera tickets is about $100, $40 of that goes to the municipalities and $60 goes to the camera company," Spencer said.

    Other comments made pertained to the way the cameras punished the car owner, rather than the driver of the car at the time the image was taken.

    Although the bill was approved, it was met with opposition.

    "I think what we're doing here is micromanaging for our communities. This is an issue that should be decided by the local communities," said Rep. Margo McNeil, D-St.Louis County.

    The Public Service Commission approved a proposal Wednesday allowing Ameren Missouri to increase rates for nearly 1.2 million consumers while giving Noranda, a St. Louis aluminum company, a lower rate as a way to keep the company's Southeast Missouri smelter open.

    Noranda said in November 2014 they would lay off 200 people at the plant if they could not get a deal on their electric bill. The company is Ameren's largest customer.

    PSC Chairman Robert Kenney said the deal would actually save consumers money. If Noranda left the state, it would lead to an increase greater than what the PSC approved.

    "It's pennies versus dollars, it's cents versus dollars." he said. 

    The acting director of the Office of Public Counsel Dustin Allison, added the deal is good for consumers.

    Opponents of the deal said the new rates are equivalent to deals typically approved by the economic development department or the Legislature.

    The Senate gave first-round approval to impose restrictions on when a police officer could use lethal force against a fleeing felony suspect.

    Current law authorizes lethal force against a fleeing suspect.

    The bill would add a requirement that lethal force against a fleeing suspect would require a belief the person has attempted to commit a felony "involving the infliction of or threatened infliction of serious physical injury."

    The bill's sponsor -- Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Dixon, R-Green County -- said the measure would bring state law into conformity with a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

    But the Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, argued there could be times when lethal force was justified when actual physical injury was not involved.

    Theft, he argued, could have consequences as severe as physical injury.

    "In the pioneer times, they would hang horse thieves," Schaaf told his colleagues. "You know why they did that? It was because if you stole a man's horse, you stole his ability to support his family."

    Schaaf's argument brought an emotional rebuke from Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County.

    "Perhaps you're selling a cigarette and it's illegal, do think that you deserve death," she asked Schaaf. "Do you think if you're playing with a toy gun, do you think that you deserve death," asked Chappelle-Nadal, one of the Senate's three black members.

    The debate comes less than a year after the fatal shooting by a Ferguson police officer of unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson after he was reported to have been involved in a strong-armed robbery shortly before his police encounter.

    In the subsequent events involving the death of another black suspect in Baltimore, the Senate debate got pointed during Chappelle-Nadal's debate with Schaaf.

    "Do you recognize that there is a genocide happening in the United States right now? It's an authorized genocide."

    The measure faces a second roll-call vote in the Senate to be passed on to the House.

    The Senate discussed a bill that would modify the sales tax structure for the St. Louis area. If passed, it would change the allocation of sales tax revenue between municipalities. This would cause St. Louis County to lose approximately $800,000 in revenue.

    "I believe its only fair that each municipality be allowed to keep at least half of the sales tax generated within it's borders," said Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Franklin County. "In the rest of the state its 100 percent."

    Schatz, the bill's sponsor, also said the change would encourage municipalities to develop their commercial districts.

    Several senators from St. Louis County filibustered the bill.

    "You take away this pool tax and the burden is going to be heavier on St. Louis County," said Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County.

    Sen. Gina Walsh, D-St. Louis County, is also against the bill.

    "It totally upsets the well-balanced approach to the distribution of sales tax in St. Louis County that has worked well for all but one city for decades," Walsh said.

    Nicole Galloway announced Tuesday, April 28, that she will appoint the Republican state auditor's director of state audits as her deputy state auditor.

    Named as the top deputy is John Luetkemeyer, a veteran of the auditor's office for more than two decades under both Democratic and Republican state auditors.

    Under Schweich, Luetkemeyer had served as the director of state audits.

    "John has a record of outstanding work in the auditor's office. His professionalism, experience and knowledge of the work we do is invaluable," Galloway was quoted as saying in a release announcing Luetkemeyer's appointment.

    Just one day earlier, Democrat Galloway had announced the resignation of Republican Schweich's deputy, Harry Otto.

    The Missouri Senate unanimously passed a bill that would require school districts to follow stricter anti bullying policies.

    The bill would require schools to print their anti bullying policies in their student handbooks and they are in charge of publicizing the policy.

    “As we send our kids to school and they're there for eight hours a day, at least there's a comfort in knowing that a school district has developed a policy so that they have the ability to learn without the fear of harm,” said Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County.

