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NewsBook: Missouri Government News for the Week of March 30, 2009

. A proposal to expand health care coverage runs into GOP resistance. (04/03/2009)

A Senate-approved plan to provide health care insurance to nearly 35,000 lower-income Missourians is facing stiff opposition from members of the sponsor's party.

The proposal, sponsored by a Senate Republican, won preliminary approval from the Senate Wednesday.  But in both the House and Senate, other Republicans are voicing opposition.

. Joint resolution to expand state sex offender registry passes Senate (04/02/2009)

A joint resolution that would put 4,800 sexual offender back on Missouri's sex offender registry passed in the Senate despite heated debate over its consequences for certain sexual offenders.

Some senators expressed concern over the so-called "Romeo and Juliet" situation. Matt Bartle, R-Jackson County, said he didn't want teenagers engaging in consensual sex to be on the registry.

. Special Elections bill passes Mo. House (04/02/2009)

After nearly 90 minutes of debate Thursday, the state House of Representatives approved a bill that would call for special elections in order to fill vacancies in statewide offices. Democrats assailed the legislation, saying it was written with the idea of a potential vacancy in the Secretary of State's office in 2010 in mind.

Under current law, if a statewide position other than governor or lieutenant governor is vacated, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon would have the power to select who fills the remainder of the term. Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, said this bill would give Missouri residents more power in determining who fills vacant positions.

. Senate Republicans debate over Show-Me Health Care bill (04/01/2009)

The perfected bill would use federal stimulus money to provide coverage for low-income individuals working in Missouri.

The plan would benefit people who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but cannot afford insurance on their own.

. A quarter-million Missourians are out of work, but some aren't giving up hope (04/01/2009)

Missouri's unemployment rate climbed to 8.3 percent in February.

At Salvation Army's Harbor House in Columbia, all 45 beds are full.

But some there aren't giving up hope that an economic turnaround is around the corner.

. Existing law to keep maximum mandatory child support age at 21 trumps amendment for change (04/01/2009)

Democratic Representative Jeanette Oxford tried unsuccessfully to pass an amendment that would require parents pay child support for children up to age 22 who attend college.

Existing law has the maximum age at 21.

The House voted against Oxford's amendment and for the existing age of 21.

. A small Education committee heard a bill that would equalize state financial aid for students in public universities compared to private. (04/01/2009)

The measure would take money from the Access Missouri Financial Assistance Program and redistribute it.

Students going to a private university would receive less money and students in a public university could receive up to an extra seven-hundred dollars.

Many students and chancellors testified in favor of the bill.

Opponents to the bill will testify next Wednesday.

. Stalemate in the Senate could kill job creation bill. (04/01/2009)

Though Governor Jay Nixon made job creation a priority this session, senate infighting could kill a bill which would give tax breaks to companies that create jobs.

The bill passed quickly through the House in February, but has been hotly debated in the Senate in the weeks since.

. Lawmakers call for more oversight of MIAC reports and releases (04/01/2009)

Southeast Missouri Senator Rob Mayer says the Missouri Information Analysis Center needs more oversight.

The comments came after the agency released a report detailing political conservatives and third part supporters as violent and dangerous.

. A late night filibuster blocks a vote on the governor's tax breaks for businesses. (03/31/2009)

The Missouri Senate adjourned late Tuesday night after a filibuster blocked action on the Gov. Jay Nixon's proposal to expand tax breaks to businesses that create new jobs.

The filibuster was launched after the Senate narrowly defeated an effort to give the legislature more control over the variety of different tax credits that are awarded to businesses and individuals.

Critics argued the state's current tax credits benefited special interests at the expense of other businesses.  They also said the credits were costing the state money at a time of economic downturn.

When the Senate rejected their proposal to give the legislature control over tax credits through the appropriations process, the filibuster began.

The Senate adjourned with indications the tax-credit control idea would be revived in an effort to save the bill.  "Please try to compromise on the end product so we can turn this state around and get people working again," Sen. John Griesheimer, R-Washington, pleaded with his colleagues.

In his January State of the State address, Nixon had urged lawmakers to pass a business tax break bill before the legislature's March spring break. 

The House quickly took action, but the idea has stalled in the House with a major split among Republicans over tax policy.  Some Republicans have argued for a general tax break for all businesses while others have defended the current system that rewards specific businesses or business activities.

