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NewsBook: Missouri Government News for the Week of February 2, 2009

. Bill would provide guidelines to students trying to transfer school districts (02/05/2009)

Rep. Theodore Hoskins, D-St. Louis County, has introduced legislation to create criteria establishing the conditions to reject a student trying to transfer from an unaccredited district to an accredited one.

The bills gives the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to right to establish the criteria.

. Confirmation of Economic Development designee delayed -- again (02/05/2009)

Missouri senators dubbed Thursday "Groundhog Day" because it marked yet another day they postponed a vote on the same gubernatorial designee -- Linda Martinez, a St. Louis lawyer, who is Gov. Jay Nixon's pick to head the state's Economic Development department.

Some Missouri senators say they won't confirm the governor's selection until they have more information on Martinez's stance toward the hiring of illegal immigrants. 

State Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County, says that she has done legal work supporting businesses that hire undocumented workers, but a Democratic senator from Independence says Martinez, in fact, shares the same attitude toward protecting jobs for legal Missourians as Rupp.

. House approves tax credit bill for businesses (02/05/2009)

The House approved a bill that would remove the annual  $6 million cap on the Quality Jobs Act, which provides tax credits for business expansion.

The bill also would create an act allowing small business employers to retain the Missouri withholding tax from the salary of any new jobs added to their payroll.

. The Missouri House of Representatives gave preliminary approval to an economic development plan. (02/04/2009)

The package acts as a stimulus plan by cutting taxes for Missouri business and creating jobs.

The bill aims to pick up Missouri business in these tough economic times.

. Plan to repeal ethanol requirement controversial (02/04/2009)

Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Kansas City, has sponsored a bill that would repeal Missouri's requirement that gasoline sold in the state contains 10 percent ethanol.

Bartle appealed to the Senate Agriculture, Food Production and Outdoor Resources Committee during a hearing on Wednesday.

His bill met opposition from numerous entities, especially corn growers.

. Debate over the state's first nuclear plant is dividing the state's Public Service Commission. (02/04/2009)

Commissioners were split evenly today in their discussion regarding whether to jump into the debate on the Callaway power plant.

Some members of the commission say it will be best to wait until after the legislative session to allow lawmakers to solve the problem of how to fund the project.

. A St. Louis Democrat accuses a St. Charles Republican of being sexist during a Senate confirmation hearing (02/04/2009)

Sen. Robin Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis City, says Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County, does not want Linda Martinez to be confirmed as director of the Department of Economic Development because she is a woman.

The freshman senator's comments came during a 2-hour filibuster by Rupp, when he said his frustration with Martinez was because she had not met with him.

Rupp said his issues with Martinez are mainly her stance on illegal immigration and said he hopes her personal views will not her affect her job performance.

. Bill would add 16 cents to current cigarette sales tax (02/03/2009)

Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, introduced legislation that would increase the sales tax on cigarettes from 17 cents to 33 cents -- a 16 cent increase.

Nasheed said this should bring $90 million in state revenue but still keep Missouri low in the rankings on its cigarette taxes.

Missouri currently has the second lowest cigarette tax in the country, but were this measure to pass, Missouri would rank fifth in the nation.

. New license plate proposed in House Transportation Committee hearing (02/03/2009)

Rep. Scott Lipke, R-Jackson, presented a bill Tuesday that could introduce a second standard Missouri license plate.

The fee-free plate is predicted to be very popular among drivers.

. Committee debates merits of funding statewide first responder communications upgrade (02/03/2009)

Public safety officials urged legislators Tuesday to find funds for a statewide radio communications system to avoid the kind of problems that plagued firefighters and police at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

The House Public Safety and Corrections Appropriations Committee was reviewing a proposal to establish a statewide system that would allow police and fire and rescue personnel to communicate with each across the state.

. CWIP opponents include consumer rights advocates and environmentalists (02/03/2009)

The debate surrounding the creation of a second power plant in Callaway County has consumer and environmental advocates struggling to find their place in partisan politics.

With AmerenUE lobbyists touting pro-business lines to Republicans and unionists promoting the plant for pro-worker reasons to Democrats, some of the lobbyists who work for consumer rights and the environment are having trouble finding support among their traditional allies.

. Legislator pushes bill for fire-safe cigarettes (02/03/2009)

A cigarette debate took a new turn before a Missouri House committee on Tuesday.

Representatives heard testimony in favor of a bill that would impose fire-safety regulations on cigarettes.

. Secretary of State Robin Carnahan announces U.S. Senate bid (02/03/2009)

Democrat Secretary of State Robin Carnahan announced today in a YouTube video that she will run for the U.S. Senate.

Hailing from a political family, the secretary of state's father, Mel Carnahan, served as governor from 1993 to 2000. While campaigning for Senate, he died in a plane crash. His wife, Jean Carnahan, was appointed to Senate in his stead.

The secretary of state's brother, Russ Carnahan, is currently serving as a U.S. representative.

. New quality rating system proposed for Missouri preschools (02/03/2009)

President Pro Tem Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, introduced a new scale to rate state-licensed childcare providers.

The new rating system would be voluntary and make participants eligible for additional state-funded resources.

