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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of March 29, 2010

Missouri's budget director reported a continued decline in the state's general revenue collections for the month of March.

Nine months into the fiscal year, the administration reported a 13.3 percent decline compared to the prior fiscal year.

The decline is significantly below the administration's revised figures for tax collections for the current fiscal year.

Around 125 positions within the Corrections Department would be eliminated under cuts proposed by the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The cuts would affect prisons across Missouri and would shave almost $4 million dollars off the budget proposed by the House.

In a separate measure, the Senate committee rejected a House proposal to fund health services for inmates with $100 million of expected federal funds. The committee decided to revert to the governor's position, funding the services with money from general revenue.

Both chambers must agree on the same budget proposal before it can be sent to Gov. Jay Nixon.

Republican House members have asked Missouri's Attorney General to file suit against the federal government, according to an Associated Press report.

Rep. Ward Franz has filed a resolution asking Attorney General Chris Koster to file suit against the federal health care legislation or join a similar suit filed by other states.

A spokeswoman in Koester's office said he has not sued, but is watching the situation, the Associated Press reports.

By an overwhelming margin of 63-86, Missouri's House rejected a proposal that would give St. Louis budget and policy control over its police department.

Since the Civil War, the St. Louis Police Department has been under the control of a board nominated by Missouri's governor.

St. Louis officials have urged giving the city control over its police agency, but the idea has run into stiff opposition from some St. Louis police officers.

By an overwhelming margin, Missouri's House gave first-round approval to a measure that would let lawmakers and their staffers carry hidden weapons into legislative chambers -- if they have concealed weapons permits.

Current law allows any member of a governmental body with a concealed weapons permit to carry a weapon into a meeting of that body.

The measure approved by the House would expand the right to the Capitol building as well as committee meetings in the Capitol. It also would extend the right to include legislative staffers who have conceal-and-carry permits.

Approval came just a week after observers reported that two House members had to be restrained from a physical confrontation during House debate.

The deadline to file to run for office in the 2010 elections passed Tuesday.

The Associated Press reported that Rep. Linda Fischer, D-Bonne Terre, will be opposed by her husband John Fischer, who is running as a Republican.

Linda Fischer obtained an order of protection against John Fischer last week the Associated Press reports. Three days later John Fischer filed to run for office.

John Fischer denies that he has ever physically abused his wife and that his running for office has anything to do with the protection order she filed against him.

In other filings, the Democratic Party does not have a candidate opposing U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, a Republican representing Missouri's ninth district. The Columbia Daily Tribune reports that this is the first time a member of the state's Congressional delegation has run without a challenger from the other major party since 1984 when Richard Gephardt ran unopposed.

By an overwhelming margin, Missouri's House approved a measure to require a doctor to offer an ultrasound to a woman before an abortion could be performed.

The measure also requires that a prosecutor be informed in advance before an abortion is performed on a woman under the age of 18.

House approval, by 113, is greater than the 109 votes that would be required to override any veto by the governor.

The measure now heads to the Senate where a Democratic filibuster had stalled action on a similar abortion-restriction measure.

Last Week

With just seven weeks left in the session, the major goals outlined by the governor and legislative leaders at the beginning of the year remain unmet.

Even the subsequent budget-cut agenda identified by the governor has been left unresolved by the legislature.

Besides the budget, issues unresolved include stronger restrictions on conflicts of interest, drunken driving and economic development.

A House committee approved a ethics reform bill Thursday containing provisions removed from a similar bill passed by the Senate last month.

By unanimous vote, the House Ethics Committee approved a bill containing 28 provisions pertaining to conflicts of interest, campaign finance laws and ethical conduct by legislators. The bill was proposed by the committee's chairman, Rep. Kevin Wilson, R-Neosho.

The House bill would cap contributions to campaigns for state office at $5,000, prohibits members of the General Assembly from acting as paid political consultants while they are in office, and makes bribery by elected officials and appointees a class D felony.

These provisions were not contained in the Senate's ethics reform bill, which on March 4 passed the upper chamber 31-0.

Get the newspaper story.

