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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of February 9, 2015

The Missouri Senate gave unanimous approval to legislation lowering the percentage of income cities can receive from traffic fines.

Sen. Eric Schmitt's, R-Glendale, bill was a direct response to the events in Ferguson last year and would cap the amount of money cities can take from court fees at 20 percent of their budget. That threshold is lowered to 10 percent for larger cities.

Lawmakers said excessive fees often times create modern, "debtors prisons".

The bill now heads to the House.

Gov. Jay Nixon addresses the press at the governor's mansion on Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015. (Photo by Chris Mathews)
For the second day in a row, Gov. Jay Nixon defended his decisions during the Ferguson riots.

Nixon expressed disappointment about the burning of businesses in Ferguson, but praised police for how they handled the situation. When asked if he could change any of the events that unfolded during the Ferguson riots, Nixon said he thought law enforcement did a great job of protecting speech and ensuring safety.

The governor addressed a number of statewide issues affecting Missouri. Among these issues was early childhood education.

"We know that investments in early childhood education pay huge dividends," said Gov. Nixon. "That's why even during challenging budget years, we've worked to identify creative ways to create quality preschool programs."

Another issue of importance was mental health throughout the state.

Gov. Nixon spoke about the building of the new Fulton State Mental Hospital that will replace the old one, built in 1851.

The governor also spoke about Medicaid expansion in the state.

In addition, Gov. Nixon discussed the House's vote to ban requiring workers to join a union and the Senate-passed bill that would require lawmakers to wait two years before becoming a lobbyist.

The Missouri House approved what is being called the "Right to Work" measure Thursday, that would prohibit employers from requiring workers to pay union dues.

Sponsored by Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, the measure will now go to the Senate chamber to be discussed.

The bill was heavily favored by House Republicans, who claimed that bordering states with similar legislation attract more business.

One representative mentioned how Texas, a state with such laws, has produced the most jobs out of any state since the recession.

In addition, Republicans believed that employees should not be forced to join extra groups and should simply have the right to work where they please.

House Democrats were staunchly opposed to the measure, citing that passing the bill would destroy labor unions and collective bargaining in the state.

"Those of us who oppose Right to Work believe that it's just another way of attacking workers and weakening unions," said Rep. Judy Morgan, D-Jackson County. "Right to Work takes rights away from companies and workers to establish their own workplace rules."

The House passed the measure by a vote of 91-64, with two members choosing not to vote.

State Auditor Tom Schweich and former Speaker of the House Catherine Hanaway spoke to the media as part of Missouri Press Association Day at the Capitol Thursday morning.

The event came just weeks after Schweich announced his run for governor in 2016.

Hanaway announced last year.

Schweich touted his work to root out corruption in local and state government.

="We've found 33 public officials stealing money and we're about to announce some more," Schweich said.

Relating to his run for governor, Schweich criticized Hanaway for the amount of money she's taken from Rex Sinquefield, a wealthy campaign contributor from St. Louis.

"What you don't want is a candidate that is bought and paid for by one contributor," Schweich said.

Hanaway didn't directly address the question of Sinquefield donating over $1 million to her campaign.

Instead, she touted her record.

"I was Speaker of the House and United States Attorney, the chief federal law enforcement official for half the state before I ever took one red cent from Rex Sinquefield," Hanaway said.

Hanaway then said she believes Sinquefield has donated to her for one simple reason.

"Rex Sinquefield has contributed to me because he believes in what I believe in," Hanaway said. "I'm going to have to build a whole lot more support."\

Ferguson Mayor Jason Knowles told a panel of lawmakers Wednesday night he has not spoken to Gov. Jay Nixon since September and, on the night of the grand jury's decision, Knowles was unable to reach Nixon as the unrest escalated.

Knowles went so far to call Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, Attorney General Chris Koster and State Treasurer Clint Zweifel to see if they could reach Nixon so the governor could send in the National Guard.

Despite their efforts, Knowles still could not reach Nixon.

Knowles was kept in the dark about most of the crucial aspects of the Ferguson response.

