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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of September 10, 2012

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce endorsed Republican Dave Spence for Governor on Sep. 13.

President of the Chamber of Commerce, Dan Mehan, said he believes that Spence's business experience will boost the economy.

According to Jay Nixon's (D)campaign manager, Nixon has made Missouri's business climate one of the best in the nation.

Spence said he will focus on not doing things for political purposes if elected.

The Greater Kansas City Coalition of Labor Union Women is seeking a preliminary injunction within the next few days regarding the new law.

The labor union's lawyer Edward Keenan says he's prepared to take the law all the way to the state Supreme Court and that it violates the Supremacy Clause.

The law's sponsor, Saint Louis County Republican Senator John Lamping, said during the veto session that this bill makes clear an employer cannot be forced to pay for an employees services that they do not agree with.

Keenan says he expects to be in a courtroom within the next few weeks.

Former state Supreme Court Justice Michael Wolff said the two biggest problems with Missouri's Criminal Code are it's complexity and harsh punishments for non-violent offenders.

Wolff said the current code's redundancy has caused a number of problems in the judicial system. For example, there are currently 27 ways to be charged with assault in Missouri, which creates confusion among law enforcement officials and the public over what laws to abide by.

"If you're going to prohibit things, make things crimes, you have to tell people what it is," Wolff said.

Wolff also said too much money is being spent sending criminals charged with drug related crimes to jail, when rehab would be a cheaper way to permanently fix the problem.

"The people we send to prison should be the people we're afraid of, not just the people we're mad at," Wolff said.

A joint committee will discuss which changes should be made to the code after a series of public hearings begins next week.

Missouri continues to be the first and only state to discuss the use of propofol for the lethal injection of death row inmates.

Two motions are pending on a case allowing the use of the drug. While the case is being decided, the execution dates of 19 death row inmates have been delayed. Lawyers filed the case from the Missouri Supreme Court down to the Cole County District Court and have motioned for the Attorney General to not dismiss the case.

Supporters of the drug believe that the execution dates should be set promptly. Opponents argue that the use of propofol is a step backward in human rights.

Attorney General Chris Koster spoke out against the Supreme Court's decision and hopes to settle the case as quickly as possible.

Lawmakers in the Missouri state Capitol have overridden a veto from Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon on legislation involving health insurance coverage of contraception.

The Senate passed the bill over Nixon's objection 26-6, while the House passed it by a vote of 109-45. Only one Republican - Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia - in either chamber voted against the veto override. Seven Democrats joined 102 House Republicans in passing the law.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis County, will allow employers and insurers to refuse to provide coverage of abortion, contraception or sterilization procedures in their employee health insurance plans unless such procedures are deemed medically necessary.

"This bill does not restrict access," Lamping said. "This bill makes clear that you can't force someone who disagrees with you to pay for your services."

The federal Department of Health and Human Services issued a rule earlier this year that requires employers and insurance companies to cover contraception at no additional cost to employees. Those in support of Missouri's bill believe that this rule could interfere with the religious beliefs of employers and insurers in the state.

Nixon vetoed the bill on July 12. 

"It's a shame we are still debating access to birth control in 2012," he said Wednesday.

Wednesday's vote marks only the second time the Legislature has overriden Nixon. Lawmakers also successfully overcame his objections to pass redistricting maps last year, which were later challenged in the state's courts. 

When lawmakers met at their annual veto session Wednesday they declined to override a veto from Gov. Jay Nixon of an auto use tax.

The measure would have imposed a retroactive tax on more than 122,000 Missourians who purchased cars after March 21, but did not buy their vehicles at Missouri car dealers.

Nixon vetoed the bill, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, and had spoken out repeatedly over the last month against a possible override.

Supporters of the measure argued that not having the tax apply to purchases outside Missouri car dealers put them at a competitve disadvantage and said the lost revenue from the tax would hurt municipalities.

Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County had said earlier in the day that his chamber would not take up the measure if there were not enough votes in the House to achieve the two-thirds majority to override Nixon's veto.

Jones suggested that Nixon call a special session and "show leadership" so lawmakers can address the use tax issue, but Nixon quickly rejected the idea.

"I don't think I should ask the taxpayers to fund a special session to let the Legislature come back and try to raise taxes," the governor said.

Top Republican leaders joined Democratic St. Louis City lawmakers Wednesday to support the ballot measure giving St. Louis control of its police department.

Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, has led the effort in the legislature for local control and called the current governing system of the police force "antiquated." Nasheed was joined by Senate Majority Leader Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, and Speaker Pro Tem Shane Schoeller, R-Willard, at the Wednesday news conference and pledged support for the measure.  

The St. Louis and Kansas City police departments have been under control of boards whose members are appointed by the governor since the Civil War era. Nasheed said allowing the city to run its own police department will save the state and the city money.

"The city of Saint Louis spends over $144 million on public safety, but guess what we have no control over the police department. If we pay for it, we should control it," Nasheed said.

