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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of October 6, 2014

Federal funding cuts have cost Missouri hospitals jobs and led to the shutdown of two facilities according to some health officials.

The Missouri Healthcare Association reported that by the end of September, hospitals had announced the elimination of 1,800 positions since 2013.

The organization's figure was calculated from reports by local news organizations and, in a few cases, hospital reports.

In addition, according to the Missouri Foundation for Health, federal funding reductions have been cited by two rural hospitals that recently announced their closures -- one in the central part of the state and the other in southwest Missouri.

The cuts are in various federal programs that provide reimbursement to hospitals that care for lower-income patients.

One of the major reductions involves federal funds that are provided to hospitals that comply with the federal requirement to provide care for uninsured patients regardless of ability to pay.

These are patients without private insurance or coverage by Medicaid or Medicare.

The health care plan for Missouri government workers has expanded coverage to include same-sex couples married in other states.

The policy change was announced on the plan's website, dated Oct. 8.

The Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan said they will begin to accept enrollment applications from same-sex couples with a valid marriage license from another state. The government health care plan covers nearly 100,000 government employees and spouses, along with other government workers, according to their website.

Mia Platz, communication and publication manager for the Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan, said same-sex spouses will be able to enroll in the program once the details are worked out.

"We're going to have a special enrollment period for folks who, if that situation does apply to them, they will have a time period where they can enroll, their spouses as well as their spouse's dependents," Platz said. "We are still finalizing the details on that, that all of our members will be receiving more information about that here very shortly."

The plan's change follows a decision from Jackson County Circuit Judge J. Dale Youngs, a Gov. Jay Nixon appointee, to require the state of Missouri to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

"All they do is treat one segment of the population - gay men and lesbians - differently than their same-sex counterparts, for no logical reason," Youngs wrote in his opinion.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster announced he would not appeal the decision.

In separate statements, legislative leaders attacked Attorney General Chris Koster for his decision not to appeal a court decision requiring recognition of gay marriages from other states.

"I urge the Attorney General Chris Koster to do his duty as the state's lawyer and defend the law the voters enshrined in our constitution," Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, was quoted as saying in a statement issued by the Senate.

The House speaker used even stronger language in a statement issued two days later that attacked Koster's no-appeal decision.

"He cannot just abandon his duties when they are politically inconvenient, and I think it is disgraceful that he is attempting to do so," wrote House Speaker Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County.

Both statements were in response to a Jackson County circuit court decision that struck down a voter-approved constitutional amendment that prohibits the state from recognizing gay marriage.

Judge J. Dale Youngs wrote there is no government interest in prohibiting recognition of gay marriages that had been performed in other states.

"There is no logical relationship between that interest and laws that discriminate against gay men and lesbians who have been married in jurisdictions in which same-sex marriages are legal," he wrote.

Three days after that decision, Koster issued a brief, three-paragraph statement that he would not appeal the decision.

"Our national government is founded upon principles of federalism -- a system that empowers Missouri to set policy for itself, but also obligates us to honor contracts entered into in other states," Koster wrote.

In 2004, Missouri voters approved by a margin of greater than 70 percent a constitutional amendment proposed by the legislature that prohibits Missouri government from recognizing gay marriages.

In 2013, Gov. Jay Nixon issued an order requiring the state Revenue Department to accept joint tax returns filed by married gay couples if they had filed joint federal returns.

A new study by The Safety Institute, a non-profit organization that looks at product safety, determined that a type of guardrail used on Missouri highways can cause serious injury and even death upon impact.

The ET-Plus guardrails with a blunt end do not absorb impact properly and can act like a spear and impale cars that hit them.

Safety Institute president Sean Kane said these rails are far more dangerous than older models.

"What we learned is that the ET-Plus was showing a three-times greater fatality rate in impacts and almost a two-times greater increase in injury rates in the impacts compared to the predecessor," Kane said.

A statement by the Missouri Department of Transportation said the rails will not be used in future projects, and they are looking into existing rails on the highways.

They do not know exactly how many rails are in use and where they are located.

Kane said he thinks federal and state governments should investigate further.

"The study was really a response to the lack of response from the feds and also from the states," Kane said. "We wanted to be a catalyst to get them to examine how these end terminals are really performing."

Police Training Session

Police officers who fired rubber bullets and tear gas canisters two months earlier in Ferguson received training from a required state program.

The Department of Public Safety administers the Peace Officer Standards and Training, or POST, program, which oversees police officer standards and training in Missouri.

When it comes to specific policies, however, local police departments get the final say.

"Use of force policies are determined by local police departments, not POST," said Mike O'Connell, communications director for the Missouri Department of Public Safety.

Although specific rules and standards may vary throughout the state, all Missouri police officers are required to complete 48 hours of training every three years, and must be trained in legal studies, interpersonal communication, technical studies and skill development, including defensive tactics.

