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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of January 30, 2012

Facing expected Senate rejection of his confirmation, Jason Hall announced his resignation as director of the Department of Economic Development.

Hall's resignation was announced in a news release issued by the governor's office as the Senate began meeting on gubernatorial nominations.

Neither the governor nor his communications staff were available for immediate comment.

During Senate debate, Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said that at age 36, Hall was too young and lacked sufficient business experience to manage the agency that handles business promotion for the state.

During his earlier confirmation hearing, some members expressed frustration that Hall would not directly answer questions about his positions on various economic development issues.

The department has been under legislative review since last year when a Chinese investment project promoted by the department failed, leaving $39 million in bonds that had been issued by Moberly.

Gov. Jay Nixon one of his staff lawyers, Chris Pieper, as acting director of the department. He becomes the fourth economic development director during Nixon's administration.

Hall's resignation came as several other nominations by the governor were blocked in the Senate or withdrawn as the Senate met for the last time before a deadline to act on nominations made before the legislature began it's 2012 session.

At one point, legislators complained about the lack of communication by the governor.

Even a Democrat -- Sen. Ryan McKenna, D-Jefferson County -- voiced frustration with the failure of Nixon to talk with Senate members or for staff to coordinate effectively with the legislature.

The Missouri Senate blocked the nomination of Columbia attorney Craig Van Matre to the MU Board of Curators Thursday.

Several Senate Republicans filibustered Van Matre's nomination citing a 2007 editorial in the Columbia Daily Tribune where he called members of the Missouri Republican Party "minions" and said they wanted to create a Christian theocracy.

Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, opposed Van Matre's appointment and said he should not expect the Senate to approve his nomination after the words used in his 2007 editorial.

"I told him [Van Matre] won't have to temper his comments on the Board of Curators because he won't be on the Board of Curators," Engler said.

In 2007, Van Matre attacked a Republican legislator's plan to eliminate the state's non-partisan plan to appoint judges. He accused Republicans of being in control of the anti-abortion group Missouri Right to Life.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, sponsored Van Matre's nomination and withdrew it after opposition from members of his own party. Schaefer said Van Matre was qualified for the position, but that his appointment faced "insurmountable hills" in the Senate.

For the second week in a row, the Missouri House held a technical session instead of meeting on Thursday. It was a choice that got criticized on the Senate floor.

Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, said, "I was just commenting to our county commissioners who were up here from back home that the Senate's working and the House was not working."

House Floor Majority Leader Tim Jones responded to the complaint by saying the Senate should worry about their own business and leave the House business to the House.

Following an extensive filibuster, Missouri Senators finally gave approval to a bill that would limit discrimination protection for workers in the early hours of Thursday morning.

Senators reached a compromise after members from both sides of the aisles met behind closed doors to negotiate the bill's language while the filibuster continued. The two sides eventually reached a deal by eliminating parts of the bill dealing with summary judgement in discrimination cases.

Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, led the day-long filibuster against the business-backed bill. Earlier this week members of Missouri's Legislative Black Caucus spoke out against the bill, saying they supported their members in the Senate, and would continue to oppose the bill until it is defeated. Chappelle-Nadal said she would restart her filibuster if the proposal reached the Senate floor after being through the House.

As the Senate was locked down in a filibuster, private negotiations were underway with some member of the Black Caucus to force a compromise.

House Republican Leader Tim Jones said the goal was to get a bill passed that the governor would sign.  Nixon had vetoed a similar bill last year.

The House Education Committee approved a measure that could give extra state funds to lower-funded schools in a year when the state is facing the potential of a near standstill budget for public education.

Missouri's current formula for allocating funds to local schools is based an expectation of major funding increases to correct unequal levels of per-student spending among Missouri's school districts. 

The state's stagnant economy, however, has prevented the state for the last few years from meeting the formula's funding requirements.  For the next fiscal year, the state would be about $500 million below the "full funding" requirement of the law.

