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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of April 12, 2010

Opponents to an abortion-restriction bill agreed Thursday to allow a vote on a measure to impose additional requirements to get an abortion.

The measure would require additional information be provided to a woman before an abortion can be performed.

One of the leading opponents to the bill, Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, said she did not filibuster the bill because of the possibility supporters would approve a motion to shut-off debate and pass a much stronger bill.

Missouri's Senate passed and sent the Senate a measure that would remove a state prison sentence as a penalty for some non-violent, first-time felony offenders.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Jackson County, said the measure would cut the prison population by about 2,000 in two years and allow closing a state prison, saving about $26 million.

"You're going to make the state a saver place, if we're not sending low-level offenders to go with the hardened rapists, the murderers and the people that are repeat offenders over and over again," Bartle said.

"Most of these offense are drug and alcohol related," Bartle said about the offenders who would be covered by his bill. "If we send them up there, it's the stupidest thing we can do because we go from a 19 percent recidivism rate to 41 percent."

But one critic charged the measure would lead to overcrowding some county jails.

"These counties, these smaller counties, can't absorb these extra prisoners," warned Sen. John Griesheimer, R-Washington.

Another critic, Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, argued that some child-sex offenders would avoid state prisoners.

"Sexual misconduct with a child is a D felony under this bill, but if you commit that, unless you've got two prior convictions, you aren't going to the Department of Corrections," Schaefer said. "And I do not think that is right because that is a danger to our society."

The Senate passed the bill with the bare minimum 18 votes needed for passage.

In early February, the state's Supreme Court chief justice had urged lawmakers in the annual State of the Judiciary address to consider exempting some first-time, non-violent offenders.

The Ellis Fischel Cancer Center has another chance to receive funding for its new cancer facility.

On Thursday, the House Budget Committee approved re-appropriating $31 million needed to build a new facility for Ellis Fischel. The money had been withheld from appropriations by Gov. Jay Nixon in fiscal year 2010.

The money made available under the re-appropriation comes from a a two-year $350 million construction bill that was created last year according to House Budget Chairman Allen Icet, R-St. Louis County. The re-appropriation bill takes yet-to-be appropriated money from many bills and combines them into a single piece of legislation.

His given name was Buford Wayne Robinson, but everyone at the Capitol knew him simply as B.W.

Robinson, a Senate doorkeeper since the early 1980s and one of the state's oldest employees on record, died Tuesday evening. He was 93.

"B.W. is a guy that had a thirst of life and brought that energy into a Senate chamber that at times can be very heated, can be very long days," Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau said. "He was just that guy that--Republican, Democrat; urban, rural; pro-life, pro choice--it didn't matter where the divides were. He could kinda take the tension off."

The measure is inspired by a pregnant Michigan woman who was convicted of manslaughter after killing a man who punched her in the stomach.

That case was later overturned on appeal.

House Democrats argued that all women already had the right to defend themselves against an attacker, regardless of whether or not they are pregnant.

House Republicans said the bill closes a loophole in Missouri law.

"There is never a time when it should be OK for a prosecutor or the judicial system to convict a woman for protecting her unborn baby," said Rep. Brian Nieves, R- Washington.

The House gave first-round approval to a voter ID bill that was declared unconstitutional by the Missouri Supreme Court in 2006.

The bill would require voters have a government-issued photo identification before casting a ballot.

Some Democrats said the new ID requirement would reinstate pre-civil rights movement laws aimed at blocking racial integration and black enfranchisement.

"It's no less shameful than the poll taxes and the Jim Crow laws that we once had in this country," said Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart.

The Senate reversed course Wednesday and voted to restore nearly $15 million that had been cut from the higher education budget, essentially assuring Gov. Jay Nixon's tuition-freeze deal reached with Missouri's public colleges.

"It's a done deal," said Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia.

The Senate Appropriations Committee, on which Schaefer serves, had stripped the money last week as part of its effort to cut $500 million from next year's budget.

The Senate earlier voted to restore funding to the Career Ladder program for next year, but legislation approved by the Senate Tuesday would suspend state funding for the program for the following year.

