From Missouri Digital News:
MDN Menu

MDN Home

Journalist's Creed


MDN Help

MDN.ORG: Missouri Digital News
MDN Menu

MDN Home

Journalist's Creed


MDN Help

MDN.ORG Mo. Digital News Missouri Digital News MDN.ORG: Mo. Digital News MDN.ORG: Missouri Digital News
Lobbyist Money Help  
NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of April 4, 2011

It was not a Democrat, but in fact a Republican, that filibustered Sen. Brad Lager's (R-Savannah) bill to give firefighters the ability to participate in political campaigns.

Sen. Luanne Ridgeway (R-Clay County)filibustered the bill on the Senate floor.

Ridgeway said she opposed giving firefighters the right to engage in politics because it could create for them a conflict of interest.

"You want to know that if you're the mayor of a town and you have your house on fire [if] the firefighters are campaigning against you," said Ridgeway.

Lager said it was more important to grant firefighters their "fundamental right" to engage in politics.

"You should have the opportunity to be part of the process that our Founding Fathers put in place," said Lager.

Also under the bill, local municipalities would decide whether or not their firefighters should have the right run for office.

The Senate did not vote on the matter and the bill was placed on it's informal calendar.

Several Republican Senators ended their filibuster Thursday afternoon against a plan to extend unemployment benefits for Missourians from 79 to 99 weeks.

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis, and his supporters ended the filibuster after meeting with Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter.

The two sides agreed upon a deal requiring the Senate Appropriations Committee find $250 million in federal stimulus money to send back to the federal government.

The comprise also included an amendment to the bill, which lowers state unemployment benefits from a maximum of 26 to 20 weeks.

After ending the filibuster, Sen. Lembke called the agreement a great victory for Missouri taxpayers.

"I won, I won, my goal from the beginning was to send back as much stimulus money as possible, borrowed money from the federal government, and that's what we accomplished today," Lembke said.

The bill is scheduled to be heard in the fiscal oversight committee on Monday, it needs a final vote in the Senate before it moves on to the House.

With a possible federal shutdown looming, Missouri lawmakers are waiting to take precautions until more information from Washington is released.

The closure of the Capitol's activities would come as the deadline for the budget debate in Congress expires this Friday. If a budget plan is not completed, federal buildings won't have the money to even turn on their lights.

As of November 2010 there were 110, 562 federal employees and retirees in Missouri, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Labor. Many of these people are employed in the military, which means if the government shuts down they will not receive paychecks until a budget is decided on.

This could last for as short as a few days to as long as several months. The last shutdown occurred in the mid 1990s and lasted for three weeks.

Linda Luebbering, the State Budget Director, said the effects in Missouri could depend on which Missouri programs are effected.

"Until the federal government gives us more information on what programs are impacted, it's challenging to plan because we receive federal money in buckets," Luebbering said. "What bucket they decide to cut absolutely has to be known before we can do specific planning."

In Missouri, specific federally funded areas of the state, such as national parks, would be closed and projects put on hold. This would include large scale construction projects waiting for EPA approval as well as MoDot projects that are funded partially by the federal government.

Get the print story here

The Senate Bill has passed in both the House and Senate and is on its way for Gov. Jay Nixon to sign.

If the Governor signs this bill it will be the first bill he has approved all legislative session.

The tax will diminish within the upcoming five years until it is completely phased out for fiscal year 2016.

The House voted 105-51 on the bill Wed.

Sponsor of the Corporate Franchise Tax bill also known as Senate Bill 19, is R-St. Louis County, Eric Schmitt.

According to Schmitt, Missouri is one of the few states still with a corporate income tax.

"It is really a disincentive to invest or to expand in Missouri so we thought it was time for this antiquated tax to be phased out over five years," said Schmitt.

Supporters also say eliminating this tax will make Missouri more attractive to businesses and encourage them to expand without the concern of being taxed for working within the state.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce noted Missouri at a disadvantage to neighboring states who do not have both a corporate franchise tax and a corporate income tax. States with no corporate franchise tax include Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio and Texas. Idaho and Nebraska have the choice to either pay a corporate income tax or a franchise tax not both.

If the Governor signs this legislation, Missouri will follow a similar path to Kansas who will have phased out the tax completely by this year.

However, opponents of the bill say eliminating this tax will affect all Missourians because there will be millions lost for the state.

The Corporate Franchise Tax produced $87.5 million for Missouri in fiscal year 2009.

The opponents, who are a majority of Democrats, say there is a no promise of more business in Missouri.

According to Democratic Floor Leader, Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County, phasing the tax out will put Missouri in a $84 million shortfall.

"By the sponsor's own words, has no idea if it's going to come in. I think that's a dangerous game to play especially in this economic time," said Talboy.

However, Budget Committee Chair, Republican Rep. Ryan Silvey said the budget had been perfected for this type of phase out.

Silvey also said the phase out will not take effect until 2013, and by then he said more businesses will have expanded.

Senate Bill 19 is the first of the "Fix the Six" initiative to pass. The Missouri Chamber of Commerce along with other corporate groups have put together the "Fix the Six" agenda earlier this legislative session. The purpose of the six-part initiative is to reinvigorate state business in Missouri.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce has been pushing for the phase out of franchise taxes more than a decade.

Currently, businesses will only be taxed if they make more than $10 million. Opponents also said this is discriminatory against businesses in different areas, specifically urban versus rural.

Talboy said Corporate Income Tax maybe next on the chopping block to bring in more business.

