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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of November 28, 2011

Thirty organizations in the St. Louis area worked together on World AIDS Day to increase awareness of the disease.

According to the Health Department, 11,000 people in the state of Missouri are currently infected with the AIDS and HIV.  

Almost half of those infected live in the St. Louis area.

President Barack Obama announced adding $50 million for AIDS treatment on World AIDS Day.

Dollar General reports nationwide business expansion into existing and new markets in the last year.

Dollar General spokeswoman Tawn Earnest says this increase in business has allowed for increased employment at distribution centers like the plant in Fulton.

"Over the course of this year we've opened nearly 600 stores and increased our presence in existing markets and expanded into three additional states," she said.

Fulton Director of Administration, Bill Johnson, says he is thrilled about the potential economic boom.

He said, "I read it in the newspaper this morning and was thrilled that some of the unemployed in this area are going to have the opportunity to get off the pay roll."

The 50 new jobs would be a significant increase in employment for the small City of Fulton.

Rio Queen Citrus in Texas confirmed salmonella, which can cause serious infections in its 243 boxes of grape tomatoes the company has sent to St. Louis and Dallas. It came after Rio Queen Citrus tested random samples from each lot of tomatoes.

Its president Mike Martin said they confirmed the contamination this Tuesday and have told the receivers in St. Louis and Dallas.

Front Row Produce said in a news release it is recalling those grape tomatoes. Martin said the receivers of the products in St. Louis and Dallas will destroy the grapes by themselves.

Martin said the company stopped sending other grape tomatoes out and is trying to find out the source of contamination. He said they sent additional people to Mexico where the tomatoes were grown to help identify the source of problem.

Martin also said they have reported the issue to the Food and Drug Administration and are working with FDA for further investigation. He said they will provide information FDA needs and seek advices from FDA.

After the investigation is done and the procedure is potentially reviewed, revised and improved, Rio Queen Citrus will test product sampling again to make sure there is no any kind of contamination.

The recalled tomatoes was distributed to food service distributors and retail stores in Missouri and Illinois, according to an AP report.

Martin said although no illnesses have been reported, it is possible some people ate the tomatoes.

Marilyn Smashey lost her son, Taylor Green, when he was just 18 to a heroin overdose. Taylor was a normal kid. He liked spending time with friends and family, but also was interested in experimenting with drugs before his fifteenth birthday.

Green's story is just one of hundreds statewide that resulted in a teenager dying from a heroin overdose. Police officials say more than 300 deaths are expected by the end of 2011 due to heroin overdose.

Commander for the West County Precinct in St. Louis and former DEA task force specialist, Chuck Boschert, says the availability of the drug creates a new demographic of affluent drug users.

Boschert says the drug is tailored for a new clientele because it can easily be snorted in pill form as opposed to having to use needles.

Smashey, along with other parents that lost a child to heroin, plans to share her story with the state with the hope of increasing heroin awareness among parents and children across Missouri.

The six judges who decided the Missouri General Assembly's new district boundaries released the final redistricting maps and plans on Wednesday.

"We have worked collaboratively to draw maps that comply with the constitution, the Voting Rights Act and other legal requirements," said the Missouri Appellate Apportionment Commission's chairwoman, Lisa White Hardwick.

The districts must be shuffled every 10 years following the U.S. Census. In 2010, the census found that Missouri's population had grown by 7 percent to a population of nearly 6 million. The commission was tasked with the job of drawing new district lines after bipartisan commissions were able to agree on the maps.

In accordance with the state constitution, the districts must contain roughly the same number of people. According to the commission, the four of the 34 state Senate districts have a black majority; 18 of the 163 House of Representatives' districts are mostly racial minorities.

This is the second time in Missouri's history that judges decided the districts for both chambers of the legislature, the commission stated in its news release.

The 2012 primary and general elections will operate with the new districts.

The maps were drawn by the appeals court judges in secret.  They did not announce their meetings and refused admission by a Missouri Digital News Reporter to cover one of their sessions.

David Kerr told a House committee it would be a waste of taxpayer money to fully investigate companies seeking various tax breaks for economic development projects.

