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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of September 3, 2012

Missouri lawmakers are set to take up at least two hotly debated issues when they reconvene for their veto session Wednesday, just weeks before many of them are up for re-election.

Among the most hotly contested measures expected to come back before the legislature is a measure that would allow employers or insurers to refuse to provide coverage for birth control or abortions if such procedures are at odds with their religious beliefs. Coverage for sterilization procedures would also only be required if such operations are deemed medically necessary.

Sponsored by Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis County, the bill was the response from conservatives in the state to a rule levied by the federal Department of Health and Human Services that required employers and insurance companies to cover contraception at no additional cost to the employees.

Nixon reaffirmed his opposition to the proposal when he spoke with reporters about week before lawmakers are expected to return.

“This is a personal medical decision for a woman and her family, not something that should be dictated by an insurance company.” he said.

Also on tap for the session is a measure that supporters say “fixes” a state Supreme Court decision handed down earlier this year about the collection of local sales taxes on vehicles purchased at places other than Missouri car dealerships.

The court ruled that city and county sales taxes could not be collected on such purchases, a move that lawmakers said could punch a hole in annual revenues for many rural counties that are already struggling in the sputtering economy. The state stopped collecting and remitting such taxes in March.

A measure sponsored by House Budget Chairman Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, would restore the old taxing system and would allow the taxes to collect retroactively to March.

That position has drawn heavy criticism from Nixon in recent weeks, as he has said that it would be unfair to send vehicle owners a bill for a tax that was not in place when they made their purchase. He said the state Department of Revenue has told him that some 122,000 drivers statewide could owe taxes if his veto is overridden.

Missouri will continue to be one of five states without mandatory rabies vaccines as state lawmakers are not planning to override a veto on rabies legislation.

On July 7, Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the measure, which would have required cat and dog owners to provide proof of a rabies vaccination in the event their pet bites someone. In the event documentation is not provided, this bill would have required owners to surrender the animal to either a veterinarian or proper authorities.

In Nixon's veto letter, he said the legislation could put Missourians at risk for rabies by taking the power of the decision-making process away from local law enforcement, health care officials and health care providers and placing it solely in the hands of veterinarians.

"Replacing a multidisciplinary team with a single decision-maker would place Missourians who may have been exposed to rabies at significant risk," Nixon said in the letter.

Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, a veterinarian, sponsored the legislation which he said he will not pursue overriding the governor's veto. Brown said this is due in part because he doesn't believe the House has the two-thirds majority necessary for overriding the veto.

The summer’s drought is bittersweet for Missouri winemakers. The dry, arid weather is helping to keep the fruit clean and the berries are smaller, which helps with sweetness.

However, winemakers are unsure if the vines will last through the winter season due to a lack of nutrients. Also, total yields are less than previous years.

Ameren Missouri will decrease its fuel adjustment charge rate effective Sept. 24.

The rate is used to cover fuel purchasing costs needed for power plant operations. The average customer will save 21 cents on their monthly fuel adjustment charge. The average fuel adjustment cost was $3.17 a month, but will be $2.96 a month once the rate decrease goes into effect.

The rate change is based on fuel costs and the amount of out-of-state profits Ameren receives. If fuel costs decrease or Ameren’s out-of-state profits increase, the rate will decrease. Warren Wood, Ameren's vice president of Regulatory Affairs, said both were a factor in this month’s rate reduction.

Ameren had to file a request with the commission in order to reduce the rate, which was approved on Tuesday.

Governor Jay Nixon and Director Margaret T. Donnelly of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Sciences (DHSS) established the annual income guidelines for free and reduced-price meals for individuals enrolled in child and day care programs.

Guidelines are in accordance to the USDA Federal Guidelines for the Child and Adult Care Food Program.

The guidelines state that family income must be at or below 185% of the federal poverty level, and must receive benefits through Temporary Assistance or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Participants enrolled in an adult care facility are eligible, but need to receive assistance through Medicaid or Supplemental Security Income.

The severe drought continues to cause the price of ethanol to rise due to low corn production rates.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, due to a federal mandate, 35 to 40 percent of corn crop is diverted to ethanol production. In 2012 the government has required 13.2 billion gallons of ethanol to be blended into gasoline across the country.

The Environmental Protection Agency is asking for public feedback on the possibility of granting waivers to the mandate. A month-long open-comment period began on Aug. 30 and the EPA will decide by Nov. 12 if any waivers should be granted.

The production of ethanol also puts a strain on the price of gasoline. Matt Merritt, the public relations manager at POET Biorefining, said ethanol is an important component of the price of gasoline right now.

"Across the nation (ethanol) is 10 percent of the gasoline supply and we all know what happens when even a small percentage of the gas supply from any area gets affected," Merritt said.