"It's another debate that we have heard on the floor for a couple of years and I think we are the lowest of the state's that have a corporate income tax, and the only state's that are beating us are state's with no corporate income tax," said Talboy.

Supporters say this bill allows business owners to operate according to their moral and religious code and can refuse selling drugs like Plan B if it induces an abortion.

This bill also requires doctors to give women more information about abortion-inducing drugs before distributing the drugs.

Rep. Rory Ellinger D-St. Louis opposes the bill.

"I speak as a father and a husband. I would certainly hope that my wife and daughter would have this choice, particularly in the case with rape or some horrible example like that."

He says this bill is a violation of a women's privacy.

Rep. Stacey Newman D-St. Louis opposes the bill for reasons similar to Ellinger's

"If your belief is that women on their own cannot make intelligent family planning decisions, then you vote yes on this bill."

Not a single Republican opposed the bill.

The bill goes to the Senate next.

Just weeks after the House passed legislation restricting late-term abortions, the Missouri Senate passed a similar bill that would require doctors to determine a fetus's viability if a woman wants to get an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Before performing an abortion on a viable fetus, doctors would have to get a second opinion from another physician.

Opponents of the bill, like Jackson Democratic Senator Jolie Justus, argued lawmakers should not interfere with a family's decision to carry to term a fetus older than 20 weeks with a fatal abnormality.

She said, "What [legislators] are doing is basically interfering with the practice of medicine by passing this bill, because this is a decision doctors should be making with their families, and we should not be interfering with that here in the legislature."

Justus said this legislation is a waste of time, as usually, abortions after 20 weeks typically are not done on viable fetuses.

"This bill affects abortions that take place after 20 weeks. In 2009, there were 63 of those abortions in the state of Missouri. Every one of those abortions was on a non-viable fetus," she said.

Despite opposition, the bill passed out of the Senate by a vote of 27 to 5 with no floor debate.

Dexter Republican Senator and bill sponsor Rob Mayer has been working on late-term abortion legislation for years.

He said, "We are very pleased it was third read and passed out of the Senate. It makes sure, in most cases, viable children are saved from abortion."

Under the bill, doctors would be guilty of a Class C felony if he or she performs a late-term abortion without seeking a second doctor's opinion on the fetus's viability.

By voice vote, Missouri's House gave first-round approval Thursday [April 6] to a measure that would provide a package of tax breaks to businesses developing an air-transport hub with China in St. Louis.

The measure would extend tax credits and other corporate tax breaks over a 16-year period. Legislative staff report it could cost a total of up to $480 million in lost taxes.

The bill's sponsor is a rural mid-Missouri Republican who was asked why he supported a bill affecting St. Louis.

"This bill affects the entire state, not just the St. Louis area, not just any one area. It's going to create demand for all of Missouri and their products and goods," said Rep. Caleb Jones, R-California.

"The folks from my district are going to be able to load up cattle and drive to St. Louis and drop their cattle off and have them in China the next day," Jones told his House colleagues during the House debate.

But the measure likely will face strong opposition in the Senate.

"The American economy is being rocked by a trade war that was started by China through their manipulation of their currency," said Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, after hearing of the House vote.

"Does the state of Missouri really want to start spending state taxpayer dollars to continue those trade imbalances," Crowell asked.

Crowell has been the leader in near filibusters to block extending business-development tax breaks arguing the state needs stronger assurances that tax breaks for business actually produce sufficient economic benefits.

With the first chamber vote involving a redistricting plan, Missouri's representatives voted mostly along party lines and with limited debate Wednesday to pass a map that eliminates a St. Louis congressional district held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan.

The Republican-led effort in the House resulted in a 106-53 vote approving the proposal, just two votes away from a two-thirds majority needed to supersede a veto by the Governor should he choose to do so once the maps are finalized.

House Redistricting Committee Chairman Rep. John Diehl, R-St. Louis County, said that even though not everyone was happy with the result, the redistricting process was fair and the map was the best proposal for the new districts.

"Even with the challenge we faced, we committed to all to complete this process in a fair, open and transparent matter that ensured adequate representation for all Missourians," Diehl said. "The map may not completely satisfy everyone, but it is complete and contiguous."

Democratic Floor Leader Rep. Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County, said that despite Carnahan being "targeted" through the elimination of his district, Democrats could not fight a majority vote by Republicans. Instead, Talboy said, they would have to wait until the Senate finished with its proposal to see the final district layout.

Senate Republicans say they are ready to negotiate with the governor and end the filibuster over unemployment benefits subsidized by federal stimulus money.

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, said he is not targeting the unemployed citizens of Missouri, and instead is trying to send a message to the federal government. He said if the governor will agree to send $300 million of the $570 million of stimulus money already allocated to the state back to Washington, then they would end the filibuster.

"I think it is important not only for Missouri, I think it is important for all states, to stand up and say to the federal government, ‘we are not willing to be accomplices in your overspending and you piling debt on this nation and on this generation and the next," Lembke said.

Democrats are concerned that if the money does not stay in Missouri, then it will go to other states instead of paying down the federal debt.

"These are already dollars that people of Missouri have paid into the system, the federal government has authorized those dollars to be sent to Missouri and we are essentially saying no and sending them back to the federal government and it is just going to go to somewhere else," Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Jackson County, said.

After repeated attempts to contact the governor or his staff, a press release was issued saying he would continue to support the unemployed citizens of Missouri.

During an interview, State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal called St. Louis Businessman, Rex Sinquefield, a plantation owner when talking about the St. Louis police control bill.

Chappelle-Nadal explained her comments as being directed toward an African-American audience.