    The Senate adopted new amendments to the bill, one of which would allow teachers to take a two-hour suicide prevention training course.

    Many of the Senators who spoke said they support the bill because of events that have occurred in their school districts.

    “While not trying to micromanage we are giving a bare minimum of policy saying you have to at least do these things because this is an important issue that shouldn't be ignored,” said Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City.

    The bill also adds cyber bullying to the schools’ anti bullying policy.

    The subject of cyber bullying has been discussed in the media since 2006 when 13-year-old Megan Meier of St. Charles committed suicide after being harassed on the Internet.

    In 2008, lawmakers amended Missouri’s harassment law to cover electronic bullying and stalking.

    The bill creates a definition for cyber bullying and requires schools to discipline students who participate in it.

    The bill will now be sent back over to the House for the Senates’ changes to be reviewed.

    Nicole Galloway sworn in by Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Russell

    Nicole Galloway announced during her inaugural remarks that cyber-security would be a priority for her office. 

    The former Boone County Treasurer was sworn in as Missouri's new state auditor by Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Russell Monday, April 27 in a ceremony held in front of the auditor's office.

    Galloway succeeded John Watson, who was appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon following the death of Republican State Auditor Tom Schweich.

    Schweich died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in February.

    A month after Schweich's death, his spokesperson, Spence Jackson, shot and killed himself.

    According to a note found in Jackson's apartment, he could not face unemployment again.

    Galloway asked attendees to keep the Schweich and Jackson families in their prayers.

    She said one of her main priorities as auditor will be to improve cyber security for Missourians.

    "It's something that's really going to effect all Missourians, Missouri families. You know it affects me, my children and my grandparents," Galloway said to reporters when asked what prompted her putting an audit emphasis on cyber security.

    "Think of all the the large companies that have been hacked, the emails that have been hacked. We're all at risk of that."

    Galloway would not talk in detail about the circumstances that led to the departure of the office's deputy state auditor who had served under the deceased GOP auditor, Tom Schweich.

    "He resigned his position and I wish him the best of luck," Galloway said.

    Asked if she had asked him to remain on the job, Galloway responded "No, he resigned."

    The last audit issued by the Republican deputy auditor. Harry Otto, had strongly criticized Democrat Nixon for taking for Nixon's own office funds that had been appropriated to other agencies.

    Nixon had announced his intention to name Galloway as state auditor shortly before that audit was released. 

    The General Assembly passed a $26 billion spending plan early enough that Gov. Jay Nixon will be forced to act on the budget before the legislature adjourns in mid-May.

    From the start of the legislative session, legislative leaders said they wanted to force Nixon to be able to override any budget vetoes before the legislature adjourns.

    House Speaker John Diehl, R-St. Louis County, said the objective was to prevent the governor from spending the entire summer campaigning against the legislature's spending plan before their fall veto session.

    Under Missouri's Constitution, the governor can reduce or eliminate separate items in the budget without having to veto the entire bill.

    The final version approved by the legislature is slightly higher than the initial package of recommendations the governor had presented to lawmakers in January.

    The final House-Senate conference committee version backed off from steep cuts in social services spending that had been approved by the Senate.

    Elementary and Secondary Education are set to receive a $76 million increase in General Revenue funds, to go towards K-12 public schools.

    Mental health services also received an increase of over $25 million. Rep. Glen Kolkmeyer, R-Odessa, supported the General Assembly's decision to boost the funds.

    "Mental health is vital to our state," Kolkmeyer said. "These are people who cannot take care of themselves."

    However, social services received a $46 million budget cut in General Revenue funds, upsetting many Medicaid expansion supporters. With a final vote of 85-67, the cut was one of the day's most heavily debated issues.

    House Democrats, who also opposed the cuts to social services, blasted Republican lawmakers for passing the budget in a matter of hours.

    "With $26 billion of taxpayer money at stake, you would think GOP leaders would treat the process with seriousness it deserves," said House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, D-St. Louis City. "Apparently, you would be wrong". 

    The governor now has until early May -- just days before the legislature's adjournment -- to act on the budget bills.

    The Missouri House passed its version of a measure to lower the percentage limit of how much of a city's budget can be financed by municipal court files.

    The bill passed the House Wednesday with a vote of 131-19. The measure now goes back to the Senate.

    Current law limits how much a local government budget can come from court fines to 30 percent.  All revenue over the threshold is sent to the Department of Revenue where it is then distributed to schools in the same area where the fees were collected.

    The Senate version would cut the limit to 20 percent and eventually to 10 percent except for some small, rural towns.

