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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of August 27, 2012

While extreme drought conditions are increasing the amount of deer infected with the bluetongue virus, state conservation officials said exact infection rates are difficult to determine.

There are currently 1,100 deer that are believed to have died from the bluetongue virus, said Emily Flinn, a state deer biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation. However, Flinn said it is difficult to know the exact number of cases since diseased animals may not be noticed right away.

The conservation department asks people to report dead deer, especially deer found by ponds or bodies of water, so they are able to track the distribution and severity of the virus.

Missouri officials are urging residents to prepare for severe storms and heavy rainfall as the remnants of Hurricane Isaac move through the region. Forecasters predict the path of the hurricane to go through mid-Missouri and into the St. Louis region. While the storm will bring much-needed rainfall to the drought-stricken region, some officials are concerned about where all that water will go.

"It looks like it's going to be a rain event rather than a high wind event," said Missouri Public Service Commission Chairman Kevin Gunn. "We don't know how it's going to react with it being so dry or where water is going to go. So people need to be prepared for potential flooding which could in turn lead to potential service outages."

As of Thursday afternoon, the National Weather Service in St. Louis is predicting 3 to 5 inches of widespread rainfall, but also notes that higher amounts are possible. The weather service predicts the rain will begin Friday and last through the weekend and into Sunday.

Gunn says it's important to be prepared for power outages. He suggests putting together an emergency kit that includes items like bottled water, food, flashlights, blankets, a battery-operated radio, and batteries. He also says to call your service provider if there is a power or gas outage.

Due to the drought, Ameren UE Missouri's hydroelectricity production has been cut in half according to Warren Witt, the manager of Hydro Operation of Ameren Missouri. Plants have to find alternative ways to provide electricity to their customers, which often times is more costly.

To increase rates, a company like Ameren must file a case with the Missouri Public Service Commission. Kevin Gunn, the chairman of the commission, does not think this will affect costs to consumers.

Cases take around eleven months, so we would not see the effects of the drought for at least a year.

Steve Tilley has officially filed to be a lobbyist two weeks after resigning from his post as Missouri's House Speaker.

Tilley registered with the Missouri Ethics Commission Thursday, officially becoming a client for three St. Louis-based: Fred Weber Inc., a Maryland Heights construction company; Supermarket Merchandising Inc., a merchandising display manufacturer; and Strategic Capitol Consulting LLC.

Tilley left the General Assembly five months before the end of his term, citing a focus on his optometry practice, consulting on political campaigns and spending time with his daughters as the reasons for his resignation.

Missouri's drought-ridden lawns can be expected to gain some moisture through rain from Hurricane Isaac. National Weather Service forecaster Scott Truett said Missouri can expect some relief of about three to five inches of rain from the storm.

However, Truett said it is difficult to determine exactly how much rain Missouri needs to break the drought.

"We're going to need anywhere from 9-15 inches of rain," Truett said. "That would have to occur over several weeks or several months not just obviously in one storm."

Brad S. Fresenburg, a professor of plant pathology at the University of Missouri, said homeowners should be wary of over watering lawns because this could create runoff and puddles.

Landscaping companies are potentially benefiting from the drought because they are being called to replace the over-watered lawns and dying plants, landscaper Ron Goedeker said.

Gov. Jay Nixon is reassembling a commission to once again look over Missouri's 61 tax credit programs.

Nixon originally tasked the Missouri Tax Credit Review Commission with a similar review in 2010, which resulted in a report recommending the elimination of some of the state's tax credits.

In a statement released this week, Nixon ordered the commission to update its original report due to "record redemptions" during the 2012 fiscal year. Nixon also said Missouri redeemed $629.3 million in tax credits in 2012, an "all-time record" and up from $522.9 million in 2010. The commission is set to meet at the State Capitol on Sept. 12, the same day legislators return for their 2012 veto session.

During the last legislative session state legislators said Missouri is expected to redeem $685 million in tax credits.

Lawmakers attempted to use the commission's recommendations to reform the state's tax credit programs last session. Work hit a roadblock, however, when disputes emerged between those who wanted to begin limiting tax credits and others who promoted more tax incentives.

Nixon said the commission is comprised of 27 members, including business officials and legislators. It is co-chaired by former state Senate Appropriations Chairman Sen. Chuck Gross, R-St. Charles. Gross is now the director of administration for St. Charles County.

A Missouri House bill went into effect on Tuesday, Aug. 28 that could allow some convicted criminals to have shorter parole.

The new law allows inmates to earn credits toward shorter sentences for complying with the conditions of their parole. Supporters of the bill say it will help save taxpayers' money by reducing the number of non-violent inmates that the state has to pay for.