She says that there are people who have been personally attacking her over the issue, but says she hopes for a respectful and substantive discussion moving forward.

Jefferson City residents overwhelmingly voted Tuesday to keep their current curbside trash and recycling pickup.

Election results from the Cole County clerk's office indicate 5,669 voters, or 74.5 percent, approved maintaining the system. Only 1,961 people, or 25.5 percent, disapproved.

The system has been in place since 2009, when the City Council voted to add recycling, decrease the number of pickup days per week from two to one, and add a few dollars onto the cost. Jefferson City residents pay about $15 a month per household.

Opponents said it wasn't right to pay more for less service. Supporters of the current system said those opposed didn't have a backup plan for trash pickup.

A resolution that would give the state the option of opting out of certain federal laws was filibustered by Senate Democrats Tuesday.

Sen. Jolie Justus (D-Jackson County) and Sen. Victor Callahan (D-Jackson County) stalled the vote the resolution that would give the state the option of enforcing laws that would restrict gun rights, allow for same-sex marriage, or legalize abortion.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Brian Nieves (R-Washington), said on the Senate floor the measure would keep the federal government in check.

But Nieves also said if passed, "probably nothing changes" in the way the state government functions.

After nearly an hour of discussion, the Senate voted to place the bill on the informal calendar.

The House Redistricting Committee approved plans for redrawing congressional district lines, including eliminating Democratic Rep. Russ Carnahan's south St. Louis district and splitting suburban Kansas City.

That's because Missouri's population didn't grow as quickly as other states. As a result, it's losing a congressional seat, which requires a change of district lines around the state. Those include the lines around Kansas City in Jackson County, where Donna Turk lives.

"The situation is both the Senate and the House maps, carve up Jackson County like a Christmas turkey," Turk said.

Turk says the proposed plan will make the new districts uncompetitive. She says it will carve out all the Republican votes out of Jackson County and make the remaining 5th district essentially guaranteed to be Democratic.

Another place it affects is Jefferson County, a suburb of St. Louis. The county is currently entirely in the third district, held by Russ Carnahan.

But the proposed change would get rid of the district and divide the county between three others.

”But as we look on it now, we’re in a unique situation. If we have three representatives, we can call all three up," Jefferson County Executive Ken Waller said.

The map now goes to the House.

Director of the Missouri State Teacher Association, Mike Wood said teacher tenure is a protection that should be offered to teachers from being fired for arbitrary reasons.

However, the sponsor of the bill is St. Louis County is Representative Jane Cunningham.

Cunningham pulled up a chart with two lines.

The red diagonal line represented the increasing amount of money given to get up Missouri test scores, and the second was the very flat line showing the improvement in test scores.

Cunningham said eliminating teacher tenure is one of the reforms that Representative Scott Deckhouse and herself have come up with.

Another reform within the bill was performance based salary which rewards teachers for better test scores and evaluations.

However, opposition said this type of merit based salary could affect the relationship between teachers.

Wood said it’s ridiculous.

"To put teachers across the hallway in competition with each other for increases of salary at their expense just doesn't lend itself to being conducive in a learning environment," said Wood.”

Cunningham said the performance based pay and elimination of teacher tenure is a way to keep around good teachers and reward them.

JEFFERSON CITY - A day after a Senate committee passed a map to eliminate Democratic U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan's district, the House Redistricting Committee followed suit.

Committee Chairman Rep. John Diehl, R-St. Louis County, proposed the map that was passed with a 10-1 vote. The only "no" vote came from Rep. Ron Casey, D-Crystal City, who's from Carnahan's district.

Diehl allowed anyone to propose alternative maps and the only other representative to propose one was Casey.

"Everybody's criticizing it, but nobody can show you anything that's better. It's probably a pretty good map, and I think the fact that Senate and the Democrats came up with a map that's only about two percent different than this one. I think that tells you we are probably pretty close to the right answer," said Diehl.

Casey's proposal kept three of the eight districts the same as Diehl's, but left St. Charles and Jefferson County whole.

His proposal lost by a 7-4 vote. Casey then proposed an amendment to Diehl's plan to keep Jackson County whole, which also lost by a 10-1 vote.

Dozens of Jackson County residents were angry because both maps divide their county.

"They carve out all of the Republican votes in Jackson County and put them in the sixth district to make fifth district super fortified Democrat and the sixth district super fortified Republican." said Donna Turk of Jackson County.

The Senate debated the plan but did not vote whether to require Attorney General Chris Koster to sue the federal government for not enforcing immigration laws.

Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County, sponsors the bill.

Kraus says border states will gain congressional representation because every person, legal or illegal, counts as part of a state's population.

"Those are people that are here undocumented, illegal, and they need to be deported," Kraus said.

Sen. Maria Chappell-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, opposes the plan and says without an overall understanding of federal immigration law, the plan will not help Missourians.

"By putting this on the ballot, we're really not addressing the issue, we're simply saying the Attorney General needs to do his or her job, but what does that mean," Chappell-Nadal commented.

Kraus said the federal governement has an illegal immigration problem and while Missouri is losing a congressional seat, border states are gaining representation because illegal immigrants count toward a state's population.

He says his plan would force the federal government to explain why they aren't doing their job.

If passed, the plan would go on the November 2012 ballot.

The House voted to relocate the Missouri Housing Development Commission within 40 miles of the Capitol.

They decided against having the entire offices in St. Louis and Kansas City relocate.

St. Louis Representative Jill Schupp said the original plan would have hurt the 40 St. Louis and 80 Kansas City government employees.

