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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of November 16, 2009

The Missouri State Employees Retirement System (MOSERS) voted 6-4 to not pay out employee bonuses when it's pension fund loses money.

Bonuses became a problem after the system issued a half million dollars in them despite losing $1.8 million in the stock market.

The board will address specific details of the policy change at its next meeting.

Representative Bill Deeken defended the current policy saying it wasn't MOSERS' fault the stock market crashed and that the board shouldn't "change when it's perfect."

Monitoring areas in St. Louis showed above level polluted air quality in five different days in 2008.

Spokesperson Renee Bungart of the Division of Environmental Quality says EPA requirements are likely going to get even tougher.

Wearing pink ribbons in remembrance of the 9-year-old St. Martins girl killed nearly a month ago, two Jefferson City High School students watched as a classmate faced first-degree murder charges.

Alyssa Bustamante, 15, was indicted Wednesday for the murder of Elizabeth Olten and certified to stand trial as an adult.

"We went to school with Alyssa, but we're not here supporting her," said Maggie Fowler, 17, a junior at Jefferson City High School.

Wednesday afternoon, Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce read Bustamante the charges against her and entered a plea of not guilty on her behalf. Bustamante, her wrists shackled to her waist, told the judge that she had yet to meet with an attorney from the public defenders office and was unable to pay for her own defense. Earlier in the day, in a separate judicial proceeding before a different judge, Bustamante was certified to stand trial as an adult rather than have her case handled as a juvenile matter.

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Opponents to the freeze say there will be difficulties deciding where to cut other programs.

Supporters of the freeze say it will help Missourians remain competitive in the job market.

The general assembly has not yet voted on the freeze.

If approved, it won't take effect until next July.

Natural Resources Director Mark Templeton testified Monday in one of his first public appearances since being suspended on Sept. 30 for issues stemming from pollution in the Lake of the Ozarks.

Templeton said that providing financial incentives to companies that provide combined heating and power systems was one option the legislature should consider next session. While he said other incentives could be considered, "the state budget is under strain so other incentives are not appropriate right now."

A federal judge ruled Monday that State Auditor Susan Montee can't legally audit the state's retirement system for local government workers, LAGERS.

The retirement system had sued Montee's office because they didn't think she had the authority to do a complete audit of LAGERS. The state auditor does review a separate, independent audit of the retirement system every three years.

Montee says she hasn't decided whether to appeal the decision. Several lawmakers have expressed interest in changing state law to allow the auditor's office to check into LAGERS, Montee said.

Two Missouri legislators said private prisons in Missouri have become good options.

Private prisons provide room for prisoners in areas that cannot handle them and economic activity for the community where the facility is located, Rep. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, said.

As of October, there is temporarily one private prison in operation. Previously there were two private prisons, one in Holden and one in Bethany, but now they are both under the same control called Brice Detention and Services. For the transition, Bethany shut down their operations for the time being.

According to a Senate news release, Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, has been appointed as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Last week that Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, is stepping down from the chairmanship to run for state-wide office.

Sen. Nodler's resignation will be effective Monday, Nov. 30. He has served on the committee for all seven years he was a state senator, and chaired the committee for the past two sessions.

Mayer began serving on the appropriations committee in 2004 and was appointed as vice chairman of the committee in 2007.

Missouri's unemployment rate fell two-tenths of a percent in October, as 4,000 more people found work.

The state's jobless rate is now nearly 1 percent below the national average, which sits at 10.2 percent.

The biggest industry winner was in durable goods manufacturing, which gained 2,200 jobs. Transportation and utilities lost 2,800 jobs, while government cut 1,300 workers.

Moody's, which analyzes economic indicators, included Missouri in a list of 11 states emerging from the recession, thanks in part to the state's diverse economy, according to the state Economic Development Department.

It's just the second month this year that the total number of statewide jobs increased. More than 280,000 Missourians remain unemployed.

Last Week

Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, announced Nov. 13 he will step down as chair of the Senate's Appropriations Committee the end of this month.

Nodler, who has announced his candidacy for one of Missouri's U.S. House seats, said he wanted to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.

The committee's vice-chair -- Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter -- will replace Nodler.

The committee switch comes as negotiations begin between administration budget and legislative staff on how much money will be available for legislators to budget in next year's session that begins January

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.