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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of February 20, 2012

Missouri Commissioner of Education Chris Nicastro says Missouri leaving behind No Child Left Behind Act will improve student education.

Communications Coordinator Michele Clark says waiver will prevent public schools from poor rankings.

11 states that applied for the waiver have been approved earlier this month and Missouri hopes to be the 12th state.

Federal education officials will decide whether to approve the application or not.

The deadline for the second round waiver is February 28.

House Republican and Democratic leaders called for a new model for how Missouri handles redistricting.

The U.S. and Missouri House maps are currently being considered by the Missouri Supreme Court, while the state Senate map released Thursday received backlash from St. Louis County senators.

Minority Leader Rep. Mike Talboy, D-Kansas City, said the current "disjointed" process should lead to an evaluation of the state's procedure.

Rep. Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, said term limits have blocked looking at the redistricting process.

"And now with term limits the actors and all the stakeholders involved are likely going to be different every ten years so I think it's one of those things where you know politics everyone has short term memories to begin with and when you extend something and only do it once every ten years the memories just don't last that long," Jones said.

A bill that would change the filing deadline for state office by two weeks was filibustered by several members of the Senate today.

After the House approved the extension, the Senate refused to accept the terms and is instead opting for further discussion regarding the Senate map.

Early Thursday morning, a Senate redistricting map was released that would move Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St.Louis County, into a district where she could not run for reelection.

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St.Louis County, remains in his district, but will face stronger Democratic leaning constituents.

Failure to extend the filing date would mean that Senators would be required to file for election without knowing which district they are in.

The Senate unanimously passed a bill Thursday that would allow cell phones and fax machines to be included on the state's no call list registry.

The bill would also bar solicitation via text message.

The bill's sponsor, Senator Scott Rupp, R-Saint Charles, said the bill will benefit the citizens of Missouri.

"It's the fifth year in a row we have gotten unanimous out of the Senate, we are just trying to help our businesses and everybody thats getting calls on their cell it deals with the annoying robo calls, especially during the political season," said Rupp.

The legislation will now move on to the House.

On the House floor Thursday morning a heated debate led to the passing of a bill that would require driver's license exams to be administered in English only.

Representatives debated had an extended debate over the bill and brought up concerns regarding immigrants who come to America with legal documents.

Opposers of the legislation said the bill does no good to welcome growth and economic development in the state of Missouri with other countries.

Two of the legislature's leading conservative voices are the losers in the new state Senate map released early Thursday morning.

The maps released by a bipartisan commission appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon moved Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, whose term expires this year, into a district where she could not run for reelection.

"I am not drawn anywhere. I am in nowhere land," Cunningham said.  

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, would still live within his current district, but would be facing a more Democratic leaning electorate. Like Cunningham, Lembke's term expires this year.

"I am very surprised and disappointed," Lembke said.

Senators are elected for four-year terms with half up every two years. This year, odd-numbered districts are up for election and Cunningham currently represents the 7th Senate district.

Under the new map, Cunningham would find herself living in Sen. Brian Nieves', R-St. Louis County, even-numbered district that will not be up for election until 2014.

A senate committee continued its investigation of possible fraud within social services programs. The Senate Government Accountability Committee heard testimony from directors of the Family Support Division about issues with the Medicaid 'spend down' program.

The Medicaid 'spend down' program is a program that allows individuals, 65 and older or disabled, whose income is greater than the eligibility criteria to spend down their income to become Medicaid eligible and receive benefits. The spend down amount is the difference between the individuals income and the non-spend down income limit.

The investigation began because Department of Social Services employees failed to obtain proper documentation of medical bill payments.

Seven female representatives voiced outrage at being ignored by Republican House leadership during a discussion on a resolution to President Barack Obama's contraception mandate.

The House debated a resolution Wednesday that opposed the federal health care mandate. Republican representatives argued that the mandate would impede religious freedom and the federal government should not be involved in religious organizations.

Several women Democrats were not recognized by The Republican presiding officer, Rep. John Deihl, R-St. Louis County, when they rose to speak against the resolution.

Following adjournment, seven female House members, calling themselves "the silent seven," held a news conference on the Capitol steps.

Deihl said he was not available for comment.

The resolution was voted on and adopted by a 114-45 vote. While only one Republican voted in opposition, 12 Democrats joined the other side in favor of the resolution.

Women in the group said they will continue to stand and demand recognition on the chamber floor until they are recognized.