"Vetting for vetting sake sends a strong message to companies," said Kerr, the director of the Department of Economic Development. "It's telling them we won't take a chance on them. It's telling them that they're not welcome to try to succeed in Missouri."

Kerr was testifying before the House Government Oversight Committee investigating a failed Chinese business venture promoted by Kerr's Economic Development Department that left the town of Moberly with a $39 million bond issue debt for a factory abandoned by the company, Mamtek.

Kerr told legislators that because no state tax dollars are involved, there was less need to fully investigate applications for state tax breaks that are not awarded unless new jobs are created.

"It is an efficient use of tax dollars to do a criminal background check on the CEO of GM or Ford or any other publicly-traded company that wants to create jobs or wants to invest in Missouri," Kerr told the lawmakers.

Ironically, the failure of Kerr's department to do a criminal background check led to a public embarrassment for Missouri's governor.

One week after the governor traveled to Cape Girardeau to announced tax credits to a local developer in December 2010, Kerr's department revoked the credits after reports that the developer had lied about his criminal record. 

The House Government Oversight Committee released documents at a Tuesday hearing showing that administration staffers had realized the potential financial problems of a Chinese company whose failure has left a $40 million bond issue debt in Moberly.

At the same time the Missouri Department of Economic Development was seeking a town to invest in the China-based artificial sweetener Mamtek in April 2010, the department's International Business Manager Yan Li wrote in an e-mail to the department's Chinese consultant in Shanghai that they cannot get any of Mamtek's financial background and asked for more information.

"We cannot get any of their finance background," Yan Li wrote April 9, 2010 to the director of the department's office in China.

The China office director, Edward Li, replied that they found Mamtek's "plant in Fujian Province, China, never started to manufacture."

Just days earlier, Moberly reported it was one of several communities selected by the state agency for consideration for the Mamtek project. On April 30, Mamtek selected Moberly for its factory.

Both Moberly officials and representatives of a company that handled the $40 million bond issue for China told the committee they had not been known about the administration concerns. They said they might not have proceeded had the known about the internal administration emails.

Moberly Area Economic Development Corporation President Corey Mehaffy told the committee that the city could not afford to send representatives to China and check the company's condition. Mehaffy said he verified Mamtek's information with the company's own attorney.

Mehaffy said their corporation is having ongoing conversations with other manufactures now to fill in the facilities, but the Department of Economic Development isn't helping.

The committee chairman Rep. Jay Barnes said the director of the Department of Economic Development needs to "stop what they are doing right now and make filling that factory in Moberly their top priority."

After the testimony, Yan Li said he cannot remember the emails last year. He has to go back and check his file before he could provide more information.

Missourians came to the state Capitol to participate in a memorial service to honor people injured and killed by drunk drivers on Tuesday.

Officials of the Missouri Department of Transportation, the Missouri State Highway Patrol and a victim's relatives spoke in the ceremony.

Richard Reed, a volunteer with the Springfield Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said he lost his son in an impaired driving accident.

"We were trying to come up here and lobby our government up here to pass the seatbelt law, and that has helped," Reed said.

Kevin Keith, the director of the transportation department, said he hopes the ceremony can continue to raise awareness.

"This is the choice no one had -- to die because of impaired driving," Keith said. "If we just get folks to make a different choice."

Keith also said driving-related deaths can easily drop if people stop drunk driving.

"We could cut that number by a third more immediately," Keith said. "That doesn't cost any money. That doesn't cost anything. Just don't drink and drive."

Keith said they will continue to make efforts to prevent future tragedies through education and enforcement. Officials warn that drivers must remember to drive sober during the holiday season.

The ceremony also introduced a new logo for a national campaign to encourage safe and sober driving, called "drive sober or get pulled over."

The House Government Oversight Committee released documents Tuesday showing that administration staffers had questions about the financial background of a Chinese company the administration was promoting.

At the same time Economic Development Department was seeking a town to invest in the Chinese company Mamtek, department emails reveal staffers in the department were concerned about their inability to get financial information about the company.

In addition, documents released by the committee indicated that a department representative in China reported as false a claim that Mamtek was operating a sugar-production factory in China.