According to the Missouri Department of Corrections, the direct cost of keeping one prisoner incarcerated is about $6,000 per year. The law's sponsor, Rep. Gary Fuhr, R-St. Louis, says that this law could help lighten the financial load for taxpayers in Missouri.

"There are various estimate of them that can save anywhere from $50,000 up to several million dollars depending on how many people actually comply with their probation or parole provisions," Fuhr said.

Those who do not follow the conditions of their probation will be sent to a mandatory 120-day correctional rehabilitation facility or returned to prison.

Prices at the pump are on the rise in part because the ongoing drought is hurting corn harvests. But corn industry advocates say that removing ethanol from fuel blends could actually result in far sharper price hikes.

Earlier this week, the Farm and Agriculture Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri-Columbia released a forecast predicting a 10 percent decline in US ethanol production next year, with only a two percent decrease in domestic ethanol consumption.

Under a 2006 state law, all gasoline sold in Missouri must be blended with ethanol, a fermented byproduct of corn. The law currently only allows fuel blends to be changed if ethanol-blended gasoline becomes more expensive than regular gas.

Gary Marshall, CEO of the Missouri Corn Growers Association, said Wednesday that the state's corn harvest could be as much as 60 percent below normal.

"Even with this short crop, we are still going to export corn, and it will still cover livestock and ethanol needs, the problem is the price," Marshall said. "But entirely taking ethanol out of the gas industry would only cause an increase in [gas] prices."

Marshall said the future is still relatively uncertain until harvest season is over, and the ethanol and corn markets will assess where to go once final crop numbers are released in 30 to 60 days.

The law requires the state and its municipalities to time their yellow lights according to federal traffic safety standards. Senator Jim Lembke, who sponsored the legislation, said some cities were shortening their yellow light times to raise revenue from red light camera citations. Lembke said that made the intersections less safe because drivers had less time to stop.

Lembke, R-St. Louis County, said the new law may cut into cities' revenue from red light tickets, but he thinks the intersections will be safer.

In 2011, the city of Arnold set its yellow light timers using the federal standards. The city found that the number of red light tickets dropped by 90 percent compared to the year before.

Missouri Municipal League executive director Dan Ross says there was no evidence of cities lowering timers to gain revenue.

"I think, you know, now there is one standard so everyone knows what the rules are, and we support the standard, and people going into the cities know what to do," Ross said.

A Cole County circuit judge has rejected language drafted by the Democratic secretary of state to describe a Republican-sponsored provision to restrict state implementation of the federal health care law.

The November ballot proposal involves creation of a "health exchange" that would provide a standardized system for consumers to chose private health insurance plans. The federal law provides that the federal government will operate such a Web-based "exchange" with standardized policies unless the state establishes its own system.

The measure on the November ballot, passed by the GOP-controlled state legislature, would prohibit the state administration from establishing an "exchange" without approval from either the legislature or the voters.

Secretary of State Robin Carnahan's original ballot description indicated the proposal would "deny individuals...the ability to access affordable health care plans."

The language ordered by the judge would describe the proposal as prohibiting "the Governor or any state agency, from establishing or operating a state based health insurance exchange" without voter or legislative approval.

In response, Carnahan released a statement that said she was disappointed in the ruling and that she still believes her summary met the legal standard. "The court's summary would provide Missouri voters with less information about the impact of the proposal and how Missouri individuals, families and small businesses can access affordable health care," said Carnahan in a release.

The statement also said the Secretary of State's office would review the decision and consider the next steps.

Republican legislative leaders and Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder filed the lawsuit against Democratic Secretary of State, Robin Carnahan over ballot language for a state-based health insurance exchange.

The republicans filed the lawsuit because they say Carnahan's ballot language is biased and misleading.

Kinder released a statement on the case. "I am grateful for the opportunity to make our case on behalf of Missouri voters against Robin Carnahan's baised, inaccurate ballot language. It is crucial that voters have a fair and accurate summary of this important ballot issue. We look forward to Judge Green's decision and a quick resolution to the case," said Kinder.

Carnahan's attorney defended the ballot language saying it should stay.

A judge already issued a temporary restraining order against Carnahan over printing ballots.

Gov. Jay Nixon sent a letter to lawmakers Monday asking them to not override his veto of a measure that would allow Missouri to collect sales taxes from cars purchased out-of-state.

Nixon said the 122,702 Missourians who purchased a car after March 21 would receive a tax bill if lawmakers override his veto when they meet September 12.

"It is unfair and punitive to retroactively tax at least 122,702 Missourians particularly without a vote of the people," Nixon said in his letter.

The legislation passed the Senate unanimously and then the House on a 122 to 21 vote during the last week of legislative session. Nixon vetoed the bill on July 12.