Newly hired Missouri public school teachers would not have the possibility of tenure under an omnibus education bill approved by the House Education Committee. Eliminate the measure of job security in favor of yearly contracts is one of several potentially controversial issues lumped together in a bill attempting to improve Missouri's schools.

The bill encompasses the biggest education policy issues of the current session, such as:

Rep. Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood, sponsors a bill requiring Missouri high school students to be taught CPR before graduating.

The bill, if passed into legislation will take effect in the 2014 school year.

After testimony from teachers and those whose lives were saved by CPR, the House Health Care Policy committee voted unanimously to adopt it.

Once again, the Senate debated additions to no-call legislation in Missouri.

The additions would add personal cell phone numbers to the no-call list and restrict some automated calls.

Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County, says that "people get very upset with these political robo calls that get called in to their home."

One change to the bill took out automated online polls from the list of exceptions to the automated calls.

The Senate transportation committee held a hearing Wednesday morning to hear public testimony on a bill that would allow Interstate 70 tolls.

Kevin Keith, MoDOT director, said the state has a unique opportunity to use public-private partnerships and place a toll to make future improvements. He says for $4 billion, a two lanes for cars and two lanes for trucks can be built both ways across Missouri.

Bill sponsor Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, says he doesn't like the idea of tolls but is better than a gas tax increase alternative.

However, Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, Senate transportation committee chairman, says he favors a direct tax such as fuel or sales tax.

Tom Crawford, President and C.E.O. of the Missouri Trucking Association, is afraid part of the plan discriminates against interstate commerce and gives local residents a free pass.

Ron Leone, executive director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, says the toll will take away business from his members. He argues that roads are public assets and should not be used for profit.

Two days after a similar bill was laid over in the Senate, state representatives discussed a bill that would alter the law requiring witnesses to report child abuse and neglect.

The House Children and Families committee heard testimony on Wednesday over the bill, which would require witnesses of child abuse to directly report the abuse instead of relying on a chain-of-command system.

Senators took up a similar bill on the chamber floor Monday, but the bill has been held over due to extensive questioning from legislators concerned about language in the bill.

The respective sponsors of the House and Senate bills; Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-St. Louis, and Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County; both said they introduced the bills to prevent a situation like the one at Penn State from occurring in Missouri.

The House committee also debated a bill that would ensure First Amendment rights for alternatives to abortion agencies, such as maternity homes or pregnancy resource centers. Bill sponsor Rep. Chuck Gatschenberger, R-Lake St. Louis, would prohibit the government from interfering in the alternative centers' rights to practice religion.

Most of the debate centered around why such legislation would be needed, since the First Amendment is already in place. Gatschenberger said his bill served the purpose of keeping the centers out of the courts.

A representative from Planned Parenthood said the committee was being hypocritical and said that if Planned Parenthood was required to present certain information to its visitors, then the other organizations should be required to as well.

The Education Omnibus bill was adopted by the House Education committee on Wednesday.

The bill encompasses the biggest education policy issues of the current session:

-Allowing the state Board of Education to enter an unaccredited district to determine an "alternative form of governance."

-A fix to the school funding formula to account for underfunding and attempt to redistribute funds more equitably.

-Increased accountability standards for charter schools, similar to the current Department of Elementary and Secondary Education standards for traditional public schools.

-Removal of teacher tenure for teacher hired after June 30, 2013 and the elimination of seniority-based layoffs.

-A "fix" for the Turner v. Clayton Supreme Court decision which would create a tax credit program allowing students to transfer from unaccredited public schools to private or parochial ones.

The committee substitute for the original version, a compilation of several bills, was adopted with a vote of 13-9, almost exactly down party lines.

Two Republican representatives, Mike Thomson of Maryville and Paul Fitzwater of Potosi, voted against the legislation.

Thomson sponsored another bill revising the school funding formula that passed out of committee weeks ago. He said he voted against the bill because it was overreaching.

  Using government money for private purposes sparks debate in the House committee. 02/21/2012

The House Education Committee heard Tuesday to discuss a bill creating a tax credit for kids to go to private and parochial schools.

Rep. Scott Dieckhaus, R-Washington, sponsors the bill.

Rep. Dieckhaus says the passport scholarship program will allow every student in Missouri to receive a high quality education.

The $40 million program sparked debate among opponents for using general revenue money.

Dieckhaus told the committee that the real cost is less than $14 million.

Supporters of the bill say that the program is a good way for the state to save money and give kids the education they deserve.

The committee chairman says the committee will vote later today.

Lawmakers are urged allowing government money to private schools.