The Missouri Bar has spent the last four years studying the current Criminal Code and will recommend changes in public meetings, beginning next week. A panel will then begin to update Missouri's criminal laws.

One of the committee's plans is to reduce sentences for first time offenders of non-violent crimes.

The committee is led by Democratic Sen. Jolie Justus, of Kansas City, and Republican House member Stanley Cox, of Sedalia.

The first public meeting is from 1-4 pm in the Senate Lounge in the state Capitol building on Tuesday, September 11.

Missouri lawmakers return next week for a short session to take up legislative vetos by Gov. Jay Nixon.

Insurance coverage for contraception is expected to be among the hotly debated vetoes by the governor. The measure would give employers and insurance companies the right to refuse to cover birth control, abortion or sterilization procedures. 

And Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, has said he will ask the House to override a veto of a bill that would allow the state to collect local sales taxes on purchases from sellers other than Missouri auto dealers.

The House could also elect a new chamber leader. The previous speaker, Republican Steven Tilley, resigned last month and Speaker Pro Tem Shane Schoeller has said choosing a news Speaker will be one of the first things the House does.

The bill would mandate schools to allow students who live 17 miles from their current school to transfer if the other school was 7 miles closer.

Bill sponsor Rep. Rodney Schad, R-Versailles, said he does not plan to override the bill and described the lack of necessary votes as tragic.

"My intentions for the bill was to help all kids that are forced to ride a school bus for three hours a day," Schad said.

The bill only applied to the districts of St. Albans, St. Elizabeth and Gravois Mills.

"I think most of the education community that had concern, it lies more in the fact that we're developing a bill to address three particular communities in the entire state," said Gravois Mills superintendent Joyce Ryerson.

Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-St. Louis, said the plan will pull too many resources from surrounding areas and would not be good for state education as a whole.

Gov. Jay Nixon is in hot water again over his trips after an audit released Wednesday criticized the governor for shifting his travel and staffing costs to other state agencies.

The audit released by Republican State Auditor Tom Schweich shows the governor billed other state agencies $1.7 million for his travel and employees since he took office in Jan. 2009 and up to June 2011. The money is outside the $5.5 million the governor's office spent in fiscal 2011 for their operating cost.  

Schweich said the charges to other state departments showed the governor was trying to "circumvent the appropriations process."

Since taking office, Nixon has spent 334 days traveling on the taxpayer-funded state plane and 96 percent of those trips were billed to other state departments according to the audit. Nixon billed state agencies $546,000 for travel during his tenure. Overall, Nixon has spent $565,000 on travel up to June 2011.  

Schweich said this was not a situation unique to this governor, but the spending had "escalated."

Missouri Democratic Party Chairman Mike Sanders says he supports McCaskill's decision to forgo the Democratic National Convention.

McCaskill has not attended a convention during any of her campaigns.

Governor Jay Nixon will be at the convention on Thursday. Missouri has 102 delegates.

On Tuesday, when asked about the tax, Nixon said he would not take a side on the cigarette tax.

In November, voters will decide if the state's cigarette tax will increase.

Currently, Missouri's cigarette tax is the lowest in the country.

Faced with criticism from Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, Republican state Rep. Ryan Silvey is offering a legislative compromise on a measure dealing with vehicle taxes.

Nixon vetoed the bill and spoke about the retroactive tax the bill will impose at a press conference on Tuesday.

“It would also impose a retroactive tax without a vote of the people on more than 122,702 past vehicle sales,” Nixon said.

Silvey said he plans to make a motion to override the governor’s action during the legislative veto session, which is set to convene next Wednesday in the Capitol.

A state law that went into effect in August will make transferring between state institutions easier. The law requires The Coordinating Board for Higher Education to work with institutions to develop a core-course list of at least 25 courses that will be transferable amongst all public higher education institutions.

Sen. David Pearce, the Senate Education Chairman said the law will ease the transfer process by forming one series of agreements instead of the hundreds that currently exist.

Glen Hahn Cope, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Missouri St. Louis said the UM System has already found more than 25 courses that appear to be acceptable.

The board must develop the list by July 1, 2014.

Two Missouri groups dropped their lawsuit against Secretary of State Robin Carnahan Monday, ending bids to put minimum wage and payday loan initiatives on the ballot.

Missourians for Responsible Lending and Give Missourians a Raise filed the lawsuit to challenge Carnahan's ruling that they didn't have enough signatures.

Spokesman for both groups, Sean Soendker Nicholson, says the lawsuit was filed because the groups believe they had more than enough signatures to make the ballot.

Despite the setback, Soendker Nicholson says the groups will continue to fight and will hopefully get the initiatives on the ballot next year.

Carnahan was unavailable for comment.

Last Week

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.