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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of December 8, 2014

Retired financier Rex Sinquefield paid $1 million to the chairwoman of an organization he funds to consider running as the republican candidate for lieutenant governor in 2016.

Beverly Randles is the chairwoman of Club for Growth and has not formally announced her candidacy for the office yet.

Todd Abrajano, a Sinquefield associate now serving as a spokesperson to the Randles exploratory committee, said the donation will be used to help her come to a decision.

"She will travel across the state, we'll probably do some polling, all of that stuff costs money and so the donations the campaign, or exploratory committee receives between now and whenever she decides whether or not she will run will concern those purposes," Abrajano said.

If Randles chooses to run, she would be challenging republican incumbent Peter Kinder. Kinder has made no announcement regarding re-election, but if he chooses to run, he would be seeking a historic fourth term as lieutenant governor.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, slammed Sinquefield's efforts to "purchase the loyalty of Missouri's elected officials."

"The question Missourians really need to ask is this - do they really want a government completely owned by one St. Louis billionaire?" McCaskill said in a statement.

Abrajano said McCaskill's comments strike him as "the height of hypocrisy."

"Over the course of the last few years, Senator McCaskill has contributed, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch, over $800,000 to Democrats here in the state of Missouri," Abrajano said. "And so for her to make the claim that people who are contributing large dollars to candidates, it's just hypocritical. And she has continued over and over again to make large donations and so if Claire McCaskill wants to limit donations in the state of Missouri, she should start by eliminating her own."

Gov. Jay Nixon sent a letter to the highway and transportation commission Tuesday, Dec. 9, asking for a report on the feasibility of using tolls on I-70.

The tolls would be used to improve and expand the highway and to "free up resources for road and bridge projects," according to a statement released by the governor's office.

"Spanning ten states from Maryland to Utah, I-70 is a vital east-west link for our country and for our State," Nixon was quoted as saying in the letter. "Yet, it's youngest sections in Missouri are nearly 50 years old and are designed to meet road standards and traffic volumes of an earlier day."

Nixon also cited a lack of transportation funding in the letter.

Missourians voted against a sales tax increase in August that would have helped fund Missouri's roads.

The Transportation Department will issue the report, which Nixon requested to have completed by the end of the year.

A legislative committee vowed to launch an aggressive investigation into why Missouri's governor did not use National Guard troops to protect businesses in the aftermath of the grand jury decision not to indict a Ferguson police officer in the shooting death of Michael Brown.

Gov. Jay Nixon faces the threat of subpoena if he does not show up to a Joint Committee on Governmental Accountability hearing to explain his decisions about deploying the Missouri National Guard and the role they would play in Ferguson.

Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, said he just wants the truth.

"I want to understand how we got there," Schmitt said.

At the first meeting on Dec. 11 the committee chair, Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, talked about broad record demands from state agencies and subpoenas to force testimony by agency officials.

"By statute, this committee does have the authority to issue subpoenas, issue necessary writs, and to take depositions," Schaefer said. "So, to the extent that we need to find the truth, I think all of those tools at our disposal and available to all of us to get the information that we need to get."

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, said she would support a subpoena if the governor did not come before the committee.

"The question is: Who made the decision to not bring in the National Guard?" Nasheed said. "Who was talking to who? Was the National Guard talking to the governor's office? The governor's office talking to the Public Safety Department?"

In response, Scott Holste, the governor's spokesperson, issued a statement promising help to rebuild the destroyed businesses, but gave no indication if Nixon would be willing to appear before the legislative committee.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced five finalists for education commissioner Monday, Dec. 8.

Finalists, which include Terry Adams, Douglas Hayter, Charles Huff, Norman Ridder and Margaret Vandeven, were chosen from a pool of more than 40 names, according to a statement released by DESE.

All of the finalists except Vandeven are current or past school superintendents. Vandeven is the current deputy commissioner of education for the Division of Learning Services.

Interviews will take place next week.

The new commissioner will replace current Commissioner Chris Nicastro, who was criticized for her handling of unaccredited school districts in the St. Louis area.

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, said she plans to bring up the government's response to unrest in Ferguson at a government accountability joint committee meeting Thursday, Dec. 11.

However, Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said the meeting will focus on organizational matters.