    The House version imposes a 15 percent limit. It also imposes a $200 limit on court costs and fines for a minor traffic violation. It prohibits sentencing a person to jail for failing to pay the fine.

    The Senate passed the bill on Feb. 12 with a vote of 34-0.

    The Senate passed a measure that would allow Missouri to join other states in calling for an Article V Constitutional Convention in order to amend the U.S. Constitution.

    The resolution states that a convention be called in order to deal with issues involving federal government term limits, decreasing federal power and the bureaucracy and fixing the federal budget.

    "We are weaker now than we have ever been and there has never been a more important time than right now for states to step up and tell the federal government you are going to stay with in your limits on your spending," said Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia.

    However, University of Missouri political science professor Marvin Overby said the limits of what a convention could enact are unclear since the last convention in 1787 reworked a whole new government.

    "Our founding fathers who we revere for the writing of the constitution, they essentially went far beyond what their charge was," said Overby. "So there's significant fear on parts for some of us that the same thing might happen if there were a second constitution convention was called."

    This concern was also discussed among testifies at the committee hearing for these resolutions.

    The resolutions now head to the House.

    Legislation that would keep police body camera footage hidden from the public even if a a sunshine request is filed, will now move forward to the Senate.

    The bill wold allow video that is captured through body cameras to stay hidden despite a sunshine request, disclosing all criminal footage. Currently, a sunshine request allows the video to be made public.

    The judge, lawyer, property owner and those directly connected to the police camera footage will be the only one's to view the video.

    The bill was perfected in the House on Wednesday but did bring strong opposition.

    Rep. Randy Dunn, D-Jackson County, said the bill is about shielding the video from the public.

    "To give a broad shield against video and audio recording is bad because what we're saying is that if they do do something illegal than it's okay that it should be hidden," Dunn said.

    The bill was met with strong support by Republican members saying this is the protection the public needs.

    "Right now we have we have open sunshine laws regarding footage from these police body cams, we have our citizens appearing on YouTube at their most vulnerable, Rep. Sheila Solon, R-Jackson County said.

    Those in favor of the bill said it will protect citizen's rights against intrusion by not having their personal moments being exposed to anyone requesting video footage.

    Some lawmakers are expressed concerns on the privacy of officers wearing the cameras. One Representative said police officers brought to his attention what would be the protocol if an officer forgets to turn off the camera in the restroom.

    Two contaminated sites in Kansas City and Springfield will receive an additional $7 million due to a bankruptcy settlement.

    Attorney General Chris Koster said Anadarko Petroleum Company will also contribute nearly one million dollars to the Department of Natural Resources to help cleanup other contaminated sites across the state.

    "The additional settlement proceeds for former Kerr-McGee facilities will go directly to the two sites in Missouri for the express purpose of environmental recovery under the supervision of the Department of Natural Resources.” Koster said.

    Each site has already received $19.1 million toward cleaning up the two sites, which suffer from soil and groundwater contamination.

    The company has already paid $4.1 billion nationwide to cleanup contaminated areas.

    Deputy State Auditor Henry Otto reported Wednesday that Gov. Jay Nixon continues to take money from other agencies to finance travel and extra staff for his office.

    In the past three budget years, the audit of the governor's office reported $1.9 million had been used from appropriations for other agencies to cover costs of the governor's office and mansion.

    Otto said the expenses belonging to the employees of the governor's office should be paid for using the money appropriated to the governor's office. 

    "The auditor's office believes that there are bodies, there are people on the second floor of the governor's office, inside the walls of the governor's office doing governor office duties, but their expenses are being charged to and paid by other places," Otto said.

    The audit noted that diversion of funds for the governor's office violated specific restrictions in the budgets that had been by the legislature and signed by the governor.

    Otto said the governor's misuse of funds is not allowing other agencies to pay for what they need.

    "A budget is adopted and then the spending in that budget is being manipulated to some extent because elementary and secondary education gets "x" dollars to spend but then they've got to save some money or use some money to spend some expenses that were incurred by the governor's office," Otto said. "So therefore, they didn't get everything that they were supposed to get." 

    According to the audit, $948,000 was taken from appropriations to other agencies to pay the salaries and travel expenses of six employees of the governor's office. In addition, another $732,000 was taken from agencies to cover other costs involving the governor's office and mansion.

    Otto said the governor's office charging other state agencies for its expenses was their "No. 1 finding." 

    The audit included a formal response from the governor's office to the finding.