Boone County Representative Chris Webber wants the House and Senate to have more control over the committee, but said having the CEO separate from the offices won’t let the commission be very effective.

Schupp said keeping the office will save the state more than 2 million dollars.

The plan would allow pharmacies to refuse to sell abortion pills like Plan B if doing so violates their moral beliefs.

Southwest Missouri Republican Representative David Sater owned a pharmacy in Barry County for more than thirty years. He is the bill's sponsor.

"I'm trying to protect pharmacies from having government intrusion into their lives and having to stock certain products such as RU-486, such as Plan B and Ella," says Sater.

Springfield Democratic Representative Sara Lampe opposes the bill. She says women need to have access to emergency contraceptives, especially in sexual assault cases.

"As long as an eleven year old girl is raped in the state of Missouri, families need options. And pharmacists...pharmacies...have no right to deny that service," says Lampe.

The legislation would also prohibit a non-physician from providing abortion-inducing drugs to Missourians.

The bill requires one more vote in the House before moving to the Senate.

A month after KMOX broke the story of Governor Jay Nixon's flight costs, Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder is under fire for his travel expenses.

Kinder says using campaign funds, he'll pay the state back more than $35,000 for staying in St. Louis area hotels.

Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder tells reporters he'll pay the state back more than $35,000 for staying in St. Louis area hotels. The 329 stays date back to 2006.

Rep. Jamilah Nasheed D-St. Louis says Kinder is right to pay back taxpayers.

"At the end of the day politics is perception. Even though that may have been legal, the perception of government spending for personal use is not acceptable."

Nasheed has pushed to strip money from Gov. Nixon's travel budget. Last week the House passed its version of the budget which included a half million dollar cut to Nixon's travel.

At a Senate Committee hearing, lawmakers discussed a bill that would require schools to produce its own definition of bullying, a policy for reporting instances of bullying, and procedures to conduct annual confidential surveys from students.

These measures would have to be implemented in all Missouri schools by September 2012.

Jackson Democratic Senator and bill sponsor Jolie Justus says it is crucial Missouri implement its own attack against bullying.

She said, "The reality is this is an incredibly serious situation. We have children who are terrorized, some to the point of taking their own lives. This is something that we actually have been working on for quite some time in the state, to make sure we have an effective bullying bill that takes care of the problem in the state."

Morgan Keenan with the Safe Schools Coalition of Missouri says state laws do effectively reduce bullying.

"There's 13 states that have passed anti-bullying laws similar to this, that have enumeration, training mechanisms, and reporting encoded into the law. Of those 13 states, they've seen a 30% reduction on average when it comes to reported cases of bullying," said Keenan.

At the hearing, Scott Emanuel with Growing American Youth recounted his own fear of being bullied for his identity.

"The last thing that I wanted to do in that school was to say not only am I polish, but I'm also gay...becuase I thought, gosh, if they don't like me for being Polish, they're going to hate me for being gay," he said.

At the hearing, no one testified against Justus's bill.

A killing spree in front of a Tucson grocery store more than two months ago left six people dead and thirteen wounded, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Police say the accused gunman, Jared Loughner, used a high-capacity magazine containing 32 rounds.

Some states are considering a ban on high-capacity ammunition, but not Missouri.

President of the Missouri Sports Shooting Association Kevin Jamison says if large capacity magazines are useful for killers, they're useful for people in self-defense.

"Sometimes you need a full-size magazine because you have a full-size problem. And while that happens rarely, when it happens to you, that's a hundred percent of the time," says Jamison.

Attorney Dale Roberts teaches firearms law for the Missouri Bar Association as well as concealed carry certification classes in Columbia. He says most people don't need high-capacity ammunition, but that doesn't mean it should be outlawed.

"The law doesn't require me to demonstrate need. The law says I have a right to own things," says Roberts.

On the other hand, Communications Director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence Ladd Everitt says restrictions on magazine size could have saved lives in Tucson.

"We want to be decreasing the lethality. We don't want to be making it easier for people to kill more people," says Everitt.

Coincidentally, the Missouri legislature is considering bills that would put more guns in the hands of Missourians.

The House passed a package of six pro-gun bills, including a measure lowerign the minimum age to carry a concealed weapon from 23 to 21.

After letting unemployment benefits run out for thousands of Missourians, the Senate leadership promises to revisit the issue by the end of the week.

Floor Leader Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said he hoped to bring the $105 million in federal money to the floor again and attempt to break a filibuster, which lead to the benefits expiration. The federal money would extend benefits for 20 weeks for the more than 34,000 unemployed Missourians.

Missouri's House overwhelmingly approved the extended benefits months ago, but the proposal has hit a major roadblock in the Senate. Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, has led a filibuster against the funds and said Missouri needs to send a message to Washington about irresponsible spending. Lembke said rejecting the funds would save the federal government $96 million.

"At the end of the day we will get a vote on unemployment," Mayer said.

"The federal government is broke ... my position is looking out for what is best for the Missouri taxpayer," Lembke said.

Localized control of the St. Louis Police Department is making headway in the Missouri Senate after passing with roughly two-thirds support in the House of Representatives in February.

Sponsor of the House bill, Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, said she is "elated" by the 6-2 vote in the a Senate committee hearing.

"It clearly shows that people are beginning to understand the importance of local control."

Sen. Maria Chappell-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, said she will not be on board until specific language over benefits is included in the bill.

"There is language in there, even though it says it will not impact pensions, it sunsets the language that is currently in our statute that talks about health insurance and life insurance, salary schedules and what happens with widows," Chappell-Nadal said. "They are taking that language out of current statute and that is one of the biggest concerns I have in this conversation."

