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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of November 9, 2009

Former House Democrat T.D. El-Amin already pled guilty to felony bribery charges and is now facing scruitiny for abusing his House spending acount.

These issues, combined with other recent ethical issues within the Missouri House of Representatives, has sparked opinions from it's members.

House Majority Whip Brian Nieves said there are already laws that monitor and prevent ethical issues, and that each case will be looked over to see if a additional law would make a difference.

On the other hand, Democratic Representative Trent Skaggs says the House Ethics Committee should take a more proactive stance to prevent future unethical behavior.

Skaggs said the Ethics Committee has only seen two cases in the last seven years.

State Higher Education Commissioner Robert Stein announced earlier this year he will be retiring.

He reflected on his time in the field of higher education and left advice to his successor.

With several versions of federal health care bills requiring states to expand Medicaid, many Missouri officials say the legislation has the potential for an unfunded mandate and even has some calling to abandon the state's participation in Medicaid.

The U.S. House passed its version of the bill shortly after Gov. Jay Nixon announed $32 million in cuts to Missouri's Medicaid program. Both the House version and the version approved by the Senate Finance Committee would require a serious expansion of Missouri's eligibility rates for Medicaid.

Missouri has one of the lowest Medicaid eligibility rates of any state in the country, requiring a family of four to earn less than $4,400 a year for the parents to receive coverage. The Senate Finance version of the bill would require Missouri to expand it's eligibility from 20 percent of the Federal Poverty Level to 133 percent. Under these provisions, that same family of four could earn up to $29,326 and the parents would still qualify for Medicaid.

The Jefferson City police barracade ends with police reporting no hostage taken. 11/10/2009

By the end of the day Monday, Jefferson City police reported no hostages were found in the Governor Office Building -- where a morning report of a hostage situation generated nationwide attention.

The building is located across the street from the Governor's Mansion in Jefferson City. State workers were asked to close their doors and stay inside their offices during the ordeal.

Dozens of law enforcements officers barracaded blocks of the downtown -- forcing some government agencies to shut down. A Highway Patrol helicopter circled the vicinity. Nearby streets were shut down. In total, police reported 60 or more police responded -- including snipers and swat teams.

Police said the response was to a call they received from an alarm company about a possible hostage situation. The alarm company had been called by a government supervisor of an employee who reported hearing something on an elevator speaker about a hostage being taken.

While the Revenue Department is in charge of collecting licensing fees from new drivers, director Alana Barragßn-Scott said not all 16-year-olds may be ready to drive.

While not advocating a change in the law, Barragßn-Scott said parent should consider maturity not just age when deciding if teenagers should receive their licenses.

Last Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The state currently has 18 troopers working in the program.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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