On Wednesday, Oct. 1, 23 students attended the Law Enforcement Training Institute in the Hearnes Center field house at the University of Missouri- Columbia, one of several POST-approved training academies throughout the state.

"You gotta manage your force," Adam Duncan, the institute's academy coordinator and chief defensive tactics instructor, told students as they began practicing take downs.

Norm White, associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at St. Louis University, said the nature of the job makes the issue of force more complex, as policing methods over the years have led to deteriorating community relations.

"They take on these jobs where they wind up having to be at odds all the time," White said. "So they're at war, as opposed to being a part of the community."

Senate Leader Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said he's in favor of restoring the state Senate chamber to its original construction as long as the committees in charge of the restoration spend state funds wisely.

The Senate's Administration Committee consented to the restoration of the Senate's upper gallery to its original state by removing offices that were added in the 1970s.

Senators were interested in completing the restoration as the Capitol's 100-year anniversary approaches.

"The construction will allow us not only to restore the Senate Chamber to its original grandeur, but it will also help us create more meeting spaces," Dempsey was quoted as saying in a press release. "This will provide the public with additional space to access their senators."

In the press release, Dempsey also said he expects the Office of Administration to prioritize their work accordingly.

"The project is more of an issue of historical restoration than it is a face-lift," Dempsey said. "While there are many areas of repair needed at the Capitol, I trust the Office of Administration to make the best decisions in terms of timing and priority."

State Auditor Tom Schweich has recommended more training of government officials about the legal requirements for government meetings and records be open to the public.

His recommendation came after his release of nearly two decades of audits of how well state and local governments have complied with the state's Sunshine Law.

The various audits found numerous violations. But Schweich said that in many cases he thought it was confusion and misunderstanding about the requirements for openness in government.

"I would say that the vast majority of the violations that we find are just people don't understand the law," Schweich said.

One major area of criticism was occasions when government agencies held closed meetings without fully documenting the reasons for closing a meeting or recording minutes of the closed meeting as required by law.

"We can't really tell from looking at paper minutes whether they really didn't want the public to know they were talking about these subjects or whether they just didn't understand what's allowable and what's not allowable," Schweich said of some government meetings that had been closed in apparent violation of the law.

The state auditor said that much of the problem could be solved by just one hour of training of government officials about the requirements of the state's Sunshine Law.

His report had just two recommendations for legislative change. One was that the legislature clearly define that the records of individual legislators are covered by the law assuring public access.

The other legislative recommendation was for lawmakers to clarify where a quasi-governmental insurance program for employers is or is not covered by the Sunshine Law.

JEFFERSON CITY - A judicial candidate in Jefferson City has received $100,000 from a national Republican group.

The Republican State Leadership Committee based in Washington, D.C., donated the money on October 4 to Republican Brian Stumpe, according to a Missouri Ethics Commission contribution receipt.

Stumpe, a municipal prosecutor in Jefferson City, is running against incumbent Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce, a democrat seeking her third six-year term in office.

In 2012, Joyce blocked a Republican-supported proposal that would require a photo I.D. to vote.

The Republican State Leadership Committee help Republican candidates get elected to government offices, according to its website.

"The Republican State Leadership Committee is the largest caucus of Republican state leaders in the country and the only national organization whose mission is to elect down-ballot, state-level Republican officeholders," the webite says. "Since 2002, the RSLC has been working to elect candidates to the office of lieutenant governor, secretary of state and state legislator. The RSLC has more than 100,000 donors in all 50 states."

The website also says that they monitor elections to determine who to contribute to.

"The RSLC closely monitors all state elections by gathering intelligence, working with candidates and party organizations, to determine the best use of RSLC resources to ensure victory for Republican candidates for state office," the committee's website says.

Neither of the treasurers for Joyce or Stumpe were available to comment.

Attorney General Chris Koster released a statement Monday saying he will not appeal a Jackson County Circuit Court ruling saying Missouri must recognize same-sex marriages performed outside the state.

"Our national government is founded upon principles of federalism – a system that empowers Missouri to set policy for itself, but also obligates us to honor contracts entered into in other states," Koster said in the statement.

The decision comes after a Friday ruling from Judge J. Dale Youngs, a Gov. Jay Nixon appointee, saying Missouri must recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where it is legal.

"All they do is treat one segment of the population — gay men and lesbians — differently than their same-sex counterparts, for no logical reason," Youngs wrote in his opinion.

The decision not to appeal also coincides with the Supreme Court deciding Monday not to hear appeals from five states that asked the Court to keep their gay marriage bans in place.

This could open the door to gay marriage being legal in 30 states.

Koster said that was a factor in his decision not to appeal.