The measure approved by the House committee effectively would impose cuts per-student state funding for better off districts, called "hold-harmless" districts in order to free up funds for the poorer districts.

A similar plan to scale back state funding to hold-harmless districts, many in suburban areas, was blocked last year from a vote in the Senate by opponents who said it would be unfair to their districts that could see a reduction in state funding.

Administrators from Planned Parenthood and the Missouri Catholic Council clashed over a House bill that would create more restrictions on the administration of abortion drugs.

"This bill would seek to protect women by placing reasonable regulations and giving women basic information before using an abortion-inducing drug," bill sponsor Rep. Andrew Koenig, R- St. Louis County, said. "I believe it would reduce the number of abortions in the state"

The bill would restrict the sale of RU-486 and other abortion inducing drugs that terminates a pregnancy in the first seven weeks. A prescription would be required 24 hours before administration of the drug by a licensed physician in a hospital or abortion facility. It would also prohibit "tele-med" abortions which allow a woman to have an abortion in her home under the supervision of a physician via teleconference.

According to Planned Parenthood, they adopted tele-medicine to increase clinical availability in rural areas.

The current abortion-pill distribution procedure requires the woman to come into the clinic for blood work, an ultrasound and a meeting with a physician. Within the next 72 hours the woman returns to the clinic to receive the first dose. She is then given the second dose, misoprostol, and pain medication along with instructions on how to self-administer the drug at home 24 to 48 hours after the first dose.

The committee has not yet taken any action.

A proposed bill would allow the Missouri Department of Transportation to only pay for the relocation of billboards not meeting state standards in construction zones.

Many signs do not meet standard due to a 2002 law regulating the distance between billboards.

Under current law, MoDOT has to pay for the removal and replacement of billboards.

Republican Senator Jason Crowell questioned spending plans for the St. Louis Rams Stadium improvements Wednesday at a senate appointment hearing. Sports Complex Authority nominee James Shrewsbury told senators he does not believe the economy is stable enough to support major government funding.

Crowell said if state money is needed for improvements, he wants it brought before the general assembly. He added he does not agree with funding a new dome when higher education is at 1997 levels.

The discussion happened on the same day the Convention and Visitors Commission presented a plan for the Edward Jones Dome improvements to the Rams. The Rams have until March 1 to respond.

The Senate Gubernatorial Appointments Committee refused to vote on the Governor's choice to head the Department of Economic Development.

Jason Hall's appointment runs out Friday - and will be banned from the position - if he's not confirmed by the Senate or Gov. Nixon withdraws his nomination.

Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, chairs the appointments committee and says the Governor hasn't talked to the Senate about the nomination - and Senators are concerned about Hall's work history.

"Many of the Senators feel that he lacks experience. He has very little experience in private industry or business," Mayer said.

But the President of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, Dan Mehan, disagreed.

"He's intelligent, he knows economic development, and he knows how to consummate a deal," Mehan said.

Governor Nixon's office issued a statement that says Jason Hall is "highly qualified," but did not address demands for the Governor to talk with legislators.

A bill that would replace teacher tenure with continuing contracts was questioned today in a House Education Committee hearing.

Representatives questioned the bill's sponsor Rep. Scott Dieckhaus, R-Washington, about the emphasis on "data" and "student growth" in teacher evaluations.

Teachers would be evaluated for renewal of their contract annually. 50 percent of the evaluation would be based on teaching standards, 50 percent on student growth.

Dieckhaus assured members of the committee that districts would have flexibility in creating standards for student growth and would not be locked in to state testing standards.

The committee will reconvene at 3 p.m. today to hear the remaining testimony and go into executive session on the bill.

Despite previous failures, legislators are once again attempting to create an international trade hub in St. Louis.

The hub came before the General Assembly last session, but died when the House refused to take action on the bill. Legislators heard the same proposal during the special session, but members of each chamber could not compromise on the bill, effectively ending all hope of passing it, until the current session.

