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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of April 18, 2011

Negotiations broke off at 2:30am Friday after nearly eight hours of efforts to reach agreement between the House and Senate versions of congressional redistricting.

Republican legislative leaders were attempting to meet what they said was a Friday deadline to pass a bill early enough that they would be able to take up a possible veto by the governor this spring rather than having to wait for a veto session in the fall.

How to divide up the St. Louis area region was the center of the disagreement between the two bodies -- specifically how to split the counties of St. Charles, Jefferson and Franklin.

Each side accused the other of refusing to compromise.

"It's Good Friday now, an Easter holiday.  We tried and it's time to send everyone home," said the Senate conference chair -- Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles shortly after the Senate adjourned for the weekend.

Only briefly did the negotiators meet publically together.  For most of the evening into the early morning hours, House and Senate conferees huddled behind closed doors in offices on separate sides of the building.

The conference chairs defended their approach. "I don't any of the members of the House or Senate need to have a stream of consciousness with every thought that flows through their head is spoken out in public," Rupp said.

"You expect us to come in and have negotations out in the hallway? There are lot of people who have to be talked to on this stuff," said the House chair -- Rep. John Diehl, R-St. Louis County.

Sen. Jason Crowell's, R-Cape Girardeau, upcoming marriage was a topic of interest on the Senate floor.

"Do you realize I'm learning? I'm learning Senator that I am supposed to spend hundreds of dollars on throw pillows that we can never lay on," Crowell said.

Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, said he's been married for 24 years and advised Crowell on what to expect.

"You ain't even begun to learn what you're about to learn," Nieves said.

The Senators discussed everything from bed skirts to hand towels.

The Senate now sends to the House a bill that would eliminate 60 state Representatives after the next census.

The bill would cut the number of Missouri Representatives from 163 to 103.

According to bill sponsor and St. Louis County Republican Senator Jim Lembke, Missouri has the fourth-largest House in the country.

Lembke said, "This is about having a manageable statehouse, and across state government, making changes that would save taxpayers money. This would save taxpayers about five million dollars a year."

Opponents of the bill say cutting Representatives would cause leaders to be less in touch with their constituents.

Republican Clay Senator Luann Ridgeway said, "In this time of term limits, we need to keep our representatives as close to the people as possible. By diluting the number of Representatives and increasing the number of people they would represent, it is of necessity that it would be harder to stay in touch with the people."

If the House passes the bill, it would go into effect after the next census, when current Representatives already have been term-limited out of office.

The idea of cutting the size of the house has been around for years, but legislation typically is halted in the House.

Dog-breeding legislation stemming from last November's Proposition B brought advocates on both sides of the debate to Missouri's Capitol Wednesday to voice their opinions on the both the restriction-repealing legislation and the recent compromise proposed by Gov. Jay Nixon.

The governor called his compromise the "Missouri solution," which he backed in response to legislation that would repeal parts of Proposition B. The governor has yet to take any action on the repeal bill lawmakers sent to his desk last week.

About a hundred members of animal advocacy groups, such as the Humane Society of the United States and the Best Friends Animal Society, met outside the Governor's Mansion to protest Nixon's compromise. During the rally, the protesters chanted up and down the street, shouting "Veto 113" and "Keep your paws off our laws."

While the animal welfare advocates met down the street, a group several times the size of the dog breeders and agriculture advocates, assembled on the Capitol's steps to show their support for the compromise.

As the Missouri Senate passed the 2012 budget Wednesday, some senators were already worried about a potential budget gap for next year.

Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, said the use of one-time federal funds in this year's budget will create a gap that must soon be addressed by the General Assembly.

"We are going to have to come to terms with what we are going to go with what I would call a hole in our budget when the federal money runs out," Crowell said.

Senate Appropriations Chairman, Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, agreed with Crowell, but said the funding problem should be addressed next year rather than letting it affect this year's budget.

"There will be a hole, but ... we are better off waiting until we have more accurate information to see what that amount is," Schaefer said.

Witnesses testified before a Senate committee Wednesday about a House proposal to give businesses up to $480 million in tax breaks for helping to develop an international air cargo hub in St. Louis.

The Senate Jobs Committee heard support from business interest representatives as well as the Director of Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge. Hamm-Niebruegge said the amount of revenue Lambert generates from cargo, which is about 2 percent of $170 million a year, is "pathetic" when compared to similar sized airports .

"It became clear that we had to look at alternative forms of revenue if we wanted to Lambert to be sustainable for the state," Hamm-Niebruegge said.