He found out about the "no-fly zone" advisory placed on Ferguson's airspace from a story in a newspaper, was unable to give input before a curfew was put into place and was not briefed on the chain of command after the shooting death of Michael Brown on Aug. 9, 2014.

One week before the grand jury's decision, Nixon had declared a state of emergency so the Guard could help local officials.

The Guard was later sent into Ferguson on November 25, after much of the damage had already been done.

Firefighters tasked with maintaing the integrity of Ferguson's buildings were unable to do their jobs because they could not be protected from gunfire.

"I never thought in my career...we'd be teaching people in North County how to wear body armor," Eureka Fire Chief Greg Brown said.

"We saw the town of Ferguson burning down," St. Louis County Chief of Special Operations Matt LaVanchy told the committee.

LaVanchy said he was required to follow orders and abandon a man who was trapped inside Sam's Meat Market in Ferguson.

"He was banging on the window begging for somebody to help him get out of the building that was on fire," LaVanchy said. "And we had to leave him at that point."

Democrats in the Senate stalled a final vote on a bill that would eliminate welfare benefits for people are not seeking jobs.

The bill would require the Department of Social Services to investigate a family in order to determine whether the head of the household is fulfilling the work activity requirement defined by the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, program.

If they are not, then they will not receive any benefits for one month.

They must provide proof of working for an average of 30 hours a week in order to receive benefits again.

Senators who oppose the bill say they are worried about the effect it could have on the children.

"If this were just about the adults and we were taking away their portion of the TANF benefit I would be with you 100 percent," said Sen. Jill Schupp, D-St. Louis County. "Those adults are responsible for children."

Supporters of the bill say they hope this will stop people from taking advantage of the system.

"We are not taking food off of the table," said Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville. "The families are still getting the snap benefits. The children are still on the state CHIP program. They're getting medical care. The family is receiving heating and electricity costs. So it's not like we're deserting the families."

The bill also includes a 24 month life time limit for TANF benefits and would also prohibit anyone guilty of a dangerous felony from receiving benefits.

Right to Work has made first round approval through the House after a 92 to 66 vote.

Opposition brought up mainly by Democrats compared the current Right to Work states to Union states.

Democratic Representative Jon Carpenter said that the lowest quality of life and jobs remains in those states that are Right to Work.

"States that have been Right to Work for decades in every major category including unemployment rates are among the worst in the country," Carpenter said.

Supporters of the bill referenced poor counties along state lines of Oklahoma and Arkansas and how the cost of living across the border was better than those just a few miles away.

The bill would prohibit an employer from requiring a person to become a member of a labor organization in order to continue working.

Gov. Jay Nixon would not be allowed to become the president of the University of Missouri System under legislation heard during a Senate Education Committee hearing. 

The bill would prohibit members of the UM System from voting to appoint or hire the person who appointed them to their position on the board.

Although Schaefer said this has never happened in Missouri, he said it's necessary because it's been an issue in other states.

"I think we're looking at a lot of things right now in ethics bills that are nothing but appearances," Schaefer said. "But people believe that appearance erodes the publics confidence in the institution whether that be the Senate of the University of Missouri."

Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Jackson County, said the bill may disallow the most qualified candidates from being considered for the position.

"I think that this is walking down a very slippery slope of interjecting government into a decision on who's most qualified for a position regardless of past position that they held," Holsman said.

If the bill passes, a curator would lose their position on the board if they violate the prohibition.

Gov. Jay Nixon defended the Missouri National Guard's response to the decision by a St. Louis County grand jury not to indict a white Ferguson police officer in the shooting death of Michael Brown.

Nixon said the decision to have the Guard protect locations like the county courthouse and the headquarters of the Ferguson Police Department was the right decision tactically.

"When this is looked at and the discipline that was shown there, we're talking about what tactically should be have been done and what building were damages," he said. "It's a lot better than the discussion after Kent State."

He later added protecting the lives of police and protesters was more important than protecting buildings.

The earlier comments on Kent State were in reference to an incident in 1970 where the Ohio National Guard shot and killed several unarmed college students.

Gov. Jay Nixon said on three separate occasions he's not ruling out re-issuing bonds to help fund a new stadium for the St. Louis Rams.