The House Economic Development Committee unanimously passed the bill Tuesday, which grants a total of $60 million in tax credits over eight years to freight forwarders who direct cargo out of St. Louis to international destinations.

St. Louis and Kansas City Catholic school leaders offered to take students from failing urban districts at a Senate Committee hearing Tuesday.

The offer came during a Senate General Laws Committee hearing on bills to address the unaccredited St. Louis, Kansas City and the St. Louis County Riverview Gardens school districts. Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, led the efforts.

Superintendent for Catholic Schools in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese Dr. Dan Peters told the committee his schools could provide a quality education for half the cost of public schools. Associate Superintendent for the St. Louis Archdiocese Dr. Robert Oliveri also told Senators his schools have about 7,700 empty seats to accommodate students from St. Louis Public Schools.

"We want to allow students like ours the chance to choose a caring educational environment," said Leon Henderson, President of Cardinal Ritter Catholic High School in St. Louis.

In 2010, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld a law in Turner v. Clayton that allows students living in unaccredited school districts to go to an accredited school in a adjacent county. In St. Louis, county schools have resisted letting students from St. Louis City enroll, citing a lack of availability.

Cunningham's plan allows St. Louis City students to attend county schools, but also allows those same schools to set limits on enrollment. The bill also includes a tax credit, which opponents call "vouchers", allowing students in unaccredited districts to attend private schools.

For the Kansas City school district, Cunningham calls for an annexation of the Kansas City school district by surrounding suburban districts with stronger academic reputations.

 The Army Corps of Engineers took the heat for their handling of the 2011 Missouri River floods at a Senate committee hearing Tuesday.

Victims of last year's flood voiced their opinions to The Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy and the Environment committee.

Representatives from the governments of Holt and Atchison County testified and said they had concerns in regards to the role of the Corps.

Atchison County Commissioner Curtis Livengood spoke against the Corps' approach to the 2011 flood.

"This didn't just affect Mid-Missouri and we have a huge loss of revenues," "We needed immediate assistance and relief after the inevitable flood damage," Livengood said.

Livengood said that more areas can be improved by preparing citizens in better ways.

The University of Missouri System announced Tuesday it wants system curators to approve as much as a 7.5% tuition increase.

The decision comes after Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon proposed a 12.5% funding cut to higher education in his FY 2013 budget. Factoring in withholdings from previous budgets, the slash may be as high as 15.1%.

In documents posted online, the system recommended increases on all four UM system campuses at a 6.5% average--although the spike needs approval from the Missouri Department of Higher Education.

A bill that would bar public sector unions from withholding fees from employee paychecks ended in filibuster and discussion about the future of the Senate's calendar Tuesday.

Senator Tim Green D-Saint Louis filibustered the bill, sponsored by Senator Dan Brown R-Rolla.

Senator Victor Callahan D-Independence then questioned the importance of bills being placed on the Senate's priority list.

The House Higher Education Committee unanimously approved a bill Tuesday forcing Missouri's public universities to accept transfer credit from sister institutions.

The bill, sponsored by Representative Mike Thomson, R-Maryville, would streamline the process of transferring credits by requiring the universities to create a list of 25 transferable lower-division courses.

The measure also allows students to use credits from public four-year universities to get an associates degree, after leaving a community college.

Thomson says the current system of transferring credits isn't always to the student's benefit.

"They're not universal. They're not all the way across the state and we often time have students that transfer from school to school that don't really lose a credit, they still have it, but it doesn't really count for what they intended it to," said Thomson, a former school administrator.

Representative Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, is opposed to the bill.

"It's a bad idea to tell universities how to conduct transfer credits because the legislatures don't know anything about [the process]," Kelly said.

Senators questioned Monday whether Gov. Jay Nixon's choice for the new Director of the Department of Economic Development is experienced enough to turn around the state's decade-long economic struggle.

At a Gubernatorial Appointments Committee hearing nine senators delayed action to vote on Jason Hall's approval to efficiently serve as Missouri's DED Director. Committee Chair and Senate President Pro Tem, Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said the committee will meet again Wednesday to further discuss Hall's potential appointment.

Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, showed frustration in the meeting after Hall told him he had no opinion on several legislative proposals. Crowell asked Hall his stance on the state's prevailing wage law, right to work law and minimum wage law. Hall told Crowell he had not "had much experience" with those legislative proposals and had no opinion.

Rep. Penny Hubbard, D-St. Louis City, who has worked in the St. Louis corrections department for over 25 years, proposed the bill. The bill would give state funding to a two-year pilot program to provide transportation for children to visit their incarcerated mothers once each month.

The program would provide transportation for children and their caregivers to the two primary Missouri female corrections centers in Chillicothe and Vandalia.

Hubbard said that often when a parent is incarcerated, the children are left in the care of relatives or foster families, many of which do not have the means or time to transport these children to see their mothers on a regular basis. Hubbard also said that reconnecting these women with their children would give support to these children, who often feel abandoned or resentful for being taken away from their mothers.

“We have to love these children more, we have to try to reach them.” Hubbard said.

Missouri Legislative Black Caucus members held a press conference Monday opposing a bill they say will erase years of progress for civil rights and worker discrimination protection.

Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, sponsored the bill and said he wants to bring Missouri statute in line with federal law.

The bill changes current state law to require discrimination to be considered a motivating factor for termination of employment, instead of a contributing one. Lager's proposal also puts a cap of $300,000 on punitive damages.

The press conference was held a week after three Democratic senators began a filibuster to stop the chamber from taking action on the bill. Sen. Kiki Curls, D-Jackson County, said she would continue the filibuster for as long as it takes to defeat the bill.


In order to fund future improvements to Interstate 70, the Missouri Department of Transportation wants to create a toll on the highway through Missouri. The toll would be in place on a stretch of interstate between Wentzville and Blue Springs.

Missouri lawmakers are trying to find an alternative to the toll. Rep. Thomas Long, R-Springfield, is sponsoring a bill that would ban MoDOT from implementing the toll and put the venture into a public-private partnership. A public-private partnership is when a government enters into a project with the funding, or joint funding, of a private company.

Marah Campbell, MoDOT Director of Customer Service Relations, says the cost to improve the roadway could be up to $2 billion. With state funding of $600 million per year, she said this is impossible.

"It's just not possible to think that we would ever be able to tackle a project of the magnitude I-70," Campbell said. "In reality, tolling I-70 may be the only way this project could ever get accomplished."

MoDOT does not have a time table for future road construction.

    The sister of a resident at a state-run home for the "intellectually disabled" testified against a bill that would close such homes and integrate their residents into community life. 

The bill would require the Department of Mental Health to develop a plan to move intellectually disabled persons out of state-funded facilities and into community based living.

Dolores Sparks, Chair-Elect of the Congress on Disability Policy, said she believes that the state should assist people in transitioning into an acceptable environment.

Sparks said she believed the proposed bill would accomplish this.

She said she believes Missouri is doing a good job transitioning individuals into the community. She said the challenge is the cost of care in the institutional settings.

According to the Department of Mental Health, the average cost of supporting individuals in the community, in 2011, was $211 per day. The average cost for a resident in an institution can range from $353 to a high cost of $578.

Vitale said the estimated cost of living for these individuals in the community is inaccurate. 

Many expenses such as dental, medical, therapies, transportation costs, room and board and day programming are included in calculating habilitation costs, but not in community costs.

The House bill follows a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1999, known as the Olmstead Act. This law would transition "people with disabilities into the least restrictive type of care," Rep. Zachary Wyatt, R-Green Castle, said.

The House did not take immediate action.

Last Week

Legislation was filed Thursday to address the accreditation loss of the school districts in Missouri's two largest cities -- St. Louis and Kansas City.

The legislation -- filed by Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County -- takes a substantially different approach for the two areas.

For Kansas City, Cunningham's measure effectively would eliminate the school district and divide the district up among adjoining school districts.