Representatives from the Show-Me Institute testified against the bill and said the tax credits in the bill were to expensive and would cost the state too much money.

Committee Chairman Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, who sponsored a similar bill in the Senate, disagreed with the Institute's representatives and said that the cargo hub would be beneficial to all Missourians.

"Being critical of a new idea that's bold isn't anything new and isn't anything unique," Schmitt said. "I'm sure the steamboat captains of the late 1800s thought that the railroad were something that threatened their interests."

Schmitt also said the bill was important enough not to ignore and that criticizing the opportunity could lead the state to forgo potential revenue gains.

After years of warnings that the Second Injury Fund would go bankrupt, lawmakers say it is now in that financial crisis.

The Second Injury Fund is subsidized from a surcharge placed on all Missouri employers workers' compensation premiums. Currently, all employers pay a 3 percent surcharge with no fluctuation or cost of living increases.

Rep. Barney Fisher, R-Richards, said the capped surcharge has driven workers' compensation premiums down, which has ultimately brought in less money to the Second Injury Fund.

Proposals aiming to fix the fund have been introduced this legislative session, but so far no solutions have been agreed upon.

Michael Simpson, a recipient of Second Injury Fund benefits, said he is concerned about the future of the fund and that he is afraid people who need benefits in the future will not get them.

The Missouri Senate passed the 2012 education budget Wednesday after finding additional funding for colleges and universities.

The Senate adopted the budget plans proposed by Appropriations Chairman, Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, after agreeing to send an extra $20 million to all of Missouri's public colleges and universities.

"The university presidents are working in good faith to reduce costs," Schaefer said after his proposal passed the budget committee last week.

The $20 million will cut the core reduction for universities to 4.8 percent from the 7 percent cut proposed by Gov. Nixon. MU spokesman Christian Basi said he could not comment on how the budget changes would affect the university since they do not comment on pending legislation.

There were 41 accidents at railroad crossings in Missouri last year, up from the 32 in 2009.

The Missouri Department of Transportation and the Highway Patrol are teaming up next week for Rail Safety Week. They'll be promoting safety and, according to MoDot, trying to reduce the number of accidents.

Spokesperson for MoDot Rod Massman said they'll be doing what he calls "Positive Reinforcements."

“Safety personnel either from MoDot, the highway patrol who will basically stop the person for a few seconds and just remind them that it’s Rail Safety Week and give then them a brochure about crossing safety,” Massman said.

These checks will take place at various locations throughout Missouri such as St. Louis, Jefferson City, and Lee's Summit.

This legislation is preemptive since it isn't any different from current Missouri law.

The bill's sponsor Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee's Summit, says Congress could try to eliminate secret ballot votes and replace them with a majority card sign up.

"They assure me that we would survive a National Labor Relations Board change. Now if the Federal law goes into effect I think it would preempt our law." said Cierpiot.

Republicans say all Americans have the right to vote by secret ballot.

Democrats and labor unions say this legislation is unnecessary.

The bill has been passed in the House and now will go to the Senate floor.

Sen. Jason Crowell R-Cape Girardeau raised a point of order after nearly two hours of debate saying some additions to the bill go beyond the scope of the underlying version of the bill. The Pro Tem agreed, which ended the debate.

Crowell said the adjustments to the origin bill, such as billing customers for the early site permit would be ruled unconstitutional even if it passed in the Senate.

"What Sen. Mayer has done is taken a very strong position to say, 'While I'm Pro Tem we're only going to pass constitutional laws, we're not going to have these declared unconstitutional.' And that is what we did here."

Rep. Jeanie Riddle, R-Callaway County originally sponsored the bill when it was in the House.

Riddle said she is disappointed with the outcome of the bill.

"Everybody who uses electricity in this state will be affected, so it is very disappointed to me. I'm curious why they waited so long into the debate if it was going to have a point of order on it to begin with."

Riddle, and other supporters said this bill will bring jobs to Missouri and keep Missouri's future energy options open.

While Riddle sponsored the original House bill, Sen. Robin Wright-Jones D-St. Louis City sponsored the underlying Senate bill minus all the additions.

Jones said she thinks her underlying bill is going to pass. But, Jones said she has some concerns about the Republican agendas in both the House and the Senate.

"We have seen the run of the Republican agenda in both chambers very seriously. And we are here now in our last four weeks and I don't know if we are going to get anything out but there agenda."

Senators got rid of all parts of the bill that deal with the nuclear site permit, the Senate ended up giving first round approval to the scraps of the bill remaining.