Nasheed defended the bill and said civil service benefits would be provided by the city.

Environmental Protection Agency and Missouri Department of Health officials say there is no need for public concern about radiation emanating from Japan's nuclear meltdown across the ocean to Missouri.

Trace amounts of radioactive material have been found in Illinois and Iowa, but levels are well below the regulated limit.

Missouri has yet to have any readings indicating any change in radioactivity since the incident.

After the results of the 2010 census, Missouri will lose one seat in the Unites States House.

The Senate committee agreed on a map that is similar to the redistricting plan proposed by the House. Both plans will eliminate a congressional seat held by a Democrat in St. Louis city.

The committee's chair Senator Scott Rupp said the new map based on the populations of different areas as well as other considerations.

"Our committee's attempt was to make them equal in population. Also to try to make them as contiguous and compact as possible. And also take into account the existing lines," Rupp said.

Rupp said under this plan, every single district will gain population due to the lost seat.

The next step for this plan is the Senate floor.

The House Rules Committee passed a resolution calling on the governor and attorney general to write a letter protesting federal health care. Although the resolution passed, it met some opposition in the committee, and the final vote rolled in at 7-4.

Last week the Missouri House passed a bill that would add Missouri to the multi-state Health Care Compact, which would put health care under state regulation. The same Democrats who voted no on that bill, voted against sending this letter.

The resolution will now move to the House floor for debate.

Advocates for a more equal and integrated mental health care system in Missouri hope for the closure of the state's six habilitation centers.

Younger families have opted to keep their children in house or in community based living that would put an emphasis integration.

Some families with older children are more reluctant however to see the centers closed.

If the centers are closed or consolidated, Rep. Craig Redmon, R-1, says the fiscal savings would be beneficial.

To see full story, click here.

To see HB 421, click here.

Last Week

Unemployment benefits for about 10,000 Missourians will expire Saturday for those who have reached their 79-week limit for coverage.

On Thursday, Sen. Jolly Justice, D-Kansas City, delivered an emotional rebuke against four of her colleagues who had blocked passage of a measure to authorize use of federal funds to extend benefits another 20 weeks.

"So I want you to go home this weekend and talk to those families who will no longer be able to feed themselves because we're cutting off their benefits," Justice said in a breaking voice.

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, has been the leader in a filibuster that blocked the Senate from voting on accepting the federal funds.

Lembke argued that the federal government is being reckless in spending money it has to borrow to expand the benefits.

"The states are going to have to ban together and say we're no longer going to be willing accomplices in what you're doing to our nation and to the next generation," Lembke said after Justice's rebuke.

The House had passed authorization to spend the funds by an overwhelming majority nearly two months. 

The measure is one of two bills involving federal funds that Lembke and other fiscal conservatives in the Senate have blocked from getting a vote.  Also stalled is authorization to provide $190 million of one-time federal funds to public schools.  It passed the House a month ago without a single negative vote.

The House Redistricting Committee chair presented Wednesday night a plan that effectively would eliminate the Congressional district of south St. Louis City Democrat Russ Carnahan.

Missouri will lose one of its nine districts as a result of the 2010 census.

"The city of St. Louis lost the most population over the past decade," said Rep. John Diehl, R-St. Louis County. "So it's almost impossible to justify that the city, in and of itself, maintains two congressmen."

Under Diehl's plan, the district of Democratic U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay would be expanded to include the entire city of St. Louis an a portion of north St. Louis County. Carnahan would be included in Clay's district.

Diehl said that having a single district in which St. Louis city was the dominate population center would give the city a stronger voice than if the city had its constituents split as a minor part of two separate districts.

There had been speculation from the start of the legislative session in January that the Republican-controlled legislature would target Democrat Carnahan's seat for elimination.

"Having a Democratic congressman the obvious odd man out in the discussion and having to change those borders drastically is never a fun proposition to have to deal with," said House Democratic Leader Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County.

The committee did not take immediate action on Diehl's proposal.

Two utility officials spent more than half an hour detailing the safety and backup systems in place at the Callaway County nuclear plant and a nuclear plant in Kansas that serves western Missouri customers.

The officials described for the Public Service Commission the backup and redundant systems designed to protect against a radiation accident.

After the presentation, however, Ameren Missouri's vice president, Adam Heflin, acknowledged in an interview that there are no absolutely guarantees that an incident similar to that in Japan could not happen with the Missouri plant.

"I can't assure that the unforeseen won't happen at Callaway," Heflin said. "What I can say and what folks can take some comfort in is that we're always questioning and we're always looking for ways we can be safer and more ready in case something unforeseen does happen."

The PSC chairman, Kevin Gunn, stressed that what caused the failures at the Japanese plants was not the earthquake, but the subsequent tsunami that cannot happen in land-locked Missouri.

"We obviously don't have tsunami issues here," Gunn said. "We may have seismic activities, but I'm confident that these plants have been designed to take that seismic activity into account."

Heflin said nuclear power remains the best future option for power generation.  However, legislation to allow Ameren charge utility customers for the costs of pursuing a federal permit to build a new plant remains stalled in the state legislature.

The House Economic Development committee passed a bill that would provide tax credits to international cargo shippers bringing business to St. Louis.

The tax credits include an 8 year exemption on outbound international cargo flights leaving St. Louis as well as tax breaks on facilities being built around the airport to house imports and exports.

The bill sponsor, Caleb Jones, R-California, said the tax credits would create an incentive for cargo shippers to choose St. Louis over Chicago as a place of business.

Jones said Lambert has the capacity to be a great investment for shippers.