"I would only say we've had good communications and we're going to continue to do that." Nixon said.

The comments came during a news conference held in Nixon's capitol office and just one day after the governor announced a deal with Ameren Missouri and a St. Louis area railroad to move power lines and railroad tracks to build the stadium.

Nixon's Office of Administration said earlier this year the governor can use previously issued bonds to help pay for a stadium located north of the Edward Jones Dome on the Mississippi River.

Lawmakers including Jefferson City Republican Rep. Jay Barnes, who chairs the committee charged with investigating the Rams impact on the state, have previously said using already issued bonds to fund new construction should come with an asterisk.

The head of the Missouri State Highway Patrol will retire May 1, ending his 31 years with the department.

Col. Ron Replogle will be replaced by Maj. Bret Johnson, the commander of the Patrol's Bureau of Field Operations.

Gov. Jay Nixon praised Replogle's tenure at the helm of MSHP at a news conference on Wednesday, Feb. 11.

"[Replogle] has been every bit the leader that I expected," Nixon said. "I congratulate Ron on a tremendous job and thank him for his service to the people of Missouri."

Replogle, Nixon and the Highway Patrol have been criticized for how they handled the reaction to the shooting death of Michael Brown and how police in Ferguson responded to protests following the decision by a St. Louis County grand jury not to indict the police officer who shot Brown.

A resolution that would allow voters to repeal a constitutional amendment that makes grand juries legal in Missouri was discussed among members of the House Civil and Criminal Proceedings Committee.

The resolution's sponsor, Brandon Ellington, D-Jackson County, said the concept of a grand jury was antiquated, tracing the historical roots of the grand jury back to America's colonial past.

Ellington also said grand juries are shrouded in too much secrecy, but did admit that there are certain sensitive cases, including acts of child molestation, that deserve that secrecy.

Some of Ellington's other criticisms of the grand jury process included the lack of knowledge grand jury members have of the legal system.

Opponents of the resolution said the prosecutor has an important role as the presenter of evidence during grand juries.

Mark Richardson, Cole County's prosecuting attorney, told the committee safeguards exist to handle prosecutors who shift from presenting information to advocating and that grand jurors take their roles seriously enough to be trusted.

Metropolitan area cities would be forced to cut down how much of their budgets can be financed by traffic fines under a measure approved by the Senate.

Current law limits a city to funding no higher than 30 percent of its budget from traffic fines.

Any excess traffic revenue is transferred to local public schools.

The measure approved by the Senate would Cut that limit to 20 percent in 2016 and down to 10 percent the following year.

"For far too long we've had way too many municipalities too dependent on traffic tickets and fines in their city budgets," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County.

But resistance from rural lawmakers led to a partial exemption for smaller towns and villages in rural Missouri after arguments that traffic fines were essential to providing funds for rural law enforcement.

"We don't want to put a position out there where these small towns can't even afford police protection because the sheriff, unless we're willing to give them a heck lot more money, they're not going to be able to police it, they're not going to be able to do it," said Sen. Jay Wasson, R-Nixa.

Wasson's amendment approved by the Senate would allow rural small towns finance up to 20 percent of their budgets from traffic fines -- twice the 10 percent limit that would be imposed on urban area cities in 2017.

A bill that would allow a court to make someone who is under a restraining order wear a monitoring device was questioned by a director of one Missouri coalition against violence.

The director of the Missouri Coalition against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Colleen Coble, said the organization is in support of the bill, but suggested a few changes to be made to the bill.

"These issues are being addressed in legislatures throughout the country right now," Coble said. "And nobody has exactly come up with the exact language and statute."

Coble asked for there to be clarification as to who would be monitoring the device in real time and who would be responsible for notifying the victim.

With the help of GPS programming, the device would create a restricted area that the wearer cannot enter.

If the wearer were to enter the restricted area, the device would alert authorities who would be immediately dispatched.

No one spoke in opposition of the bill.

Two senators are aiming to limit the amount individuals and committees can contribute to political campaigns.