The Missouri House of Representatives gave first round approval Tuesday to a bill that would prevent state courts from making decisions based on foreign law.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Paul Curtman (R-Pacific), says the measure would ensure courts uphold the fundamental rights of citizens.

Yet opponents of the bill questioned whether such a measure is even necessary. They pointed out that the U.S. Constitution already trumps foreign laws.

Others, including Rep. Jamilah Nasheed (D-St. Louis) say the bill unfairly targets Islamic Law, known as Sharia.

Nasheed said the bill is "insensitive" to Muslims.

She added that debating the bill was a waste of time and that it would not be upheld in court.

The House approved the bill by a vote of 99-53. With only three weeks left in session, it must get a final vote in the House before reaching the Senate.

This is the fourth year in a row the legislation to allow prayer in public schools and government buildings has made it to the Senate floor, but died there.

Bill's sponsor Mike McGhee, R-Odessa, said the bill is good legislation and he is optimistic the Senate will pass it.

Robin Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis City, is another supporter of the bill and said she doesn't mind people praying anywhere and thinks it has a good chance of passing in the Senate.

"There's just the eight of us and two of us voted for it. I think the others are Roman Catholic men so I don't think they would have a problem, but I don't know for sure."

The bill now awaits to appear on the Senate floor.

The Senate took no action on the plan that would give telephone companies more flexibility when it comes to landline placement in St. Louis and Jackson County.

Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, says lobbyists clearly didn't do their jobs well enough on this issue because lawmakers have only 3 weeks left to debate bills.

"So, I'm going to put this bill on the informal calendar and if they don't do their job, we're just going to let this bill die and deal with it next year," Lager said.

Lager says we've evolved beyond the out of date process of landline requirements we use today.

A House committee heard testimony on a bill that would change the way presidents are elected.

Right now, Missouri awards it's electoral votes to the candidate receiving the state's popular vote. This bill would allow Missouri's votes to reflect how the country voted as a whole.

The legislation is part of a national movement to weaken the electoral college.

Springfield Republican Representative Lincoln Hough is the bill's sponsor. He says it encourages candidates to pay more attention to smaller states.

"In my opinion, it's what does the country as a whole get out of it. And I think we get a theoretically more definitive process for electing our president," says Hough.

On the other hand, Kansas City-area Republican Representative Myron Neth is concerned about changing the election process.

House Elections Committee chairman Tony Dugger says it is unlikely the bill will move forward this session. Even if it did, about half the country would have to adopt the legislation before it could be enacted. At least 270 electoral votes must be secured first.

"I really disagree with their argument that it would make Missouri or the smaller states more valid. I see just the opposite. We will become less important," says Neth.

Currently political action committees can only accept contributions from a corporation, association or partnership.

Kansas City Senator KiKi Curls said that the current wording doesn’t allow elected officials to go to PAC sponsored events.

"We are prohibited from participating in advertising in any those booklets, in participating from purchasing meal tickets,or anything associated in those events, even for constituencies," she said.

There was controversy with the first wording of the bill, that would prohibit elected officials from wracking up any educational expenses from a PAC.

Cape Girardeau Senator Jason Crowell didn't want PACS to pay for educational expenses.

Crowell worked with Curls on an amendment to change the wording. It still allows for candidate committees to still purchase tickets to PAC events, but takes out the questionable wording.

After adopting the amendment, the bill unanimously passed.

The Senate passed a bill that allows for several new license plates to be available. There are special plates for Cass County, for Missourians who have a combat badge, Nixa Education Foundation members, and a license plate that says “Don’t Tread on Me,” in place of “Show Me State.”

Franklin County Senator Nieves Brian said "When I looked at these I said 'Holy Toledo! Those are some good license plates."

St. Louis County Senator Tim Green said he doesn’t like “Don’t Tread on Me” on license plates. He didn't like taking out the "Show Me State" slogan for the new words.

"It just brings a combative connotation to the state of Missouri. I personally think we got enough friction in society, we don't need to put in on our license plates," said Green.

Green was the only one to vote no.

The Missouri House of Representatives sent a bill to the Senate that would tighten regulations on payday loans and increase loan awareness for customers.

The measure would restrict loan renewals from six to three and cap the annual percentage rate at 1564%.

Republican Texas County Representative Don Wells says these restrictions help consumers prevent impulsive spending.

"In this bill, there is a one day cooling off period. You cannot go in, pay off a loan, and immediately get another loan. This is a person's time to assess whether they really need another loan...consumer protection, again," said Wells.

