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MPANewsBook: 2/26/109: Archived file

House members consider slashing corporate assets «Entered: 02/26/2009»

A bill that would eliminate the franchise tax on the corporate shares certain businesses issue in Missouri won overwhelming approval in the state House of Representatives Thursday, Feb. 26.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Sutherland, R-Warrenton, would apply to businesses with assets between $1 million and $10 million.

Sutherland says the bill would prevent "a form of double taxation" for roughly 12,000 Missouri businesses. Many affected businesses also pay state income tax.

Legislative staff estimate the bill would cost the state $12 million in unrealized revenue in fiscal year 2011.

 An opponent of the bill, Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, called such a measure "Reaganomics at its worst."

"It's inspired by the belief that giving money away to the wealthiest business owners in our state creates jobs and trickles down into the rest of the economy," Roorda said. "...It's pretty dry down here where I am. We're still waiting after the last 29 years for something to start trickling down."

According to The Associated Press, Missouri's corporate franchise tax has been in effect since 1917.

Only 16 other representatives â014 all Democrats â014 voted against the bill. It now moves to the state Senate for consideration.

State Supreme Court upholds execution procedures «Entered: 02/26/2009»

Members of the Missouri Supreme Court paved the way for capital punishment to resume in the state after a more than three-year lapse.

The court, by a 4 to 3 vote Tuesday, Feb. 24, denied a challenge from 17 condemned inmates who claimed a protocol for lethal injections that was drafted by the Missouri Department of Corrections in 2006 was unconstitutional.

Appellants alleged that proper notification was not given by the department when procedures were written.

Writing for the majority, Judge Mary Russell said the Missouri General Assembly's intent was to make execution procedures "exempt from notice and comment rulemaking procedures."

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Richard Teitelman argued that the Corrections Department should have been exempted from rulemaking only where inmates were concerned -- not when "medical professionals performing their duty" are involved.

The death penalty has not been employed in Missouri since October 2005, when Marlin Gray was put to death for the 1991 murder and rape of two sisters in St. Louis.

The Associated Press reports that it is unclear when the death penalty will officially resume in the state.

Kinder, Republican lawmakers suggest passing on federal funds reserved for unemployment «Entered: 02/25/2009»

Led by Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, state Republicans, on Wednesday, Feb. 25, advocated dismissing a fraction of the more than $4 billion in federal stimulus funds that have been allocated to Missouri.

Kinder said certain strings attached to potential stimulus funding for unemployment benefits would require a restructuring of state law that could unduly impact Missouri taxpayers in the long-run.

"This is essentially a federal bribe to change state laws permanently, and the bribe lasts two years or less," Kinder declared in a news conference at the state Capitol on Wednesday. Various Republican lawmakers have emphasized the danger of using one-time federal money to fund ongoing programs that might not be available in the future. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, in turn, has recommended acceptance of any and all stimulus funds. 

According to a report by The Associated Press on Wednesday, federal stimulus funds for jobless benefits in the state could total as much as $133 million if accepted but would require the expansion of certain eligibility requirements and benefit periods. The AP also reported that, because a fund for the unemployed in Missouri is fledgling, a federal surcharge on Missouri businesses could ensue. Missouri's unemployment fund receives state and federal contributions.

Even with statewide unemployment at its highest rate in more than two decades, Lt. Gov. Kinder maintained that increasing the tax burden for Missouri businesses only compounds the problem.

"Under current state law, only employees fired without cause are eligible for jobless benefits," he stated via news release. "The proposed revisions may strip that and take away the power of the state to decide its own future."

In other action regarding stimulus funding Wednesday, Missouri senators passed a bill that could expedite the permitting process for road and bridge projects receiving federal dollars. A proposed act that will now be considered in the state House of Representatives would allow a limited number of design-build contracts to be initiated under a single, unified bidding process.

Under the stimulus plan approved earlier this month, state's have a narrow time frame to obligate funds to certain transportation projects before excess funds are reapportioned back to the federal government or to other states.

Four-day school week moves one step closer to reality «Entered: 02/25/2009»

A bill giving local school boards the ability to authorize four-day school weeks met first-round approval in the Missouri House of Representatives Tuesday, Feb. 24.

Proponents of the bill, sponsored by Rep. Gayle Kingery, R-Poplar Bluff, say a shortened school week will ease constraints on school districts facing tightened budgets, particularly in rural areas of the state.

But state representatives opposing the bill, like Jackson County Democrat Leonard Hughes, questioned whether one less day per week would adversely affect the quality of education students receive.

"There is no dollar sign on the future of our country," Hughes said. "These children are an investment."

Speaking in favor of the bill, Rep. Maynard Wallace, R-Thornfield, said the decision should lie at the local school board level.

"It's optional, totally optional," Wallace said. "Let's trust our local boards. ... (They) are the elected people closest to the people."

Successful implementation of a four-day school week would require a majority vote from individual school boards.

According to a summary of the current bill, the hours in a given school year remain the same. The bill needs one more positive vote in the Missouri House before it could move to the state Senate for consideration.

Prohibition on red-light cameras is rejected by the Senate Transportation Committee «Entered: 02/25/2009»

A bill that would have prohibited the use of cameras for ticketing drivers who run red lights in the state failed to meet approval from the Senate Transportation Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 25.

Bill sponsor Jim Lempke, R-St. Louis, said red-light cameras are little more than a money-maker for local law enforcement agencies.

"These cameras have been very lucrative for the City of St. Louis," Lempke acknowledged. But, he said, "The bottom line is, I want to make sure that my constituents' rights are protected and that the municipalities that have these red light cameras are following state statute."

Committee members voted against the measure, 8 to 2.

At Wednesday's hearing, law enforcement officials in the St. Louis area defended the usage of red-light cameras as a way of protecting Missouri drivers.

"I can not start to tell you how many lives we've saved or how many accidents that we've prevented because of these red light issues," said Hazelwood Police Chief Carl Wolf.

Wolf added, "The camera does not issue the citation. It's a police officer that issues the citation. And it's to the discretion of the police officer. They watch the video."

Autism bill's opponents are heard «Entered: 02/25/2009»

Representatives from several of Missouri's insurance lobbying groups got their chance to speak in opposition to an autism-related measure Tuesday, Feb. 24, after a hearing the previous week was dominated by parents emotionally voicing support for the bill.

Speakers, in testifying before a Senate committee on small businesses and insurance, said that, while the bill is well-intentioned, it would increase insurance premiums for all policyholders.

David Smith, a registered lobbyist with Columbia-based Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, estimated monthly increases between 2 and 3.5 percent should the bill go into effect.

It would require health-care providers to cover "the diagnosis and treatment of Autism spectrum disorders" for children under the age of 21. It would prevent limits on the number of doctor's visits and would cap the maximum benefit for applied behavior analysis -- a popular treatment option for those diagnosed with autism -- at $72,000 annually.

Senators have noted that the bill would only apply to roughly 40 percent of children with autism. Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, questioned whether it goes far enough in providing coverage.

"I don't want to dislocate my shoulder while trying to pat myself on the back," Crowell said. "I don't want to play games with people when only a small sliver of them are actually getting what they want."

But Lorri Unumb, a senior policy advisor with Autism Speaks, told the Senate committee Tuesday, Feb. 17, that the bill is a step in the right direction.

"If there were 10 people in a sinking ship, and there were only three life jackets, would you hold onto the life jackets because you didn't have enough for all 10 people?" Unumb asked.

No vote was taken on the issue in either committee hearing.