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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of February 4, 2013

People caught with small amounts of marijuana in Columbia usually only face a small fine and now a trio of Democratic state lawmakers want to make that the case for the entire state.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, speaks in favor of the marijuana bill at the Capitol

The three House members including Rep Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, introduced legislation Thursday that would decrease the current penalties for marijuana possession of 35 grams or less.

Bill co-sponsor Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said as a Boone County judge he heard hundreds of misdemeanor cases involving marijuana. Kelly said many university students receive convictions for lesser crimes but the crimes keep them from better careers and a better life.

"It's serious but it shouldn't cloud a person's life forever," Kelly said. "At some point, society ought to let people up and let them go back to being productive citizens."

Rep. Kathie Conway, R-St. Charles, of the House crime committee said she fears that lighter penalties will mean more people driving under the influence of the drug.

State House members sent to the Senate a proposal that would extend five sets of tax credits for charities.

The tax credits expired last year after lawmakers paired them with economic development tax credits and then failed to vote on them.

Last week the Senate passed a similar bill to the House. The tax credit renewals had overwhelming bipartisan support in both chambers.

House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, said he will begin talks with the Senate bill's sponsor to create a final version of the legislation.

"We're open to whatever happens," Jones said. "We really want to get this done here. This is too important for taxpayers who want to give from their pocketbooks and hearts."

Stanley Cox, the head of the House Judiciary Committee, said he wants Gov. Jay Nixon and legislative leaders to be open about where they are spending their money.

Cox and other Republicans are aware of Nixon withholding money, and they are curious as to how much he is withholding and how often Nixon is doing that.

"A federal grant, once it got to the state agency is very very difficult to track," said Cox. "This would certainly help the public track those funds that come from the governor."

Cox said that the public needs to become aware of what the state and local government are spending their money on.

He said he wants agencies to post the data to the Missouri Accountability Portal, a website which shows how tax dollars are being spent throughout Missouri.

Teachers in the St. Louis school district could be fired for incompetency under a proposed measure in the Missouri Senate.

Teachers can be fired for incompetency in all of Missouri's other 519 school districts, but the St. Louis school district is under a different state statute. Jeff Spiegel, the director of performance management for St. Louis schools, said the bill would level the playing field for the district.

"It's a huge difference," said Spiegel at Wednesday's Senate Education Committee hearing. "And I ask myself why is the playing field different. Why is it not level?"

The bill filed by Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, would also allow districts to fire teachers for incompetency or inefficiency 30 days after being warned that they might be fired. Currently, the district must wait to fire an "inefficient" teacher one semester after that teacher is warned.

The Senate Education Committee could vote on the bill as early as next week.

The Senate took no action on a Second Injury Fund fix for the third straight day of debate this week, but a compromise seems to be closer.

“We’ve made a significant amount of progress on this issue tonight,” said bill sponsor Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County.

Rupp said while no deal had yet been reached, the talks were far ahead of where he’d predicted they would be. Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard said Rupp would be talking with the governor and the governor’s staff over the weekend and the Senate would take the bill up again next week.

Rupp said he was committed to including occupational disease language in the bill, which was the source of debate Wednesday. His bill would cover occupational diseases fully under workers’ compensation laws.

“These two issues, they are intertwined,” Rupp said.

Sen. Gina Walsh, D-St. Louis County, said she did not think that provision should be included in a bill intended to fix the Second Injury Fund.

“We shouldn’t muddy the waters with other issues such as occupational diseases,” she said. “I just don’t think it belongs here.”

A new position may soon be in charge of all gifted children's education though out the state of Missouri.

Under the bill, a position would be created in the state's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The person appointed to this position would be the chief coordinator for all gifted education programs in Missouri and have access to a self appointed board of seven volunteers who will act as advisers.

Ron Lankford, Missouri's Deputy Commissioner of Education, indicated that there will be little funding for gifted education programs within the budget, however.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said that because the education department is not supportive of gifted education, changes will be small at first.

"It may be incremental, but a step in the right direction," Schaefer said.

State lawmakers in Missouri and 19 other states have proposed legislation that would exempt firearms that are made and remain in their respective state from federal gun regulations, and would even make it a criminal act to enforce these federal laws.

Past U.S. Supreme Court cases have ruled that laws made by the federal government supersede those made by state legislatures.

"If the federal government has the authority to pass laws in this area, and it does, then they (the state) cannot interfere," Michael Wolff, co-director of the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Law at St. Louis University, said.

So far, four bills have been filed this year by Republicans that would make it a crime to enforce proposed federal laws. Even if those bills don't pass, they still make a significant political statement.

A Republican-controlled Senate committee is resurrecting discussion over a proposal that has been deemed unconstitutional, suffered a gubernatorial veto and was called a "tax increase" less than a year ago.

On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure heard the bill, which allows the collection of taxes on cars bought outside Missouri or through private sales. Committee chair Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, sponsored the bill, which imposes local sales taxes on the sale of all cars, trailers and boats regardless how it was purchased. It also prohibits counties and municipalities from imposing a use tax on them. The local tax rate would be determined by the customer's residence.