One month after crosshair stickers were placed on the door of six lawmakers in the capitol building, St. Louis City Senator Robin Wright-Jones, sponsored a bill to put security cameras in the hallways of the statehouse.

The cameras could cost upwards of one million dollars, depending on the technology.

During the hearing, Wright-Jones notified the Senate General Laws committee of an email received by President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, threatening four state senators.

The email contained foul language and is from someone in Eastern Missouri.

Senators Callahan, Goodman, Wright-Jones and Justus were the focus of the email.

The email was sent early Tuesday morning and an apology email, from the same account, was sent Tuesday afternoon.

Both Republicans and Democrats attacked Gov. Jay Nixon's administration on how they manage the state's $23 billion operating budget during a House Budget Committee hearing Tuesday.

House Budget Chairman Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, accused the governor of running the state like Enron, referring to the failed energy company.

"It is not actual money, it's fake money," Silvey said while discussing the 2012 budget restrictions imposed by Nixon.

Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-St. Louis, added to the criticism and accused Nixon's office of using "fuzzy math," to put the budget together.

At issue is $111 million withheld from various programs in the budget by Nixon at the start of the 2012 fiscal year even though funds were appropriated by the General Assembly. The governor can withhold money during the fiscal year if state revenues fall below their expected levels.

Silvey and others on the committee asked State Budget Director Linda Luebbering why more withholds have not been released given the current revenue collection and the governor's request for an extra $1 million to the MOSIRA program. The MOSIRA program would have pooled money to be distributed to new science and technology companies in Missouri.

The House Election committee heard testimony Tuesday morning on a bill that would establish a closed primary election system in Missouri.

If the bill passed, Missourians would need to register as part of a specific political party in order to vote for that party's ballot in any and all primary elections.

The bill sponsor Rep. Sue Allen, R-St. Louis County, said it is the party’s responsibility to pick their candidate and this system would eliminate voter fraud and minimize questionable results.

Allen said there have been past events where voters have voted for the opposite party’s weakest candidate in order to mess up the primary election. She said this bill would work to stop this from occurring.

House committee member Rep. Don Wells, R-Cabool, opposed the bill and said he didn’t see any benefit of it.

Seven witnesses spoke in favor of the bill. No one testified in opposition during the hearing.

The committee did not take immediate action on the bill.

The Senate debated a bill that would eliminate the requirement of an employer or health plan provider to pay for medical coverage for abortion, contraception or sterilization, if it goes against their moral or religious beliefs.

Under Obama's mandate, employers would be required to cover medical costs for contraceptives such as birth control. Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, proposed an amendment to the bill that would remove contraception from the bill.

"For every dollar that's spent on birth control, you actually save money on health care costs and not just because of preventing pregnancy, it's because of all the other diseases that are managed with birth control pills," Justus said.

Current Missouri law allows religious organizations to opt out of coverage if it goes against their beliefs. This bill, however, adds sterilization to the list and requires the Attorney General to bring civil action, if the law is violated.

Sen. Victor Callahan, D-Jackson County, said the bill is too broad because it gives employees and employers responsibilities that should be taken care of by medical agencies.

"You are extending this authority to employees who can have any basic objection to a plan and now they have civil claims paid for by the AG...the bill isn't very good," Callahan said.

The Senate delayed voting on this bill and it remains on the Senate informal calendar for perfection.

Following the Missouri Supreme Court's decision last week to strike down 2010 ethics legislation, Senate President Pro-Tem Rob Mayer R-Dexter says new ethics legislation isn't a priority in this legislative session.

"I think the last one took some time and quite a bit of work and here it is almost March so it'll be difficult to get that done in this session," said Mayer.

In light of the recent Supreme Court ruling, Gov. Jay Nixon has urged legislators to expedite ethics laws before the filing deadline.

Earlier this month, Rep. Jason Kander D-Kansas City filed a bill which would reinstate all legislation thrown out by the Supreme Court. It would also add an additional provision that states contributions over $500 must be reported immediately.

"Ethics reform is good for the people of the state. It might be bad for politicians, but that is not a very good reason not to do it," said Kander.

The House Election Committee passed a bill that would require all presidential and vice-presidential candidates to submit their proof of citizenship to be on the Missouri ballot.

The committee passed the bill with a 7-2 vote.

Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis County, voted against the measure. She said she was surprised that the bill was passed from the committee.

“It is a kind of silly piece of legislation when our state has got more crucial things,” Newman said.

The bill will now go on to the House.

The House Urban Issues Committee passed through two bills to the House floor.