The measure had been held up in the legislature as some lawmakers feared the change would negatively impact current police officers. Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, said at the news conference that lawmakers had "bent over backwards" to ensure that would not occur.

Voters will decide on Proposition A at the November general election.

Former Majority Floor leader Rep. Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, has been elected Speaker of the Missouri House.

In a speech on the House floor, Jones urged house members to work together with senators and House members holding opposing viewpoints.

"We will work together with all sides of the aisle, and all facets of the equation to help our failing education bureaucracy," Jones said.

Jones also stated that he plans to improve Missouri's economic state through tax relief and deregulating business.

Jones' election comes nearly one month after former Speaker Steve Tilley resigned before his term expired to become a lobbyist.

A commission appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon began work Wednesday on evaluating and making recommendations to lawmakers on revising Missouri's 61 tax credit programs.

In 2012, the state redeemed $629 million in tax credits - a record amount.

Nixon said the "exponential growth" in tax credit redemptions was the impetus for the commission.

"Tax credits come at a price. Every dollar we spend on tax credits is a dollar we don't have to spend on other critical priorities such as public schools and public safety," Nixon said.

The commission is headed by former Senate Appropriations Chairman Chuck Gross, R-St. Charles, and Steve Sogel, President of the DFC Group in St. Louis.

The tax credit group first met in 2010 and submitted a report to lawmakers calling for reductions in historic preservation and low income housing programs - the state's two largest tax credits. But, lawmakers have been unable to pass the recommendations of the commission and scale back the state's programs.

The commission must submit an updated report by Dec. 5.

Missouri's Criminal Code will be updated for the first time in over 30 years, based on recommendations made by The Missouri Bar. One of these recommendations is decreasing the punishment of non-violent crimes, particularly with first time offenders.

The Missouri Bar spent the last four years studying the Criminal Code and concluded an additional class of felonies is needed. Missouri currently has four classes of felonies, however Bar Co-Chair, Jason Lamb, believes adding a 5th class would improve the judicial system and close a gap that currently exists.

Lamb says possession of a controlled substance and involuntary manslaughter in the first degree are both currently Class C felonies, despite a clear difference in the seriousness of the crimes. Lamb says he believes the addition of a 5th class will create an important distinction between violent and non-violent crimes.

The legislature will decide which changes will be made to the code after a series of public hearings beginning Sept. 18th.

Increases in expenses are forcing cattle ranchers to sell cows prematurely in order to save their businesses.

At the House Agricultural Policy Committee meeting on Tuesday, people in the agriculture business came to address grievances brought on by the recent drought.

Cattle ranchers rely on hay and grass to feed the animals and sell them off to buyers.

Due to the drought, hay can cost as much as 85 dollars per bale, which is a price most cattle ranchers are not able to afford.

Wendy Cantrell of the Miller County Regional Stockyard, said that she has lost 20 percent of her local producers.

Missouri farmers have been plowing too much for the production of wheat and soybeans, leaving fewer areas for cattle to graze.

Cattle ranchers believe the only way to keep their ranches alive during the drought is with the help of reseeding and wells.

The Interim Committee on Pre-Need Funeral Trusts met today to listen to concerns from funeral directors and associations about how debt will be reimbursed.

Funeral homes are suffering large amounts of debt because of losses from faulty trusts with the National Prearranged Services. The NPS provided people insurance to make funeral arrangements. When the person died, the NPS was supposed to give the funeral homes money to cover the arrangements, however the NPS ended up keeping the money. When the NPS failed to provide money, the funeral homes faced a decision to pay out of pocket to fulfill the contracts with the consumers or shut down.

In 2008, to assist the funeral homes affected by the losses from the fraud, legislators passed the Guarantee Fund to help funeral homes pay for funeral costs. However, legislators are now looking for an alternative to the Guarantee Fund, possibly in a private firm, because the government and tax payers cannot keep up with the cost of the Guarantee Fund.

Rep. Chris Molendorp, R-Belton, said the hearing was the first of many to discuss options on how to help the funeral homes with their losses.

The Attorney General's office said there has been a recent spike in businesses soliciting using fake IDs, or "spoofing." Doug Ommen, chief council of the consumer protection division for the Attorney General, said spoofing presents a difficult challenge to track down because the company masks the caller ID.

We do see it reoccuring, and frankly that is something that we're really determined to resolve," Ommen said.

Telemarketing company Condado Outsourcing president Rich Pusateri said there are things companies could use that can trick customers that no one can stop .

"There's nothing that prevents a business or a company from going out and registering a business called ABC...whatever, and because they own that business and they're saying they're doing outbound marketing based on ABC, then they can display that ABC in the caller ID," said Pusateri.  

Ommen said the new application of the no-call list to cell phones could help exterminate this activity because victims of cell phone spoofing can now come forward with legitimate legal complaints.

Last Week

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.