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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of September 24, 2012

The former CEO of Mamtek would not agree to be extradited to Missouri in an Orange County, Calif. Court Thursday.

Bruce Cole faces felony stealing charges and security fraud charges following the failure of the planned sucralose plant in Moberly, Mo.

Cole is currently in custody and being held on a $500,000 bond.

Without Cole's consent, California Gov. Jerry Brown must request an extradition to Missouri.

Cole is due in court next on Oct. 3.

There have been four reported suicides in the Missouri National Guard so far in 2012 and 116 in the U.S. Army.

Members and soldiers are coming together to put and end to growing numbers by holding suicide intervention programs in various states.

The first Army 'stand-down' has army soldiers taking a break from their normal workouts and allowing them time to hold personal discussions covering depression and suicide topics.

The Missouri National Guard is planning their own 'stand-down' in October, but the date is not set yet. State Chaplain Gary Gilmore of the Missouri National Guard announced that it will be occurring during 'drill weekend,' where members are normally required to attend various workouts.  

Potential outcomes of the suicide intervention programs will be reduced numbers of suicides and giving members the sense they are not alone.

Ameren Missouri has asked the Missouri Public Service Commission for permission to increase its rates.

Residents will have to pay 14 dollars more per month if the Commission approves the request.

The utility company says it has been denied "reasonable opportunity to earn."

Attorney Lewis Mills says Ameren can only get away with increasing rates because the company has no competitors.

The commission will make a decision on Ameren's request after the hearings end on October 12th.

During a press conference at the state Capitol Thursday, Todd Akin said he believes Claire McCaskill and her campaign are worried about the incumbent's chances for reelection.

Akin said McCaskill was aggressive in their debate, differing from her 2006 debates against Jim Talent, where Akin said she was more "ladylike."

The Akin campaign also received an endorsement from the Senate Conservatives Fund Thursday. The group announced it will contribute $290,000 to the Akin campaign.

Two Missouri lawmakers who pushed for reforms on local economic development projects said Wednesday that an audit report this week confirms the need for such measures.

Rep. Jay Barnes said Wednesday he will keep filing legislation that imposes stricter due diligence requirements for economic development projects, such as the failed Mamtek sweetener plant in Moberly.

Barnes, R-Jefferson City, sponsored a bill in this years legislative session that would have required several changes to how municipalities lend money to new businesses. One change would have been a requirement for towns to hold a public meeting before issuing bonds backed by that towns budget.

State Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County said the recent audit of the Department of Economic Development confirmed the need for Barnes' proposal because a community should not use be able to use its general revenue fund for new companies without a town meeting.

Two years ago, Missouri voters cast ballots on the concept of a health insurance mandate. This year they will get to vote on another aspect of the federal health care overhaul passed in 2009: exchanges.

The measure would ban Governor Jay Nixon or any state agency from setting up a health insurance exchange through an executive order.

A health insurance exchange is a web-based marketplace for consumers to compare insurance plans. The exchanges are a central part of the federal measure. Federal law requires there to be an exchange in every state by 2014. Federal authorities can even set up an exchange without a state's permission.

Tea Party groups oppose the federal law and see the ballot measure as one way to delay the federal law's implementation. But not all Republicans favor blocking the exchanges. At least one Republican in the state House says Missouri should craft its own exchange instead of waiting for federal authorities to impose their own system.

The Special Administrative Board in charge of St. Louis Public Schools is asking the State Board of Education for provisional accreditation.

The state board requires school districts to meet six out of 14 academic standards to reinstate provisional accreditation, and St. Louis Public Schools surpassed that number as of the 2012 year and now has seven.

The St. Louis Public School district lost its accreditation in 2007, and a state-mandated board, known as the Special Administrative Board, was put in control of the district.  

Despite meeting the number of standards required for provisional accreditation, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Communications Director Sarah Potter said the district still may not qualify.

"The department and the board said that one year is not enough to change classification," Potter said. "The Missouri School Improvement Program moves on cycles and they've been five year cycles and we have been looking at five years of data when making these classification decisions."

Since the district just passed this year, it will have to plead its case on Oct. 16 that the improvements are not temporary.

Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, said the district should get its accreditation.

"I don't know why if they have met the requirement to be provisionally accredited why they wouldn't be," Nasheed said. "We need to do away with mediocre. St. Louis public schools need to meet full accreditation."