The "Quality Jobs" bill promoted by the governor would raise the cap on a law that gives tax breaks to employers when the create jobs that include health care coverage and provide a salary above a set amount.

. House Democrats caucus after their leader is named in an FBI investigation (03/31/2009)

House Democrats held a hastily-called closed-door session Tuesday night after The Associated Press reported two unnamed lawmakers said they were asked by FBI agents about Democratic Leader Paul LeVota.

LeVota, D-Jackson County, told reporters afterward that he told his caucus he knew nothing of any FBI investigation involving the legislature.

The AP is the second news organization to cited unnamed legislators as saying they have been questioned by the FBI involving corruption in the legislature.

. AmerenUE one step closer to raising rates for power plant financing costs (03/31/2009)

Columbia Sen. Kurt Schaefer has rewritten a bill that would allow AmerenUE to raise its electric rates to cover financing costs of building a second nuclear power plant in Callaway County before the plant is complete.

The Senate Commerce Committee passed the bill with a 6-4 vote Tuesday.

. Higher education bond bill clears committee (03/31/2009)

Leaders from almost every public college and university in the state urged lawmakers to pass a bond issue bill for higher education facilities.

The proposal is backed by both a Democrat and a Republican. It would bring money to projects that were originally funded by the sale of Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority assets under an initiative backed by former Gov. Matt Blunt.

Clearing the House Infrastructure Committee unanimously, the bill now heads to the House Rules Committee. If it passes both the House and the Senate, the public would vote on the legislation in November.

. Senator seeks amendment adding more sex offenders to rolls (03/31/2009)

The state Senate modified a bill Tuesday that would place a constitutional amendment on the ballot for the November 2010 election seeking to add thousands of sex offenders to the state's registry. The amendment would require that all sex offenders who committed their acts before Jan. 1, 1995, register with the state. Because of a 2006 state Supreme Court ruling, they do not currently have to.

The Federal Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, more commonly known as "Megan's Law," made each state enact laws requiring those who pleaded guilty to or were convicted of a sex crime to register with their local jurisdiction and inform authorities of a change in employment or residency for a period of time determined by the state.

. House bill aims to strip counties and municipalities of gun control laws. (03/31/2009)

Rep. Scott Largent, R-Clinton, implored the House Agriculture-Business Committee on Tuesday to pass a bill approving open carry laws across Missouri, thereby striking down many local laws.

If the measure clears the legislature, all gun owners in the state will be permitted to carry guns in public, regardless of the city, county or municipality where it occurs. 

A similar bill was stalled in the past two years, but Largent says he will either seek a committee vote or consider attaching it as an amendment to another bill on the House floor.

. House gives doctors more control over prescriptions (03/31/2009)

Missouri lawmakers sent a clear message on Tuesday: It's time to give control back to doctors.

House members voted to give physicians the power to override health insurance companies when deciding what treatments and medications to give patients.

Rep. Bryan Stevenson, R-Webb City, said the bill could reach the Senate next week.

. Texting while driving could become illegal in Missouri. (03/31/2009)

Sen. Ryan McKenna, D-Jefferson County, is sponsoring a bill that will outlaw texting while driving in Missouri.

The bill passed in the Senate last week and will be heard in a House committee soon.

. The Kansas City Star reports the FBI is interviewing legislators (03/30/2009)

The Kansas City Star reported Monday that three unnamed state lawmakers had told the newspaper they had been interviewed by the FBI.

One lawmaker said he had recorded conversations with other lawmakers for the investigators.

The Star reports the focus of the investigation appeared to be "pay for play" activities between lobbyists and legislators.

. Gov. Nixon announces those appointed to the Automotive Jobs Task Force (03/30/2009)

Eighteen representatives of the auto industry and its dependencies have been appointed to Missouri's Automotive Jobs Task Force.

The task force, which was created by one of the first executive orders Gov. Jay Nixon signed on his first full day in office, is charged with identifying ways the state government can best help the automotive industry and those dependent on it.

. Bill to make cigarettes safer in Missouri perfected in the House. (03/30/2009)

The Missouri House perfected a bill that aims to make cigarettes safer by requiring manufacturers to modify the paper used in cigarettes so they would self-extinguish to prevent fires.

