Martin Swant
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Martin Swant

Martin is a senior print journalism major and political science minor from Minneapolis, Minn. He's the Liberties beat reporter for Missouri Digital News and the Columbia Missourian. This is Martin's first semester reporting from the Missouri statehouse, but over the past three years he's covered politics on the city, state and international level. In 2008, Martin interned with Reuters at the news agency's bureau in Brussels, Belgium. He also reported for the Columbia Missourian during the past two summers, and in 2007 interned with Press Publications--a group of newspapers based in the Minneapolis area.

Stories by Martin Swant in 2010 include:
Martin Swant's Blog in 2010
More info about voter ID legislation

Posted 04/19/2010:  The House gave first-round approval on Wednesday to a bill that would require voters to present a government-issued photo ID when casting their ballot. This would be required for general elections and also primary elections. However, there would be some exemptions, said Rep. John Diehl, R-St. Louis County, such as for religious reasons or financial hardship. In that case, voters would be asked to sign an affidavit that states their reasons for objecting to the identification requirement.

The legislation wouldn't go into effect until 2012, Diehl said, which would give voters enough time to get the appropriate documents.

Bingo legislation would help local organizations stay open
Posted 03/17/2010: 

The Senate Ways and Means Committee heard a bill on Monday that would relax restrictions on Missouri's bingo halls.

Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, said he sponsored the legislation on behalf of the American Legion chapter in his city. Although the chapter's existed for 14 years, he said times are difficult.

"It's just tougher and tougher for them to stay in business," he said.

Allowing bingo events more frequently would help generate more money to the organization and help it be more competitive.

Read the full story.

More info on the health care hearing
Posted 03/05/2010:  A Senate committee heard SB 715 on Monday, which could consolidate the UM System's health care plan with the program used by the rest of Missouri state employees. As reported in a story from Monday, the university stands strongly opposed to the legislation, and provided a document with some of the reasons why, as well as a list of the effects it would have for the university. Within the document was a comparison of insurance premium levels for UM System employees vs. state employees under the Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan (MCHCP). Here's the statistics according to representatives of the university, as recorded in the document:


Coverage Level                  UM Premiums              MCHCP

Employee                                  $396                      $482 to $507

Employee + Spouse                    $875                       $1,178 to $1,231

Employee + Child(ren)                $671                       $821 to $852  

Family                                       $1,145                     $1,517 to $1,577         "

According to the university, "UM medical plan costs would increase $55-$62 million per year."

However, some, such as Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, said they think the numbers projected by the UM System in regards to MCHCP costs might be higher than they actually are.

Petition process through SOS, AG and audior office all modified under proposed legislation
Posted 02/26/2010:  Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, said there were some obstacles that petitioners now face as their petition moves through the offices of the Secretary of State, Attorney General and auditor. Every inefficiency in the process takes away from the chance to gather enough signatures, he said That's why he sponsored SB 818, which he hopes would "streamline" the petition process.

"It's an important part of our process in Missouri," he said of the ability of residents to modify the constitution through petitioning for a ballot initiative.

A citizen's referendum or initiative can get caught up in any of these offices under current statute. For example, it's quite easy for an opponent of a petition to stall the sponsor from gathering the amount of signatures needed to get the referendum or initiative on the November ballot--Anyone who opposes it could just file a lawsuit, which could target several parts of the petition.

"Usually it has to do with the title not being clear," Lembke said. "So it's really challenging the title, or you know, maybe challenging the fiscal note, or any aspect. The point is that an opponent is all they have to do is file a lawsuit and then they tie the thing up."

The other problem he said is that sometimes it takes a long time for the secretary of state's office to get through with the final wording, which takes away from the time petitioners have to gather signatures. And for whatever wording is used, even the most minute detail changed would void all signatures.

"Because under current law," he said. "If that ballot language changes one comma, one word, those signatures that you gathered under, during that time or under that ballot title are void."

He says by fixing the process, "voters won't be disenfranchised."

Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Jackson County, was the only member of the Senate Elections committee to vote against passing the bill. She said the process does need to be changed, but says some details and direction need to be reexamined.

Read Monday's story about the bill here.

House commitee discusses several small ways to save money
Posted 02/18/2010:  Along with passing a bill on Wednesday that would freeze per diem rates for legislators at September 2009 levels, the House Administration and Accounts Committee also discussed other ways to be more frugal. The Committee thought of several ways to save on daily expenses, many of which were also proposed at the General Administration Appropriations Committee immediately before, Rep. Chuck Gatschenberger, R-Lake St. Louis, said.

At the hearing, Administration and Accounts Committee chair Kenny Jones, R-Clarksburg, said one way to cut back might be to reduce the amount of journals representatives receive each day. He said a copy is placed on his desk and in his mailbox, and inquired as to whether there is a way to just receive one.

Cutting back on the number of journals might be tricky, Chief Clerk Adam Crumbliss said, because their distribution is historical--the House cannot conduct business until every member receives a copy.

Committee members also discussed the possibility of foregoing free water and coffee. Jones said he's seen a lot of beverages wasted during hearings. Every committee hearing has a water dispenser and carafe of coffee, which often remains full at the end of the day but needs to be thrown out. Only two of the legislators at Wednesday's hearing had any beverage in front of them, and neither was one of the free choices provided.

Jones also joked about saving money on water utilities if people drank less coffee, since people would use the bathroom less.