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NewsBook: Missouri Government News for the Week of April 6, 2009

. Bill to help milk producers by providing tax credits makes it through the House (04/09/2009)

Missouri's dairy farmers got a little closer to receiving help when a bill that proposes tax credits for milk producers in times of volatile milk prices made it through the House.

The vote was 110 to 41.

. Senate sees second round of mudslinging (04/09/2009)

Just hours after an all-night filibuster turned ugly, two Missouri senators continued to slam each other as soon as the next day's session began.

It began as a debate over tax breaks for businesses and ended with allegations of unethical and even illegal behavior.

. Those on welfare may have to pass drug tests to keep part of their benefits (04/09/2009)

Welfare recipients may have to pass drug tests to keep a portion of the money they receive from the state, according to a bill that passed the state House on Thursday.

The legislation, introduced by Rep. Ellen Brandom, R-Sikeston, would create a system to test beneficiaries of the state's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Brandom said that TANF recipients who are "reasonably suspected" of using illegal narcotics could be tested by the state and have part of their benefits withheld for a year -- about $58 per month.

. The governor's tax cut plan for business stalls in the Missouri Senate. (04/09/2009)

An all-night Republican filibuster that lasted until the early morning hours Thursday blocked Senate action on the governor's plan to provide tax breaks to businesses that create new jobs.

At issue was an effort to limit tax credits for a variety of activities, including restoring old buildings and building professional sports facilities.

It was the second night in a row that a GOP filibuster has blocked efforts by the Republican leadership to get to a vote on some of the legislature's biggest issues. 

Tuesday night, it involved AmerenUE's utility rate proposal to build a second nuclear power plant.

Both filibusters have been led by Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau -- a former GOP leader in the House -- and have evolved into a clear challenge to the GOP leadership in the Senate.

. House adopts amendment to put a cap on minimum wages (04/08/2009)

The Missouri House spent the majority of the night debating an amendment to a bill that would put a cap on the minimum wage for people who receive tips.

Rep. Michael Frame, D-Eureka, supported the wait staff and Rep. Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, supported the cooks.

. House adopts amendment that would allow people to carry guns on college campuses (04/08/2009)

On Wednesday, the Missouri House had a long and heated debate that ended with the adoption of an amendment to House Bill 668.

This would allow people with conceal-and-carry permits to brings guns onto college campuses.

. House Budget Committee passes nearly $100 million in stimulus money (04/08/2009)

Most of the money will go to renewable energy and worker retraining, and all of it will get to state agencies before June 30.

The money is just a small part of Missouri's $2 billion cut of stimulus money the federal government is telling the state how to spend.

Budget Committee Chairman Allen Icet, a St. Louis County Republican, says he plans to introduce new legislation next week to hand out more money in fiscal year 2010.

. Missouri House narrowly passes constitutional amendment that would change the selection process for the Appellate Judicial Commission. (04/08/2009)

The commission chooses who should be appointed to the appellate courts as well as some city trial judges.

The amendment would create more options for the governor to choose from when appointing judges. The bill also would give final choice to citizens who can vote on the issue.

Some Democratic representatives voted with the Republicans in a mostly partisan vote.

. A filibuster delays Senate action on the nuclear plant proposal. (04/08/2009)

A filibuster that ran past midnight blocked a Senate vote on a measure to allow AmerenUE to raise its rates to help finance construction of a second nuclear power plant.

Led by Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, critics charged that the measure did not have sufficient provisions to protect consumers if the utility company decided midway through the project not to build the plant.

AmerenUE officials have warned that the company will be unable to cover the costs of construction if it is unable to raise rates to cover the costs before the plant begins operation.

. Republican senators trade accusations of being pawns of special interests. (04/07/2009)

Sens. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, and Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, accused each other of undue political influence during Senate debate over a rate change for a nuclear power plant.

Schaefer said Crowell's campaign office generated calls with false information from Noranda Aluminum. Crowell accused Schaefer of doing AmerenUE's bidding.

Both senators denied the accusations.

. MIAC reports contain questionable sources (04/07/2009)

In 12 reports obtained from the Missouri State Highway Patrol, five of them list no sources listing where MIAC obtained its information.

In one report, it even cited, the online editable encyclopedia, in a report on the Black Separatist Movement.

In total, MIAC has issued 16 reports. Four were withheld because of their tactical nature, which the patrol is not allowed to release.

. House gives first-round approval to drug tests for welfare recipients (04/07/2009)

The House voted 109-45 on a bill that would require drug testing for recipients of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program.

Some Democrats said they were opposed to such a large fiscal note on the bill that could be used to more directly help those on welfare.

But bill sponsor Ellen Brandom, R-Sikeston, said the loss of $58 per month may be enough to motivate some to get off drugs.