Missouri's House approved by an overwhelming margin a measure that includes expansion of the the so-called "Castle Doctrine" that provides a legal defense for killing an unwanted intruder on one's property.

The House measure would add private property and leased property to the grounds upon which one can use deadly force against an intruder.

What supporters call the "Castle Doctrine" allows one to use physical force to defend against an intruder if the person believes the intruder is or is going to harm them with "unlawful force."

"I don't have a problem with 'Castle Doctrine,'" Kelly said. "People should be able to defend their property. I think a lot of the issues with it are 99 percent perception, and one percent reality."

Get the newspaper story.

Jones charged, pointing his finger at Jeff Roorda. Jones was taken out of the Chamber.

The action was a response to Roorda's words about revisionist history and between House Democrats and Republicans.

Leaders from both parties were arguing over the state budget and the legacy of each party in the budgeting process.

The House gave its first-round approval to a budget for the next fiscal year which Republican leaders said was balanced after a cut to K-12 education.

The House version of the budget is more than $200 million below the budget recommendation submitted by Gov. Jay Nixon in January.

It would cut funding to the K-12 Foundation Formula by $18 million, freezing funds at this year's level, cut nearly $100 million from social services and cut more than $10 million from the agriculture department.

The Transportation Department announced the planned resignation of Pete Rahn to become a vice president of a company involved with one of the department's largest contracts..

Rahn's new company, HNTB, is part of a consortium that won a contract last year to repair and maintain more than 500 bridges across the state.

At the time, the department estimated the value of the contract at nearly $500 million with an ultimate expected cost of $700 million for more than 800 bridges.

HNTB has been involved with planning other projects funded by the Transportation Department during Rahn's time as director.

Rahn's resignation takes effect in April 23.

Gov. Jay Nixon's Economic Development Department director announced plans at Wednesday's Senate working groups to cut the state's $650 million tax credits in half.

Tax credits can mean a loss of revenue to the state. The revenue estimates for the fiscal year have been historically low, causing a growing budget gap. 

In the face of a statewide budget crisis, Missouri senators spent much of Tuesday gathered in small work sessions to have what Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau called "one of the most fascinating and intensely honest discussions this government needs to have."

The eight groups met to review more than 1,500 e-mailed suggestions from Missourians on how to cut the budget. They were reviewed alongside suggestions from legislators and agency officials, some of which already proposed as legislation.

Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, said the process was a more "informal" method of seeking budget solutions, with more of a "give-and-take" between legislators and agency officials than is normally seen in committee hearings.

The Missouri House voted to cut $106 million from the Foundation Formula.

Rep. Maynard Wallace, R-Thornfield, brought the amendment to the floor. He said $106 million expected from general revenue might not come, and it would be impossible to guarantee schools the money.

Wallace had been opposed to underfunding the formula.

"It has to be done," Wallace said. "The absolutely worst thing is to promise schools money they wind up not getting."

Four senators discussed adopting a consolidated health care system, where different state agencies could share medical insurance plans.

Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, says this would result in a $50 million savings.

It also gives state employees greater flexibility in choosing their health coverage.

The break-out session on public safety sought to cut $52 million from this section of the state budget. Missourians from all walks of life came to discuss potential changes. The Senate got 1,500 e-mails with suggestions.

Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Jackson County, led the session and expressed his excitement at all the feedback from the day. Several large money savers were related to cutting costs in prisons and the judicial system.

In a hastily planned news conference, Missouri Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder, a Republican, says he will combine forces with the 13 states' attorneys general suing the federal government in Florida.

Kinder said he does not know how much it would cost the state for him to get involved but that "if you were to spend a few thousand dollars to save hundreds of millions, that's a good bargain."

Kinder did not take questions from reporters and four reporters followed him to elevator where he did answer some questions in regard to his position on the federal healthcare law.

Four Senators presented the need to consolidate schools, services, and administration to the Missouri Senate after a work session Tuesday.

Department mergers, early childhood special education programs, and higher education funding will also be saved for further discussion.

The senators were torn on the need for expansion of virtual schools, but plan to present the topic as part of their "Reboot Missouri" suggestions.