Nasheed said there was not enough protection for businesses along West Florissant Avenue, where protests occurred and some buildings caught fire.

"You know if you have a state of emergency in place, the last thing that we should have saw was businesses going up in flames," Nasheed said.

Nasheed said Gov. Jay Nixon needs to be held accountable.

"The buck is gonna stop with the governor," she said.

This will be the joint committee's first meeting.

The Jefferson City Salvation Army shelter was already at capacity in October, according to shelter Director Tyreka Brandon.

Brandon said that this is partly due to recent cold weather.

"We're at capacity now so, you know, it's already starting to climb a little bit and I think that like the colder mornings and colder nights are starting to impact that as well," Brandon said.

Missouri Housing Development Commission Spokesperson Sarah Parsons said this is a statewide problem.

"Of course people are going to try to seek shelter in the winter," Parsons said. "You know there are people who do live in tents in the winter. We conduct our counts, our point in time counts, homeless counts, in January and we do find families living in tents and campers but generally our shelters are at max capacity throughout the winter."

There has also been an increase in the number of homeless people in Missouri in general over the past few years. According to data from the federal Housing and Urban Development Department, Missouri saw its homeless population increase by more than a third between 2007 and 2013.

Both Parsons and Brandon said this increase is due in part to the recession.

"I think right now just employment as a whole is really hard, it's hard to obtain and so right now it's even more difficult with someone who's lost everything and so I think that's kind of a big thing right now," Brandon said.

For now, Brandon said the Jefferson City shelter is trying to help as many people as possible in the winter months, but will still have to turn people away.

"It's really, it's a heartbreaking thing because when you have to tell someone that we're at capacity and when they say well where am I supposed to go," Brandon said.

Attorney General Chris Koster at an investigative hearing on Monday, Dec. 8.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster testified and took questions from a special legislative investigative committee the morning of Monday, Dec. 8.

This marks Koster's first public appearance in front of lawmakers since allegations of wrongdoing surfaced in an October New York Times article.

Among other things, the article alleged Koster's decision to drop a lawsuit against the energy supplement company Five Hour Energy was done in exchange for political contributions.

"Let me be clear: they are not," Koster said.

Koster said the case was not worth the time and money that would be spent on it.

"I believe I made the right decision," Koster said. "And the right decision does not become the wrong decision simply because a lobbyist was part of a discussion."

Koster also attacked House Speaker Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, for forming the committee, calling it "political theater."

Koster, however, admitted his office made a mistake in their case against Pfizer for the marketing of the drug Lyrica.

He told the committee his office missed the deadline to join the multi-state lawsuit against Pfizer, but he accused the Times of falsely stating an action his office didn't do.

"The Times falsely implied that Missouri intentionally pursued a separate legal strategy with the purpose of financially benefiting Pfizer," Koster said. "The implication is ludicrous."

Only a few committee members asked questions of Koster and committee chairman Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, said he would be in contact with members to determine the next meeting.

Last Week

Ferguson Rally in the Rotunda

More than 200 people gathered in the rotunda of Missouri's capitol building on the afternoon of Friday, Dec. 5, to protest the death of Michael Brown Aug. 9.

The rally marked the culmination of the seven-day Journey for Justice march, led by the NAACP, in which protesters walked from St. Louis to Jefferson City.

The rally was originally going to be held in front of the governor's mansion. It was later moved to the capitol building due to rain.

Gov. Jay Nixon was not present for the rally.

Scott Holste, the governor's press secretary, said Nixon would be in Joplin and Kansas City on Friday. However, Nixon met with NAACP leaders in Jefferson City on Wednesday.

NAACP leaders, local religious leaders and some of Michael Brown's family members also attended the rally.

"We're here to ask the government and the governor to live up to what we expect him to do for the people of the city of St. Louis, of the state of Missouri. We're all citizens," said Lesley McSpadden, Brown's mother.

When marchers gather in Jefferson City Friday, Dec. 5, to protest recent events in Ferguson, Gov. Jay Nixon will be in Kansas City and Joplin.

"The governor will, is not here, but it was very important to him," said Scott Holste, Nixon's press secretary.

Nixon instead met with NAACP President Cornell Brooks and other NAACP leaders in his Jefferson City office Wednesday, Dec. 3, according to a statement issued Friday by the governor's office.