Both Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, and Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, are sponsoring bills that would limit campaign contributions. The senators appeared before the Senate Ethics Committee to discuss their bills.

"I think having unlimited contributions - million dollar contributions - pollutes the system, and I just think it's very hard to justify that," Pearce said. "And I also think these large donations have changed the giving patterns, especially in the House of Representatives, where now more contributions are going to committee chairs, those in leadership, and those new state representatives starting out don't have an opportunity to get as much because these unlimited dollars are going else where."

LeVota also said large contributions discourage political involvement.

"It diminishes the political involvement of everyone else, and that's what we've seen happen," LeVota said. "Where candidates come, they have a ton of money either from a single source or just a few sources, and then no one runs against them."

Both bills limit contributions from individuals and committees, but Sen. Gina Walsh, D-St. Louis County, said she is concerned about candidates freely funding their own races.

"So if a very wealthy individual or an individual of means had the ability to fund their own race, and they were running against someone that their only resources were their ideas and their will to serve the people of their community, the person with the money would win, right?" Walsh said.

Walsh wasn't the only one with concerns. Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Greene County, said he is concerned people will violate the spirit of the law.

"If we're going to go down the road of putting limits on what people can do and how they can participate, my observation over the times that we've had those is that people try to find some way around it," Dixon said.

Dixon said he wants to know who receives contributions and where they are coming from.

A House committee passed a bill that would require the Department of Health and Senior Services to annually regulate abortion clinics.

The House Children and Families committee passed the bill Tuesday. If passed, an on-site inspection of abortion clinics would be required at least once a year.

The findings of the investigation report would be made available to the public. However, any portion of the report could be redacted if it is not subject to disclosure under the law.

Sponsored by Rep. Kathryn Swan, R-Cape Girardeau, the bill was heavily supported by the Republican-controlled committee. The vote was eight in favor, three against.

The bill will now move onto the House floor for discussion.

Rep. Dan Shaul, R-Jefferson County, presented his first bill as a lawmaker to the House Energy and Environment Committee Tuesday, Feb. 10 and it was met with industry support and citizen opposition.

Shaul's bill would give customers the choice of offering a paper or plastic bag to customers at any merchant or vendor store.

However, the most controversial part of the bill is language that prevents cities from banning plastic bags or imposing a fee on those bags.

This drew the ire of Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis.

"When do we draw the line for us at this level to tell people who want local control that they don't know what they're doing?" Colona asked.

The issue of a plastic bag ban has come to a head lately as the city council in Columbia is considering whether to ban plastic bags altogether or impose a fee.

This brought Americans for Prosperity Deputy State Director Rachel Payton to the Capitol to testify in favor of the bill.

"The city of Columbia is getting in the way of the consumer and the retailer and we are asking the state to let the consumer have a choice and not allow the city to get in the way of our choice," Payton said.

Colona asked Payton if it's a better idea to work with Columbia City Council members instead of asking the state to mandate a law.

"If I'm a city council person from the city of Columbia, I'm livid," Colona said.

"I'm a citizen of the city of Columbia," Payton said. "I'm livid and I'm asking my representatives here in the state to fix that."

President of the Missouri Retailers Association David Overfelt said the bill would give retailers specific set of rules.

"It's very difficult for us to operate when we have one locale decide, we think very wrongheaded, to ban a product that has been out there for decades that's not toxic," Overfelt said.

Carolyn Amparan, a resident of Columbia and a member of the Missouri Sierra Club, spoke against the bill citing the harmful effects of plastic bags to the environment.

"We want to remove the plastic bag litter and pollution at its source: the checkout lanes of local stores selling groceries," Amparan said.

The committee took no action on the bill.

Students would no longer be taking the two state tests required to graduate from high schools across Missouri if a new bill comes into effect.

A new civics bill would replace the current Missouri and U.S. Constitution tests that are currently high school graduation requirements and would instead have students take one civics test.

If passed, Missouri high school students would take the United States Citizen Test, the same test that new citizens are required to pass.

Brian Sanders, a professor at Evangel University, said that the current tests are not working and is in favor of this new compiled test.

The test would require all students to receive a 60 percent or above, but students can take the test as many times as they need to pass.