The Missouri town of Moberly ultimately signed on to the deal, agreeing to nearly $40 million in bonds that Mamtek subsequently abandoned.

Moberly officials, as well as the company that facilitated the bond issue, told the House committee their decisions might have been different if they had known of the concerns being raised internally within the Economic Development Department.

Both the city and the bond issue firm said they had not been told about those concerns. The House committee chair said he was "shocked" when he read the memos just last week.

The Economic Development Department did not respond for comment.

Gov. Jay Nixon announced the department director's departure in early November, but said he would remain as an unpaid advisor for the governor.

Former Governor and vice chairman of the new Midwest U.S.-China Association Bob Holden also said he is not responsible for the facility failure.

He said the responsibility of his association lies in creating relationships, not monitoring their business deals after connections are made.

Holden also said he does not totally agree with the investigation of the Moberly plant.

"You're walking a fine line about having the due diligence on one hand and at the same time being aggressive enough on the other to be attractive to opportunity. You go too far in one direction and you get beat up by somebody," he said.

Holden said though he wasn't responsible, he did set up the relationship between Chinese investors and Missouri's Department of Economic Development.

The children of former state auditor and Democratic candidate for Missouri lieutenant governor Susan Montee were arrested by St. Joseph police while celebrating a friend's birthday.

The melee began early Friday outside a St. Joseph bar. Montee's three children were among seven arrested after the brawl.

Officers from the St. Joseph Police Department responded to the fight. They arrested Montee's daughter and charged her with disorderly conduct after she failed to disperse from the crowd. One of Montee's sons was charged with interfering and the other with disorderly conduct.

Two charter schools in Missouri teach entirely in a foreign language. 

Language immersion is a specific kind of charter school. St. Louis Language Immersion School and Academie Lafayette are the only two public schools in the state offering this type of education. This alternative curriculum gives students from English-speaking families the opportunity to become bilingual. School administrators say it sets them up for success by incorporating other cultures into the curriculum.

"Having a school that really does replicate the diversity of the world that we live in is going to be a helpful tool for them, a helpful social tool for them over time," said Rhonda Broussard, founder of the St. Louis Language Immersion School.

Interest in charter schools has gone up in recent years because of the poor quality of public schools in the Kansas City and St. Louis areas. Kansas City and St. Louis are currently the only counties where charter schools are allowed to exist.

In an effort to cut costs, Missouri's Department of Transportation will focus first on the most traveled roads this winter.

But Becky Allmeroth, a MoDOT maintenance engineer, said that's not the only change Missourians will notice.

"We now have some computerized equipment on the truck that's kind of smart equipment so when the truck slows down, the amount of salt that goes down slows down, and when we're stopped at an intersection, the amount of salt that goes down completely stops," Allmeroth said.

Another change will be improved slow plows, which cover twice the distance as the old ones, and will allow for fewer trucks to be on the roads.

Instead of salt, sand will be spread on many rural roads, but it will not be used in cities because it could ruin the sewers.

Last Week

MU football coach Gary Pinkel pled guilty to driving while intoxicated Friday.

He was sentenced to two years of unsupervised probation.

Pinkel had been arrested Wednesday night on suspected DWI. The next afternoon, the university suspended him without pay for one week. Other penalties imposed on Pinkel include a one-week salary contribution to a University of Missouri wellness program.

The various penalties could cost Pinkel more than $300,000.

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder announced Friday he would not seek the GOP nomination for governor.

Instead, Kinder plans for re-election for a third term as lieutenant governor.

Kinder had been the presumptive GOP candidate, but ran into controversy concerning use official funds for lodging in St. Louis and later from allegations that he attended bars with scantily clad women.

Until his surprise announcement, Kinder and his staff had given every indication he intended to make the race.

Four years ago, Kinder had dropped a possible race for governor after former U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof had announced his campaign.

Earlier this week, a St. Louis businessman, Dave Spence, announced his candidacy for governor. Kinder said he would support Spence.

Kinder may not have a free shot for the Republican nomination to keep his job as lieutenant governor. Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, announced earlier in the week his candidacy.