Legislation to crack down on drunken drivers passed the Missouri House Wednesday.

Bill sponsor, Rep. Bryan Stevenson (R-Webb City) admitted the bill isn't perfect, but he said the bill needs to move on to the Senate to have a chance of passing.

Last week, House members approved several amendments, which repealed many of the provisions in the original bill language.

One from Rep. Mike Colona (D-St. Louis) allows first-time DWI offenders to keep the conviction off their records. Also added, the most controversial component of the bill, which would allow police to collect blood samples from DWI suspects without a warrant.

Governor Nixon ignored part of an education budget bill on Tuesday, saying it it unconstitutional.

The bill tried to change state law through a budget bill which is unconstitutional in Missouri.

Nixon says the bill wanted to protect some schools from state budget cuts.

Legislators say Nixon didn't have the right to do that and should have left the constitutionality up to the courts.

Some Senators say they want to sue Nixon for changing their bill.

Republican legislative budget leaders attacked the governor for a statement he attached in signing an appropriations bill that provides additional funding for public schools for the remainder of the current fiscal year that ends June 30.

In signing the bill, Nixon rejected language the legislature had added to override current law governing how school funds are divided among school districts.

Nixon declared the language "legal surplusage and beyond the constitutional authority of the General Assembly."

Nixon proclaimed the Education Department would ignore the language.

But his stance was immediately attacked by Republican legislators the next day.

"That's pretty harsh action on his part, really unacceptable," said the normally mild mannered Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, Rob Mayer, R-Dexter.

In a marathon day-long session that lasted until the late evening, Missouri's Senate approved Tuesday a package of bills that would substantially reduce on-going state budget obligations.

The upper chamber advanced plans to consolidate government agencies, cut teacher benefits, cut school funding and reduce prison populations in an effort to address budget shortfalls expected to approach $1 billion in the next two years.

The various measures were given first round approval the day before the Senate is expected to take up a budget plan for the next fiscal year that would cut $500 million from the governor's original spending plan presented to lawmakers in January.

Attorney General Chris Koster was absent from a House general laws committee hearing which discussed a resolution that would call on him to sue the federal government for violating the constitution with its passage of health care legislation. The attorney general was not available for comment on Tuesday.

Koster had previously said he will look into the matter. But at the hearing on Tuesday, resolution sponsor Rep.Ward Franz, R-Howell, said Koster has said he will not pursue a lawsuit against the federal government.

Franz's resolution would make Missouri the fifteenth state to oppose recent federal health care legislation by challenging the constitutionality of the bill.It would call on Koster to either make the state a party to an existing suit--currently consisting of 13 states--or independently filing suit like Virginia is in the process of doing.

The House perfected Chris Kelly's, D-Columbia, bill that will allow voters to decide spending of funds collected from a central fire and emergency dispatching services tax.

Kelly said it would allow more flexibility for fire districts to spend money on items like emergency radios. The original fund was created to develop a fund to set up joint dispatching services.

The House Ethics Committee approved provisions to impose a limit on how much legislators can take from lobbyists.

The measure would impose a $1,000 per year limit on a legislator accepting gifts or other things of value from a lobbyist.

The measure also would impose a one-year ban before a legislator could work as a lobbyist after leaving office.

Earlier this year, the Senate had stripped any restrictions on lobbying from its ethics bill.

The Tea Party of America gathered on the steps of the capitol building this morning to rally together in support of less government.

Michael Reagan spoke as a supporter of the party.

Onlookers cheered and discussed their excitement for the upcoming voting in November.

The Senate perfected a bill that would increase retirement ages and require new state employee's to contribute four percent to their pension plan.

The bill would require school districts to create a written policy that would govern student teacher communications, including on social networking sites.

The ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee described the budget that will be taken up by the Senate Wednesday as "ugly" but said the committee had no choice.

"If the money's not there, we don't have a credit card," said Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County.