This bill would not eliminate End of Course, or EOC testing.

The changes would only apply to Missouri students graduating high school or receiving their GED.

Separate legislation that would require a waiting period before elected officials could become lobbyists is moving forward in both the House and the Senate.

The Senate passed a bill that would require a two-year period before legislators who leave office can become lobbyists starting in 2017.

The House Government Oversight and Accountability Committee voted to pass a bill that would require government officials to wait just one year before becoming a lobbyist.

House bill sponsor Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, refers to these two bills as "revolving door" legislation.

"You see examples, though, where people are jumping from legislator to lobbyist very quickly, and in some cases there might be an impropriety there," said Barnes. "At the very least there is the appearance of impropriety and I think we ought to get rid of the appearance and real examples of impropriety in the same swoop. I think we do that by banning the revolving door."

The House "revolving door" bill only mentions the one year waiting period for legislators, while the Senate's bill would not ban the immediate jump from legislator to lobbyist until 2017.

The Senate bill would also prohibit legislators from serving as a paid political consultant for another legislator.

"I think that like every bill or every topic that's a subject of bills, it's a process of debate and negotiation," said Barnes. "I'm hopeful some sort of ban can be passed into law."

After a tense House Workforce Standards and Development Committee hearing, the committee passed two pieces of government deduction legislation following a brief recess.

The bills would prohibit public employees from being forced to pay dues to a labor union.

A tense exchange between Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, who sponsored the bill, and committee member Bob Burns, D-St. Louis County, lead committee chairman Bill Lant, R-Pineville, to call for a five minute recess.

A major theme of the debate surrounding the bills had to do with government regulation.

Rep. Stephen Webber, R-Columbia, asked Rehder if she viewed the bills as government regulation.

When Rehder said she did not see the legislation in that way, Webber asked her if she knew what government regulation meant.

Burns asked Rehder if she was concerned that the bills would hurt workers by lowering wages.

When she said she had not heard of any states where wages diminished after adopting right to work legislation, members of the audience began to laugh.

Groups that supported the bill gave very brief testimony, with most attendees simply stating who they were representing and that their organization supported the legislation.

Last Week

MoDOT Director Dave Nichols will retire May 1, ending his two years at the top of the transportation department.

Nichols, who previously served as the department's chief engineer, has worked for the department for 30 years.

According to a news release, the transportation commission will start the process to replace Nichols over the next few days.

Commission Chairman Stephen Miller praised Nichols' tenure as MoDOT's chief executive in a Thursday afternoon statement.

"He exemplifies exactly what it means to be a public servant, having spent the last 30 years of his life doing great work for the citizens of Missouri.” Miller said.

On the same day the University of Missouri System Board of Curators once again voted to raise tuition for undergrads, the Missouri Senate approved two nominees to serve on the board.

The Senate approved the nominations of Maurice Graham and former Sen. Philip Snowden.

Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, said having a law degree shouldn't disqualify Snowden from serving on the board.

"I know that there's been some concern about the governor's propensity of appointing attorneys," Silvey said. "I understand those concerns, but I do think the nomination of Mr. Snowden should be looked at in its totality and not just the fact that he has a law degree and practiced early in his career."

However, Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, raised the issue of the board having too many lawyers.

"What raises the red flag there for me is why? Why so many lawyers?" Schaefer asked. "I think you have to look at the fact that these are lawyers that also have a relationship with the governor."

In expressing support for Graham's nomination to the board, Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal said she was impressed by Graham.

"It's really important to me to have someone that is independent," she said. "I felt comfortable with this appointment."

Both Snowden and Graham were approved by voice vote.

The chair of the House Transportation committee Republican Representative Glen Kolkmeyer, R-Odessa, called the Transportation Commission's new approach devastating.

The plan will drop MoDot's 2017 budget to $325 million giving the state enough money to maintain only 8,000 of its 34,000 mile system.

Kolkmeyer agreed the department had to do something to deal with the drop in funding, but he said he's worried that not maintaining secondary roads will hurt business in Missouri.

