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NewsBook: Missouri Government News for the Week of January 12, 2009

. Nixon: Driver license offices will be competitively bid (01/14/2009)

Gov. Jay Nixon on Wednesday announced a plan to revamp how local motor vehicle and driver license offices are awarded in the state, claiming, "The era of license office patronage ends today."

Previously, contract agents at the offices were not competitively bid, and Nixon said the appointments were often made on the basis of political favoritism.

Nixon's plan calls for competitive bids, a process that began Tuesday when a request for proposals from interested vendors was dispersed for six of the state's contract offices by the Missouri Department of Revenue.

. Energy leads Senate seminars (01/13/2009)

The Callaway 2 plant has taken center stage in Missouri's debate on energy policy.  In an educational seminar Tuesday afternoon, senators listened to presentations made by advocates of different groups, including AmerenUE, renewable energy and consumers.

. Nixon starts first day with executive orders and cell phone bans (01/13/2009)

At Gov. Jay Nixon's first press conference aimed at highlighting the first official efforts of the Show Me Jobs initiative, his staff tried to seize the cell phones of the press, initially saying it was a security matter.

When the press refused to relinquish their cell phones, press secretary Scott Holste went back into the governor's office and returned rescinding the ban on cell phones.

The governor's communications director later acknowledged that rather than a security issue, the effort to ban cell phones was because Nixon does not want visitors in his office distracted by the phones.

Within a couple of hours after the governor's office attempted to ban cell phones in Nixon's office, the Republican lieutenant governor's office issued a statement saying they would "gladly provide Blackberry phone chargers" for reporters at their news .

. Republicans praise Nixon's inaugural address (01/12/2009)

Top Missouri Republican leaders praised Jay Nixon's inaugural address -- both for stressing bi-partisanship and for being brief.

The state's sole Republican statewide office holder, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, termed the speech a success.

With overcast skies and temperatures hovering around freezing, Kinder, Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields and House Speaker Ron Richard all said they appreciated that Nixon kept the speech short -- just eleven minutes. 

. Nixon inauguration is a brief affair (01/12/2009)

Gov.-elect Jay Nixon was sworn into office just before noon Monday to become Missouri's 55th governor.

With an emphasis on job creation and innovation, Nixon told Missourians that "today marks a new day for Missouri."

At the beginning of his speech, Democrat Nixon stressed bi-partisanship -- a theme he had set during the transition period after his November election.

. Nixon to fire 150 state workers (01/08/2009)

The Associated Press reports that the office of Gov.-Elect Jay Nixon has advised 150 higher level state workers they will be out of a job the hour Nixon is sworn into office.

"I would expect that a new day will be noticeable," Nixon was quoted by the AP as saying.

Last month, Nixon's office had sent letters to 600 state workers asking them to justify their jobs.

The positions involved are not covered by the state Merit System that protects government workers from political firings.

. U.S. Sen. Kit Bond will not seek reelection, says 40 years in politics is enough (01/08/2009)

U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., announced his intent not to run for reelection or continue his political career in 2010. The senior senator, who has served two terms as Missouri governor and four terms in the U.S. Senate, said he does not want to be the oldest senator in Missouri history.

Bond also said his decision to step out of politics was not related to any particular instances or issues related to his Senate career or the Republicans' minority status in the U.S. Senate.

. Repeal of a voter-approved restriction on utility rates emerges as a top issue for the 2009 legislative session. (01/07/2009)

Incoming House Speaker Ron Richard announced Wednesday his support for repeal of the voter-approved provision restricting utilities for charging rate payers for electric plant construction costs before a plant becomes operational.

Supporters say the restriction, approved in 1976, would prevent AmerenUE from building a second nuclear power plant because of the huge cost of the project and the amount of money the company would need to borrow.

Under current law, the company can include the interest costs in electric rates only after the plant becomes operational.

"We must work to make the new nuclear plant in Callaway County a reality," Richard said in his opening address to the House.

During the 1976 debate on the "construction work in process" rate restriction, utility critics charged it was unfair to charge an elderly customer the finance costs of a plant that might not become operational until after the customer's death.

. Missouri's governor-elect picks a defeated attorney general candidate to run the state's Health Department (01/07/2009)

Jay Nixon announced Wednesday that he will name former Rep. Margaret Donnelly to head the state's Health and Senior Services Department.

A former House member from St. Louis County, Donnelly was an unsuccessful candidate in August for the Democratic nomination for attorney general.  She was defeated by Chris Koster who went on to win the office in November.

Earlier, Nixon had announced that another unsuccessful candidate for that office -- former Columbia Rep. Jeff Harris -- would be the governor's policy director.

. Shields, other legislators talk of one governing board for universities (01/07/2009)

Newly elected Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields spoke about the higher education system being 'disorganized' in his opening speech to the Missouri Senate.

Shields said he would support uniting all universities under one governing body instead of the individual governing body system currently in place.

Columbia Rep. Chris Kelly said he supports the idea but thinks universities will fight against the idea.

. Missouri lawmakers return with words of cooperation. (01/06/2009)

Legislative leaders stressed bi-partisan cooperation on the eve of their 2009 legislative session.

Lawmakers will convene at noon for a session that will run until mid-May.

Missouri's Gov.-Elect Jay Nixon and legislative leaders have identified the state's economic problems as a top priority for the legislature.  Democrat Nixon has reached out to Republican legislators in promoting an economic stimulus package.

. Missouri's new governor announces his top staff (01/05/2009)

There were few surprises in the top staff Jay Nixon announced Monday for his office.

Nixon's chief of staff as attorney general will continue as the chief of staff for the governor's office under Nixon.

As his policy director, Nixon has named Jeff Harris - the former Columbia House member who lost the Democratic nomination for attorney general.

The state Democratic Party's chief spokesman, Jack Cardetti, will become Nixon's communications director.

Nixon becomes governor on Monday, January 12.