One bill allows advertisements on school buses, while the other closes certain criminal records to the public after a period of five years.

While no representatives spoke against either bill, Representative Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, says she has received emails expressing concerns about the school bus advertisement bill.

The other bill was passed through after changing the language from "expungement" of criminal records to the "closing" of criminal records. The new language means law enforcement officers will still be able to access the records.

A bill requiring driving tests to be given in English has been given preliminary approval by the House.

While the House heard several personal testimonies and much heated discussion against the bill, it was still given preliminary approval with a vote of 91-59.

Representative Sylvester Taylor, D-St. Louis County, expressed disappointment with the Department of Revenue.

The Senate will receive the bill next.

Mo. Gov. Jay Nixon urged Missouri lawmakers to take up and quickly pass the ethics legislation the Missouri Supreme Court threw out last week. That call seems to fall on deaf ears. Neither leaders in the House or Senate made any progress on the issue today and don't have any plans to do so.

House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, says his caucus is "considering" legislation while his Senate counterpart says it's a non-starter without direct communication with the Governor's office.

Senate President Pro-Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, says the ethics legislation isn't a priority and the deadline for filing new bills is less than two weeks away.

"I think the last one took some time and quite a bit of work and here it is almost March so it'll be difficult to get that done this session," said Mayer.

The Missouri Supreme Court struck down the law passed in 2010 on procedural grounds.

The law required campaign contributions over $500 to be reported within 48 hours among other ethics laws.

A Missouri Senator is sponsoring a bill to make violent vandalism and disruption at a house of worship a crime. The Senate judiciary committee discussed the bill that would make offenders punishable by jail time and fines. No one testified against the bill.

Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said he sponsored the bill as a partial reaction to the Westboro Baptist Church's protest during the funeral of 9-year-old Christina Green. Christina was killed during the shooting of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Arizona lawmakers passed similar legislation to prevent a protest at her funeral.

A law requiring anyone over 18 to report an incident of child abuse came under more scrutiny in the Missouri Senate than expected. Several senators said they were concerned about the unintended consequences of making failure to report abuse a Class A misdemeanor.

Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, said he sponsored the bill to prevent a situation like the one involving Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky from happening in Missouri.

The current law only requires those involved in "child care or treatment," such as teachers or medical professionals, to report abuse. The law does not specifically include university employees.

With the candidate filing date one week away, the House Election Committee passed a bill to push it back one month.

The purpose of the legislation is to allow enough time for new senate district maps to be redrawn according to the 2010 census.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mike Parson,R-Bolivar, is now headed to the House floor for debate.

Currently the filing date it set for February 28th, if the bill takes affect it will be pushed back to March 27th.

The Missouri Senate is scheduled to debate a bill sponsored by Sen. John Lamping, St. Louis County, allowing religious institutions out of the federal mandate to provide birth control as part of their employees' healthcare insurance plan.

Lamping said employers currently have the option to offer health insurance plans. His bill is intended to protect employers from federal mandates that violate an organization's religious or moral beliefs.

"We currently have a Democratic president and a liberal-thinking health secretary but who's to say in the next election cycle it won't be the exact opposite," Lamping said. "The day will come when you don't like the topic and the power (to mandate) still resides."

Lamping said employers would not be exempt from the Affordable Care Act under this legislation and would not restrict access to contraceptive healthcare, but would prevent organizations from having to make a choice contrary to their mission statement.

"The first response is not to like the bill but then when they understand and read it and start to think it through, in no way, shape or form does this restrict access to anything," Lamping said.

Majority Leader Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County, said he did not know if there would be a lengthy debate on the bill. Lamping said he expected those with dissenting opinions will want to be heard during the floor debate on Tuesday.

Following the conclusion of the General Assembly's investigation into a failed artificial sweetener plant in Moberly, a state representative has filed legislation that would take steps to ensuring another failure does not happen again.

The introduction of the legislation comes a week after the House Government Oversight Committee released the results of its investigation into the financial collapse of Mamtek U.S. Inc. A Senate committee also released its findings and recommendations last week, ending the legislature's investigations into the economic development project.

The legislation largely follows the House committee's recommendations, which include requiring any municipal government to provide insurance for bonds issued for economic development projects. One of the bills follows the lead of the Senate's recommendations by proposing the implementation of a five-star rating system for economic development projects.

If passed, the legislation would also require greater due diligence standards from the Department of Economic Development and third-parties involved in investigating projects.

Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, is the chairman of the House committee and sponsored five of the seven bills.