Jefferson County Republican Representative John McCaherty addressed questions about whether the bill really would protect consumers.

"If we really want people to understand, if we want them to understand the laws, the fees they're going to pay, if we want them to understand the bills...then vote for the bill, pass the bill, and if it's not as much reform as you'd like, then introduce a new bill," McCaherty said.

Columbia Democratic Representative Mary Still introduced a similar bill earlier in the session. She says the current bill does nothing to aid those receiving the loans.

"The only change in this bill is a change which helps the industry, protects the industry and hurts the consumer," Still said.

Missouri's unemployment rate fell to 9.1 percent in March as the state added thousands of jobs in the economic recovery.

About 13,000 more Missourians were employed in March, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data released Tuesday. The labor force grew by 4,000 people, meaning Missourians felt more confident about finding a job and started looking again.

The jobless rate was 9.4 percent in February.

The Missouri Senate approved $189 million in federal money for local school districts, ending a near two month-long standoff with the House.

The House passed the bill unanimously on Feb. 24 but the Senate had not taken up the measure until Monday.

Bill supporters said not passing the legislation would be an unfair burden to local school districts. Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Chris Belcher said failure to pass the money would cost the school district $3 million.

The chairman of the Senate appropriations committee, Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said it was important to pass the bill now since the funds expire on June 30 and must be spent solely on education.

"Our commitment was to keep funding for K-12 the same in 2012 as it was in 2011," Schaefer said.

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, opposed the bill and said this money is not being spent to increase education funding but to plug holes in other parts of the budget.

"We are filling a budget hole somewhere else in our budget. We are funding other programs so we don't have to make hard decisions and make cuts," Lembke said.

Republican U.S. representatives held a closed door meeting Monday with their fellow Republicans in Missouri's Senate and House to go over plans to eliminate one of Missouri's nine congressional districts.

U.S. Reps. Blaine Luetkemeyer, Todd Akin and Jo Ann Emerson met with state Republicans behind closed doors at the Missouri Republican Party headquarters to discuss the redistricting process. At least one other congressional member joined in by conference call.

"We were just getting briefed on what's going on with the redistricting maps as the House and Senate both take them up," Luetkemeyer said. "It's obviously important to us so we are letting the legislators work their will."

Participants were tight-lipped, except to confirm that that no immediate agreement was reached among the parties in what appears to be a disagreement between the GOP congressional delegation and the Republican-controlled state Senate.

The strongest indication of a disagreement came after the meeting from the state Senate Redistricting Committee chair, Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles.

"We're not here to please the Congress people, we're here to do what is right for the people," Rupp said.

The governor has backed new dog-breeding legislation with the help of the invested organizations just days after the Missouri legislature approved a bill to repeal several measures of November's voter-approved Proposition B.

Rather than addressing the bill already approved by both chambers and ready for action from Gov. Jay Nixon, he instead released an altered version of the Senate bill that strove to repeal many of the regulations imposed by Proposition B.

"The agreement that was signed today upholds the intent of the voters, protects dogs and ensures that Missouri agriculture will continue to grow," Nixon stated in a press release. "I look forward to continuing to work with these leaders as we move this proposal through the legislative process as swiftly and efficiently as possible."

With gas prices on the rise, some Missouri RV owners are changing their travel plans. According to the Missouri Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds, park owners throughout Missouri are noticing these changes.

As the owner of Mari-Osa-Delta RV Park and Campground in Jefferson City, Harold Taylor sees hundreds of travelers every summer. This year will be a little different, "We had some come in a couple weeks ago and they ended up staying another two weeks," he said.

Extended stays in a campground will mean less time on the road, and less money spent on gas.

President of the Missouri Association of R-V Parks and Campgrounds Larry Helms said park owners across the state are seeing this trend in their guest's travel plans.

"They’re looking to stay closer to home and they’re also looking to stay, they’re wanting to stay an extra day or two or maybe sometimes a week," Helms said.

For travelers, saving on fuel is essential. One RV owner said he pays almost 500 dollars per fill-up.

According to Helms, Missouri RV Park owners will be monitoring this trend throughout the traveling season.

Last Week

Missouri's House passed a bill that would protect farmers from repeatedly getting sued over the smell of animal manure.

Rep. Casey Guernsey R-Harrison is the sponsor of the bill. He said this bill helps to protect the rights of farmers and Missouri's agriculture industry. Guernsey said this is legislation Missouri needs to preserve the industry.

"If we don't fix this problem we aren't going to have the AG industry in this state."