The measure was passed in order to address a Supreme Court decision in January, which prevented Missouri from collecting a use tax on cars bought outside the state.

Lawmakers sought to reverse the court's decision to give Missouri car dealers, who must impose the tax, a better chance to compete neighboring state rivals.

A bill expanding Missouri's No-Call List to cell phones and fax machines will become law on Tuesday.

The measure allows Missouri cell phone users to register their phone on the Attorney General's website to prevent receiving calls from telemarketers via phone call or text message.

Well before the law was to take effect, the Attorney General's office began accepting applications for registering cell phones on the now call list. The office claims that 1.8 million cell phone users have already registered their phone. The site to register is

Also slated to become law on Tuesday, is a bill requiring MoDOT to develop a statewide minimum time interval for yellow lights. Supporters argue the measure would prevent municipalities from creating shorter yellow lights in an effort to issue more red light camera tickets.

Bills expanding charter schools to failing school districts, and a sales tax increase (upon voter approval) for St. Louis to redevelop the area around the Gateway Arch will also become law.

Cole County Circuit Court Judge Dan Green will hear arguments Tuesday on whether ballot language written by Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan is unconstitutional.

The lawsuit filed by Republican Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder says language written by Carnahan on a ballot measure which would block the governor from creating a health care exchange is misleading.

Last week, the court granted Kinder a temporary restraining order preventing election officials from printing ballots until the dispute over the health care language is resolved.

Last Week

A group of former state Supreme Court judges spoke out against a ballot measure Thursday that would change the selection process for Missouri's top judges.

The amendment, approved by state lawmakers during the last legislative session, would give the governor the power to appoint a majority of the commission members tasked with selecting nominees for non-partisan judgeships.

Retired Supreme Court Justice William Ray Price said supporters of the amendment are attempting to "concentrate power" in the executive branch, in order to buy judicial appointments.

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-Saint Louis County, who sponsored the amendment said it will give the executive branch the power to properly check the judicial branch.

By a vote of 2 to 1, a US Federal Appeals court struck down the Environmental Protection Agency's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which would have affected more than two dozen states including Missouri. The rule was aimed at cutting back on pollution carried across state lines by the wind hurting the air quality in downwind states.

The court's majority decision, published on Tuesday, found the EPA exceeded its statutory authority. "It is not our job to set environmental policy. Our limited but important role is to independently ensure that the agency stays within the boundaries Congress has set. EPA did not do so here," wrote Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

The National Resources Defense Council called on the EPA to immediately appeal the decision, saying in a statement that "it will take years for EPA to adopt replacement health safeguards that all three judges recognize to be necessary and required by law."

In response to the overturned regulations, Saint Louis-based Ameren Missouri released a statement saying the utility company is in position to continue to comply with regulations and are fully committed to reducing emissions.

A Cole County circuit judge has ordered local election officials to hold off printing the November election ballots until a decision is made on wording on a health care ballot issue.

The temporary restraining order was issued in response to a suit filed by the lieutenant governor and Republican legislative leaders challenging the secretary of state's language describing a measure that would prevent the governor from establishing a state health exchange under the federal health care law without legislative approval.

The circuit judge scheduled arguments on the case for Tuesday, August 28.

U.S. Rep. Todd Akin's political future is in severe jeopardy after he made controversial comments about rape and abortion on a Sunday talk show.

Several top Republicans are calling on Akin to withdrawal from his race against incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill after saying a women can prevent pregnancy in a "legitimate rape."

Akin's comments came during an interview on Fox's St. Louis affiliate KTVI. Akin later released a statement saying he "misspoke" and has so far resisted calls for him to leave the contest.

Missouri election law allows a candidate to withdraw their name from the ballot 11 weeks before the general election. That deadline is this Tuesday and any withdrawal must be made in person at the Secretary of State's office.

Should Akin withdraw from the race the Republican state committee would have two weeks to nominate a replacement to challenge McCaskill.

McCaskill almost immediately criticized Akin's comments, but stopped short of calling him to leave the U.S. Senate contest.

"It is beyond comprehension that someone can be so ignorant about the emotional and physical trauma brought on by rape," she said in a statement.

Republicans ranging from presidential nominee Mitt Romney and U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have also condemned Akin's comments and called for him to consider his candidacy.

In addition to public outcries from his fellow Republicans, Akin is also facing financial implications for his comments. Crossroads GPS - a national conservative group who had been running ads against McCaskill - announced they were pulling their funding from Missouri. The Republican National Senatorial Committee also announced they would not be spending money to help Akin.

Akin defeated his main Republican rivals, John Brunner and Sarah Steelman, in the August Primary election. McCaskill has been viewed as one of the most vulnerable senators in the country seeking reelection.