Spokesperson Joe Jerek of the Department of Conservation says that forests are getting greener as rain in Missouri increases.

As a result, fish population in ponds and lakes are also increasing.

Executive Director Bob Garino of USDA says that although water levels are rising after the drought, water is still a main concern.

Today's the last day for Todd Akin to drop out of the race for U.S Senate.

Senator Bill Stouffer says it's easy for public officials to say things they may not mean during TV interviews. Stouffer said, "Todd is genuine and he made a mistake and he's apologized for it."

Stouffer would not say whether or not he supports Akin, but did say he does not support his opponent.

In six weeks, Akin will square off against Democratic incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill.

State auditor Tom Schweich said the department of Economic Development could have done more to prevent the Mamtek scandal in an audit today.

Schweich said the department's Division of Business and Community Services failed to perform adequate due diligence for an artificial sweetener plant, which was supposed to create 600 jobs for Missourians. Schweich said due diligence is a set of common practices used to evaluate a business' credibility.

"You look diligently at whether they [Mamtek] have these capabilities. Mamtek was going to produce sucralose. They claimed they had a plant in China, they had patents and had money in the bank," Schweich said.

However, according to Schweich's audit, the department "did not ensure due diligence procedures were adequately designed, performed, and documented to protect the interests of all parties, and the company was forced into bankruptcy in January 2012."

The department stated in a response in the audit that "BCS performed substantial due diligence related to the Mamtek project."

U.S. Rep. Todd Akin is changing his tune on earmarks as his race with incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill moves forward.

Akin has been a supporter and defender of earmarks even after many Republicans in Congress called for a moratorium on the practice of attaching funding for local projects onto legislation.

But, the National Journal is reporting that Akin has agreed to a ban on earmarks should he defeat McCaskill and serve in the Senate. The report alleges the six-term Congressman shifted his position to receive the support of a Super PAC controlled by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., a critic of earmarks.

Rick Tyler, an Akin campaign aide, told the National Journal on Friday, Sept. 21, that the Congressman has agreed to a ban on earmarks. Tyler previously worked for former House Speaker and Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, who is stumping for Akin's campaign.

Akin's official House website, however, says that Akin supports earmarks and has made several funding requests during his tenure. The website also lists of all Akin's earmark requests from 2010 to 2011.

"The fact is that without the appropriations process, distant bureaucrats would be deciding whether local projects are worth funding," Akin's website says.

Tuesday, Sept. 25, is the last day from the St. Louis Congressman to heed the calls of fellow Republicans to exit the U.S. Senate contest, but the GOP nominee is showing no signs of quitting.

In fact, Gingrich is joining Akin in St. Louis Monday, Sept. 24 at a $500 a plate lunch fundraiser. The congressman is also scheduled to begin a bus tour around the state on Tuesday.

The change in his position draws Akin closer to his opponent's view on earmarks. McCaskill has supported a ban on earmarks in the past.

"During his 12 years in Congress, Todd Akin repeatedly funneled taxpayer dollars to his campaign donors, which is exactly the kind of Washington behavior that led Claire to fight for an earmark ban," said Erik Dorey, a McCaskill campaign spokesman.

Last Week

In the digital age, it seems like everything can be done with a computer or over email. And now due to federal and state laws, military personnel deployed overseas can use that technology to vote. The laws went into effect in 2010, but the upcoming general election will be the first time people in the military can cast their votes for the next president using email. So far, the program has been well received.

"Anything that makes it easier and more convenient for our military overseas voters to vote is certainly a positive development," said Stacie Temple with the Missouri Secretary of State's office.

Military personnel overseas can still cast their ballots through the absentee system, but it can take up to three weeks for people in the military to receive the ballot and another three weeks to send them back. Randy Watson voted in elections when he was stationed overseas and he said it could be difficult to get the ballots back in time before the election.

"Well back then you had to mail it in. You had to mail it back to your election authority. With mail from overseas, you're talking approximately three weeks to get it back. So you have to make sure your timing is right," said Watson, who is now a state voting assistance officer with the Missouri National Guard.

What used to take weeks, now takes only the click of a mouse. Military personnel can cast their ballots using the secure email and then follow the ballot until it the local election authority confirms it got the email.

Fifteen Missouri school districts are entering a tight competition for a chunk of $400 million in education grants this fall.