. Proposed bill could expand teachers' power in the classroom (02/03/2009)

A bill that would expand teachers' power in protecting students and school property cleared the state House Education Committee on Tuesday.

The bill, proposed by Rep. Maynard Wallace, R-Thornfield, lifts liability on any school employee who uses force to prevent violence on school property.

. Senator's bill would complete capital improvement projects and reduce tuition (02/02/2009)

Money from the 2007 sale of MOHELA assets would bolster a higher education tuition reduction fund and still be given to certain capital improvement projects at state colleges and universities if a Senate bill receives favorable action this legislative session.

The bill, proposed by Senate Democratic Floor Leader Victor Callahan, would first channel revenue from the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority toward capital improvement projects.

. Extended debate blocks senators from using laptops in chamber (02/02/2009)

The resolution brought forth by Senate Majority Floor Leader Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, would have allowed senators to bring laptops into the Senate chamber.

Engler ended debate on the resolution Monday and said he does not intend at this time to bring it forward again.

At the center of the debate was the question of what was better: senators in the chamber who are on the computer and not necessarily paying attention or senators who leave the chamber to conduct business electronically and therefore miss debate.

. A bill regulating pre-need funeral contracts will now move to the Senate floor. (02/02/2009)

After much discussion, the Financial and Governmental Organizations and Elections committee added an amendment to Senate Bill One.

The bill creates regulation for pre-need funeral contracts.

The amendment provides security for an insurance contract involving pre-need funeral contracts.

. Unemployment insurance fund headed toward insolvency (02/02/2009)

The state has asked the federal government for more than a quarter of a billion dollars so it can continue to make payments to unemployed Missourians.

The state's Labor Department spokesperson says the move allows unemployed Missourians to receive their unemployment benefits on time.

. Democrats propose bills to aid military families. (02/02/2009)

Democrats will file four bills this week to aid military families.

The bills aim to provide stability when a service member is called to active duty.

. Bill would give some veterans free metered parking (01/29/2009)

Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, has filed legislation that would give some veterans free metered parking.

Those eligible under the bill include POWs, silver and bronze stars, and Purple Heart recipients.

Nasheed said the bill has strong bipartisan support and that she expects it will pass the House.

. Democrats defend budget in light of Republican criticism (01/29/2009)

House Republicans are saying the governor's budget proposal relies too heavily on a federal government bailout.

Democrats reply that it's perfectly acceptable to use federal money for ongoing operations.

. Hands-free cell phone debate heats up in Mo. (01/29/2009)

Following a pair of high-profile fatal text-messaging related traffic accidents in the state in the past year, legislation has been filed in Missouri's General Assembly to outlaw any handheld use of cell phones while on Missouri's public roads.  

Five bills were pre-filed in the weeks leading up to the start of the legislative session that would impose a $20 first-time fine and a $50 fine each time thereafter for those caught talking on their cell phones without a hands-free device or who are sending text messages while the car is in drive. 

. Missouri officials will face frozen salaries. (01/29/2009)

Missouri's Senate joined the House in rejecting a pay raise for state officials.

The pay plan was rejected by the Senate on Thursday with just one dissenting vote.

The state's Compensation Commission had proposed a package of pay raises for statewide elected officials, legislators and judges.

Unless rejected by the legislature, the pay hikes would have taken effect.

Supporters of the pay-hike rejection argued the nation's economic problems made it the wrong time to raise the salaries of government officials.

The sole opponent to the rejection said that elected officials should be treated the same as state government workers for whom the governor has proposed a modest pay increase.

. State legislators discuss federal relief (01/28/2009)

Missouri's Senate Select Committee on Oversight of Federal Stimulus discussed a wide range of issues Wednesday surrounding the $809.2 million in relief funding Gov. Jay Nixon has anticipated in his fiscal 2010 budget proposal.

The 13-member committee has been tasked with developing strategies to maximize and best utilize whatever funds the state does receive from an anticipated federal stimulus package, which is still being considered in both chambers of U.S. Congress. 

Republican senators voiced concerns over committing one-time funds for ongoing state programs, while Nixon's senior counsel on budget and financial issues argued can and should be used to create jobs and balance the state budget.

. Lewis and Clark projects cut due to insufficient MOHELA funds (01/28/2009)

More than 30 capital improvement projects under the Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative Fund are being suspended or reviewed because of insufficient capital in Missouri's student loan agency's coffers.

The Lewis and Clark fund, which was slated to receive $350 million from the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, would have financed 31 projects for 15 state universities.

. Missouri faces public defender crisis (01/28/2009)

State Public Defender Deputy Director Cathy Kelly says Missouri could gain as many as 12 new full-time public defenders this year.

Chief Justice of the Missouri Supreme Court, Laura Denvir Stith, said that Missouri is last nationwide in public defender funding per capita.

. Lt. Gov. Kinder offers GOP response to state of the state address (01/27/2009)

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder said Nixon's budget proposal is not a realistic plan for the long term.

Kinder said it is not a good idea to have a proposed balanced budget be dependent on federal bailout money that has not even been approved yet.