Nearly $300 million separates the House and Senate versions of the budget and committee leaders think the conference between two chambers, following the Senate's passage of the budget, could be more difficult than debate on the Senate floor.

The woman pleaded guilty to theft in 2008 and repaid nearly $18,000, but a recent state audit accuses her of taking an additional $90,000.

State Auditor Susan Montee says the Veterans Commission has filed for bond payment and unless the Cole County Prosecutor takes action the woman will get to walk away with the money.

Cole County Prosecutor Matt Richardson says once the case of theft has been concluded it can not be reopened.

Missouri gained 7,200 jobs in March, changing the unemployment rate little, according to a Missouri Department of Economic Development release.

Missouri's unemployment rate rose a tenth of a point to 9.5 percent this month. The national rate is at 9.7 percent.

Most of the jobs were in construction and leisure and hospitality. The Economic Development Department attributed this partly to a new casino in the St. Louis area and better weather. Census workers and tax processors also added some numbers.

Last Week

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a spending plan that adds another $300 million to the approximately $200 million in cuts approved earlier by the House to the governor's spending plan.

After the governor had presented his budget to lawmakers in January, he announced last month that he had concluded that his plan needed to be trimmed by about $500 million because of continued declines in state tax collections and uncertainties concerning federal funds.

While Nixon never presented lawmakers with a detailed plan on how to make those cuts, his budget director did work with the Senate Appropriations Committee chair in developing a list of potential reductions.

The Senate plan now goes to the full Senate.

Mark McGwire name graces a piece of St. Louis piece of the I-70.

But if a bill in the House passes, his name would be replaced by Mark Twain.

The legislation already passed through the Senate.

By an overwhelming majority, the House has passed a bill which provides definitions for cyberbullying.

The definitions include use of the Internet to harass or intimidate students and allows offenses to be more quickly targeted as bullying.

The bill also gives greater immunity to teachers enforcing school discipline.

In a voice vote, the Missouri House gave first-round approval to statewide DWI reform bill.

Members added several amendments. One, from Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, essentially repeals many of the original ideas in the bill. Colona's amendment would allow first-time DWI offenders to keep the conviction off their record. Also, the amendment calls for allowing those who complete DWI court programs to recant a guilty plea. Colona said this will give offenders more incentive to participate in DWI courts.

Bill sponsor, Rep. Bryan Stevenson R-Webb City, said going through DWI courts is necessary for repeat DWI offenders. He spoke of his cousin who has gotten four DWIs.

"It's very traumatic for him. It's very traumatic for the family," said Stevenson. "And in those types of situations, it's an addiction, and there needs to be treatment."

After a lengthy debate, House members also approved an amendment that would allow police to collect blood samples from DWI suspects without a warrant.

Speaking in Columbia one day after a Senate committee proposed new cuts to higher education, Gov. Jay Nixon affirmed his support for a tuition deal reached with Missouri's public colleges in November.

"I'll do everything within my power to make sure that we uphold that deal," Nixon said.

Next week the University of Missouri Board of Curators will set tuition for its four campuses next year, and MU Chancellor Brady Deaton said MU will recommend that the curators stick to the plan to freeze in-state undergraduate tuition.

"We're honoring that and feel good about it," Deaton said.

Boone County could add storm water runoff damage and old tires to its nuisance reduction ordinance, under legislation heard by the House Crime Prevention Committee on Wednesday.

The bill allowing the expansion cleared the Senate late last month.

"Waste tires are always a problem in every county because water gets in them," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia. The collected water can cause mosquito and health problems.

Schaefer said Boone county officials came to him asking for old tires and storm water runoff damage to be added to the list of items under the nuisance ordinance, which already includes items such as "derelict" vehicles, garbage and excessive weeds.

The Manufacturing Jobs Act would reward manufacturing companies for creating or retaining Missouri jobs.

The bill proposes decreasing those companies' tax withholdings by half if they meet all requirements.

After passing the House, it now moves on to the Senate and should be voted on in committee sometime next week.

If it passes committee and the Senate, it would need Governor Nixon's signature to become law.