This round of the Race to the Top initiative is different from past phases, as it is a district-level competition. The U.S. Department of Education will award the grant money to between 15 and 25 school districts. The department is looking for schools that display commitment to personalized learning environments. The school districts in Missouri applying are: Kansas City, St. Louis, Camdenton, Cape Girardeau, Ferguson-Florissant, Fort Osage, Jefferson City, Joplin, Normandy, North Kansas City, Poplar Bluff, Raytown, Riverview Gardens, West Plains and West Platte.

Missouri has yet to receive Race to the Top funds. The state education department applied for Phase One of the grants in 2010, but finished 33rd. In Phase Two, it finished 30th.

Race To the Top has been controversial in the past amongst teachers and educational policymakers. Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch wrote in an August 2010 Los Angeles Times editorial that Race to the Top would not improve education. The Missouri State Teachers Association opposed the program in 2010, because of the burden it would place on educators and lack of educator input in the reforms.

However, MSTA spokesman Tim Fuller said the applications for the district-level competition incorporate more local control.

Applications for district-level competition are due on Oct. 30. The U.S. education department will announce the winners in December.

A new study conducted by the Trust for America's Health predicts 13 states will have over 60 percent of the population classified as obese by 2030, Missouri included.

Trust for America's Health reviewed CDC records of the body mass index of 400,000 Americans from 1999 to 2010 in order to project the growth of obesity in each state.

According to the study, states will save over $13 million in health care costs by 2030 if they reduce the average body mass index by 5 percent.

Amy Stringer Hessel, the program officer for   Foundation for Health, said Missouri health organizations are actively working to change state polices and promote healthy lifestyles.

The Missouri National Guard is planning a suicide intervention for Sep. 27.

The event will take place at local armories and command posts and will offer food and clothing to those members fighting depression or economic downturn.

So far this year, 4 members of the Missouri National Guard and 116 U.S. Army soldiers have committed suicide.

The Guard is calling the event a "stand-down." It will be supported by the Yellow-Ribbon Reintegration Program, the Department of Mental Health, and faith based communities.

Two historically black universities in Missouri received a total of $3.8 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Education this week.

Harris Stowe State University in St. Louis received about $1.5 million and Lincoln University in Jefferson City received about $2.3 million. The department handed out close to $228 million to historically black colleges and universities in 19 different states.

These grants are through Title III Part B, the Strengthening Historically Black Colleges and Universities Program. The program aims to help fund student services, educational equipment, staff development and facility improvements, according to the department.

To apply for these grants, schools must be recognized by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education as a historically black college or university.

The grants are discretionary, not competitive, so they are awarded most years. Paul Wagner, the Deputy Commissioner of the Coordinating Board for Higher Education in Missouri, said Harris Stowe and Lincoln have received these funds before.

The University of Missouri systems are under lawsuit for failing to implement military veteran discount with student financial aid.

The lawsuit applies to the Missouri Coordinating Board of Education. Spokesperson Kathy Love says the board has no comment at this time.

Karen Adams, financial aid consultant of Missouri Western State University, says their school always implements the Heroes discount. College of the Ozarks' financial aid director, Kyla McCarty, says they do things differently and do not apply military discounts.

Both the College of the Ozarks and the University of Missouri systems offer scholarship funds. The University of Missouri systems has did not return phone calls and has made no statement at this writing.

Todd Akin's campaign adviser Rick Tyler said Gingrich offered to come to support Akin. He will attend a series of fundraising events to help Akin's campaign fill the gap between his and Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill's campaigns.

Tyler also said that the Republican party must secure a spot for a Missouri Republican in the Senate if they hope to win a majority.

The Missouri Federation of Republican Women Vice President Rosa Robbs said Akin still has a lot of support in Missouri, and it will be very helpful for Gingrich to show his support.

The official deadline to dropout of the Senate race is Tuesday, Sept. 25. However, if a candidate drops out after Sept. 22, they would have to cover the costs of military and overseas ballots. 

Tyler said there is no way Akin will drop out of the race.

Adjutant General Stephen Danner is the second Missourian in history to serve as the chairman of the National Guard Association.

Danner was elected as chairman at the NGA convention in Reno, Nev. last week.

The NGA was created to provide each state territory with representation in Washington D.C. Their goal is to obtain better equipment and training by educating Congress on militia needs.