Another supporter of the bill, Rep. Chris Molendorp R-Cass County, says this bill allow some of our counties to take care of nuisances and makes it easier for

Opponents to the bill, like Rep. Mike Colona D-St. Louis, said the bill doesn't acknowledge the property value decrease when a farm moves next door.

"So that I am to believe, that if a big hog farm moves next to me, where morning, noon, and night I don't have that great smell of bacon, as the gentlemen from that side of the aisle said the other day...I have the smell of hog...manure, that will not affect the value of my property?"

The bill will go to the governor next.

One victim of domestic violence brought her story to the steps of the Capitol lawn.

While lawmakers earlier in the week discussed banning domestic violence abusers from owning guns, a crowd Thursday gathered outside the state Capitol to honor crime victims.

One of the event's speakers, Carol Cromer, told the crowd of her years living in fear of her abusive husband.

"It had consumed my life so long that I was unsure of what it would be like to live life normally again," said Cromer.

He stalked her, threatened her, and even set fire to her home and car, she said.

Outdated domestic violence laws, Cromer said, prevented law enforcement officials from keeping him behind bars.

Attorney General Chris Koster told the crowd that he is pushing for comprehensive legislation to strengthen domestic violence laws.

This includes extending the length on orders of protection granted to victims like Cromer.

"[Abusers] do not value their own lives. Therefore expecting them to value someone else's life is incomprehensible," said Cromer.

In what House Republicans portrayed as a snub,  the Senate refused to even consider on differences with the House on redrawing congressionl district lines.

Rather than taking up the House passed measure Thursday and voting on the House request for a conference to work out their differences, the Senate simple adjourned for the weekend.

In response, House Republican leaders called off a work session for Monday -- eliminating one of the remaining work days for a legislative session that must adjourn in four weeks at 6pm Friday, May 13.

"If the Senate had responded to our request on the redistricting map, we would very likely have had something to do," said Rep. Tim Jones, the House majority leader.

The House Democrat leader, Rep. Mike Talboy, said he's never seen anything like this before.

"It's disappointing that we get to some sort of standoff where we decide that we're going to adjourn early," Talboy said. "It is what it is at this point."

Rural Senate Republicans have the biggest complaints about the way the lines are drawn, and the differences between the House and Senate maps are mostly out-state issues. Both maps confine St. Louis City to a single district, which would eliminate the district of Democratic U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan.

Sen. Scott Rupp, R-Wentzville, who sponsored the Senate redistricting bill, said the redistricting process has been more difficult than expected.

"Once you change one thing in this map, it's the ripple effect across the whole state. So one change causes a change somewhere else and then what happens is you maybe are solving a problem with one person but you might cause a problem with two," says Rupp.

Rupp says he hopes to reach a compromise next week. He says that would allow enough time to override a possible veto from Gov. Nixon in the current legislative session rather than putting it off until a fall veto session.

The Missouri Senate voted to expand the list of infectious diseases for which firefighters will receive disability or death benefits.

The bill's sponsor is Sen. Ericc Schmitt, R-St. Louis County.

He said these diseases were added because they can be contracted by firefighters in the field.

Some of the new additions include hepatitis, rabies and the plague.

Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, spoke against the bill.

Schaaf, a practicing physician, said he wants to make sure firefighters aren't compensated for diseases not acquired on the job.

"And it's kind of hard for me to believe that every case of HIV, hepatitis, plague, etc., that a firefighter gets was only because he or she was on the job," Schaaf said.

Firefighters are required to have an annual physical examination with blood test to qualify for the benefits.

The bill now moves on to the House. There are only 4 weeks left in the legislative session.

The Missouri House of Representatives passed a bill that would soften regulations on removing lead-based paint from homes and businesses.

Supporters of the bill say state regulation procedures can be too expensive, and children can be harmed in the long run if families cannot afford to get the lead paint removed properly.

Harrisonville Republican Representative Rick Brattin says some businesses are too scared to remove harmful lead themselves, in fear of getting a fine.

"If you're really about business, and really about protecting our businesses and the children at the same time to where we actually do remove the lead in a safe manner, but not killing the business so they don't even want to touch it, I urge the body to vote for this," said Brattin.

Opponents of the bill say the lessening of safety rules pertaining to lead are endangering constituents, especially children.

St. Louis Democratic Representative Jill Schupp said federal regulations don't do enough to remove lead from the state's environment.

"Missouri leads in lead poisoning, and we need to ensure that the safety of our children, and our citizens, and our communities, and our clean water...that those are our number one priorities."