"And if we in the Missouri Assembly do not grab this opportunity with both hands, we are going to lose it to another state," Jones said.

No one spoke in opposition to the bill, which was passed by the committee by a vote of 20-0. There was, however, discussion about whether or not the program should extend to Kansas City.

Other bill supporters included the AFL-CIO and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce.

Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, the sponsor of the Senate bill said the Chinese government supports the opportunity in St. Louis and that the economic benefit would extend throughout Missouri and stressed the need for Missouri to provide an incentive.

"If we don't act on this, other states will," Schmitt said.

The bill will go to the House Rules Committee for a final vote before proceeding to the House floor.

Extended Senate debate blocked Tuesday [March 29] a vote on a measure that would expand a ban on local governments from awarding contracts to businesses that require workers to join unions or pay union fees.

The measure's sponsor - Sen. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown -- came under stiff questioning from Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis County.

"You believe it's right for us to dictate to local political subdivisions how best to use the tax dollars," Green asked.

"I believe it's right to stand up for the taxpayers in Missouri irregardless of what subdivision or political subdivision they are in," Munzlinger responded.

It is the second bill restricting union powers that has been blocked by a Senate filibuster.

Two weeks earlier, before legislators left for spring break, a filibuster blocked action on what proponents call "right to work" legislation that impose a broader ban on business from requiring workers to join unions or pay union fees -- regardless whether working for private or government contracts.

Along with Democratic opposition, that measure faced stiff opposition from fellow Republicans in the Senate.

Missouri's House voted to strip Gov. Jay Nixon of additional travel funds, as they gave first-round approval to the 2012 budget.

Shortly after he took office, Nixon began charging his travel to other state agencies instead of his own office budget. Leaders from both sides of the aisle called for an end to the governor's practice and in response House Budget Chairman, Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, gave Nixon an additional $500,000 to travel within his own office budget. Today, however, the House voted to take away the additional funds and instead take the money to a dropout prevention program.

Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, offered the amendment and said the House needed to address the problem of students dropping out of school.

"When those children that have dropped out go out in those streets, they are committing crimes in the worst way and we are the ones that have to pay for it when they go into the penal system," Nasheed said.

One Democrat, however, stood up for Nixon and criticized his colleagues.

"This is a manipulation of the governor's office and a manipulation of these kids...we should not drag the budget process into the mud and not drag these children with us," Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said.

Leaders of the St. Louis Police Officers' Association filed a lawsuit Thursday alleging ballot measures asking voters later this year or next to transfer St. Louis Police control to the city are deceptive.

The suit, filed in Cole County Circuit Court, said the measures included misleading language that inflated the estimated savings to the city.

"There's just no clear answers. They're dealing with fuzzy math here," said Jeff Roorda, a spokesman for the association. "It's a power grab by the folks across the street in City Hall to try to control the police department."

The officers' suit does not affect a bill sitting in a Senate committee that would also transfer police control to St. Louis for the first time since the Civil War. The legal challenge wouldn't matter if Missouri's legislature acts first.

Missouri's House passed the bill last month over opponents' objections.

"People here in the city of St. Louis want local control and are going to continue fighting for local control until they get it," Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, said. Nasheed is the bill's sponsor.

Gov. Jay Nixon has said he's not convinced about the measure's benefits. If the legislature and Nixon don't approve, voters would need to support one of the now-contested ballot measures.

The bill in the legislature does not include transferring control of Kansas City Police to that city, but the ballot measures do, Nasheed said.

Funeral protesting has been a highly contested issue for both national and state lawmakers. At Missouri's Capitol, legislators are attempting to place restrictions on funeral protesting...again.

Even if the legislation passes in Missouri, it may not go into effect. Just last August, a U.S. district judge declared two funeral protest laws in Missouri unconstitutional.

These protest laws weren't narrowly tailored enough or served a compelling government interest.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Ward Franz R-West Plains said this legislation is something Missouri needs.

"It's a simple idea, to allow families to mourn the loss of a loved one in peace and to give them a chance to have some closure in a very difficult time."

His bill would make it a crime to protest within 500 feet of a funeral, two hours before and two hours following the service.

His restrictions are trying to prevent groups like the Westboro Baptist Church from unfettered protesting.

According to Margie Phelps, an attorney and member of the Westboro Baptist Church, said they've protested at nearly 800 funerals since 2005.

Phelps said Westboro has been mocked numerous times in the media.

"We're an open book. So there's not any aspect of our being that hasn't been mocked and vilified. And you know what? We are all good with it, 100 percent good."

Franz said this group has the right to protest but needs limitations.

The bill got overwhelming approval in the House and needs two more votes in the Senate.

Other states like Nebraska, Iowa and Oregon are considering similar legislation.

John Aliperti sees the effects of drug use in families firsthand.

As counselor at Harris House, a drug treatment center in St. Louis, he works with individuals struggling with substance abuse.

Drug abuse puts a strain on family relationships, he says.

Missouri is one of several states considering legislation to keep drug users from receiving welfare assistance.

Under a House bill passed in January, parents on TANF, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, could be subjected to drug testing from the Department of Social Services if state workers believe they may be using drugs.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Ellen Brandom (R-Sikeston) said the bill would keep "hard earned tax dollars" from going to drug abusers.

Rep. Jeanette Oxford (D-St. Louis), an opponent of the bill, said the it is "abusive of welfare recipients" and questions whether state workers could fairly determine which welfare recipients are suspicious of drug use.

The Senate is considering similiar legislation and co-sponsor Sen. Will Kraus (R-Jackson County) says the measure would "send a message to drug users."