Sens. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, Yvonne Wilson, D-Jackson County, and Rita Days, D-St. Louis County, were a part of the education committee that was one of eight subgroups working during the Senate's attempt to reboot state government.

Senators Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County, Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield, Brad Lager, R-Maryville, and Robin Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis City came up with 5 recommendations for legislation during Tuesday's "Reboot Missouri" workday.

1. A global tax credit cap on the Department of Economic Development. There will be no immediate budget impact until tax credits are spent.

2. Creation of an interim committee to create an Optimal Tax Policy. Everything will be left on the table, including the Flat tax, Fair tax, and other ways to streamline the tax process.

3. Quantify the Sales Tax Exemptions.

4. Give a discount for timely filed electronic tax payments.

5. Improve revenue collection and tighten enforcement of delinquent tax collections.

By voice vote and without opponents being allowed to voice objections, the House approved a measure that imposes additional requirements on abortions.

In addition, the measure would require a health care provider notify a local prosecutor if a woman under the age of 18 seeks an abortion, unless the minor had a court-ordered consent.

One Democratic member of the House complained that the House presiding officer refused to recognize him when he rose to raise objections to the bill.

The measure faces one more House vote before moving to the Senate.

Through tears, a former vice president of a St. Charles County credit union told her story of being fired in 2000 because she was gay. She said she had just received two large bonuses for meeting goals but soon after was fired for "bad business decisions."

"I'd have to say that this is probably the most humiliating and embarrassing thing that's ever happened to me in my life," Heidi Martin said. "I suffered about a year of extreme depression over this."

Her testimony came during a bill hearing by the House Urban Issues committee. The bill would add sexual orientation as a category protected under the Missouri Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in the areas of employment, public accommodation and housing.

Kansas City Democratic Representative Mike Talboy says he wanted to have a discussion with the sponsor regarding the bill, but was ignored by the chair.

The bill would make coercion illegal, require abortions performed on minors to be reported to the prosecuting attorney in both the county the abortion takes place and the county the minor lives in, and would impose further implied consent to be given at least 24 hours before the abortion is performed.

Talboy says other Democratic Representatives wanted to speak but sat down as they saw him standing there the entire time.

The bill will go before the House again before it can move onto the Senate.

Just one day after the U.S. House of Representatives passed its landmark healthcare legislation after negotiations with anti-abortion Democrats, state senators pushed a bill through committee to impose additional restrictions on health-insurance abortion coverage.

In a rare move, members of the Insurance Committee voted immediately after testimony to advance a bill that would prevent consumers from purchasing optional insurance that would cover abortions. Current Missouri law restricts abortion insurance coverage to optional riders, or a health insurance plan to which someone can opt in.

The Senate bill would extend that restriction to include this optional health insurance coverage, specifically for abortions.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County, said the issue became even more relevant with the passage of federal healthcare legislation Sunday. In order to win over anti-abortion Democrats, Pres. Barack Obama agreed to issue an executive order providing that no funds from the federal bill could be used to pay for abortions.

Rupp said that agreement is not forceful enough.

The Missouri Senate received more than 1500 e-mails in its campaign to cut spending in state government.

Committees are set to review the e-mails and propose ideas Tuesday to deal with the largest budget gap in recent memory.

House Democrats are preparing a flurry of amendments as the House begins its debate of next year's budget on Tuesday, said Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia.

The committee responsible for sending the budget to the floor approved it Monday, but the vote was split according to party lines, with Democrats unanimously opposed to it because of concerns that it is not balanced, said Kelly, who sits on the House Budget Committee.

Rep. Leonard Hughes, D-Jackson County, who also sits on the committee, said he was not pleased with the budget that came out of it.

Asked whether he thought the final House vote on the budget would be split along party lines, as it was in the Rules Committee on Monday, Hughes said, "Refer to history and let that be your guide."

Members of the Senate Governmental Organization Committee cut down a bill Monday that would have created a commission to recommend consolidating state agencies' health care plans into a single statewide division.

The University of Missouri System had opposed a similar bill earlier this month. System representatives said the system has lower premiums than other state agencies and wanted to keep them that way.

The committee tied, 4-4, but ties mean bills go down.