For St. Louis, her plan would expand charter school alternatives and provide government support for parents to send their kids to private or parochial schools.

Just before the start of the 2012 legislative session, the legislature's top leaders had made dealing with the non-accredited a "must-pass" issue.

The governor included reference to the two school districts in his State of the State address, but did not offer any specific proposals.

Missouri voters will get the chance to vote for a presidential nominee on Tuesday, Feb. 7, but the results might not mean very much.

The Secretary of State's office said the primary will cost Missouri taxpayers $7 million for what will be a non-binding vote on the Republican side. The Democratic results will count, but President Barack Obama is the only well-known candidate on the ballot.

That the state will hold a non-binding "beauty contest" primary for Republicans goes back to threats from both the Republican and Democratic national parties. They warned that Missouri would have its votes at the national political conventions cut in half if the state did not delay the primary until later in the year. The two parties argue that they want to shorten the presidential campaign season but still honor traditional early-start states such as Iowa and New Hampshire.

"This year, because of some circumstances beyond our control, some national rules and some things that happened to the General Assembly, the primary is actually more of a formality," said Jonathan Prouty, spokesman for the Missouri Republican Party.

St. Louis Attorney Ed Martin dropped his congressional bid to run for attorney general Thursday morning.

Former Gov. Matt Blunt's chief of staff will challenge incumbent Democrat Chris Koster for the position. Republicans Ann Wagner and Randy Jotte are still in the race for Missouri's second congressional district.

Martin asked voters to support him in his plans to refocus Missouri's needs. Martin said if he is elected, he will address many of the state's problems, including the drug epidemic, illegal immigration, voter fraud and no-call lists. He said his campaign also focuses on moving away from the federal health care law and federal government growth.

"We have to have an attorney general's office that is not focused on politics and is focused more on the simple fact that we have laws, we have a constitution, and we have to abide by them," Martin said.

Republicans are already lining up behind Martin, the only major Republican in the race. The state's Democratic party gave him its own welcome into the race.

"We welcome Ed to the race for however long he decides to stay," Caitlin Legacki, spokeswoman for the Missouri Democratic Party, said.

Get the text story.

Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, introduced a bill Thursday that would bar those receiving welfare from gambling activities.

The measure would put welfare recipients on a list for riverboat casinos to check before allowing entrance to the casino floor.   

"People who are on public assistance are relying on their fellow citizens to help them through life, and if they are going to be taking taxpayer dollars because they need assistance, they don't need to be gambling with those dollars," Schaaf said.

Sen. Robin Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis City, opposes the legislation and calls the bill "self-serving."

"People who receive welfare have a life like people who do not, and they have every right to do anything that the state funds," Wright-Jones said.

Wright-Jones threatened to filibuster the bill if it reaches the Senate floor.

Get the radio story.

Lawmakers in Jefferson City are exploring options for students in low-performing and unaccredited school districts. An alternative form of public school called a charter school has become a buzzword in potential legislation as lawmakers search for a solution for the unaccredited St. Louis and Kansas City districts.

Charter schools are public schools that operate outside a traditional school district, allowing them to set their own curriculum under the supervision of their sponsor while abiding by state testing standards. These schools have been hailed as a solution to urban public schools with low test scores; however, charter school performance varies just as much as public schools.

"It's time that we'd tried some different methods," the bill's sponsor Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, said. "What I bring is just a tool, it's just a tool in the toolbox. It's not going to be for everybody, it's not gonna be a cure-all, but I do think it will move us a little bit forward." 

The General Assembly is considering a bill that would make the standards regulating these schools more strict and allow them to be established statewide instead of only in St. Louis and Kansas City.

A Missouri House committee heard proposals for two bills Wednesday [Jan. 25] that outline a way to bring renewable energy to the Capitol as well as Missouri state parks.

The first bill, proposed by Rep. Zachary Wyatt, R-Green Castle, aims to start a program in one of Missouri's state parks. The program would test renewable energy resources, such as solar panels, to provide energy for the as-yet-unspecified state park.