Jim Weible has seen the extreme consequences of texting while driving.

Earlier this year, a friend of the St. Louis county resident was driving and texting without wearing a seat belt.

Weible's friend, Bond Rho, had been driving alone through north St. Louis County when he veered off the road, hit a pole, and was thrown from the car and killed instantly.

"The fact that something like this could happen to a guy that young, a guy I had known that long, you know, it made the statistics you see on the news a lot more real," said Weible.

According to a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, drivers take their eyes off the road for five seconds on average to send a text.

Driving at 55 m.p.h., that's traveling beyond the length of a football field without looking at the road.

Although some Legislators, including Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield, said people need to make these decisions on their own.

Sen. Ryan McKenna, D-Jefferson County, said he disagrees with Purgason and sponsors a bill to expand Missouri's ban to include all drivers.

"My example is when I first started driving, after I passed the driving test, somebody gave me a miniature typewriter and told me to start typing on it while I drive the car, you would have thought I was crazy," commented McKenna.

McKenna said his bill is currently stuck in the state's legislative process and a similar bill is proposed in the House.  

Since 2009, it has been illegal in Missouri for anyone under the age of 21 to be texting while driving.

Captain Tim Hull is the spokesperson for the Missouri State Highway Patrol and said the age-restriction makes it difficult for officers to enforce.

However, Hull said drivers who text typically make visible mistakes that get them pulled over by officers, such as veering into another lane of traffic or driving too slow.

From Aug. 2009 to Dec. 2010, the Highway Patrol issued more than 80 tickets for violating the texting while driving ban.

Under Missouri's current law, Bond Rho's texting was illegal, but if it was one year later, he would have been 22 and legally allowed to text and drive.

Charter schools are schools that receive public money, are sponsored by an outside organization, and attended by choice.

Charter schools are operated by outside organizations rather than the state, so the schools can set some of their own rules and regulations.

Shearwater High School is a charter school that helps homeless children get back into school.

Shearwater President Stephanie Krauss says homeless children that move from shelter to shelter have a hard time joining a school because of their ever-changing addresses.

St. Louis City Representative Tishaura Jones sponsors a bill that would allow charter schools anywhere in the state and expand who is eligible to sponsor a charter school.

"Parents need options," said Jones. "When we go to a restaurant and we don't like the food, we use the choice of our dollar to go somewhere else. Why should we have to accept the education system as it is?"

St. Louis City Representative Joe Keaveny also sponsors a bill that would allow charter schools to adjust graduation requirements for their specific schools.

Western Michigan University education professor Gary Miron has been studying school choice programs in Europe and the United States for more than two decades.

He says he's an opponent to charter schools with negative results.

Through his research, he's found that most cases throughout the country have led to some schools not integrating students.

For example, having only poor-black students attend a specif school or high-income schools with only high-income students.

Education is currently a very important issue in Missouri.

President Obama signed a declaration Wednesday declaring Missouri's February snow storm a major disaster. The declaration will make federal funding available to local governments to help finance costs within the 59 counties hit by the storm.

This comes the day after President Obama approved $64 million in aid to cover the costs incurred during Illinois' winter storm. The amount of aid Missouri will receive is unknown, though their original request was for $14 million.

Missouri's lawmakers introduced a bill that would eliminate teacher tenure and change the way teachers are evaluated and paid.

Currently, it takes a Missouri teacher five years to gain tenure, which is longer than any other state.

Once a teacher is given tenure, they cannot be removed from a school district without a legitimate reason for termination. According to teachers and administrators, teacher tenure provides greater protection for teachers.

Republican Representative Scott Dieckhaus sponsored the bill that would ultimately eliminate teacher tenure in Missouri.

Dieckhaus and the bill's supporters say this bill would prevent districts from having to keep ineffective teachers in their schools because of tenure.

According to the spokesperson for Missouri State Teacher's Association, Todd Fuller, the five-year period before a teacher gains tenure is crucial. He says during this period, administrators are to evaluate teachers and then determine whether or not they should be given tenure in that district.

“What happens in that process or during that time is teachers have already, number one decided if want to stay in that particular district or number two they and the administration has decided if that district is a good fit for that particular teacher,” he said.

Another major change under this bill is the way teachers are evaluated. Student performance would determine 50 percent of their evaluation score, and their pay would change accordingly.

Russell Smithson, from Warrensburg has been a third grade teacher for 12 years. He says basing pay on student scores stifles teacher collaboration.

Smithson said,“If their pay is going to be based off of that, Susie down the hall is not going to share with Jim across the hall what she’s doing in her classroom that works really well.”

Missouri lawmakers are to continue this debate over education reform throughout the legislative session.

Childhood obesity has nearly tripled in the past 30 years. Obesity in children can lead to many health problems as adults. These include heart disease, asthma, and diabetes.

When Dori Lingle was concerned about her daughters weight she looked to the internet to find an answer.

Lingle discovered Camp Jump Start in Imperial, Missouri.

Her daughter lost 50 pounds after spending two summers at the camp.

Camp Jump Start was founded and is directed by Jean Huelsing.

She says the camp approaches weight loss as simply as "less calories in, more calories out".

Huelsing says the camp teaches kids how to shop for groceries, pick out food at restaurants, and label read.

She also says every camper she has ever had has lost weight.

Huelsing believes schools need to offer more healthy options for students.

The Columbia Public School District offers various nutrition and exercise programs for students.

Laina Fullum is the director of nutritional services for the district. She says they offer fruits and veggies in every cafeteria.