"A consequence of this morning’s ruling by the United States Supreme Court is that gay marriage will soon be legal in as many as 30 states," Koster said. "At a time when Missouri is competing to attract the nation’s premier businesses and most talented employees, we should not demand that certain individuals surrender their marriage licenses in order to live and work among us."

"Missouri's future will be one of inclusion, not exclusion," Koster's statement concluded.

The Missouri Club for Growth launched a campaign in support of a constitutional amendment that would allow state lawmakers to override a governor's budget withholdings Monday.

Amendment 10 will appear on the November ballot. Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, proposed the amendment in January.

"For years, Governor Nixon has repeatedly held the state budget hostage for political purposes, negatively affecting our public schools and causing unnecessary funding delays for much needed projects and services throughout the state," MOCFG Chairman Bev Randles was quoted as saying in a press release.

The amendment would also bar the governor from proposing a budget based off revenue that has not yet been approved by the General Assembly.

According to an audit released by State Auditor Tom Schweich in September, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon withheld $53 million in 2012. In 2013, Nixon withheld $82 million, but the funds were later released, according to the audit.

Under the Missouri constitution, a governor cannot restrict spending if actual revenue exceeds estimated revenue, as it did in 2012, according to the audit.

Last Week

Missouri will be the home to the world's most productive Ford assembly plant under an expansion plan announced by the company Thursday, according to a news release from Gov. Jay Nixon's office. 

Ford announced an additional 1,200 jobs and a second shift in the Kansas City area plant. Missouri offered Ford a tax break package to invest in the area in 2011. Ford can receive the tax breaks if they meet a job creation and investment threshold. The governor's office did not provide specifics about the package or the amount Ford would be able to receive in tax breaks.

The Claycomo plant assembles Ford F-150 Regular, SuperCab and SuperCrew pickup trucks as part of Ford's investment. By the end of 2014, the plant claims they will employ more than 6,000 hourly workers.

Those workers on the Transit assembly line will work in two-shift patterns and those on the F-150 production line will work in three-crew shifts. The production of the new Transits will bring the manufacturing from overseas. According to Nixon's office, adding the second shift to the Transit production will allow the Claycomo plant to have more capacity to build vehicles than any other Ford plant in the world.

Nixon, along with Ford Motor Company executives and UAW leaders, made the announcement from the plant. Nixon thanked Ford for investing in Missouri.

"Surging demand for the vehicles built here in Kansas City is a credit to the hard-working Missourians whose tremendous skills, creativity and work ethic continue to drive our economy forward," Nixon said in a news release. "On behalf of six million Missourians, I thank Ford for its ongoing investment in our state, and the working men and women of this region who demonstrate each and every day the value of Missouri's exceptional workforce."

Crude oil is currently being transported throughout 34 counties in Missouri.

The Missouri Department of Transportation's Administrator of Railroads Eric Curtit says MoDOT is working with the Federal Railroad Administration to ensure the safety of all rail lines.

Republican Dave Hinson serves on the House Transportation committee and says the public should not be concerned about the transportation of crude oil by rail.

"What folks have to understand is that we have breaks in the pipeline and the containment is fairly quick," said Hinson. "I just don't see why there would be a great public outcry about this."

Democrat Joe Keaveny serves on the Consumer Protection committee and says the transportation of crude oil is still a new process and needs to be monitored.

"It's a mode of transportation that's relatively new," said Keaveny. "We're still struggling to get our arms, to get our thoughts wrapped around the best way to monitor and to regulate it."

Missouri is the fourth largest freight transporter in the country.

All 50 of Missouri's non-partisan judges have been recommended for retention by the Missouri Judicial Performance Evaluation Committees.

The committees are comprised of an equal number of lawyers and non-lawyers, who evaluate judges based on ratings from lawyers, written opinions from judges and jurors' ratings of trial judges.

"As President of the Missouri Bar, I can tell you we have an important job and we take that job very seriously," said Reuben Shelton, president of the state bar during a press conference regarding the results held Wednesday, Sept. 24. "This is the job of getting recommendations and information to the voters of Missouri."

During the conference, statewide coordinator of the committees Dale Doerhoff discussed how the merit-based appointments of the so-called Missouri Plan have set an example for other states.

"When the people of Missouri adopted the non-partisan court plan in 1940, the purpose was to free our appellate courts and metropolitan trial courts from the grip of special interests," Doerhoff said. "In the 74 years since its creation, the non-partisan court plan has achieved that purpose. In fact, it's become a model for the country adopted in over 30 states."

Missourians will vote on whether to retain these judges on Tuesday, Nov. 4.

The committee tasked with reviewing the Missouri Water Patrol merger with the Missouri State Highway Patrol will hold its first meeting next Wednesday, Oct. 1.

