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

The Missouri department of Health reported there have already been more than 17,000 confirmed cases of the flu this season, which is near the total number flu cases last year.

The department spokesman Kit Wager said close to 90 percent of the cases are H1N1.

Wager also said that despite the high number of flu cases, the number of flu related emergency room visits have gone down.

The program went into effect this week, but the city still has issues to tackle.

The issues pertain to several changes in the way the city collects trash and recycling. Residents are seeing an increased fee of just more than 15 dollars a month for the service. Trash and recycling will also only be collected one day a week. Finally, residents are now responsible for two bins - one for trash, and one for recycling.

Assistant Community Development Director Charles Lansford says he has talked with some people who are beginning to accept these changes, and appreciate the new recycling program.

In the final story in a four-part series, MDN examines possible solutions to the faulty septic tanks draining into the Lake of the Ozarks.

The situation at Table Rock Lake near Branson was, only one decade ago, very similar to that at the Lake of the Ozarks today. On-site septic tanks were failing and draining into the lake.

Now, pollution has been significantly reduced at Table Rock Lake as a result of updated sewage management and increased government regulation. Some experts say the same techniques used successfully there could be applied at the Lake of the Ozarks.

In the third story in a four-part series, MDN examines the tangled web of bureaucracy that allows failing septic tanks to continue to discharge into the Lake of the Ozarks.

In theory, the government hierarchy at the lake is well defined. The Health Department and some counties regulate residential septic tanks, while the Natural Resources Department is responsible for the water quality.

But what happens when sewage from septic tanks overseen by the Health Department drains into the lake, which is overseen by the Natural Resources Department?

A memorandum of understanding between the departments answers this question. Even so, there is little to no communication between departments.

State revenue collections declined by 10.8 percent compared to the same period last year according the October general revenue report.

Gov. Nixon's $204 million budget cuts were based on a projected decline of 4 percent for the fiscal year ending June 30, State Budget Director Linda Luebbering said.

House Budget Chairman Allen Icet, R-St. Louis County, said he doesn't think revenues will rebound enough to meet Nixon's projection.

Gov. Jay Nixon said the "status quo is simply not acceptable" when it comes to current state DWI procedures.

Providing opening remarks to a panel of judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement personnel from across the state, Nixon said that laws and reporting methods need to be strengthened to treat drunk driving enforcement sternly and equally across Missouri.

"To often the most dangerous, chronic intoxicated drivers are still allowed to keep driving," Nixon said.

Following his remarks, Nixon left, turning the meeting over to the panel for discussion.

At the Lake of the Ozarks, a combination of factors keeps the contents of some septic tanks draining into the lake.

Old septic tanks, insufficient regulation, high maintenance costs and variable soil all contribute to the continued failure of septic tanks at the lake.

In the second installment in a four-part series, Missouri Digital News examines these reasons behind septic systems draining into the Lake of the Ozarks.

Septic systems are failing at the Lake of the Ozarks, where sewage is draining into the water.

Residents and health officials believe the unchecked sewage could be a major cause of harmful E. coli bacteria in the lake.

In the first installment in a four-part series, Missouri Digital News examines the general problem of septic tanks in an area where 60 to 80 percent of homes use septic systems for sewage.

Missouri will begin enforcing a sales tax on yoga and Pilates.

The tax itself, a sales tax levied on fitness and exercise centers, isn't new--but the classification of yoga as exercise rather than a spiritual activity is.

The Department of Revenue says it "will consider religious exemption issues on a case-by-case basis."

St. Louis County voted today on whether or not to allow smoking in certain public places.

The vote could help determine whether or not to vote for a statewide smoking ban.

Jefferson County Democratic Representative Jeff Roorda says St. Louis often sways statewide issues.

An elite group of Missouri state troopers has turned over 474 illegal immigrants to the federal government since 2007.

That year, former Gov. Matt Blunt ordered troopers to do immigration checks on everyone they arrested. That order has since become state law.

The state currently has 18 troopers working in the program.