Fullum has also implemented Tasty Tuesday, a program that allows students to sample healthy menu items.

K-5 curriculum coordinator Patty Cornell says they also have exercise clubs. Some schools have monthly PTA clubs where students and parents learn about living healthy.

Angela Gourley and her son Carter are fighting for recognition of integrated education and its benefits.

Carter, who is 6 years old, was born with the neurological disability called hydrocephalus.

Hydrocephalus can cause, but is not limited to, cerebral palsy and asperger's disease, a form of autism.

Angela Gourley also lobbies for the Arc of Missouri, an advocate of community living for people with mental disabilities.

Representative Craig Redmon, R-1st District, co-sponsors HB 421.

He says integration into communities will allow them to become a productive part of society.

Carter Gourley is a prime example of what inclusive education provides.

According to the State Emergency Management Agency, 64 Missouri counties requested a total of 14 million dollars in Federal disaster aid on March 1, and have yet to hear anything back from the Federal Government.

Mike O'Connell, a spokesman for the state Emergency Management Agency, said it could be any day that the President makes a decision on if he's going to declare a disaster, which would qualify Missouri for aid dollars. He said 52 of the 64 counties that applied for aid saw record or near record snowfall during the storm.

Illinois reported on Tuesday that 60 counties applied for aid, and received a total of 64 million dollars.

According to a release from Illinois, aid money will go to repay local governments for costs related to overtime hours, repairing damages to roads and buildings and debris removal.

Across the Midwest, farmland prices are higher than ever before.

The high costs of crop products and increased competition for land has driven this sudden boom, said Estil Fretwell, a spokesperson for the Missouri Farmers Bureau.

The surge in land prices will discourage the next generation of farmers, said Fretwell.

Boonville real estate agent, Mitch Leonard, says its farmland is no longer affordable for many in his community.

"It's pretty much impossible for a young farmer to start [a farm]." said Leonard.

Rep. Tom Loehner, R-Koeltztown, is sponsoring a bill to help young farmers lease farmland at reasonable prices from the state.

There was no opposition to the bill in it's committee.

Missouri Transportation Department reports traffic related fatalities are down by 12% from last year, but a cut of nearly half its budget could affect this statistic.

The Department has used up all the federal funds for roads, bridges and highways.

MoDot's previous highway budget was $1.2 billion, and was cut to an estimated $662 million.

Chairman of Commission for MoDot is Grace Nichols, who is seeking additional aid for the lack of highway funds.

Nichols said, "Whether it's legislation or whether it is turning to the private industry for help or looking very hard at our entire organization and see if there are ways to cut funding."

MoDot has already cut a total of 300 employees to adjust to the slimmer budget, but other measures will be taken also.

Former Chairman of the Missouri Transportation Department said safety amenities will be less kept up.

MoDot reported in 2009 road-related fatalities went from 1250 to 830.

"That's you know 400 people that got home to their families that evening that may not have without these safety things going on," said former Chairman Bill Mckenna.

McKenna also said the federal money was used for safety precautions like reflective stripping on roads and rumble strips.

He said, if the money is not donated or given then roads will begin to deteriorate. 

The U.S. Treasury Department and Gov. Jay Nixon announced on Tuesday Missouri’s application for State Small Business Credit Initiative funds were approved.

Missouri will have access to nearly 27 million dollars for small business lending loans beginning next month.

This program helps to create jobs and stimulate small business growth.

Nixon said funds will create more than 270 million dollars in additional small business lending. Missouri's plan dedicates nearly 17 million dollars to promote the formation and growth of high-tech businesses and the remaining 10 million for industrial, agricultural and recreational programs.

The Deputy District Direction of the U.S. Small Business Administration in Kansas City, David Ross, said this funding program will stimulate Missouri’s economy and create jobs.

“It’s going to flow right back to small business and create jobs. We’re all in favor of anything that is going to help us in that direction.”

Missouri businesses with fewer than 500 employees can begin applying for the loans on April 8.

The SSBCI is part of President Obama’s Small Business Jobs Act of 2010.

The State Supreme Court appointed St. Louis County Circuit Judge Richard Bresnahan to a case against Montgomery County prosecutor Lee Elliott.

Elliott is accused of defending a man facing a misdemeanor speeding ticket.

It is illegal for a prosecutor to represent anyone but the state in criminal cases under Missouri law.

Attorney General Chris Koster filed court documents to remove Elliott from office last week.

Elliott will be suspended from his duties until a decision is made about whether he should be removed from office.

Federal Judge Larry Burns issued an order Monday for charged Tuscon shooter Jared Loughner to be transferred to a Springfield, Missouri facility for mental evaluation by April 29.

Burns announced the Bureau of Prisons in Springfield is the most accommodating mental health unit to evaluate Loughner on whether he was sane at the time of the shooting, and whether he is sound enough to stand trial.

Loughner's public defender, Judy Clarke, issued a court filing saying moving Loughner could make his mental state worse, as he would have no contact with his defense during his stay in Missouri.

A spokeswoman for the Springfield facility said the facility's mental health unit treats around 300 of the 1,100 inmates who are at the facility or are transferred there.

Springfield Republican Representative Charlie Denison said the transferring of prisoners to Springfield is not unusual.

He said, "It is a hospital, as well as a prison, where a lot of those prisoners are ill...and the evaluation of prisoners is done there quite often."

The Federal Bureau of Prisons declined to comment on the transferring of Loughner.

Spokesmen for Burns and Clarke did not return calls.

Loughner is charged with 49 counts, including the murders of a federal judge and five others, as well as the attempted assassination of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.