    It was just one sentence -- "The office accounts for its operational costs in a manner that properly reflects the nature of the work it performs."

    In response to Nixon's continued use of funds appropriated for other purposes, the legislature this year has included even stronger language designed to require that the governor limit spending for his office to what the legislature appropriated.

    Extended questioning led the Senate to postpone action on a bill that would impose additional restrictions on when a law enforcement officer can use deadly force.

    The proposal was filed in response to the police fatal shooting of unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson last year.

    Missouri law authorizes a police officer to use deadly force on a fleeing person if the officer "reasonably believes" it is necessary to accomplish the arrest and that person attempted or has attempted to commit  a felony crime.

    The bill before the Senate would impose language requiring that there be some reason for the police officer to believe the suspect represented a threat.

    Sen. Maria Cappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, argued Missouri is three decades behind other states in restricting when deadly force can be used.

    "Like we are literally, when it comes to deadly force, we are 30 years behind," she said.

    The principle sponsor of the measure is the Senate's Judiciary Committee chair, Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Greene County.

    But two lawyers in the Senate -- Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, and Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County -- the additional provisions a police officer would be required to consider before using lethal force was unrealistic and potentially dangerous.

    "When you put an officer in a position where literally something that's going to happen in a thirtieth of a second, and they have to weight all those factors, it can be very difficult," Schaefer said.

    Although the bill was prompted by the shooting death of Brown, his name was not mentioned during the debate.

    A bipartisan group of representatives voted to kill a 2 cent gasoline tax increase measure in the House Transportation Committee Tuesday, April 21.

    The bill, sponsored by Rep. Keith English, I-St. Louis County, would have permanently raised the gas tax from 17 cents to 19 cents per gallon without requiring voter approval.

    In this case, the gas tax increase proposal was a bipartisan issue. Rep. Bill Lant, R-Pineville, spoke of his concerns regarding ailing bridge infrastructure in his district.

    "We've already had two bridges that they've had to drop the load limits on because of the condition of the bridges," Lant said. "I think this is something we need to get started on."

    Rep. Bob Burns, D-St. Louis County, echoed Lant's worries, citing poor road conditions in the state's rural areas.

    "Something's got to be done seriously about our infrastructure in this state," Burns said. "Or instead of lowering weight limits, we're going to have a bridge collapse, which would be a catastrophe."

    Ultimately, the committee rejected the measure by a vote of 5-6, with twice as many Democrats voting against the proposal than for it.

    A similar Senate measure was stalled on the chamber floor last week, after leading Republican fiscal hawks decided they would not support the bill.

    The House sent Gov. Jay Nixon a bill Tuesday, April 21 that would tie the number of weeks a person could get unemployment insurance to the state's overall unemployment rate.

    However, it received bipartisan opposition and Rep. Sheila Solon, R-Jackson County, said the bill will do Missouri families no good.

    "This bill will hurt families and it's going to hurt people," she said.

    Rep. Keith English, I-St. Louis County, agreed with Solon.

    "This hurts every man, woman, and child in the state of Missouri," he said.

    Only bill sponsor Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, spoke in favor of the bill during the debate.

    He went over the four amendments the Senate added to the bill, which include changing the effective date to January 1, 2016, and not letting a person who gets a severance package file an unemployment compensation claim until their severance package runs out.

    The current unemployment rate in Missouri 5.6 percent, according to the March report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If this bill becomes law, unemployed persons would only be able to collect 13 weeks worth of insurance.

    Solon said that amount of times is too short.

    "The difference in finding a job in three months to what we currently allow [in] 5 months may not seem like a big difference, but to the folks who are out pounding the pavement looking for work, it's enormous," Solon said.

    The House passed the bill by an 88-68 vote, which is just over 20 votes shy of a veto-proof majority.

    Once the bill is delivered to Nixon, he has 15 days to either sign or veto the bill.

    Attorney General, Chris Koster, announced Monday he will defend the Senate's right to ban video coverage at committee hearings.

    Progress Missouri, a liberal activist group, filed a lawsuit last week against Sens. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, David Sater, R-Cassville, and Mike Parson, R-Bolivar for violating the Missouri Sunshine law.

    In the same week the Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill that would allow the General Assembly to hire outside legal counsel if the Attorney General does not agree to defend them.

    "We just want to be able to use those funds to represent us when we need attorney representatives," said Sen. Majority Floor Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin. "If the Attorney General decides not to do that we want access to someone who will do that for use."

    The bill comes in response to Senate Republican complaints that the Attorney General had not adequately defended the General Assembly on legislative issues in the past.

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