The ACLU says it's dangerous because it takes local law enforcement away from the job it's supposed to be doing and gives troopers federal responsibilities.

The Joint Committee on Missouri's Energy Future heard testimony Wednesday on possible effects of cap-and-trade legislation.

A study done by Ameren showed that home power bills would increase by over $200 annually if changes to current energy legislation are not made.

Jeff Davis, a commissioner on the Public Services Commission, called cap-and-trade "the largest wealth transfer in the history of mankind."

Proposals to offset costs from cap-and-trade included storing emissions underground, improving infrastructure, and relying more heavily on power generated from burning landfill waste.

The Missouri Transportation Department has prohibited its employees from texting while driving department vehicles or on department business, according to a department press release.

"There's no way we can track that in the car," Transportation Department spokeswoman Laura Holloway said. "(Enforcement will rely on) reports being brought to the supervisor's attention."

The penalty varies depending on whether past disciplinary action has been taken.

Almost 25,000 Missourians could receive training for Microsoft brand computer programs under a program paid for by the computer giant. While program provides training, it does not include the needed software.

Missouri is one of 7 states participating in the Microsoft program. Democrat Gov. Jay Nixon announced the state's participation in the Microsoft Elevate America program at a news conference in St. Louis Monday.

Vouchers to waive the cost of Microsoft training modules are now available through the Missouri Department of Economic Development's Division of Workforce Development. According to the department's Web site, the training is focused on low-income workers and other job seekers who may want to increase their computer skills.

Vouchers are also available in Maryland, Mississippi, Illinois, Iowa, Virginia and Washington.

Last Week

Governor Nixon announced Thursday his appointment for the state's new Economic Development Director.

Kansan David Kerr will cross into Missouri and begin working on November 9.

Missouri GOP Executive Director Lloyd Smith says Governor Nixon needs to have a more open line of communication to the new director. The position opened after Linda Martinez resigned in September. There was speculation from both democrats and republicans as to why exactly Martinez resigned, which is why Smith says Nixon needs to be more accessible to the new director.

Smith says Kerr is qualified for the job, as he was Kansas's Commerce Secretary, and served as President of AT&T Kansas.

But Smith also said Kerr has a lot of work to do because of continuous high unemployment rates within the state.

Governor Jay Nixon announced $204 million in additional cuts to Missouri's budget.

The cuts will eliminate over 650 full and part-time jobs, the majority of which will come from laying off current employees. Over 1700 full time positions have been eliminated since the beginning of the year.

According to Nixon and budget director Linda Luebbering, more than $32 million will be saved bringing Medicaid reimbursement in-line with federal rates.

Overall, Nixon has cut almost $634 million from the states budget. A ten percent decline in state revenue collection this year necessitated the additional cuts.

While the governor said he hopes overall revenue collection increases, he did not rule out additional cuts.

Missouri has 220,000 vaccines when it asked for 750,000.

The bulk of the vaccines go to St. Louis and Kansas City.

Pregnant women and children have the highest risk of infections so they are given priority.

This fall Missouri has had record rainfall and berry farmers are soaking it up.

With the extra moisture, some farmers report a decrease in usage of irrigation systems, which is saving them money.

Berry roots only go 8 inches deep, so the water is soaked up easily.

Proposed cap-and-trade legislation could provide a "huge risk" to Missourians, said Warren Wood, Missouri Energy Development Association President.

The Joint Committee on Missouri's Energy Future held a hearing Monday, consisting mostly of testimony from energy industry officials

Diane Vuylsteke, a lawyer for Missouri Industrial Energy Consumers, warned that if legislation like cap and trade causes energy rates to go up too quickly, the state will begin to lose it's businesses. The Missouri Industrial Energy Consumers represents the energy interests of Missouri's largest companies, including Anheuser-Busch and Proctor and Gamble.

Tim Green, D-St. Louis County, said he was tried of hearing that argument. "If we (currently) have cheap rates, why did Chrysler and Ford shut down?" Green said.

The committee will hold its next meeting Nov. 2 at the Reynolds Alumni Association on the University of Missouri campus.