"I was honored to meet with the leadership of our nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization during the march from Ferguson to the capital this week," Nixon was quoted as saying in the statement.

The march, led by the NAACP, is scheduled to arrive in Jefferson City around 1 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 5.

Former Sen. Maida Coleman, director of the Office of Community Engagement, will address the rally on behalf of Nixon at the Capitol today, according to the statement.

Newly elected legislators to the House of Representatives met at the Capitol building to learn more about their duties as a public official.

Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-St. Louis County, served in the General Assembly from 2011-2013 and was elected as a result of the Nov. 4 elections. She said she is learning a lot and is eager for session to begin.

"We've been learning about the legislative process, we've gone through the rules book page by page and it's just a lot of really helpful information that will help us hit the ground running when we get started in January," McCreery said.

The newly elected representatives will meet with the rest of the General Assembly on Jan. 7 to begin the 98th session.

McCreery said she wants to change people's perceptions of politicians and show to her constituents that she doesn't fit the typical politician mold.

"When I was going door-to-door during my campaign, I often heard from people about their frustrations with government and with people from opposite parties not being able to get along," McCreery said. "So one of the things I'm really committed to is trying to figure out how to work well with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle and this training is actually a really good first step in that regard because I'm getting a chance to meet a bunch of people in the other party, so it's been a good, a good entrÚe."

The orientation for freshman representatives began on Dec. 1 and went through Dec. 5. Next week, representatives will board buses for a tour around the state. New senators met for orientation on Dec. 2 through Dec. 4.

Missouri Republican leaders filed a motion to intervene in a Jackson County court decision recognizing same-sex marriages from other states.

House Speaker Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, and Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County, filed the motion.

Jones said they were concerned that Attorney General Chris Koster would not appeal the court ruling and their motion to intervene would allow them to appeal the case.

"If he basically drops the ball we would be allowed to provide our own pursuit of the matter. We would become parties in the case," Jones said.

However, Koster has appealed two other state and federal court rulings striking down the state's same-sex marriage ban.

"He's made several statements and comments about his personal beliefs which I think may cloud his vigorous and passionate defense of our constitution," Jones said. "Let's remember this constitutional provision was actually voted into law, into the Constitution, by a large majority of Missourians not that many years ago."

Dempsey was not immediately available for comment.

The Missouri Supreme Court heard an argument Wednesday, Dec. 3, to allow the dissolution of same-sex marriages performed in other states.

A voter-approved provision of Missouri's Constitution bans state and local government bans the recognition of gay marriage in the state. But that provision makes no mention of divorce, according to Drey Cooley who represented one of the parties seeking the divorce.

"Our argument is also based on the fact that the court doesn't have to recognize, validate, affirm or approve the marriage," Cooley said. "They need to recognize another state did."

The couple in question, who would only be identified by their initials in order to protect their privacy, were married in Iowa in 2012 and sought a dissolution of their marriage from the St. Louis County Circuit Court.

Cooley argued divorces can be granted even if a state does not recognize the marriage, since documentation is the only thing needed for a court to grant a dissolution.

This principle holds true with common law marriages in Missouri, which can be dissolved within the state even though they are not recognized, Cooley said.

In an unusual twist, there was no attorney arguing before the court in defense of the Missouri ban on same-sex marriage recognition.

Often, the state's attorney general defends state laws.

But Attorney General Chris Koster announced in October he would not appeal a Kansas City area state court decision that held the state had to recognize same-sex marriages from other states.

Missouri's highest court spent nearly two hours listening to arguments about the legality of towns and cities using automatic photographic systems to catch speeders and persons who run red lights.

The cases involve St. Louis city's red light camera system and two St. Louis-area communities-- one with a red-light enforcement system, the other using automatic photographic systems to catch speeders.

For two of the systems, fines for violations are assessed against the owner of the violating vehicles without any proof as to the person who actually committed the offense.

Attorneys for owners argued the approach taken by St. Louis City and St. Peters violates constitutional rights because there is no proof that the owners actually were the drivers.

Attorneys defending the systems responded that cities have a number of ordinances in which owners rather than drivers are fined, such as parking violations.

Judge Richard Teitelman echoed that idea.