Governor Jay Nixon detailed the state's progress in refocusing the scope of state government.

Nixon said the budget process has been difficult but that he's worked diligently with members of both parties and from both the House and the Senate.

He denied any charges of not being transparent in his approach to negotiations over budget cuts.

The governor once again proposed merging and making more leaner some state departments.

The examples the governor gave were merging the Highway Patrol and Water Patrol into one department as well as creating a Department of Education by dissolving the Departments of Higher Education and Elementary and Secondary Education.

Opponents teamed up against a plan to merge the Missouri State Highway Patrol and Water Patrol that Gov. Nixon is pushing.

The House Public Safety Committee heard testimony on the bill. The plan would save $2 to $3 million annually by cutting duplication between departments, a Department of Public Safety Department spokesperson said.

But the bill's fiscal note shows "unknown" cost savings, and the committee's chairman, Rep. Mark Bruns, R-Jefferson City, said without real cost cutting, the measure will stay in rough waters.

The plan would allow water patrolmen to work on the highways during the winter, the Water Patrol's off season. Highway Patrol troopers would help the Water Patrol on the waterways in the summer.

But that's "looking for disaster," unless the state pays for costly training, a former Water Patrol commissioner said.

The Springfield News-Leader has released a four-page list of proposed budget cuts provided by the Missouri administration's budget director.

The list would reach the $500 million the governor has said needs to be cut from the budget recommendations he presented to lawmakers in January.

Although acknowledging his budget plan needs to be cut, Jay Nixon has not publicly presented a revised budget to the legislature.

The list of "potential reductions" released by the state budget director came after requests from reporters concerning a list mentioned by the Senate Appropriations Committee chair, according to the News-Leader.

A spokesperson for the governor said list of cuts emerged from discussions between the budget director and the Senate Appropriations Committee chair.

COLUMBIA - Columbia voters approved a plan Tuesday to allow law enforcement to put security cameras on downtown streets.

The camera plan got 11,093 votes, or 59 percent.

Karen Taylor, whose son Adam was attacked in a downtown Columbia parking garage last summer, headed the plan to install the cameras. Police were able to track down Adam Taylor's attackers because of security camera footage in the garage.

"In a perfect world, I wouldn't want cameras, either," Karen Taylor said. "But we don't live in a perfect world, and that rang true to my family last June 6."

Opponents feared "Big Brother" watching over them downtown.

"I think it's a shame people are willing to surrender their liberties because of a little crime in town ... OK, a lot of crime in town," mayoral candidate Paul Love said in an interview with KCOU/88.1 FM, the University of Missouri's student radio station.

The Columbia City Council had opposed the plan, forcing Taylor's group of camera supporters to gather petition signatures to get the measure on Tuesday's ballot.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, denied any of his anti-surveillance colleagues in Jefferson City would try to pass legislation preventing the cameras from going up.

Starting with a bill to target education infrastructure, the Missouri house heard debate Tuesday evening concerning amendments to add ballroom dancing to physical education programs and open enrollment for students on HB 1543.

Earlier in the session, two bills were passed that encompassed similar ideas as both the ballroom dancing and open enrollment amendments.

The ballroom dancing amendment died, but the open enrollment amendment is still pending.

The in-state tuition freeze deal struck between Gov. Nixon and Missouri Higher Education could be undermined by a new budget cut, according to Senate budget leaders.

The cut, proposed by Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, was discussed Tuesday in a Senate Appropriations Committee meeting.

"The reason why we discussed it is because we're trying to come up with $500 million," Mayer said, referring to the large deficit left in the fiscal year 2011 budget.

The House and the Senate have passed individual bills mandating insurance coverage for applied behavioral analysis therapy to treat autism spectrum disorders. A cost difference divides the two bills, with the House setting a $36,000 annual cap for treatment while the Senate bill would cap treatment at $55,000.

The two bills also differ on an age limit for coverage, with the House bill requiring coverage until age 18 and the Senate until 21. Additionally, the House bill establishes licensure requirements for therapists, while the Senate version does not.