Nurses, physicians and health care experts argued over a controversial bill that would give more power to nurses.

The legislation would allow advance practice registered nurses to prescribe controlled substances on their own. It would also let nurse anesthetists provide anesthesia services without supervision.

Proponents said the bill would give nurses more freedom to run their own clinics. On the other side, opponents said nurses simply aren't trained to work independently of a doctor.

Rep. Billy Pat Wright, R-Dexter, proposed a bill to establish Caylee's Law in Missouri. The law was inspired after the controversial acquittal of Casey Anthony, who waited over thirty days to report her child, Caylee Anthony, as missing.

The bill would require parents and guardians to file a missing child report within 24 hours of discovering the child's whereabouts are unknown.

The Missouri Senate Redistricting Commission is getting back to work on trying to redraw the state's Senate districts.

This is the third group trying to redraw the districts after the original commission deadlocked and the maps released by a group of a appellate judges were thrown out by the Missouri Supreme Court.

Doug Harpool, the chair of the commission, said the commission is working under an expedited schedule because of the fast-approaching filing date.

The commission met over the weekend at Jefferson City and has scheduled public hearings later this week.

The commission will meet Monday in Kansas City and Tuesday in St. Louis before returning to Jefferson City on Wednesday.

Last Week

After the University of Missouri System tightened the ropes on creating audio recordings of lectures, a proposed bill in the Missouri House of Representatives would allow students to share those lectures with the public.

In December, the UM System issued a policy that restricts students’ right to share lecture recordings. The policy was issued in response to a posted lecture from a UM-Kansas City student. The video was edited to suggest the professor advocated union violence, said MU journalism associate professor Charles Davis.

The bill sponsor, Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific, said some UM students complained that the policy would inhibit their willingness and ability to learn. Curtman said although he understood why the university made that policy, it was a legislator’s responsibility to make laws that serve people’s rights best.

Curtman said students might enjoy sharing their recordings with their families and sometimes other students.

“This bill would allow students to continue their recording habits and sharing recordings with public in personal use only,” Curtman said. “The bill does protect intellectual property rights and copyright laws.”

The Missouri Senate voted on Thursday to extend the filing period to declare candidacy for the state primary elections.

Sen. Mike Parson, R-Polk, sponsored the bill that would move the statewide candidate's filing deadline from Feb. 28 to March 27.

The Senate passed the bill with a unanimous vote. The bill would give the citizens commission charged with drawing a map time so that candidates know which district to file in.

Parson said the bill was necessary because the state Supreme Court tossed out the state Senate map earlier this month.

The Missouri Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday regarding the constitutionality of changes to congressional districts in Missouri.

After the 2010 Census, Missouri had to redraw its congressional districts based on changes in the population. The General Assembly overrode a veto on its maps by Gov. Jay Nixon.

The Constitution of Missouri states that districts must be "as compact as may be."

Attorneys Jamie Landes and Gerald Greiman presented arguments against the "compactness" of the new maps. They say alternative maps could achieve more compactness than the proposed map of HB 193.

"County boundaries are important, so you want to split them as little as possible. ... The 5th District under HB193 covers five counties ... there is no reason whatsoever for it to cover five counties when it could cover one and a portion," Landes said.

Appellate Attorney Edward Greim defended the proposed map's compactness.

"It's about whether the territory is closely united enough to make a district. That's as good as we can do," Greim said.

A House committee cut $68 million of state funds from health care programs Thursday to boost funding for higher education, but some Democrats warned the cuts are not as effective as originally proposed.

The committee chairman Rep. Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage, said he would recommend to the full House Budget Committee that the cuts to social services be used to boost public university funding.

Missouri's public universities were facing a 15.1 percent reduction under Gov. Jay Nixon's 2013 budget proposal until Nixon used $40 million from a national mortgage settlement to soften his initial cuts. If the cuts from the social services budget are used solely to fund higher education, then the universities face only a 1.3 percent decrease from last fiscal year.

Long-time House Budget Committee member Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said he hadn't had a chance to look at the proposed social services cuts and their effects, but that he was "happy with the result" of more funds to higher education.

Some of the committee's cuts, however, may come back to cost the state money during the next fiscal year.

A Republican legislator's plan for improving Missouri's teachers came under bipartisan attack Wednesday for not going far enough. The senator's bill would require each school district to create a system of evaluating teachers and its own standards for "instructional improvement."

