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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of November 23, 2009

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that a Cole County Circuit judge ordered the state to pay $152,000 to a janitorial company that had its contracts with the state terminated for hiring illegal foreign workers.

The contracts were canceled by former Gov. Matt Blunt in 2007 after an evening raid of state offices where the company was providing services.

Judge Richard Callahan ruled the state had breached its contract because the company could not have known that some of its workers were not in the country legally.

Judge Al Rendlen died at the age of 87 in Hannibal on Monday.

He had served on the state's highest court from 1977 to 1992.

He was known as an outspoken conservative justice who often feuded his more liberal colleagues.

Prior to attending law school, Judge Rendlen had served as an Army rifleman in Europe during World War Two. He participated in liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp.

Gov. Jay Nixon and Treasurer Clint Zweifel proposed Tuesday a plan to pay the first year's property tax for lower and middle-income home buyers.

The proposal will be presented to the Missouri Housing Development Commission Dec. 18.

The plan would cover a family making less than $98,000 per year who contract to purchase a new or existing home.

The tax payment would be capped to a maximum of $1,250 -- with another $500 for purchase of energy-efficient appliances.

A news release from the governor's office estimated the program would cover between 9,000 to 11,000 families.

Although the release did not cite a specific cost, it indicated the funding would come from $15 million of available reserve funds of the Housing Development Commission.

Pete Rahn's warning was made to the legislature's Joint Committee on Transportation.

Rahn said the Transportation Department has been able to make major improvements in the state highway system because of recent bonds on federal economy recovery funds.

But the transportation chief said that is one-time money that will run. In a few years, Rahn warned that the department would be unable to even maintain the current improvements.

As opposed to $1.5 billion available this year, Rahn said his agency would have just $421 in five years.

He offered no solutions to the committee. Even the word tax was not used by the committee members until near the end of the hearing.

Last Week

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.