Chris McKee, son of a prominent St. Louis developer, also had announced his candidacy, although the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported he intended to drop out.

Earlier, House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, dropped his campaign for lieutenant governor.

The redistricting judicial panel secretly convened to decide who Missourians get to vote for in the next election.

The six judges on the redistricting panel refuse to disclose any information on the meeting or plans.

Western District Court of Appeals Judge Lisa Hardwick who's chairing the panel refused to comment.

Chief Judge Don E. Burrell Jr. on the commission kept walking when asked about the meeting.

The other four judges serving on the panel are Robert G. Dowd Jr., Nancy Steffen Rahmeyer, Roy L. Richter and James E. Welsh.

The House Democratic leader voiced criticism of the secrecy when told about it.

"On public policy matters that are important that only happen every ten years like this does, that are of that importance, I think they should be done in a full and transparent process in front of the world to see," said Rep. Mike Talboy, D-Kansas City.

Gov. Jay Nixon just said he will offer state help in managing some St. Louis County parks to keep them open on Wednesday.

However, Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, said it is not the governor's business to offer that help.

According to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch's article, Nixon said a state-county operation would same money.

However, Lembke said he questioned where the money will be from. He said it is unconstitutional to use money dedicated to state parks to fund parks outside the system.

"He can't unilaterally go around the appropriations process and promise funds that he does not have ability to appropriate," said Lembke.

Lembke also said they have serious challenges to set the priorities of people in spending their money in the budget process and there is no extra money for Nixon to make his promise.

Lembke said what the governor can do is to encourage county executive to rearrange the county's priority. He said the county can find money elsewhere and make cut other places in the budget to fund the parks.

Lembke said he has heard from many constituents saying they want the parks to remain open and he is communicating with the county executive office on the behalf of the constituents.

Governor Jay Nixon joined broadband stakeholders and industry leaders at the second annual Missouri Broadband Summit to promote Internet accessibility.

The summit is a part of the state's MoBroadbandNow initiative, which was founded by Nixon in 2009 to expand and enhance Internet accessibility in Missouri.

Nixon said access to broadband is not a luxury for the future, but a necessity to keep the economy moving forward.

By the end of 2014, Nixon's goal is to let 95 percent of Missourians have broadband accessibility.

University of Missouri head football coach, Gary Pinkel, will not coach Saturday's game against Texas Tech.

This comes after the Boone County Sheriff's Department arrested Pinkel Wednesday night on driving while intoxicated charges. 

The Boone County Sheriff's Deputy arrested Pinkel Wednesday night around 10:15 pm in Columbia. Officers pulled Pinkel over for lane and signal violations. After pulling Pinkel over, deputies believed Pinkel had been drinking.  Officers transported Pinkel to the Boone County Jail where he later posted $500 bond.

Major Tom Reddin would not comment on specifics, but this is Pinkel's first offense.

Last year Mizzou football players Beau Brinkley and Will Ebner were arrested for DWI and subsequently suspended. Also, assistant coach Bruce Walker was arrested for DWI.  Both players were suspended for two games as a result of their arrests. 

In a statement released Thursday morning Pinkel apologized for his actions.  "My staff and I constantly reinforce with each of our players the importance of not putting yourself into a position such as this. I did not follow that here and for that, I sincerely apologize to the University of Missouri, to our administration, to the Board of Curators and to our fans. I have already met with our staff and communicated with our players and have apologized to them," said Pinkel.

Athletic Director, Mike Alden, also released a statement saying he is disappointed in Pinkel's actions.  "He is known as a man of great character and integrity. However, this absolutely goes against everything we stand for, and everything that he teaches his players in regards to our social responsibilities. We hold ourselves to very high standards, and this is a very serious breach of those responsibilities," said Alden.

Pinkel said he will face whatever form of punishment the athletic department finds necessary.  "I accept full responsibility for my actions and will abide by whatever course of action our leadership deems appropriate," said Pinkel.

MU Chancellor Brady Deaton released a statement saying he is disappointed to hear about Pinkel's arrest.  "Coaches must hold themselves to the very highest of standards. His lack of judgment is especially concerning since he serves as a role model for our students, said Deaton.