Additionally, Schupp said, "It takes a pinch of lead to kill or permanently damage someone. These regulations take away Missouri's own regulations to ensure our children and our adults remain safe."

The bill passed out of the House with a majority.

State lawmakers gave final approval Wednesday to a bill that repeals a number of restrictions set in place by the dog-breeding law, passed by voters last November.

In a press conference following the House vote, Gov. Jay Nixon had little to say regarding his opinion of the legislation. He simply stated that he would be sure to review the bill and promised to continue the allocation of resources for law enforcement practices.

The law currently in place tightens the rules governing practices of dog-breeders throughout the state. The legislation passed by the House would undermine those restrictions.

The bill removes the 50-dog limit placed on kennels as well as requirements for larger cages. Instead, the bill requires using regulations to be set by the Department of Agriculture.

The new legislation would also allow for civil penalties and misdemeanor charges for repeat offenses, apply a $25 annual fee to support law enforcement efforts and allow licensing costs of up to $2,500 instead of $500.

State senators followed the lead of the Missouri House on Wednesday by passing a redistricting plan that eliminates a St. Louis congressional district.

The Senate endorsed the House of Representatives' map a week after the House's own approval of the proposal, which eliminates the district currently occupied by Democratic U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan.

Despite minor differences between the originally proposed maps, both plans dissolve Carnahan's district, split Jefferson County among three districts and divide Jackson County into two districts. The maps also place Boone County into the new Fourth District, to be represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler, instead of being represented by another Republican U.S. Rep., Blaine Luetkemeyer.

The Senate approved the House bill with a vote of 22-11 after Senate Redistricting Chairman Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County, proposed a change to the plan that made the House map virtually identical to the Senate's own proposal, thus eliminating any differences between the two.

Gov. Jay Nixon has signed a bill that extends unemployment benefits to Missouri citizens, effective immediately. The bill reached Nixon's desk after Senate Republicans who filibustered the bill reached a compromise about federal stimulus funding.

Recipients of the benefits will receive their extension benefits in the next couple days.

"I called on members of the Missouri Senate to roll up their sleeves and pass this legislation that will provide 20 weeks of additional unemployment assistance to Missourians who have lost their jobs because of no fault of their own," Nixon said.

The legislation will provide $105 million in federal stimulus money to Missourians who have already exhausted other unemployment benefits. The extended program continues until Jan. 7, 2012, when they will expire.

The bill included an amendment to cute the state-funded benefit extensions from 26 to 20 weeks.

Governer Nixon said he hopes the benefit checks will be sent to unemployed Missourians within the next few days.

More than 100 people attended the state Capitol's first-ever Muslim Day sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri Muslim Rights Task Force.

The event was organized as a response to a few bills that have been brought up in the statehouse regarding foreign law. Those bills include one sponsored by Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific, and another sponsored by Don Wells, R-Cabool. Although Curtman's bill rejects foreign law, it does not specify Shariah law in its language like Wells' bill does.

"It doesn't specify any religious group..." Curtman said about his bill, "It just says in our courts we're going to use American laws... If it deprives somebody their fundamental liberty...then the judge is going to side with protecting peoples rights."

The resolution drafted by Wells calls for a ballot measure for the next election that would ban using Shariah law in court. Wells said he was compelled by one of his constituents to draft the legislation. Wells called Shariah law "very oppressive."

"I have been accused of being a bigot and doing it against a religion, which is entirely not true," Wells said. "I'm not doing anything against a religion; It does not mention religion, it mentions law."

Curtman said his bill is fundamentally different than Wells' resolution and said specifying Shariah law was "not good policy."

Imam Muhammad Hasic from the Bosnian Islamic Center of St. Louis also spoke at the press conference. He called on lawmakers to leave his religious freedoms intact.

"Islam is teaching me to respect, help and love my neighbors," Hasic said. "Please do not forbid me to do that."

The Missouri House gave final approval to a bill which would overhaul proposition B. Proposition B was passed by Missourians in November.

The bill would eliminate a potential cap on the number of dogs a breeder can own. It would also relax restriction for feeding and housing animals.

Democrat Margo McNeil says the bill throws out the opinion of voters.

Other democratic representative voiced concern over the relaxation of living conditions.

The bill passed by a vote of 85-71. It will now move on to Governor Nixon.

Missouri's House gave first-round approval to changes in the payday loan industry Wednesday.