Committee chairman Rep. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, proposed the second bill, which aims to utilize renewable energy to the Capitol. Holsman hopes to use river turbines, solar panels, windmills and horizontal geothermal energy sources to generate power for the Capitol.

Both Holsman and Wyatt voiced their concerns about the financial capabilities of the projects but assured the committee that the projects had serious potential to be economically beneficial in the long-run. The committee did not vote on either of the bills.

The only licensed physician in the Missouri Senate vows to strike down a bill that would create a prescription drug monitoring program.

"If it comes to the Senate, it will pass only if they can overcome my filibuster," said, Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph.

The legislation would create an electronic log to monitor patient prescription use.

Physicians would have access to this database to view patient prescription history. The program has been created to prevent patients from getting multiple drug prescriptions from multiple physicians or pharmacies, also called "doctor shopping."

The House committee has not yet voted on the bill.

A controversial workplace bill would limit the amount of money employees could settle for in a workplace discrimination lawsuit.

Democratic senators continued to delay the vote Wednesday.

Senators say they do not want to vote on the bill without understanding all the bill's language.

The Senate Transportation Committee heard testimony Wednesday [Jan. 25] on a bill to extend the age limit on texting while driving.

The current texting-while-driving ban covers only Missouri drivers under the age of 22. A bill sponsored by Sen. Robin Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis, would ban texting while driving for all Missouri drivers.

"We've had some deaths already that have been attributed to texting while driving," Wright-Jones said. "And certainly you cannot have your eyes on your phone and on the road at the same time."

Committee chairman Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, said he's against distracted driving but would rather see the bill as a primary offense, which would allow law enforcement to pull an individual over solely for texting while driving.

"This secondary offense, I don't like it at all," Stouffer said. "It needs to be a primary offense."

Wright-Jones said she might change the bill to make the ban a primary offense, thus potentially increasing its likelihood of passage.

Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield, said the law steps too far into personal freedom. He said others have died because of distractions such as reaching for a CD or getting something out of a glovebox while driving.

The committee took no action on the bill.

Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers and Capitol Police heightened security on Wednesday after six legislators found cross-hair stickers on their doors late the previous day.

The stickers targeted Democratic Sens. Victor Callahan, Jolie Justus, Kiki Curls, all of Jackson County in the Kansas City area, and Robin Wright-Jones and Marie Chappelle-Nadal of St. Louis City. Rep. Scott Dieckhaus, R-Washington, also had a cross-hair sticker on his door. 

At the time the stickers were placed on the doors, the senators were on the chamber floor debating a bill that implements parts of President Barack Obama's health care reform bill.

The Highway Patrol is still investigating Tuesday's incident. Senators said the troopers collected the stickers to lift prints. Legislative aides removed the first stickers, but someone replaced them with larger ones. There were no witnesses. 

Three of the six Senators are African-American women. Sen. KiKi Curls, D-Jackson County, said the act is discriminatory toward her as an individual and the group.

"You had hoped that we had gotten to a certain place and then certain things such as these happen, and you realize we hadn't had gotten as far along as we had thought," Curls said. "It's the boldness in that act, that they would come back into the Capitol and place another one, that is disturbing."

Wright-Jones said she does not feel any different walking into the Capitol because as a progressive African-American female, she is "consistently assaulted in one shape, form or fashion about my existence."

Targeted senators said incidents such as this one mean security needs to be increased at the Capitol.

Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Jackson County, said: "I was really shocked when I first came to work here in the Capitol and found out that they didn't have any metal detectors at all ... they need to reassess the security and decide if it's efficient."

The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on Wednesday [ about legislation that would give adoptees more access to their medical histories.

The bill would give birth parents the option to provide contact information that their biological child could access upon turning 18. The legislation would also allow biological parents to provide a medical history that could be used for faster diagnosis of disease. Providing information would not be mandatory, but currently no such option exists for parents who are putting their child up for adoption.