Two senators from St. Louis County, Republican Jane Cunningham and Democrat Maria Chappelle-Nadal, said the legislation fails to establish a quantifiable standard for student performance. Cunningham said that without specifying what qualifies as "learning," a district could create lower standards than what the state requires.

Cunningham said the bill, sponsored by Rep. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, comes too late in an existing conversation. Chappelle-Nadal said schools in St. Louis County, where she serves on a school board, already have these practices.

The Missouri Supreme Court is facing how to deal with students in unaccredited school districts for the second time since 2007, when St. Louis public schools lost state accreditation.

The Webster Groves school district presented its appeal against the recent Supreme Court decision in the case of Turner v. the School District of Clayton. In Turner v. Clayton, the court ruled that schools were required to admit students asking to transfer out of unaccredited districts. Webster Groves' attorney said this law is impossible to enforce.

The ability for students to transfer out of unaccredited districts is one of many education issues the state government is considering. The General Assembly is creating a package of education bills including tougher evaluations for teachers, the public school funding formula, accountability for charter schools and how to deal with the unaccredited districts in St. Louis in Kansas City.

Turner v. Clayton goes to trial next month in St. Louis County Court.

Missouri's General Assembly ended its investigation into the failed Mamtek project in Moberly on Wednesday with the release of the Senate's findings.

In its investigation report, the Senate Governmental Accountability Committee released a series of recommendations that advocate stricter restrictions of the issuance of industrial bonds by local governments. The report also recommended the Department of Economic Development establish a five-star rating system to evaluate businesses seeking incentives for development projects.

Committee chairman Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, said the recommendations were put forth to prevent future failures. Lembke also maintained that the DED did not do its due diligence while looking into Mamtek U.S. Inc., the domestic branch of the China-based company.

The Senate committee released the report two days after a House committee put out a similar report. The House and Senate panels were only two of a series of investigations into the artificial sweetener plant. The Securities and Exchange Commission as well as Missouri's Attorney General have also investigate the financial collapse of Mamtek.

While the House report suggested the General Assembly look into adopting legislation that would mandate increased due diligence and responsibility from the DED and local economic development departments, the Senate's recommendations focus more on discussing changes with the current DED.

The recommendations do, however, suggest legislation requiring voter approval for municipal issuance of appropriation bonds. Lembke said he plans to work on improvements for the future, which includes filing legislation to deal bond issues.

Students from the University of Missouri delivered 6,000 letters to Gov. Jay Nixon and other legislators to protest higher education budget cuts.

The letters are part of the "More for Less" campaign started by the Missouri Students Association.

Zach Toombs, MSA director of student communications and the creator of the campaign, is hopeful the letters will have an effect on legislators.

The House passed a bill that would protect Southeast Missouri rice farmers’ water supply. The bill now advances to the Senate.

The measure would allow for injunctions against operations that use more than 100,000 gallons of water per day.

Rep. Kent Hampton, R-Malden, sponsors the bill. He says the bill would not only benefit agriculture, but also other industry and small business.

Rep. Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis, is a critic of the bill. He says this is no different than water restriction and would prevent industries, like bottling companies, from being established in the area.

Teens would be restricted from tanning salons if two bills pass that would require parental consent.

Donna Payne, the owner of a tanning salon in Jefferson City, said she is not worried about the bills.

The first bill, sponsored by Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, would ban the use of tanning beds to children under the age of 15. A substitute put forth by the House Health Care Committee would make the punishment for a first offense a $250 fine and a $500 fine for a second offense, as opposed to a class C misdemeanor, which the original bill proposed.

The second bill would require parental consent for the use of tanning beds to teens 17 years and younger.

The committee members said prompt action will be taken.

Rep. T.J. Berry, R-Clay County, presented a bill to the House International Trade Committee that would create a "safe zone" in the Kansas City area. The bill would essentially create an agreement between Kansas and Missouri to match economic incentives within a 30 mile radius of the cities.

If Kansas doesn't pass matching or similar legislation, the bill would mandate the state spend $1.50 on economic incentives in the Kansas City area for every $1.00 offered by Kansas.

Representatives are worried about the state facing debt issues if the bill is passed.

The Senate Education Committee passed three bills out of committee on Wednesday.

The Missouri Senate passed a proposal Wednesday that would alter state workers' compensation rules.

The biggest changes that the bill proposes deal with clearly defining the term "co-employee" to ensure that employees can not be sued by their colleagues for a workplace injury. The bill establishes that occupational diseases are covered under workers' compensation law and separates the Second Injury Fund from workers' comp.