The House voted along party lines for a bill, which would change several provisions on payday loans. The bill would lower the annual percentage rate maximum to 1,564 percent from the current 1,950 percent. The bill sponsored by Rep. Ellen Brandom, R-Sikeston, would also limit the number of times a borrower can "rollover" their loan to three from the previous six.

Brandom said her bill protects the consumer while also preventing the payday loan industry from going bankrupt. She said her bill came as a result of an ad hoc committee appointed by Speaker of the House Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, to address the payday loan industry.

Democrats said Brandom's bill does not do enough to protect the consumers and benefits payday lenders.

"This bill is a gift to the industry," Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia, said.

The Missouri House sent legislation to the governor to extend unemployment benefits by a vote of 138 to 13.

The bill came from the Senate where a Republican filibuster had held it up for weeks.

While about 10,000 longterm unemployed Missourians will get their benefits restored, the bill come with some concessions.

Future unemployed Missourians will see their benefits cut by six weeks, a concession the House made to the Senate.

Democrat leader Mike Talboy from Jackson County says the House needed to pass the bill or fear, "Sending this over to, whether there called the four horsemen of the apocalypse or as I've dubbed them, the lunatic fringe."

Rep. Barney Fisher, R-Richards, said it was time to get to the governor, "We had to accept them really and concur in what the Senate did. I don't think their changes were drastic. I think they were reasonable and it was time to pass that bill and get it to the governor."

Just months after Wisconsin Democrats fled their state Capitol in protest, a proposed constitutional amendment to prevent that from happening in Missouri sparked little debate in its Senate hearing Tuesday.

The Senate General Laws Committee heard a joint resolution that would keep members of the state legislature from leaving the state to delay a vote. Should a legislator leave the state, his or her seat would be vacated.

The amendment's sponsor, Mike Parson (R-28) says it's vital that Missouri lawmakers have an obligation to do what they came to Jefferson City for. 

"I just think leaving this state so you don't have to vote or perform your duties which you took an oath to do is wrong," said Parson.

However, it's unlikely that what happened in Wisconsin would happen in Missouri.

If Democrats were to walkout of the Missouri legislature, there would still be enough members present to hold a session.

Wisconsin requires sixty percent of members present to hold a session, while Missouri only needs a majority.

Following the lack of debate on the bill, the Senate chose to take no action on it.

The Senate failed to vote on the House's redistricting plan because of opposition by several Missouri Senators.

At issue is splitting up counties including Jefferson County and St. Charles County.

Republican after Republican stood up in opposition to the Republican sponsored proposal, including the Senate Majority Floor Leader, Tom Dempsey.

"I'm telling you my displeasure with the House map and my preference for the Senate map, and as we move forward, you know, that's what my focus is on," Dempsey said.

Most opposing Senators said the Republican Senate's plan is a better alternative, but Sen. Ryan McKenna, D-Jefferson County, said he opposes both plans.

"For my county to be the only county in the State now to have 3 congressmen and women is a hard pill for me to swallow," McKenna said.

Legislators have until the end of the day Monday to come to a decision in order to make the governor act on this plan before the session ajourns.

Former talk radio host turned politician calls out flaws in current political system at an Anti-Tax event. 

The potential presidential candidate for the Republican Party, Herman Cain, made an appearance sponsored by the United for Missouri group.  

Cain jumped from topics of eliminating an income tax to strengthening state's individual rights. Among the issues Cain addressed, President Barack Obama's name came up several times.

"We have a president who doesn't know how to lead," said Cain.

Tea Party activists have called on Cain to push for smaller government and less spending, all issues that he says he identifies with.

"I have people ask me all the time, 'Is this Tea Party thing going to go away?' I say, What thing are you talking about? Are you talking about people who want to take back their government? No, it's not going away it's going to get stronger and stronger," Cain said.

He was previously a radio talk show host for five years for WSB-Atlanta and was the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza.

The business-man turned politician has created an exploratory committee for the 2012 presidential run.

Cain is also on a fervent tour around the country to get his platform out there. Last week he spoke at a Tea Party rally in Iowa, and was off after his speech in Missouri to fly to North Dakota.

Cain will be visiting Michigan, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Florida and Texas all within the week.

Missouri dog shelters and their dogs gathered in the Capitol for Humane Day on Tuesday. The 18th annual event hopes to bring awareness to the public and legislators about animal shelters.

This year, Prop B was also apart of the agenda. Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation Executive Director Bob Baker says the new bill actually weakens current humane laws.

Baker said it is also an issue for consumers. He said the Better Business Bureau of Missouri had many complaints last year from puppy purchasers.