At a press conference Thursday afternoon Alden announced Pinkel will not coach Saturday's game against Texas Tech.  In addition to his week-long suspension, Pinkel's punishments include donating a week's salary to the MU Wellness Resource Center.  This salary totals to over $40,000.

Other financial punishments include a one year pay freeze, no social and academic incentives, and no bowl bonuses. 

The financial impact of this DWI arrest total to more than $300,000. Aside from the financial impacts, Pinkel has to write an apology letter to fans, will have a letter of reprimand placed on his file, and must complete 50 hours of community service by next summer. 

President Obama filed to run in the Missouri's primary this week.

The primary is scheduled for February 7th.

Eight Republican candidates already filed for the primary.

Obama joins Republican candidates: Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, Gary Johnson, Michael Meehan, Keith Drummond, and Jon Huntsman.

Obama is the only Democratic candidate on the ballot right now.

Several Missouri state lawmakers agreed there should be discussion next year on using tolls to fund reconstruction for Interstate 70.

At a meeting of the Joint Legislative Committee on Transportation Oversight, Missouri Department of Transportation Director Kevin Keith urged lawmakers to support his department's plan to make Interstate 70 a toll road to recover the costs of major improvements to the interstate. The worn-down interstate's overcapacitated lanes and old bridges are among the reasons Keith said the interstate is in desperate need of a repair.

Under the plan, MoDOT would partner with private contractors to improve I-70 from the U.S. Highway 40-61 junction in Wentzville to the I-470 junction near Kansas City. Such improvements could include the expansion of new lanes, bridges and dedicated truck lanes on the interstate.

Keith said he estimates the project would cost anywhere from $1.5 billion to $4 billion, but he said a newly renovated interstate would keep MoDOT from spending $75 million to $95 million per year on maintenance.

"[We] have got to have some way to pay for it. And right now it's the only option I know of," Keith said.

Other lawmakers, including House Transportation Committee Chairman Charlie Denison, R-Springfield, suggested a sales tax increase as another source of funding.

In 2007, Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, supported a statewide sales tax increase to deal with overcrowded interstates.

Stouffer also expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of a new toll.

"I have a concern -- I don't know how real it is -- that if you toll 70, you will push traffic onto other roads that aren't built for the heavy traffic," Stouffer said.

Keith said it was a "valid concern" and that a toll would undoubtedly cause some traffic to leave.  

He estimates the project could be completed in the next five years. 

Thirty-five years ago, Kenny Rothman co-sponsored Missouri's child abuse law, which requires anyone who works with children to immediately report suspected child abuse.

But like Pennsylvania, that law requires that some professionals such as teachers only have to report the suspected abuse to their supervisors.

Rothman, now a St. Louis County attorney, said if he could do it over, he would not have included that exemption.

"The administration could cover it up like it was done here in Pennsylvania, or it could take too long because administrations have a tendency to be bulky and cumbersome," Rothman said.

A staff attorney from the Missouri State Teachers Association said he does not think a change is necessary and that the system works well with teachers reporting abuse to principals.

Senate Democratic Leader Victor Callahan, D-Independence, said he has not heard of any plans to change the child abuse law during the upcoming legislative session.

The embattled director of Missouri's Economic Development director David Kerr will leave his position at the end of the year.

Kerr's department has come under attack after the failure of an economic development project promoted by his agency has left the city of Moberly with nearly $40 million in bonds for a project that has been abandoned.

Earlier this year, the company Mamtek failed to make payments on bonds for development of factory it was developing in Moberly under an economic development project approved by Kerr's department.

Subsequent legislative investigations identified a southeast Missouri economic development project the state abandoned after it was discovered that the developer had been convicted of check fraud.

Also spotlighted by the legislative investigation was the failure of an economic development project in Kirksville by a company called Wi-Fi Sensors.

A statement issued by the governor's office reported that Kerr would continue to work for Jay Nixon as an unpaid consultant.

In the statement, Kerr was quoted as saying he wanted to spend more time with his children.

The Department of Economic Development released a report showing unemployment dropped to 8.5 percent in October.

That's down 0.2 percent from September.