"If you don't keep your yard in order, the grass is too tall or something, then the owner of the house is charged with that crime," Teitelman said early in the hearing.

But attorneys for the two cities told the state high court that the actual violations involve owners failing to assure legal operation of their vehicles.

That, however, raised a question from Judge George Draper as to whether an owner actually is responsible for what is done with an auto. "Let's say a young man, maybe not myself, maybe I did or didn't, snuck the car out after his parents were asleep...and my father gets a ticket because the car's in my father's name."

Shortly after the decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson on charges of shooting and killing Michael Brown on Aug. 9, some Missouri lawmakers filed bills that would restrict the use of force by police.

St. Louis-area Senators Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, and Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, put forth bills that would clarify the language in Missouri law that dictates the use of force.

Right now, Missouri law states that deadly force can be used if police officers reasonably believe that the suspect is trying to escape by using a deadly weapon or could cause death or injury unless apprehended.

Under the bill filed by Nasheed, a police officer could only use deadly force if all other means of apprehension were tried, a warning was issued to the suspect and the officer believed the suspect was trying to escape while possessing a deadly weapon.

"The reason that my bill is very, very much needed is because as the statute stands today, it's too broad and it's too vague, and what I mean by that is, there's a portion in that provision that basically says when police immediately feel it is necessary, they can use lethal force-- immediately necessary," Nasheed said. "What does that mean? I mean, how has that been defined? It's not been defined. And, what we have to do is define when a police officer can use lethal force and that's what my bill does."

The bill also includes a provision stating that when a police officer uses deadly force on a person 20 feet or farther away the officer must be suspended without pay until a full investigation is complete.

"If we want to stop what happened in the Michael Brown incident, then this is how we do it," Nasheed said. "We change the policy when it comes to lethal force. If a police officer feels that it is immediately necessary, or if a police officer feels that if a felon that's fleeing or committing a felon then they can shoot to kill-- again, that's way too broad. And if we don't want to replay the incident like what happened on Aug. 9, then we're going to have to change the policy."

Under Chappelle-Nadal's bill, a police officer can use deadly force only when the officer believes the suspect is a danger to the officer or any other person. Similar to Nasheed's bill, when deadly force is used a special prosecutor must conduct a full investigation.

The General Assembly meets on Jan. 7 to begin the legislative session.

On the first day lawmakers are allowed to pre-file bills for consideration in the 2015 legislative session, Rep. Bill Lant, R-Pineville, filed 2 bills reviving so-called "right-to-work" legislation.

He said the legislation is necessary to make Missouri more competitive.

"I personally feel like Missouri is ready to become a right-to-work state," Lant said. "In every state that has gone to right-to-work, union membership has increased and that's simply because businesses have moved into the state, there's more jobs, there's more opportunity for union workers."

Lant did admit states that have recently adopted right-to-work have seen a slight wage decline, but the long-term gain is worth it.

"In the states where right to work was passed recently, the hourly rates may have dropped 2 to 3 dollars an hour, but the amount of days per year that the workers actually got to put in on the job increased dramatically," Lant said.

The 2015 legislative session convenes on Wednesday, January 7.

Gov. Jay Nixon's office announced Monday afternoon that he was dropping his plans to call a special session to provide additional funding for public safety costs associated with Ferguson.

On Saturday, Nixon sent a letter to all legislators indicating he would be calling a special session "to provide critical funding for the ongoing operations for the Missouri National Guard and the Missouri State Highway Patrol in Ferguson and throughout the St. Louis region."

But Nixon's call came under swift attack from legislative leaders who issued a statement Monday morning declaring the budget contained enough money to cover the costs.

Just a few hours later, Nixon's office issued a statement conceeding he agreed with the legislative leader's interpretation of the budget and calling off plans for the special session.

The legislative leader's statement had attacked the governor for not communicating with them and announced a legislative investigation into Nixon's actions involving Ferguson.

After Nixon abandoned his call for a special session, House Speaker Tim Jones questioned the governor's motivations.

"Have we caught him red-handed in some sort of really mean-spirited political stunt?" Jones asked. "Was he calling for a special session to repair his incredibly damaged image? Was he using the brave men and women of the National Guard as props in this whole tragedy?"

"At this point, to say I'm incensed at the governor is probably is an understatement," Jones later added.