Bill sponsor Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County, said his bill would give clarity to laws concerning workplace injury cases. Dempsey's bill also serves the purpose of codifying rules established by a 2010 court ruling, which permitted employees to seek civil action against other employees for a workplace injury. This type of lawsuit is not currently covered under workers' compensation.

The Senate proposal will head to the House, which is still holding committee hearings over its own workers' compensation legislation.

The Webster Groves school district presented its appeal against the Supreme Court decision in the Turner v. School district of Clayton case.

The previous case upheld a state law allowing students in unaccredited districts to transfer schools, and leaving their former school with the bill.

The Webster Groves case is arguing that schools often don't receive those funds and that the statute is impossible to enforce. The eligibility of the student to transfer is also in question; they currently attend a private school in St. Louis, but live in the unaccredited district.

The Turner case is set to go to trial next month.

State senators suspended chamber rules Wednesday in order to fast-track a bill that pushes back candidate filing dates for Missouri's August 2012 primary.

Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, said he sponsored the proposal in order to give candidates an appropriate time frame to file for candidacy since Missouri's district maps are still being debated by the courts.

"Hopefully the commission can get a map done by that point," Parson said.

Parson said the changes only apply to the 2012 election and that the governor was on board with delaying the filing period.

The bill pushes back the filing period a month to between March 27 and April 24. The proposal also includes a provision that would require the Secretary of State to reimburse local governments for costs incurred while advertising the new filing date.

Parson asked the Senate to suspend the chamber's rules so that senators did not have to wait for a day before voting.

The Senate still has to give second-round approval to Parson's bill before it heads to the House. 

The state General Laws committee heard a bill Tuesday afternoon that will make a few adjustments to the Missouri Constitution.

Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles, sponsors the bill.

Rupp says if the bill is passed, it would remove the section in the Missouri Constitution that prohibits distribution of public funds to religious organizations.

Testimonies of proponents and opponents followed after Rupp's proposal.

The committee took no action on the bill Tuesday.

Two bills that would get rid of the non-partisan election of judges were heard by the House Judicial Reform Committee for the first time.

Representative Stanley Cox is the sponsor of one of these bills. He said the current selection of judges is undemocratic because the general population does not have any input. Under his plan, judges would be appointed by the governor and the Senate would vote to approve these judges. Judges would also be reevaluated every 8-12 years.

The current non-partisan plan has a judicial committee that selects judges based on merit. The governor then picks one of three judges to serve.

The Missouri Bar Association opposes these bills.

President of the Missouri Bar Association Lynn Vogel said, "the least political way to select judges is non-partisan."

No action will be taken on these bills until they are heard by the committee for a second time.

The Senate General Laws Committee passed a bill to allow students in failing school districts to use state tax credits to attend private or parochial schools.

Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, sponsored the bill, which addresses students attending the unaccredited St. Louis and Kansas City School Districts. Suburban St. Louis school district Riverview Gardens has also lost its accreditation.

"This would provide students an automatic accredited education," Cunningham said.

Catholic school leaders had previously urged lawmakers to allow students in failing districts to attend their schools. tw

According to Cunningham, the tax credit would allow students living in a failing school district to attend private schools without violating the so-called "Blaine Amendment" in the Missouri Constitution, which prohibits state funds to religious institutions.

The committee passed the measure with a 7-1 vote. The only "no" vote was Sen. Kiki Curls, D-Kansas City, who said the tax credit would not reach the targeted population of students.

In a unanimous decision, the state's high court threw out a package of ethics laws passed in 2010.

The measures imposes penalties on lobbyists for filing false information, gives the Ethics Commission power to launch its own investigations, requires electronic filing of more campaign finance reports and restricts transfer of funds between political committees.

The provisions had been passed in the aftermath of stories of a federal grand jury investigation into former House Speaker Rod Jetton and campaign contributions.

Supporters argued the heightened exposure of campaign contributions would balance the legislature's action to remove the cap on campaign contributions.

But Missouri's Supreme Court held that the legislature had violated a state Constitutional provision that prohibits expanding a bill beyond it's original topic.

The original bill covered only state contract bidding and procurements.

"The multiple provisions relating to campaign finance, ethics and keys to the capitol dome are not logically connected or germane to procurement," the court wrote in its decision.

The reference to the dome relates to a section tacked onto the bill that requires the administration to provide legislators with keys to the top dome above the Capitol rotunda.

The Senate business committee has passed a bill on Tuesday allowing businesses to not provide insurance coverage for birth control or abortion, if it's against the employer's religious beliefs.