"Missouri is a crossroads of the U.S. and I would hate to see a distribution center not come to Missouri because we're not going to maintain the back roads, if you will, or the secondary roads," Kolkmeyer said.

According to MoDot, part of the blame is due to the cost of asphalt, concrete and steel. Those materials are as much as 200 percent more than they were in 1992.

MoDot said in a statement that they have reduced their staff, facilities and equipment as a result of the department's budget cut.

The Missouri Senate voted unanimously Wednesday, Feb. 4. to approve legislation changing the state's ethics law while hearing an amendment limiting campaign contributions but did not vote on it.

The Senate debated an amendment to a bill today to limit campaign contributions for Missouri lawmakers.

The amendment by Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, would limit contributions for statewide officials to $10,000, $5,000 for senators, $2,000 for representatives and any other office, including judicial offices.

LeVota said not limiting campaign funds has a negative effect on elections in Missouri.

"Since the time we got rid of campaign finance limits in 2008, we have seen more money go into political campaigns resulting in more negative campaigning, which in turn lowers voter participation throughout our state and less public involvement," LeVota said.

Campaign limits were eliminated from Missouri law in 2008.

Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, said campaign finance limits protect incumbents and "the last thing we need is limits on contributions."

"I think that one of the things that's important to remember is that character really has no price," Emery said. "So a question we ask the voters to decide in every election is who do you trust? And if you trust somebody to come to this body, only up to a certain limit of dollars, then we've got a big problem because we deal with a $23 billion budget and large expenditures on individual items and we're not going to have those kinds of donations, we're not going to have billion dollar donations."

The Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission approved a plan Wednesday, Feb. 4. that would drastically reduce the state's construction plan to only focus on Missouri's major roads starting in 2017.

The plan, called the Missouri 325 plan, was formally announced at the commission's last meeting in January and focuses the transportation department's resources on just over eight thousand miles of the state's 32,000 mile long highway system.

In a statement, the Commission said it was a decision they hoped they would never have to make.

“This action truly sets the stage to transform Missouri’s transportation system and dramatically change the way we do business,” said Commission Chair Stephen Miller. “After years of making great progress on the condition of Missouri’s highways, we now face a future of watching our roads and bridges deteriorate.”

The remainder of state highways will only see minimal work starting in two years, such as work to fill potholes and clear snow.

A representative compared a bill aimed at subsidizing costs for Missouri's dairy farmers to Medicaid and Medicare during a debate on the House floor Wed., Feb. 4.

Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, D-Jackson County, called the act "moo-dicaid" and "cow care" and compared cows to people and milk processors to hospitals.

The bill would help reduce the cost of dairy production within the state to allow farmers to make a greater profit and establish scholarship opportunities to encourage younger Missourians to pursue careers in the dairy industry.

Rep. Lyndall Fraker, R-Marshfield, said he feared that one day there will no be milk available for sale in Missouri. He also said droughts that impact Missouri's farmers should be met with the same relief given to areas affected by natural disasters.

Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin, argued against the bill.

For White, the ability to stop dairy farmers in Missouri from going out of business is a problem that can only be solved on a federal level.White also said we don't make bills for family groceries and local restaurants, so there shouldn't be a bill to help out local farmers.

The bill would provide farmers with insurance to help mitigate some of the costs of running a dairy farm but not all farmers are required to accept the insurance plan.

The number of weeks Missourians are allowed to collect unemployment insurance may be determined by the percentage of the state's workforce that is unemployed, if a bill passed in the House is taken up and passed in the Senate.

Missourians are currently allowed to collect 20 weeks of unemployment benefits each year.

This bill would reduce the weeks that people receive unemployment benefits as the state's unemployment rate decreases.

Democrats in the House said that the unemployed rate of their districts may not match the state's average and their constituents would suffer from this legislation.

"What we are going to be doing with this bill is using a 'one size fits all' approach," said Rep. Margo McNeil, D-St. Louis. "It was mentioned before that people can go and get a job if they look hard enough. If your county or your community has high unemployment it is very difficult to find a job because the competition is much greater."

Representatives who support this bill said they hope its passage would start to repay federal advances to the Unemployment Compensation Fund in order for an employer's contribution rate to decrease.