The committee is chaired by Rep. Diane Franklin, R-Camdenton.

According to the news release, a few of the topics to be discussed are the way the division is being managed, the training methods, and the cost-benefit analysis.

This is the first of two scheduled meetings.

Next Wednesday's hearing will take place in the state Capitol at 10 a.m. and a subsequent meeting will be held Tuesday, Oct. 14 at Osage Beach City Hall.

The hearings come after the drowning of a man who was arrested on the Lake of the Ozarks this summer.

Groups assigned to review and rewrite Missouri's learning standards begin their work just days after Missouri’s Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro announced her retirement.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released the dates in which the groups are supposed to meet. The teams of parents and educators first met on Sept. 22 and 23 in Jefferson City. Four more dates have been set for team meetings: Oct. 2, 3, 20 and 21. The work groups have until Oct. 1, 2015 to deliver their academic standards recommendations.

House Speaker Tim Jones is just one of the legislative Republicans who have taken lead on the issue. He said it's important to put educational standards in the hands of those who have the best interest at heart.

"Our goal with the workgroups is to vest decision making authority in Missouri parents and teachers who have the best interests of our young people at heart," Jones said, as quoted in a news release. "The people of this state have made it absolutely clear they oppose the Common Core standards and that they want Missouri citizens and educators, not government bureaucrats, making the decisions that will impact the educational future of out children."

Common Core supporters expect the work groups will find that the work the schools have already done while adapting their curriculum's to Common Core to be sufficient.

Brent Ghan, spokesman for the Missouri School Boards' Association, said the Missouri School Boards' Association, a supporter of Common Core, supports the review of the education standards by the work groups but stands by the learning standards set by Common Core.

"We have supported the current Missouri learning standards that are in place that we feel like they are rigorous and will set high expectations for student performance in our state," Ghan said. "We have not been opposed to reviewing those standards as the legislation calls for it in establishing the work groups and we're certainly open to reviewing it and I think the school board members who are serving on the work groups are going into this with an open mind and are very willing to review the standards, but we generally have been pleased with standards that have been in place."

Gov. Jay Nixon directed the state auditor Monday afternoon to perform an audit of the St. Louis City Recorder of Deeds office.

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City welcomed the news.

"There have been allegations surrounding the Recorder of Deeds mismanagement and I think that this audit would really bring everything to light in terms of what has been happening there for the last 10 years," Nasheed said.

Nasheed sent Nixon a letter in July asking him to order the audit.

"My goal is for the people of St. Louis to have the most efficient city government possible, free of corruption and lawlessness," Nasheed's letter read in part.

Among the violations the previous Recorder of Deeds committed according to Nasheed's letter was hiring a relative, which is a violation of the state's nepotism law.

State Auditor spokeswoman Vanessa Chandler said they received Nixon's letter.

"We read the letter and plan to move forward with the audit as requested," Chandler said.

The Democratic nominee in the Missouri 4th Congressional district in northern Missouri announced Monday, Sept. 22 his endorsement of clemency for a convicted repeat drug offender -- Jeff Mizanskey.

Mizanskey was sentenced to life in prison without parole for marijuana possession in 1993.

The sentence came under the Missouri "prior and persistent" drug offender law after Mizanskey was arrested two previous times for marijuana offenses.

In April, a clemency petition was delivered to Gov. Jay Nixon's office with more than 360,000 signatures.

At a news conference outside the statehouse, Congressional Candidate Nate Irvin asked Nixon to grant Mizanskey clemency in this case.

"Jeff Mizanskey has been in prison for 21 years for marijuana possession without a chance of parole," Irvin said. "To me, that just defies all common sense."

Mizanskey's brother Mike also spoke, saying his brother has missed many family milestones.

"Some of the events are his sons graduating from high school and growing into very good men, the birth of his grandchildren, the marriage of his son and countless marriages of family members," Mizanskey said.

Show-Me Cannabis Director of Research Aaron Malin said Mizanskey has already served enough time for his crime.

"Mr. Mizanskey is in prison for violating the law, and I think the question that's before us today is whether or not the punishment that he was given is deserved for the law that was broken," Malin said.

Nixon's press secretary Scott Holste said the clemency petition continues to be under review.

The Missouri chapter of the AFL-CIO officially endorsed current Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster for governor Monday.

The endorsement came after Koster spoke to convention delegates.

According to the news release, Koster finished his remarks and a delegate made the motion to endorse Koster's 2016 gubernatorial campaign.

Missouri AFL-CIO president Mike Louis said Koster's record speaks for itself.

"His record has shown his commitment to improve the lives of working families and to bring economic justice to the workplace and social justice to Missouri," Louis said in the news release.

Koster is the only major Democrat to announce his intentions to run for governor in 2016.