Thirty-six other states already enforce such regulations.

. Arguments, crowd reactions, fire alarm slow down a bill to guarantee the right to vote by secret ballot (03/30/2009)

Members of Missouri's business community urged the House Workforce Committee on Monday to pass a bill that would allow Missourians to decide whether to change the state's constitution to guarantee the right to vote by secret ballot.

Democrats on the committee attacked the bill, which they say will limit the number of ways to organize a union. 

Time ran out on the session after lengthy debate and a mid-hearing fire alarm, and the bill's opponents must return to the next hearing to speak.

. Missourians for Fair Electric Rates coalition shows why Missourians should be concerned with construction work in progress laws. (03/30/2009)

The coalition says AmerenUE will raise electric rates by 40 percent if it is allowed to charge consumers for construction work in progress (CWIP).

CWIP allows AmerenUE to charge higher rates while it builds a second reactor at its nuclear power plant.

Members of the coalition offered diverse views but are united in trying to keep rates reasonable for Missouri consumers.

. Jay Nixon defends state police profiling private organizations (03/26/2009)

While criticizing the recent state police agency report on the militia movement, Gov. Jay Nixon defended the agency's objectives.

"Basic police work takes in police work takes in intelligence," Nixon said. "Takes information from various sources that could present a package of how we can chase down the bad guys. That is appropriate use of law enforcement."

Nixon said he was leaving it up to the Highway Patrol superintendent to establish new procedures for the Missouri Information Analysis Center.

And he delivered a mild criticism of those who have criticized the center for its report that linked the militia movement with fundamental Christians, anti-abortion groups and third-party presidential candidates.

"We've got enough bad guys to catch, we shouldn't spend our time looking at good guys."

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder has called on Nixon to place the Public Safety Department director on leave because of the report. The House has approved a budget amendment banning the department from using any funds for "political profiling."

. Missouri's governor expresses hope his health care expansion efforts remain alive (03/26/2009)

On the same day the House gave a final vote to its budget plan rejecting Jay Nixon's health care expansion plans, the governor expressed hope the measure would be revived in the Senate.

Nixon avoided any direct attack on House Republicans.

"We are trying to building civility here," Nixon told reporters at a Thursday morning news conference. "And that requires a level of...oratorical discipline on my part that perhaps is more difficult for me than some others, but manageable," Nixon joked.

The Senate Appropriations Committee chair said there is support in the Senate for doing something for health care expansion.

Last year, the Senate approved a measure for health care expansion for the lower income. A similar measure is awaiting chamber this year.

A major difference with Nixon's approach, however, is that the Senate plan would provide state assistance for private insurance coverage rather than expanding the welfare program Medicaid -- now renamed MO HealthNet.

. Missouri's House rejected Gov. Jay Nixon's plan for using federal stimulus money. (03/26/2009)

By near party-line votes, the House rejected two of  Gov. Jay Nixon's proposals for the state's operating budget.

House Republicans rejected the governor's proposal to expand Medicaid coverage for the lower income.

Also Wednesday, Republicans rejected a Democratic motion to suspend the House rule that prohibits increasing the size of the operating budget proposed by the House Budget Committee.

The committee had rejected Gov. Jay Nixon's proposal to use about $800 million of the federal money for the state's ongoing budget and his Medicaid expansion proposal.

Without that extra federal money, declining state revenues forced the Budget Committee to make deep cuts in a number of state agencies. 

"It is our responsibility, yea our moral obligation, to take care of folks who cannot take care of themselves," said minister and freshman Rep. James Morris, D-St. Louis. "I would ask my friends on the other side of the aisle to once, since I have been in this hallowed house, to show some compassion."

But the House Budget chair repeated his argument that because the federal stimulus runs out in two years, it would cause problems in the future to include the money in the operating budget.

"The purpose of the rule is that we as a state must live within our means, just as families and businesses do," said Rep. Allen Icet, R-St. Louis County. "This prevents the concept that we can just offer amendments to spend, spend, spend with no fiscal restraint whatsoever."

. Missouri's House votes to ban the Public Safety Department from "political profiling." (03/26/2009)

The House budget amendment came after disclosure of a report from the agency that linked fundamental Christians, anti-abortion groups and conservative presidential candidates to the militia movement.