With higher rates of unemployment, the state's Unemployment Compensation Fund has been exhausted to the point that employers are required to supplement funds to meet the needs of the system.

Supporters said this bill would allow for quicker repayment of federal advances and would stabilize the state's unemployment resources.

"We aren't being disparaging to any group of people," said Rep. Diane Franklin, R-Camdenton. "It isn't about the characteristics of those folks that are not employed. It is about the character of our state, the fiscal character of our state."

Just before the Senate began debate on a limited lobbyist restriction, another bill was filed that would impose a total ban on lobbyists providing anything of value to a legislator or statewide elected official.

The measure also would prohibit lobbyist gifts to the staff, spouses or children of legislators or statewide elected officials.

The measure's sponsor -- Sen. Robb Schaaf, R-St. Joseph -- described the current law which imposes no limit on lobbyist gifts, amounted to corruption.

"It's what I would call institutional corruption," Schaaf said. "It's corruption built into the system, not really the corruption of individuals. I think what we have are good people caught in a broken system."

Schaaf's proposal also would prohibit a legislator or statewide elected official from working as a lobbyist for three years after leaving office. Their employees would be barred from working as lobbyists until one year after leaving their government jobs.

The measure would would reinstate limits on campaign contributions that voters had approved, but which the legislature subsequently repealed.

Schaaf's proposal is a constitutional amendment that would statewide voter approval to take effect. If approved, any subsequent change such as repeal of the contribution limits, would require statewide voter approval.

After overwhelming Senate defeat of proposal for a limited restriction on lobbyists on the same day Schaaf sponsored his bill, he acknowledged his measure little chance of clearing the legislature.

However, he said his plan could be the foundation for an initiative petition effort to put the provisions on the statewide ballot.

The House Children and Family Committee voted to send legislation to the full House that would require women seeking an abortion to watch a video when going to the doctor.

This video would be presented in addition to the pamphlets doctors mandated to hand out.

Two bills dealing with abortion were discussed at the hearing Tuesday, Feb. 3.

The first would require yearly inspections for abortion clinics.

Campaign Life Missouri lobbyist Samuel Lee testified in favor of the bill.

"I don't know," He said. "How any reasonable person could be apposed to one annual inspection of an abortion clinic."

Planned Parenthood Advocates in Missouri's Evie Mead testified against the bill.

"If it were applying to all ambulatory surgical centers," She said. "Which are much more complicated and higher risk procedures are being performed that would maybe make some policy sense...Right now to us it looks like it's not health and safety motivated it looks like its politically motivated."

The other bill would put Planned Parenthood at the bottom of the list to receive state funding.

What has been hailed as one of, if not the biggest issue of the 2015 legislative session came before the Missouri Senate Tuesday, Feb. 3.

Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin,'s bill would require members of the General Assembly to wait two years after they leave office to become a lobbyist or paid political consultant.

Richard said this debate is needed in the Missouri legislature.

"We're going to start on a slow process and try to get a few of the transgressions that I see that have been happening recently," Richard said.

The bill would apply to lawmakers whose first term begins in January 2017, so it would not apply to any current member of the legislature or any current statewide elected official.

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, offered an amendment to ban all lawmakers, their staff, family, and dependent children from accepting any travel or sports/entertainment tickets from a lobbyist.

Nasheed said this amendment would go a long way in restoring trust between elected officials and their constituents.

"I believe at the end of the day, if we want to see our constituents have trust in the process in terms of the connections that we have with them versus with lobbyists, then I think this is the right thing to do," Nasheed said.

According to data from the Missouri Ethics Commission, Nasheed accepted sports/entertainment tickets from lobbyists eight times in 2013, totalling over $1,200.

Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Greene County, expressed doubt that Nasheed's amendment would solve Missouri's lack of ethics problem.

"There is something about avoiding even the appearance of wrongdoing that is kind of ancient wisdom, if you will," Dixon said.

The amendment received support from seven Republicans but failed to pass by a vote of 20-13.