Carolyn Pooler, who was adopted in the 1940s, was recently diagnosed with cancer. She said it is "horrid" that she was unable to get her medical history to help with treatment.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, expressed concern about a parent's right to privacy in reference to the bill. Its sponsor, Rep. Jeanie Lauer, R-Blue Springs, said the information would only be provided to adoptees with parental consent.

Legislation that would prohibit the Nixon administration from implementing the federal government's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act without voter approval got preliminary approval from the Missouri Senate on Tuesday.

    Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, sponsored the bill and said it is about separation of power and checks and balances on the executive branch.

"This bill goes to the people for a decision, and the people should be trusted to make the right decision at the ballot box," Schaaf said.

Schaaf also said his bill does not prevent Missouri from creating state-based health exchanges or from following federal law. He said it does prevent the executive branch from acting without the legislative branch -- all while protecting the rights of the legislature to control the purse strings of government.

Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Jackson County, opposes the bill. She said she believes there are too many unknowns and with this bill, the state might not be able to prepare for the inevitable.

"I would think that most Missourians in this state, regardless of how they feel about the Affordable Care Act, would want us to be smart enough as legislators to do the contingency planning necessary, [so] that we are not under complete federal control in the event everything goes forward in the way that the current administration in D.C. wants it to," Justus said.

The U.S. Supreme Court is currently reviewing the "Obamacare" law and is expected to conduct its hearing on the matter in March.

The bill must pass one more vote in the Senate before going to the House.

The Missouri House Higher Education Committee heard testimony on Tuesday supporting a plan to ease the process of transferring college courses throughout public universities in Missouri.

The plan would create a list of 25 lower-level classes that would be universally accepted from one public university in Missouri to another.

Rep. Mike Thomson, R-Maryville, who is also the Higher Education Committee chairman, sponsored the bill. He said the plan would make the process of earning a college degree more efficient throughout Missouri.

"Higher education is the key to an educated workforce, and we know that we are not ready in Missouri to meet the demands of the future: This is one way we begin," Thomson said.

The bill would also let students who leave public community colleges to attend public four-year universities use classes from the four-year universities toward an associates degree. This would only be in effect for students who left a community college before receiving an associates degree.

"There are some schools at this point in the state that actually are doing that and are making a conscious effort to do that, but it's not statewide; we would like to see this done statewide and in a more organized manner," Thomson said.

No one testified against the plan during Tuesday's [Jan. 24] hearing. The committee is scheduled to vote on the plan sometime during the first week of February.

A Missouri House committee approved tax incentives for data storage centers and amateur sporting events Tuesday after identical programs failed to pass the General Assembly last year.

The House Economic Development Committee sent two bills to the House floor to spur the growth of data storage center facilities and to attract amateur sporting events to Missouri. Similar bills failed during last year's regular session and special session. House Budget Chairman Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, sponsored the data storage initiative.  

Silvey's bill provides a state and local sales tax exemption for data storage centers spending money utilities, computers and equipment. The company would have to meet a minimum requirement of $37 million in capital investment and create 30 jobs to qualify for the tax break. The jobs created would have to pay 150 percent of the average state wage, currently at $45,000 per household, to qualify.

"If you don't meet that, you don't get it," Silvey said about the legislation's requirements.

Silvey described his bill as "anti-Mamtek," referring to the failed development project in Moberly, because the tax credits will not apply unless there is an economic benefit to the state. Silvey said his bill is a "tax rebate" rather than a tax credit because the state does not lose tax revenue unless the economic benefits of the data centers are realized.

Cross-hair stickers were placed on the doors of five Missouri senators and one Missouri House representative in the Capitol Tuesday.

Those senators included four female Democrats and one male, the Senate minority floor leader.

The stickers were placed on the name plates between noon and 1 p.m. Tuesday.

Republican Sen. Kevin Engler and targeted Sen. Shalonn "Kiki" Curls both called the act "disgusting."

The reason for the stickers' placement is unknown at this time. The Missouri State Highway Patrol is investigating the incident after Senate leadership had alerted them.