. Gov. Nixon's State of the State address pointed to a Missourian who went to Kansas because of lower tuition. (01/27/2009)

Although most formal addresses to joint legislative sessions by presidents and governors focus on the triumphs of the common citizen, Democrat Gov. Jay Nixon focused on one of the failures of Missouri's higher education system in his State of the State address Tuesday night.

Nixon introduced a Missouri native who was forced by tuition costs to leave the state in order to go to college.

Jennifer Long completed the A+ program -- which allows students to attend a two-year state college if they meet academic and personal qualifications -- at Longview Community College in Lee's Summit.  Despite wanting to stay in her home state of Missouri, she decided to go to Pittsburg State University in Kansas because it gives in-state tuition to nearby Missouri county residents.

Long and her parents were invited to attend the legislative session and were introduced to the chamber by Nixon during his speech.

. AmerenUE rate increase approved (01/27/2009)

The Public Service Commission approved AmerenUE's rate increase request, which will bring another $162.6 million in revenue for the company.

The PSC estimates the average residential bill will go up $5.88.

The measure passed 3-2.

. Gov. Nixon surprised senators with a stimulus package he never mentioned before his State of the State address. (01/27/2009)

Gov. Nixon addressed a federal stimulus package of $800 million that senators had never heard about.

One senator said he was not surprised but does not like playing with money not yet in legislators' hands. The senator said only Nixon's team knew about the package.

. Gov. Nixon plans to eliminate more than 1,300 state jobs. (01/27/2009)

Nixon wants to eliminate needless state jobs by the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The cuts will allow the governor to increase funding for other programs.

. A House bill that would remove a cap on businesses was unopposed. (01/27/2009)

House Bill 191, which would remove a cap, or limit, to the amount of money the government could give to qualified businesses, ran unopposed.

A representative said that if the cap was removed, it would be like Missouri raising an "open for hire" sign above the state.

. AmerenUE includes request for rate increase for Callaway 2 federal permit process (01/27/2009)

AmerenUE requested its rates be increased to help pay for overall rising costs as well as certain Callaway 2 construction and operating license application costs.

The Public Service Commission did not approve the Callaway 2-related costs since it violates current legislation, but it did vote 3-2 to increase electric rates for Ameren consumers.

. Veterans' remains closer to getting a final resting place. (01/27/2009)

Rep. David Day, R-Dixon, passed legislation out of the House Veterans Affairs Committee authorizing the release of unclaimed soldiers' remains to veterans groups providing final memorials.

There are currently hundreds of remains in Missouri funeral homes that will otherwise go unburied.

. Bill would mandate insurance companies cover autism (01/27/2009)

Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County, introduced legislation that would mandate insurance companies cover autism.

Currently, autism is considered a pre-existing condition.

. State legislative leaders await balanced budget, bipartisan cooperation in Nixon's State of the State address (01/26/2009)

State Republican and Democratic leaders said they anticipate a balanced budget proposal in Gov. Jay Nixon's State of the State address on Tuesday evening.

If Nixon unexpectedly announces any promises regarding the budget, Republican leaders said they will respond with calls for bipartisanship.

. The Blunt e-mail investigation is dropped. (01/26/2009)

The Associated Press reported Monday night that the investigation into allegations of illegal document destruction by the administration of former Gov. Matt Blunt has been dropped.

The investigation, initially launched by then-Attorney General Jay Nixon, was being pursued by a two-person team appointed by the court. 

The AP cites a letter by the team's lead investigator informing the team there would be no report and that the investigation was ceasing.

Earlier, the governor's representatives had reached agreement to turn over to investigators and reporters many of the e-mails in question.

. Missouri's House votes to reject a pay raise. (01/26/2009)

Missouri's House voted down a pay raise for elected officials and legislators with a final vote of 129 yes and 31 no.

The resolution supporter filed the bill a few days before session and does not think this is the right time for a pay raise.

Under Missouri's Constitution, a commission puts together every two years a salary package recommendation for legislators, statewide elected officials and judges. The recommendations automatically take effect unless rejected by the legislature.

One legislator made the point that if someone makes more money, they will spend more.

The resolution supporter countered that the money has to be there in order to spend it.

A legislator from the Kansas City District says he disagrees with the final decision made by the House.

He says the resounding 'yes' in the House was due to legislators feeling scared voters will turn against them if they find out their representative voted the other way around.

Senate leadership announced it is fast-tracking this issue so they could take a vote by the end of week.

. Missouri funeral director urges Senate committee to regulate the funeral industry (01/26/2009)

Donald Otto, an executive for Missouri Funeral Directors, said government regulation would ensure Missourians would not fall prey to illegitimate pre-need funeral contracts.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Delbert Scott, would set up regulation for pre-need funeral contracts.

. Bob Holden's budget director takes back her old job. (01/26/2009)

Gov. Jay Nixon has named Linda Luebbering to be his budget director.

Luebbering last held that job during the administration of Gov. Bob Holden.

Luebbering had been a long-term budget specialist in Missouri government when she became Holden's budget director in 2002. She soon became one of the key players in the standoff between Holden's efforts to raise taxes and opposition from Republican lawmakers.