"Anti Abortionists have been known to take up arms in support of their beliefs," the report reads. "Militia members most commonly associate with 3rd party political groups...These members usually are supporters of former Presidential Candidate [sic]: Ron Paul, Chuck Baldwin, and Bob Barr."

Earlier in the day, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder demanded the governor put the Public Safety Department director on leave until an investigation can be conducted into the matter.

The report was issued by the Missouri Information Analysis Center of the Public Safety Department.

After the report had been leaked, the Highway Patrol superintendent distanced himself from it -- claiming neither he nor the Public Safety Department director had seen the report prior to its release.

Col. James Keathley criticized the report and ordered further distribution be ceased.

. Sperm and egg donors could lack anonymity (03/25/2009)

A bill heard in the Health Care Policy Committee would require that sperm and egg donors have their names on the child's birth certificate.

Bill sponsor Rep. Cynthia Davis, R-O'Fallon, says this would be important for both health reasons and the rights of the children.

. Missouri's House blocks members from considering the governor's budget proposal. (03/25/2009)

The House began debate Tuesday on a multi-billion dollar budget that Democrats charge blocks members from considering Gov. Jay Nixon's approach for dealing with the state's budget shortfall.

The governor had proposed using about $800 million in federal "stimulus" funds. But that idea was rejected by the Republican-dominated House Budget Committee, which proposed a budget with cuts in a number of state agencies.

House rules block amendments that would increase the total size of the budget recommended by the committee.

"No matter what we do, this is not going to be an aggressive budget that will help build our economy," complained the House Democratic Leader Paul LeVota. "It will not do enough for health care in our state. It will not do enough for the cause of education."

But in an interview before the House debate, House Budget Chair Allen Icet said the state should not base the state's operating budget on federal funds that will continue for only two years. "Because if it runs out and the economy continues to go downhill, which I think there is a greater chance than not, then next year I'm probably back on this House floor with more reductions in state budgets."

Icet said that within the next couple of weeks, he will file a bill to use the federal funds on one-time expenditures such as building construction projects.

. Missouri's legislature hands the governor his first legislative defeat. (03/25/2009)

Missouri lawmakers have rejected Gov. Jay Nixon's proposal to lower the costs of state-funded health care coverage for about 20,000 children.

The House gave final approval Tuesday to a supplemental appropriation for the remainder of the current budget year that does not include the governor's proposal.

"Do we need spend $28 million of taxpayer money to cover a bunch of kids?" asked Rep. Jeff Grisamore, R-Jackson County, during the House debate.

"To cover a bunch of kids that need health care, absolutely," responded Rep. Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County.

. The Senate votes to mandate autism coverage in health insurance. (03/25/2009)

The Senate gave first-round approval to a proposal that would require health insurance policies to cover both diagnosis and treatment of autism for dependents under the age of 21.

The proposal would set a cap on the maximum cost covered, based on the child's age.

Approval came after an emotional plea by Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, who told the chamber of his own child's struggle with autism.

Critics argue the bill would increase the cost of health insurance. Legislative staff estimate the measure would impose a nearly $9 million increase in the health care coverage costs for state government workers.

The measure faces one final Senate vote before going to the House.

. The Missouri Senate votes to expand the state's no-call law. (03/25/2009)

Missouri's Senate gave first-round approval to add faxes and cell phones to the no-call law. 

The law prohibits telemarketers from calling phones on the list maintained by the attorney general's office.

The measure also would impose restrictions, but it would not outright ban automated calls by political campaigns. Legislators argue the free speech rights restrict banning political calls completely.

The measure faces one more Senate vote before going to the House.

Long pushed by Jay Nixon when he was attorney general, similar measures regularly have died in the House after clearing the Senate.

. A Senate filibuster stalls action on an anti-abortion bill. (03/23/2009)

A filibuster that lasted into the late evening hours Monday blocked a Senate vote on a measure to impose additional requirements on abortions.

The bill would require that a doctor provide a woman with information on the alternatives and consequences to an abortion as well as the opportunity for an ultrasound of the fetus. The proposal also would require a 24-hour waiting period after that information was provided before an abortion could be performed.

The measure is similar to a measure passed by the House earlier this month that secured enough House votes to override any possible veto by the governor.

The abortion measure was the first bill taken up by the Senate after it returned from the legislature's weeklong spring break.