The budget cuts to higher education announced at Gov. Jay Nixon's State of the State address on Jan. 17 ran deeper than the numbers presented by the governor's budget director and reported by the media.

Although the 12.5 percent cut presented by the governor's budget director and used in many news reports are not completely inaccurate, the actual cuts in appropriations to public universities are 15.1 percent deeper from what the Missouri General Assembly approved last year. The cuts to Missouri's public universities are the deepest in at least two decades.

The more accurate figure caught the Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, by surprise. He agreed the 15.1 percent cut was the more accurate number.

Schaefer called the governor's 12.5 percent cut "not true."

The two sets of numbers come results from a difference in perspective and a spending withhold Nixon placed on the colleges last year.

The Missouri Constitution allows the governor to withhold money from a budget if state revenues fall below the expected levels. Nixon used this power in July to withhold $150 million from the 2012 budget, $10 million of which came from the universities.

In light of the Penn State scandal, one senator decided to reevaluate Missouri's law on child abuse. Lawmakers heard public testimony on a bill making it illegal for a regular citizen to witness child sexual abuse and not report it.

The current law hasn't been modified since 1975. It states that only teachers, nurses, members of the clergy and a few other professions are legally obligated to report child abuse.

The Senate bill would make failing to report child sex abuse would be a class A misdemeanor with a punishment of up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, said the measure is about protecting kids.

"It's about bringing to prosecution the people who are sexually abusing those kids," Schmitt said. "So if this is a way, a focused way, of bringing those folks to justice, I think we ought to do it."

The Senate failed to take action Monday on a bill limiting protections for employees who file discrimination complaints. A Democrat-led debate kept the chamber from voting on the proposal.

The legislation limits protection employees receive after filing a discrimination complaint by placing a cap on punitive damages. The bill requires illegal discrimination to be a motivating factor, instead of a contributing one, for termination of employment.

"If we are really serious about growing jobs in the state then we have to change the environment we are in," the bill sponsor Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, said.

Despite its relatively quick passage through committee, the bill faced opposition from Democrats concerned about the effect of limiting damages on business accountability.  

Some lawmakers expressed concern Monday [Jan. 23] about the casino gambling fee that Gov. Jay Nixon suggested in his State of the State address, saying that an increase in the admission price could limit some of the revenue the state makes if casino-goers take their money across state borders.

Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County, said he is skeptical about the increase because it could affect casinos in the Kansas City area.

The $1 increase is predicted to generate $50 million in revenue, State Budget Director Linda Luebbering said, which would be used to increase the veterans fund and generate money to build a veterans home. She said there is a waiting list of 1,700 veterans who want to live in the existing homes. 

"We're hopeful that these can move in advance of anything else and really make it through," Luebbering said. "They are reasonable initiatives that we think there's wide support for. We don't see any reason why they can't pass."  

No legislation has been proposed to change this part of Nixon's proposed budget. The budget isn't official until it passes a majority vote in the General Assembly.

Missouri's budget director expressed frustration with the fiscal year 2013's reduction in higher education funding.

"There are reductions in this budget that we would not be recommending, and this is one of them," said Budget Director Linda Luebbering. "We would prefer to have more money for higher education. This recommendation is purely around making sure the budget's in balance."

In his 2013 budget recommendation, Gov. Jay Nixon proposed a 15 percent cut in state appropriations to public universities.

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee said in the past three years, more than 25 percent of cuts were to higher education funding -- leaving the rate of state aid equal to what it was in 1997.

The budget isn't official until it passes a majority vote in the General Assembly.

A joint resolution was proposed in the Senate this Thursday to repeal part of the Missouri Constitution.

The resolution would allow state funding for religious institutions, with the goal of providing funding to parochial schools.

The resolution was proposed in part because of the recent loss of accreditation by certain public schools in both Kansas City and St. Louis, and aims to provide support for parochial schools in hope for a better quality of education in the Missouri school system.