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NewsBook: Missouri Government News for the Week of January 29, 2007

. In one contract, Missouri's Transportation Department proposes to fix state bridges for 25 years. (02/02/2007)

With one sweeping motion, the Missouri Transportation Department is seeking to rectify a statewide safety concern.

MoDOT officials plan to award a single contract this summer for a $400 million to $600 million project aimed at replacing more than 800 of the 10,200 bridges on Missouri's state roads.

. House Speaker Says Indicted Representative's Role to be Decided by Minority Leader (02/01/2007)

Rep. John Bowman returned to the Capitol for the first time Thursday since being indicted Monday, on bank and credit fruad charges. 

The issue of whether Bowman should resign from the committees he serves is still up for debate.

. The Speaker of the House left the committee future of a federally indicted house member to minority House Leader Jeff Harris (02/01/2007)

House Speaker Rod Jetton said Thursday that he will not be making a decision regarding the role recently indicted House member John Bowman unless House Minority Leader Jeff Harris raises the issue with him.

Harris said he will not comment on the situation until the issue is resolved in the legal system.

Bowman's role in an alleged credit fraud scandal arose after the indictment against him and 17 other litigants was unsealed January 29.

. Gift certificates would be prohibited from having expiration dates under a pair of bills (02/01/2007)

Gift certificates issued by retailers would no longer be allowed to have expiration dates or exact service fees if they aren't used under two bills moving through the General Assembly.

Rep. Mark Bruns, R-Jefferson City, and Sen. Maida Coleman, D-St. Louis, each have proposed legislation to prohibit gift certificate expiration dates and service fees. 

. University presidents in favor of comprehensive higher education bill (01/31/2007)

The presidents of Truman State University and the UM System on Wednesday spoke in favor of a bill that would reform higher education.

UM System President, Elson Floyd, even asked for an emergency clause that would have funds from MOHELA's assets reach universities faster.

. A House committee was urged Wednesday to provide job projections for volunteer firefighters. (01/31/2007)

The bill presented to the House General Laws Committee would prohibit employers from reprimanding or firing their employees that miss work due to volunteer firefighting.

The bill's sponsor Mark Bruns told the House committee that volunteer firefighters would not be held responsible for job hours missed while responding to emergency calls.

. House Republican seeks moratorium on death penalty (01/31/2007)

For the second straight year, Rep. Bill Deeken, R-Jefferson City, has proposed legislation that would put a moratorium on the death penalty until 2011.

It would also establish a committee of experts on the death penalty to review the practice within the state.

. Committee unanimously passes Ticket-to-Work to house floor. (01/31/2007)

Ticket-to-Work, one of the victims of the 2005 Medicaid cuts, could be reinstated.

A bill to revise and reinstate the program unanimously passed committee Wednesday.

Rep. Charles Portwood, R-St. Louis County, the bill's sponsor said he thinks the bill has plenty of support in the legislature to make in through both chambers.

. Missouri remains the country's top meth producer (01/31/2007)

Despite a 40% decline in reported methamphetamine lab incidents, Missouri remains at the top of the nation's states for meth busts, according to a report by the Associated Press.

The decline in meth incidents reported by the Highway Patrol comes during the first full year of a new law imposing tighter restrictions on drugs that contain ingredients for making meth.

. House Majority Leader pushes for utility companies' to be held accountable (01/30/2007)

House Majority Leader Tom Dempsey said Tuesday that his bill should give utility companies a little more incentive to restore power quickly after outages.

In the past year, he says, Missouri has seen a lot of bad weather and at least three severe cases of power outage across the state.

He has proposed a bill that would credit consumers if they are without power for too long.

Under the bill's provisions, if a customer is without power for more than 48 hours, they receive an automatic $50 credit to their bill and they are compensated for expenses directly related to the outage; for example, a generator purchase.  If they go without power for more than a week, the credit jumps to $100.

If this kind of 48 hour power loss happens three times in a year, and there are still customers without power after two days, the company would be charged $2,000 per home per day in fines.

Dempsey says "as property owners, we can help protect electrical infrastructure.  However, as the caretaker of the system, electrical service providers are charged with the primary responsibility of maintaining their infrastructure."

He says he thinks the legislation will help restore public confidence in the companies' effort to keep the power on.

. House committee considers bills that would cut Social Security taxes (01/30/2007)

A special House committee on tax reform heard testimony Tuesday for and against a number of bills that would cut state income tax on Social Security.

Debate between committee members and those opposed to the bills centered on the government's role to provide for the welfare of society and whether citizens or lawmakers should decide how a dollar is spent.

No action was taken on the measures, but the committee chairman expects a vote next week.

. A school bus accident in eastern Missouri leads to renewed calls for school seat belts. (01/30/2007)

The sponsor of the seat-belt bill said the Jefferson County accident demonstrates the importance of requiring seat belts in new school buses.

No children were injured in the Tuesday morning accident.

Bills to mandate new buses have seat belts have made little headway in Missouri's legislature.

. Legislators decline to speak on indictment (01/30/2007)

The day after news broke that Republican John Bowman is being federally indicted for credit fraud, fellow members of the House Budget Committee and black caucus members declined to speak on the matter.

House rules allow Bowman to continue in the House and to continue on the powerful Budget Committee.

. Bill to reject pay raise dies in Senate committee (01/29/2007)

The Senate won't get the chance to vote on a measure to reject a proposed pay raise.

Because the legislature couldn't must the two-thirds vote it needed to reject the measure, the pay raise will become effective in July for judges and 2009 for lawmakers.

The pay raise plan includes a four percent salary increase plus a $1200 bonus.

. MOHELA debate begins (01/29/2007)

Gov. Matt Blunt's MOHELA plan was introduced today by Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, in the form of a comprehensive higher education plan.

However, the democrats stand behind another bill that would bond money for capital projects.

. Republicans introduce comprehensive higher education bill (01/29/2007)

Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, on Monday introduces a bill that overhauls higher education.

Among the provisions include punishing universities for raising tuition beyond the inflation rate, giving more money to need-based financial aid and offering accountability measures.

. Tax credit to help elderly and disabled (01/29/2007)

The elderly and disabled would have a new avenue to improve handicapped accessibility in their homes if a proposed Senate bill passes.

Sen. Harry Kennedy, D-St. Louis said he proposed the bill because of concerns from constituents who would like to make improvements to their homes, but can't.

. The Senate self-proclaimed computer geek is at it again (01/29/2007)

Senator Matt Bartle is proposing to create an office of enterprise technology.

His bill would give the office chairman a lot of power within the state government.

However many people, including Bartle don't expect the bill to go far.

. The legislature's Black Caucus chairman is indicted (01/29/2007)

The U.S. Attorney for Eastern Missouri announced Monday that Rep. John Bowman, D-St. Louis County, was among 16 people indicted  in a $1.2 million bank and credit card fraud scheme.

Bowman, a long-term United Auto Workers member, began this year his second term in the Missouri House.  He was elected chairman of the Black Caucus last year after an internal fight within the caucus.

The U.S. Attorney's release charges that the scheme involved filing false applications for small business lines of credit with Bank of America for which the a bank officer was paid a kick back.