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NewsBook: Missouri Government News for the Week of January 14, 2008


. Blunt approves $2 million to preserve emails. (01/17/2008)

The Associated Press reported Thursday that Gov. Matt Blunt has authorized spending $2 million to establish an administration system to preserve e-mails within various agencies of state government.

The plan comes after a former lawyer for the governor charged in a lawsuit that Blunt's top staff had urged agency lawyers to destroy email documents.  The lawsuit also charges the governor's former chief of staff had sought to destroy the backup tapes of emails from the governor's staff.

The governor repeatedly has refused to answer questions as to whether the allegations are true and what, if any documents, actually have been destroyed in his office.

The attorney general has launched an investigation into the allegations.


. Concern Over Child Care (01/16/2008)

Majority leader Republican Charlie Shields is giving it another try with his early child care rating system bill.  The same idea was propsed last year but was defeated on the main concern that it should be voluntary.  Shields changed the service to optional but there are still concerns among his own Education Committee.

One main concern was if a facility's costs would go up after they recieve a higher rating, just like how a 5-star restaurant can charge more for a steak than the diner down the street.


. High Security at state Capitol Nothing New (01/15/2008)

Governor Blunt's State of the State address not only brought with it the promise of change, but also the sight of armed police officers and bomb sniffing dogs.

However, according to Missouri Capitol Police Chief Todd Hurt, the implementation of explosive detecting dogs and other upgrades in security at the state Capitol was not a request by the Governor..  They were only a precaution for civilian visitors to the capitol.


. Bartle says 2007 "Year of the Steroid" (01/15/2008)

A bill sponsored by Republican Senator Matt Bartle would call for random drug testing for high school athletes.  The tests would not only focus on the detection of anabolic steroids but of other illegal substances.

A positive test would result in immediate dismissal from sports for the rest of the present year and the one following it.


. Missouri's governor proposes a $1.5 billion budget increase. (01/15/2008)

Missouri's governor has presented state lawmakers with a package of budget increases of nearly $1.5 billion for the fiscal year that will begin July 1.

The proposals would bring higher education funding back to the 2002 fiscal year levels -- before the state's economic downturn forced a series of cuts in state spending.

The governor's budget is based on spending almost all of the more than $600 million of unspent surplus in state tax dollars from prior years.

Building the budget on one-time dollars raised concerns from some Republican legislators who warned the state should be cautious about spending because of predictions of economic problems ahead.


. Nixon's investigation into the governor's office is extended. (01/15/2008)

Attorney General Jay Nixon announced Tuesday that he as granted a two-month extension for the team looking into allegations of record destruction by the governor's office.

The three-member team had requested the extension because of the refusal by the governor's office to provide requested materials.

The team is headed by a former Highway Patrol superintendent.

Last week, a former lawyer for the governor had charged in a lawsuit that top staff of the governor had pressured agency officials to destroy electronic emails.


. The former chair of the legislature's Black Caucus plead guilty. (01/11/2008)

Rep. John Bowman, D-St. Louis, pleaded guilty Friday to federal charges involving a bank-fraud credit card scheme.

He also agreed to resign his legislative seat by the end of the month.

Bowman had been chair of the Legislative Black Caucus until he stepped down from the position last year soon after the criminal charges had been filed.  Although resigning leadership of the caucus, he continued to make appearances in the legislature -- as late as Thursday.

Bowman will become the second state lawmaker to leave office after pleading guilty to criminal charges.  Earlier, former Rep. Nat Cooper, R-Cape Girardeau, resigned.  He had pled guilty to charges involving fraud involving illegal foreigners.


. Missouri's governor walks out on reporters. (01/10/2008)

Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt abruptly terminated a news conference after less than three minutes of questions about a lawsuit filed by his former lawyer charging administration efforts to destroy public records.

Although Blunt had told The Associated Press earlier in the day he would accept questions on the issue at a press gathering in his office later in the day, Blunt accepted just three questions. 

As to whether the charges where true and what, if anything, the governor knew about record-destruction efforts of his top staff, Blunt refused any to give an answer -- saying he would not comment on allegations in lawsuit. 

He then turned his back to reporters and walked out of his office.


. Missouri's governor is sued by one of his former lawyers. (01/09/2008)

Fired attorney Scott Eckersley filed suit in a Kansas City area state court charging a variety of violations by the governor, his chief of staff, his general counsel and the top administration lawyer.

The lawsuit charges the top administration officials with wrongful discharge, defamation of character, violation of the state's whistleblower protection law and violation of state public records laws.

In the lawsuit, Eckersley claims that the governor's top staff had met with lawyers from various agencies in the state and ordered them to destroy public documents in order to avoid news media access to email records.

Eckersley has claimed he was fired for warning administration officials that their actions might be illegal.

After his dismissal, the Office of Administration's lawyer sent reporters a package of email materials suggesting that Eckersley might be a user of illegal drugs and a porno site.


. Missouri's midwife deregulation law gets his committee chairmanship back. (01/09/2008)

With no fanfare, the Senate's president pro tem has restored Sen. John Loudon as chair of the Senate's Small Business Committee.

Sen. Mike Gibbons had stripped Loudon of the chair near the end of last year's session after it was discovered Loudon has snuck into a bill he was handling a provision that completely deregulates midwifery.

Loudon had included the provision in a last-minute change to a large bill that few, if any, legislators read prior to final adoption.

This year, Loudon has sponsored a bill that would repeal the deregulation.

Get the bill, SB 870.

Also Wednesday, the Republican-turned-Democrat senator Chris Koster got some committee appointments.  He had lost all of his assignments when he abandoned the GOP last legislative session.  In a compromise worked out between Senate party leaders, a few committee were expanded and thus made room for Koster.


. Missouri's legislature begins its 2008 legislative session. (01/09/2008)

Lawmakers convened at noon Wednesday amid widespread speculation that election-year politics would be a major barrier to significant achievements.

It was serious enough of an issue that the Senate president pro tem admonished his colleagues in an opening address to rise above partisanship.

In an interview before the session, Gov. Matt Blunt cited as the three top issues a crackdown on illegal foreigners, expanding health care coverage and boosting funding for education. 

In addition to those issues, legislative leaders also have mentioned putting a cap on property tax increases.


. A task force proposes tougher laws against Internet harassment. (01/08/2008)

No final recommendations emerged Tuesday from the second meeting of a task force appointed by the governor in response to a teenage girl's suicide triggered by Internet fraud.

The task force was appointed in response to suicide of a 13-year-old girl who had been triked into believing she was communicating, via Internet, with a teenage boy -- who turned out to be a fictitious character created by the mother of another girl.

When asked if the task force recommendations would make that kind of behavior a crime, the state's Public Safety Department director acknowledged to reporters he did not know the details of the case.

In the meantime, several bills have been filed in the legislature to address the issue.


. A utility representative argues for private meetings with utility regulators. (01/07/2008)

A spokesman for a state utility association argued the benefits of allowing members of the Public Service Commission continue to have private meetings with utility representatives.

The argument was made during hearing by the PSC on the issue. 

The state's Public Counsel, who represents consumers in utility cases, has proposed a total ban on any private discussion between a PSC commissioner and a utility representative on matters that are before our likely could come before the commission.

Earlier complaints from the Public Counsel led the PSC's chairman to step aside from a utility merger case in which the chairman had a private meeting with the utility.