According to this report, Missouri's unemployment rate is 1 percent lower than the U.S. unemployment rate.

The industries that saw the largest job increase were private education, leisure and hospitality, and administrative support services.

Despite this news, top officials from the Department of Economic Development were unable to comment.

Spokesman for the governor's office Scott Holste was also unavailable.

Chairman of the House Transportation Committee Charlie Denison said the head of the Missouri Department of Transportation has contacted him for the proposal of making I-70 a toll road.

Denison said he supports highway funding, but toll roads are not the best option.

"All good coming in and out of the state of Missouri will go up if we use toll roads. So it is a good source of funding? Not necessarily," said Denison.

Denison said another possible option for funding might be a sales tax increase.

"Not gasoline tax, because we need to probably bring that down a little bit, but turn around and do a sales tax," said Denison.

But Denison said it might take several years to make that happen.

Meanwhile, Denison also said I-70 is not the only highway that needs to rebuild.

"We have a dire need on 70, but we get just as great a need on 44 in my opinion. And we get just as great a need for some of our farm-to-market roads that are not getting anything at this particular time," said Denison.

Denison said they need to find a new source of revenue to build new highways.

The average value of farmland in several states throughout the Midwest and West is up 25% more than last year, despite droughts and flooding.

According to a survey released by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, that's the biggest annual increase in land value since it began keeping survey records in 1994.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City covers western Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Colorado and northern New Mexico.

The Federal Reserve said bumper crops and strong farm income from northern Plain states is the biggest reason for the increase.

Kelly Smith with the Missouri Farm Bureau said Missouri's farmland has also seen steady gains in value the past few years.

"This would be across the state - whether it's cropland, pasture land, forest, timberland - we have seen values rise," said Smith.

Smith attributes the rise mostly to rising commodity prices.

Joplin City officials say almost half of the 7,500 homes that were destroyed in the May 22 tornado are now under repair.

Joplin has issued almost 3,700 building permits for repairs, rebuilding, and new construction projects.

Joplin Public Information Officer, Lynn Onstot, says more than half of the building permits call for repairs of over $100,000.

Onstot credits much of the progress to the thousands of volunteers that came to Joplin following the May tornado.

Missouri strip clubs attempted to take off restrictions that Missouri state law placed on them in 2010, and failed, according to the Associated Press.

The Missouri Supreme Court unanimously voted against lifting restrictions such as full nudity, alcohol permission and staying open past midnight.

The restrictions not only apply to strip clubs, but any sex oriented business. The lobbyists for strip clubs say it was an infringement on free expression, and the court disagreed.

As pedestrian deaths so far this year threaten to surpass last year's total, the Missouri Department of Transportation launched a pedestrian awareness campaign called "Be Smart. Be Seen."

Transportation department spokeswoman DeAnne Rickabaugh said there have already been 54 pedestrian deaths for the first nine months of 2011. There were 57 pedestrian deaths in 2010, which puts 2011 on track to surpass this statistic.

Rickabaugh said drivers and pedestrians should be more attentive to one other, especially in highway situations. Drivers should pay attention to pedestrians, and pedestrians should take measures to ensure their own safety, she said.

Rickabaugh suggested pedestrians walk on the shoulder against traffic flow and look drivers in the eyes. She said pedestrians who do not know how to address their car troubles should stay in their cars if possible and call police or assistance to deal with the issue.

MoDOT plans to hold events to spread awareness about pedestrian safety.

St. Louis businessman Dave Spence announced his intention to run for Missouri governor in an interview with the Associated Press Tuesday.

Spence, a Republican, will most likely enter into an August primary election against embattled Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, although he has yet to formally declare his candidacy.

The winner of this primary would face current Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon in a November 2012 gubernatorial election.

Spence, 53, is a current head of the firms Alpha Packaging and Legacy Packaging, which make products for pharmaceutical companies. He has never run for public office.

St. Louis businessman Chris McKee and state Senator Brad Lager both announced they will run for Lieutenant Governor.

This comes after Speaker of the House Steve Tilley dropped out of the race last week.

Lt. Governor Peter Kinder will not run again and is expected to run for governor, but he has not yet announced his plans for the 2012 election.

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