The bill's greatest supporter, besides sponsor St. Louis County Senator John Lamping, is the Catholic Church.

Representing every Catholic Bishop of Missouri, Bishop John Gaydos of Jefferson City said it is imperative for this bill to be passed quickly.

Gaydos said, ""Regulators proceeded to write a rule that violates the moral and religious convictions of Americans."

A spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Missouri says medical treatments would be even more difficult to access.

The committee passed the bill by a six to two vote along party lines.

The bill will now move to the Senate floor.

The General Laws House Committee heard testimony Tuesday in favor of the addition of cell phones and fax machines to the Missouri No Call List Registry.

Currently, the law only protects land line residential users from telemarketers.

Assistant Attorney General Joan Gummels spoke in favor of the bill.

"We receive numerous calls statewide from people wanting register their cells phone numbers or to file a complaint against unwanted solicitation," Gummels said.

Rep. Todd Richardson R-Butler is sponsoring the legislation. The Committee took no action on the bill.

The House debated a bill which would require all driver license tests to be taken in English.

The bill would not allow driver's test to be given in any language other than English. Currently, tests are offered in 12 languages, including English.

Opponents said they fear that the bill would limit immigrants ability to drive and go to work.

Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-St. Louis City, said the deaf or hearing-impaired could not have a interpreter at the exam under the bill.

"I've got a lot of immigrants in my community and they want to be able to get to work and they want to be able to get their drivers license," said Rep. Karla May, D-St. Louis County.

The bill was tabled and remains on the House calendar.

The Senate Health, Mental Health, Seniors and Families Committee heard testimony on a bill to further regulate child care centers.

One aspect of the bill is called “Sam Pratt's Law” and would allow the Department of Health and Senior Services to investigate and shut down unlicensed day care centers and will prohibit day care providers who has pending criminal charges continue working.

The bill also includes “Nathan's Law,” which allows a child care provider to be exempt from licensing if the person is caring for four or fewer children exclude children related to them.

Two Witnesses supported the bill and said this bill would protect children in Missouri.

Over the last 35 months, 54 children died in day care centers in Missouri. The bill sponsor Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St.Charles, said the law would address this problem and it had a good chance to pass.

The committee took no action on the bill Tuesday.

Questions about President Barack Obama's citizenship surfaced during a House committee hearing Tuesday.

The House Elections Committee conducted a public hearing on a bill that would require all presidential and vice-presidential candidates to submit their proof of citizenship to be on the Missouri ballot. The bill's sponsor Rep. Lyle Rowland, R-Cedarcreek, said his measure responds to "controversy" about our current president.

"We are here in the Show-Me State and we just want to be shown if what they [candidates] claim to be is true," Rowland said.

Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis County, opposed the bill and called it an "utter waste of time."

Newman said that presidential candidates are nominated by the National Republican and Democratic Parties, who are responsible for vetting their qualifications.

Managers of economic development projects could soon be held to stricter due diligence measures if Missouri's General Assembly takes the suggestions of a House committee in charge of looking into the downfall of the Mamtek Moberly project.

The advice from the committee includes new laws mandating increased due diligence from state officials and a more exhaustive vetting process of companies seeking state incentives for economic development projects. Some of this proposed legislation would require the Department of Economic Development to produce copies of "all information it has about any company seeking both state and local economic development incentives" with all local governments of counties competing for the business. A similar law proposed by the report would mandate local officials to report any negative information they receive about a company to the state.

Both of Missouri's legislative chambers, along with the the Securities and Exchange Commission and the state Attorney General, have been investigating the domestic branch of the China-based company since its financial collapse last fall. The investigation was prompted after Mamtek U.S. Inc., failed to make a $39 million bond payment to the city of Moberly. Mamtek was supposed to make the payment as part of a project to develop a sucralose plant, which Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, said would create over 600 jobs.

Currently cell phones are not on the state no call list.

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

The bill met no objection today in the Senate. Kraus says he thinks the bill will move through the Senate this week and once in the House it will meet little objection.

Supporters of Planned Parenthood spoke out against Senate legislation that would allow health care providers to limit coverage for moral reasons. That would include items such as birth control and abortion services.

Democratic Representative Chris Kelly said the Catholic Church as a business shouldn't be exempt from the Affordable Care Act. He said hospitals and other facilities associated with the Church should provide the same services as any other institution.

On the other side, Senator Scott Rupp sponsors one of the bills, SJR 49. He said no health care provider should be obligated to provide services that he or she is morally against.

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