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NewsBook: Missouri Government News for the Week of April 13, 2009

. Missouri's House approves a higher education bond issue. (04/16/2009)

By a four to one majority Thursday, state representatives pushed through a bond issue that would allocate $700 million for facilities associated with Missouri's public universities and colleges.

Under the bill, sponsored by Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, MU would receive $81 million, which would help fund construction projects originally intended to receive money from the sale of state loan authority's assets.

Kelly said the proposal takes advantage of low interest rates and would help create jobs in the state.

. VP makes push for renewable energies (04/16/2009)

Addressing a crowd of union workers at the ABB Transformer Factory in Jefferson City, vice president Joe Biden praised the company's embrace of wind power.

ABB is moving forward on a project to generate enough wind energy to power more than 50,000 homes.

Biden says the federal stimulus is building a twenty-first century economy in Missouri and across the nation.

. Senate approves Show Me Health Coverage (04/16/2009)

The Senate voted Thursday to give health insurance to 35,000 uninsured parents.

The decision comes in the same week the Senate voted down an expansion of a health insurance program for children, something the House did earlier this year.

The bill will cover parents that make too much to qualify for Medicaid but are too poor to afford health insurance.

. Pistol-packing pupils measure passes House (04/16/2009)

 Exactly two years after a gunman killed 32 people and himself on the campus of Virginia Tech University, the Missouri House voted to allow concealed weapons on college campuses.

An amendment to a proposed gun bill, which was approved, 105-50, Thursday, would pertain only to gun owners who are properly licensed in the state. The bill can now move to the state Senate for consideration.

. A joint resolution that would abolish the state income tax gets closer to Missourians' ballots. (04/16/2009)

The bill would raise the sales tax from 4.22 to 5.11.

Sales tax exemptions would also be cut.

The bill passed from the House to the Senate with much opposition.

. Missouri House advances a bill that would require DNA samples from people arrested for burglary or violent and sexual felonies. (04/15/2009)

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Marilyn Ruestman, R-Joplin, said she thinks the bill will help keep sexual predators off the streets. But some Democrats were concerned about civil liberties and argued with her.

The bill was approved by a first-round voice vote.

. State capital "tea party" draws protesters of government spending (04/15/2009)

At the Jefferson City "tea party" designed to be a nonpartisan event, the lone Democrat to address the crowd of about 200 people was booed off the stage.

Organized by the Mizzou College Republicans, the Central Missouri Tax Day Tea Party was held on the state Capitol building steps on Wednesday as part of the national Tax Day Tea Party movement in protest of government spending.

The "tea party" was one of a dozen that have been held across Missouri.

. State officials pledge support to give METRO $20 million in emergency funds (04/15/2009)

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, House Budget Committee Chairman Allen Icet and METRO CEO Bob Baer say the money is necessary to help the St. Louis transit system's riders.

The money would restore nine routes that METRO officials cut in March, but it isn't the $35 million they say the system needs.

The money is part of a larger spending bill in front of the House Budget Committee that uses part of Missouri's federal stimulus funds.

. Missouri's Senate rejects the governor's Medicaid proposal for children. (04/14/2009)

By a near party-line vote, the Senate rejected a proposal to expand the state's Medicaid program to provide health care coverage for more children.

The House, now like the Senate, had rejected the governor's proposal that would have added an estimated 16,000 children to the health insurance program.

The amendment was offered as part of a multi-billion-dollar budget that now heads to a House-Senate conference committee.

The major difference between the two chambers involves the use of nearly $1 billion in federal stimulus funds.

. House furthers bill that exempts small businesses from the minimum wage requirement. (04/15/2009)

A partisan debate sparked in the House over the "Small Business Get Off My Back" bill, which waives the minimum wage requirements for small businesses.

If passed, the bill would allow any business that sells less than $1 million a year to ignore minimum wage regulations.

Democrats voiced strong opposition, saying that if small businesses don't have to pay employees minimum wage, then the economy won't get better -- it will only get worse.

. House gives first-round approval to bill abolishing income tax (04/14/2009)

Under proposed Missouri House legislation, the state income tax and corporate taxes would be eliminated, but the state income tax would rise from 4.225 to 5.11.

Supporters say changing the system will bring in the same amount of revenue and serve as a powerful economic tool. But some critics say the numbers just don't add up.

. Parents and legislators push for autism coverage but see bills blocked. (04/14/2009)

Lawmakers in the House and Senate have been working with Missouri parents to cover their children's autism treatment, specifically Applied Behavioral Analysis. 

Though the bills looked promising, they've been blocked by Republican House Speaker Ron Richard.

Bill supporters have questioned the relationship between campaign donations from insurance and health care companies to Richard and his recent decision to kill the bills.

There are still five weeks in the session, and parents say they're still hoping for a turnaround. 

. Missouri House votes to pass constitutional amendment totaling $700 million. (04/14/2009)

A constitutional amendment allowing the state to borrow $700 million passed the Missouri House without any opposition.

The measure will raise money by selling bonds and direct the funds to state colleges and universities for new buildings and upkeep. 

The amendment still requires approval by the state Senate and Missouri voters.

. Missouri Supreme Court upholds statute prohibiting convicted sex offenders from having custody or unsupervised visitation of children. (04/14/2009)

The state's highest court ruled that limiting sex offenders to supervised visits with their children does not violate a parent's fundamental rights.

The Supreme Court's decision overturns a ruling of the Cole County Circuit Court that granted a sex offender joint custody of his children and stepchildren.

. Mo. senator seeks overhaul to public defender system (04/14/2009)

Time ran out on it last year, but Sen. Jack Goodman, R-Mt. Vernon, says he is determined to pass legislation in 2009 that would create a number of changes to Missouri's public defender system. 

The bill Goodman is proposing would allow the state's Public Defender Commission to determine a maximum caseload while providing funding for contract defense attorneys.

It had little trouble passing through the Senate, but Goodman's proposal now faces procedural hurdles in the house and opposition from prosecutors in two of Missouri's largest jurisdictions.

. Visit from Mizzou's basketball team surprises senators. (04/14/2009)

Missouri senators were interrupted from their session when a large group filled one side of the chamber.

That group was none other than the University of Missouri-Columbia's record-breaking basketball team, who came to pay a visit to the senators.

. A slew of bills from Missouri's House and Senate are trying to protect one thing: your identity. (04/14/2009)

Forty-four states require banks and other businesses to tell you if a hacker has gotten a hold of your personal information. Missouri is not one of them.

Different bills from both the House and Senate are trying to combat that and make it harder for the bad guys to go unnoticed.

. Nixon calls on Senate to pass jobs bill (04/14/2009)

Gov. Jay Nixon called on Missouri senators to send a jobs-creation bill to his desk before the state loses out on any more potential contracts.

In a news conference Tuesday, the governor said that with 261,000 Missourians out of work, now it is not the time to lose a bidding war with Michigan over which state can offer a better incentives package to Kokam America Inc., a battery plant is Lee's Summit. Nixon said the company's expansion would have brought 900 new jobs to the state.

. 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.