. Speaker of the House admits to blocking autism coverage bill. (04/07/2009)

Speaker of the House Ron Richard, R-Joplin, was the person behind an autism insurance coverage bill being killed, according to his spokesperson.

Missouri families have made weekly trips to push for the coverage, but the bill that was previously expected to pass was stalled in the House Rules Committee.

Earlier, committee chairmen pointed fingers regarding who blocked the bill, but Richard's communications director finally said that Richard made the decision to stop it from moving because of a lack of support in the Republican Party.

. 'Missouri Plan' changes pass House first-vote (04/07/2009)

A proposed constitutional amendment that would alter the way Missouri picks its state judges passed the state House on Tuesday after a contentious debate.

The bill, authored by Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, would change the "Missouri Plan," a non-partisan system created in 1940 that selects judges for the state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals.  Currently, to fill a judicial opening, a panel of seven people -- composed of the state Supreme Court chief justice, three lawyers selected by the Missouri Bar Association and three citizens selected by the governor -- submit a list of three candidates for the job. 

. Tax credit for milk producers? (04/07/2009)

In these trying times for Missouri's Dairy Industry, Rep. Tony Dugger, R-Hartville, hopes to provide a tax credit for milk producers.

The state House gave preliminary approval to his bill issuing a tax break during months where the announced production price for the state exceeds the average federal price.

The credit would expire in two years unless reauthorized by the Missouri Legislature.

It would be limited to $25,000 per dairy farmer.

. Combat vets ask Missouri to expand education funds (04/07/2009)

Under the Missouri Returning Heroes' Education Act, combat veterans are eligible for a state scholarship fund that provides thousands of dollars in higher education.

But the fund is available only to veterans who were state residents prior to enlisting.

Rep. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, is sponsoring a bill that would expand the scholarship fund to veterans who meet only their university's requirements for Missouri residency.

. Sex offenders cost Missouri money regardless of whether they accept the expensive treatment. (04/07/2009)

Sex offenders are held in the Missouri Sexual Offenders Treatment Center at $150 per day, even when they don't accept the treatment they're paying for.

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, is sponsoring a bill that will house offenders in county jails for almost half the cost when they aren't receiving treatment at the center.

. State budget shortfall causes delay in income tax refunds (04/06/2009)

The state revenue shortfall this fiscal year means many Missourians will face a delay in receiving their income tax refunds.

To maintain the cash flow, pay state employees and run state-funded agencies and institutions, Missouri is delaying tax refunds and has borrowed $325 million from its budget reserve fund since February.

The state budget director said Monday that an estimated $1.39 billion in total refunds will be paid to taxpayers. She also said all refunds will be paid by or before June 30, the last day of this fiscal year.

. State unemployment fund $1 billion short, House committee votes to lift borrowing limit (04/06/2009)

The House Workforce Committee unanimously voted to lift the state's $450 million cap on borrowing.

Missouri's unemployment insurance fund ran dry in February, and the state borrowed $260 million to get through April.

The fund will need $1 billion over the next six years to continue making payments to unemployed Missourians.

. House committee narrowly passes controversial bill to let Missourians decide to protect secret ballot votes (04/06/2009)

The bill would let state voters decide in 2010 whether to change the state's constitution to guarantee secret ballots.

Union leaders spoke out against the bill Monday after Republicans and the business committee testified in support last week.

Union representatives say the bill would allow employers to decide when to permit secret ballot votes, taking rights away from workers.

. Missouri, U.S. Attorney General say they want to stop mortgage fraud (04/06/2009)

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced today that the FBI is investigating more than 2,100 mortgage fraud cases.

Holder said he wants to find and punish fraudulent mortgage schemers.

In Missouri, legislators continue to push for stronger regulation on mortgage brokers.

Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, says he hopes the proposed measure will help cut down on foreclosures and mortgage schemers.

. Missouri State Highway Patrol appoints new MIAC director (04/06/2009)

Effective April 6, Lt. David Hall will be the director of the Missouri Information Analysis Center.

MIAC has been in the spotlight since a report leaked to the public linked certain third-party political candidates, anti-abortion groups and Christians to the Modern Militia Movement.

Rep. Jim Guest, R-King City, who filed a bill that would create an MIAC oversight committee, said he thinks government oversight of MIAC is still necessary regardless of the appointment.

. 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 on Wednesday. But in both the House and the 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 offenders 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. Sen. 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 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 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 of a 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)

Rep. Jeanette Oxford, D-St. Louis City, 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 hears 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; students in a public university could receive up to an extra $700.

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 Gov. Jay Nixon made job creation a priority this session, Senate infighting could kill a bill that 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)

Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, says the Missouri Information Analysis Center needs more oversight.

The comments came after the agency released a report detailing political conservatives and third-party 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 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 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 they 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 that 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 cite 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.