Danner served as the top official for the Missouri National Guard and was awarded a Bronze Star and Combat Action Badge for his service in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Gov. Jay Nixon said in a statement that Danner's "leadership skills and the genuine concern he has shown for those under his command will enable him to serve well the men and women of the Guard and their families."

Danner will serve as chairman of the board for the next two years and hopes to "maintain the momentum" of the association.

After a series of positive ads touting his own record, incumbent Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon released his first negative ad Thursday.

The ad criticizes his opponent, Republican Dave Spence, for his relationship with Reliance Bancshares Inc, which has yet to pay back $40 million in federal bailout money. The ad states that Spence was on the bank's board of directors in 2011 when it voted against repaying the bailout money. Spence later resigned from the board

Nixon's ad comes in response to an ad from Spence, which was released earlier this week. Spence's ad attempts to tie Nixon to President Barack Obama and criticizes the governor for his support of the federal stimulus. Spence's ad also blames Nixon and Obama for the "failure" of Missouri's economy and loss of jobs.

Spence's ad began airing statewide Tuesday, while Nixon's ad hit the airwaves Thursday.

Normandy School District is slated to lose its accreditation, and a top district official said community outreach is essential to recovery.

The Missouri State Education Board said Tuesday the district has until Jan. 1, 2015 to improve its poor standardized test scores to earn back its state accreditation.

The district currently only meets five of the 14 standards. To earn full state accreditation, a district must meet at least nine standards.

According to Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education spokeswoman Sarah Potter, the district has had some of the lowest scores in the state on the Missouri Assessment Program tests. She said there is currently no good system in place to turn performance around and the state will likely take over the school if scores don't improve.

"The board of education could divide the district into smaller districts," she said. "They could close the district or merge it with another district."

But, teachers unions, such as the state chapter of the National Education Association said instructors in the classroom aren't fully to blame for the faltering scores in Normandy.

"Outside influences, home life, community resources and economic issues play a big role in how well students are able to concentrate and do in their school work," MNEA Director Ann Jarrett said Wednesday. "Our hope is that this will be a wake up call and it will generate honest productive conversation about what can be done to help those students to attend a great public school."

Phillip Boyd, the Normandy district's Chief Administrative Officer, said 95 percent of his district's students live in poverty, which he said presents some obstacles for the students and teachers to overcome.

"There's no barrier regarding children coming into school from poverty that says they can't learn," Boyd said Wednesday. "What it says is we should all do what we can both internally, in the school system, or externally, to the school system, to address some of the issues that hold some of our children back."

The state and anti-abortion rights groups made their arguments before Missouri's Supreme Court this morning in Jefferson City as part of legal challenge to a funding bill for biotechnology companies.

In 2011, state lawmakers passed legislation establishing a fund to help more biotechnology companies get started in the state. But that measure (SB7) was written such that it could take effect only if another tax bill was signed into law.

The other bill never passed but the state began putting the funding in place anyway. In February, a Cole County circuit court judge then struck down the funding law, saying that making the funding bill dependent on the passage of the other law was unconstitutional and the state appealed the ruling to the higher court.

"The legislature made very clear...abundantly clear that it did not intend section A to become effective unless and until Senate Bill eight passed and was signed by the government," said Stephen Clark, attorney for the anti-abortion rights groups.

Anti-abortion rights groups are working to stop the funding bill's implementation because its funding is doled out by a 15-member board that is not publicly elected. They have said that without direct citizen oversight, the board might vote to fund businesses that harvest tissues from unborn children as part of their research.

"There is not any pro-life protections on Senate Bill 7 that would protect that money from being used for human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research," said Susan Klein, Missouri Right to Life lobbyist.

Missouri hospitals could soon lose funds from cuts to Disproportionate Share Hospital Adjustment Payments (DSH). The payments are part of Medicaid funding, and go to hospitals that serve large proportions of uninsured and under insured patients. The payments help hospitals cover their uncompensated care. 

Missouri was the seventh largest recipient of DSH funding in the nation in 2011. The DSH cuts were intended to complement Medicaid expansion in the federal health care overhaul. Missouri lawmakers have not decided whether or not they will expand Medicaid.

Dave Dillon, a spokesman for the Missouri Hospital Association says the federal law was designed to curtail the effect of the cuts with the Medicaid expansion. He said state health decisions will have to consider this effect.