"And these dogs turned out to be sick and ill and they have to spend hundreds of dollars on veterinary bills for these dogs," said Baker.

Stray Rescue in St. Louis volunteer Connie Davie collected over 1,000 signatures for Prop B and hoped Humane Day encourages legislators to protect the dogs.

The House and Senate have both voted to repeal Prop B.

The Senate Health Committee held a public hearing Tuesday on a House-passed bill that would take some funds away from substance abusers in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

Program members under suspicion of substance use would be drug tested. If they fail, they would be deprived of funds for a year and referred to a treatment program.

Funds would be allocated to a third-party provider.

Sikeston Republican Representative and bill sponsor  Ellen Brandom says this bill could prevent children from being born into harmful environments.

"We have all these babies being born to mothers who test positive for drugs, and if they're using meth or crack, these children, some of them have irreversible brain damage and live on psychotic drugs their entire lives," said Brandom.

Smithville Republican Senator Luann Ridgeway emphasized how drug users wouldn't likely spend funds on their families.

She said, "If you're in the work program, and you've been tested, and you've shown you have dirty tests, it just doesn't make sense to me that that money is actually going to go back into the household."

Opponents, however, say the measure fails to ensure funding for these treatment programs, and this bill could make already-poor families even poorer.

Colleen Coble with the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence said, "Without the component of treatment being made available, beyond just a referral, we will have very poor children with less money in the household and without an addictive parent."

According to Ridgeway, this bill is different from a similar Senate bill because it does not let users keep money while in a treatment program for their first failed drug testing offense.

Despite his party's support for President Barack Obama's health care plan, Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster filed a "friend of the court" brief Monday that aims to remove the mandate requiring most Americans to obtain health insurance.

Koster wrote in the brief that upholding the individual mandate would "imbue Congress with police powers rejected by the Founding Fathers and never before permitted by the Supreme Court."

The brief was filed in response to resolutions passed in the statehouse in January that called on the attorney general to challenge the constitutionality of the health care law and to defend Proposition C.

A $20 million funding boost to higher education budget was tentatively approved Monday by the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, proposed to his committee Monday a plan to increase the Missouri higher education budget in order to help reduce costs for students.

Schaefer said they have a commitment with all university presidents to help decrease overall student costs in response to receiving additional funds. Schaefer said the reductions would not affect planned tuition increases, but that they would help reduce overall student expenses such as course fees.

"They [university presidents] are working in good faith to reduce costs," Schaefer said.

  Committee heard bill to make crime scene video and photos closed records.

Two weeks ago, St. Louis police officers shared a controversial crime photo to the Internet, now lawmakers have proposed a bill that prevents crime photos from being released to the public.

Though the incident in St.Louis happened after the bill was filed, both raise the question of how easy it should be to gain crime scene photos.

This bill will make these records closed - no longer protected by the state's Sunshine law as public records.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Scott Largent, R-Clinton, said he wants to protect the victim's families by preventing the release of these photos.

President of the Missouri Coroners' and Medical Examiners' Association John Clifton agrees.

“Just imagine if your daughter or granddaughter was the victim. Would you want to see her photograph in the newspaper or on television or in a tabloid or on the Internet?” he said.

The Missouri Press Association's executive director Doug Crews, said the press needs to access these photos to inform the public.

President of the Missouri Broadcaster's Association Don Hicks opposed the bill as well. He said personal distress is not a reason to make an exception to the Sunshine Law, which allows the press access to records in order to inform the public.

The committee will continue to discuss this bill as the session continues.

The Senate Redistricting Committee passed the House's congressional district plan Monday soon after its quick passage in the House last week.

Like the accompanying Senate proposal, the plan would eliminate the St. Louis congressional district currently occupied by Democratic U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan. The committee approved the House proposal with a 4-3 vote after hearing little opposing testimony. Two Democrats and one Republican voted against the House map.

The House plan now awaits a vote on the Senate floor, where it will meet its partnering proposal, which senators have yet to vote on.

Committee member Sen. Robin Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis City, voted for the Senate proposal last week but against the House one Monday. She said neither map gave blacks nor Democrats the proper representation. Wright-Jones also said she wanted the governor to veto the plans so that they could go to the courts.

"I do not think color necessarily plays during the process, but it does play for me," Wright-Jones said. "The minority voice and a Democratic voice would have a  better voice in a neutral court."

Legislators must complete the redistricting process by the end of the legislative session in May; if they fail to agree on a map the courts will be tasked with making a decision on the matter.