Missouri House Speaker John Diehl prohibited committees from having meals during hearings on Tuesday, Feb. 3.

"I believe that committee meetings should be held to the same decorum as we have out on the House floor," said Diehl, R-Town and Country. "So I have instructed my chairmen that there will be no eating or meals provided during committee hearings."

Diehl said he will discuss whether or not to make the policy into a House rule. For now, he said he trusts chairmen will follow the new guideline.

"The direction of the speaker's office is fine with me," said one committee chair, Rep. Sue Entlicher, R-Bolivar.

In addition, Diehl banned off-site committee meetings. All House committee hearings will now take place inside of the Capitol.

The first bill aimed to change community relations with police officers following the unrest in Ferguson was met with no opposition in a House Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee Mon., Feb. 2.

The bill proposed by Rep. Sharon Pace, D-St.Louis, would require all peace officers to complete diversity and sensitivity training.

They would also be required to learn strategies to better handle unrest and peaceful demonstrations.

Holly Roe spoke in favor of the bill on behalf of the Communications Workers of America.

Roe said this bill would put a stop to the inhumane way officers sometimes treat civilians.

She also said this fight has gone on for fifty years and America has not moved forward, but this bill would make progress.

"Right to work" legislation is still as divisive an issue as ever as the House Workforce Committee heard testimony regarding a bill that would prohibit employers from forcing workers to join a labor union.

Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, who sponsored the bill, told a packed hearing room that right to work legislation gives workers the freedom to decide whether they want to join a union rather than being forced to join one as a condition of employment.

Bob Burns, D-St. Louis County, said Burlison's emphasis on restoring freedoms guaranteed to workers by the founders of our country was backwards.

"[The Founding Fathers] were the same people that were white slave owners that didn't give women the right to vote," Burns said. "They had the rule of thumb which means you could your wife with...a rule that was smaller than your thumb. Is that what you want to go back to?"

"I'm not going to respond to that," Burlison said. "That's absurd."

Burns also discussed the impact labor unions have had on the country's history, including promoting education among laborers and stopping child labor.

"The unions in the coal mines, after being shot down like dogs, organized and got these five and six-year-old kids, right here in America, out of the coal mines," Burns said.

Not everyone shares Burns's view.

For Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, right to work legislation would bring back economic opportunities to Missouri and hopefully stop the flight of workers from St. Louis to states with better job opportunities, including Texas.

"Across I-44 from where thousands of Missourians used to be employed at the Chrysler plants, two of them until just a few years ago, we have the world's largest mover: United Van Lines," Kinder said. "They placed St. Louis No. 1 in outflow of people who were headed South and West because opportunity that existed when many of us were growing up in this state...those opportunities are gone and they're not coming back."

As a member of a labor union, Clem Smith, D-St. Louis County, asked Burlison about his offiliation to any labor unions.

Burlison said he is not a member of any unions.

Marion Hayes, the CEO of a St. Louis-area electric company, testified at the hearing and discussed the benefits of labor unions promoting diversity, especially after the unrest in Ferguson.

"As an African American male who still lives in North County, and what happened this summer, I think those are very important stories and things that need to be brought out to you as legislators in terms of the benefits that unions are representing African American workers," Hayes said.

The hearing was held Monday, Feb. 2.

Lobbyists raised questions about a bill that would max out the value of gifts they give to $30 during a House Governmental Accountability Committee hearing Monday, Feb. 3.

During the hearing, two lobbyists and committee members asked about the complications that could arise from this bill.

Samuel Licklider, a long-time lobbyist, raised the question of how this bill would go about setting certain limits for lobbyists whose family members and spouses work for the legislature.

"I think you have a public policy question of how deeply do you delve into peoples personal intimate lives," Licklider said.

Michael Reid, who represents the Missouri Society of Governmental Consultants, asked about the limits of the $30 gift.

"Lobbyists don't care, it's not for us to make the policy decisions, it's up for you to make the policy decisions on where they should be and how much they should be," said Reid. " The real question is, is that $30 per day? Is that $30 per year? Is that $30 per client? Is that $30 per lobbyist? Is that $30 per principle? We just want to make sure that's clear."