A similar bill passed last year in 2012 but was vetoed by Nixon because he said it included a retroactive part that would force those who purchased cars out of state beforehand the passage of the bill to pay those local taxes. But at Wednesday’s hearing, Kehoe said this year’s bill doesn’t include the retroactive component.

Numerous Missouri car dealers, including Dave Sinclair, the owner of four car dealerships in the St. Louis area. He sees Illinois car dealers heavily advertising the tax differential between the states and said it can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars.

"I don't know how many of you are in the retail trade but several hundred dollars will definitely change a buying decision," Sinclair said.

No one spoke in opposition at the hearing and the committee is scheduled to vote on the bill Thursday.

The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission approved a group's proposal Wednesday to build a $120 million, nine-mile extension of Page Avenue in St. Charles County.

Page Constructors, a special group formed by several engineering firms and a design firm, will begin construction this summer and said they can finish the project by fall 2014.

Transportation commissioner Rudy Farber commended department staff for attracting firms to draft competitive proposals for what is now the third phase of the Page Avenue extension.

"This is really very exciting, looks like we got a terrific value in a very important project for the St. Louis area and for St. Charles," Farber said.

Farber also said at the commission's meeting he is pleased the legislature is working on finding a new funding source for transportation. MoDOT has expressed the state has billions in deferred maintenance and Farber likes a proposal introduced Tuesday that would raise the state sales tax by one cent.

Missouri joined a multi-state suit Tuesday against Standard & Poor’s that charges that the rating agency misled and defrauded investors during the run-up of the nation’s financial crisis.

The complaint alleges that S&P was “influenced by its desire to earn lucrative fees from its investment bank clients, (and) knowingly assigned inflated credit ratings to toxic assets packaged and sold by the Wall Street investment banks.”

Missouri’s Attorney General Chris Koster and Secretary of State Jason Kander are joining 14 other states and the District of Columbia in seeking legal action against S&P. The U.S. Department of Justice has also filed its own suit against the rating agency on similar charges.

“The consequences of S&P’s irresponsible decisions can be felt far beyond Wall Street,” Kander said in a statement. “Missourians trusted S&P’s supposedly independent investment analysis, but it appears that trust was betrayed to protect S&P's profits.”

According to the statement, a member of Kander’s staff will be appointed as a “special assistant attorney general” in the suit, which was filed Jackson County Circuit Court.

The Missouri House Committee on Workforce Development and Workplace Safety heard controversial testimony Wednesay morning.

A packed committee room following a hearing on "right-to-work" legislation.

Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, said his bill would help the individual worker by letting them have a choice to join a union.

“It does not deny any individual the right to join a union, nor does it deny any individual to bargain collectively, nor does it deny any individual to pay union dues, if they want to,” Burlison said.

Supporters of the bill testified that it would not have a negative effect on the economy and said that companies would rather come to state that has a right-to-work law. 

Opposition to the bill claimed it would create a "free-rider" problem in which workers who chose not to pay union dues would still benefit from the union.

Rep. Karla May, D-St. Louis said the "right-to-work" is here to create a third-world condition for people."

"As people's wages are going down, the price of living is not going down, so we are decreasing the buying power of the poor, and the middle class," May said.

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Two Republican St. Louis County senators, John Lamping and Eric Schmitt, both proposed bills to name a new bridge over the Mississippi river on Interstate 70 after Stan "The Man" Musial.

Schmitt spoke before the committee and said Musial's life symbolized a bridge.

"Bridges, at the heart of it, bridges unite people, bridges bring people together and I think this is a fitting tribute to Stan Musial who did his entire life," Schmitt said.

Travis Barnes of Bonne Terre was the only person to testify during the hearing. He spoke in support of the bill but said he would also like something to commemorate the name of a friend who died while constructing the bridge last March.

"Without you guys' help I can't get his name on that bridge. And I think his family deserves that," Barnes said.

Barnes described his friend as the "biggest Cardinals fan you'd ever meet" and a "great father figure."

Lamping told Barnes he was looking into ways the bridge could memorialize both his friend and Stan Musial.

The governing bodies of University of Missouri Extension districts might soon be able to levy local taxes to fund additional programs under legislation now pending in the Missouri House.

A bill, sponsored by Rep. Bill Reiboldt, R-Neosho, would allow individual UM System extension councils to form a district of at least two counties, allowing the councils to combine money for extension programs. The UM System operates the extension programs as a part of a federally-mandated mission to provide access to science-based research throughout the state.

The House Agriculture Policy Committee approved the measure by a 13-0 vote Tuesday. Committee chairman Rep. Bill Reiboldt, R-Neosho, said there is no current formal way for extension councils to work together across county lines so that resources and decisions can be shared. He said the extension programs need the option to work together efficiently and place taxing measures before voters when needed.

"Any kind of increase has to go to the vote of the people," Reiboldt said.

Reiboldt, who previously served on the Newton county extension council, also said a similar process has been tried in 26 other states and has worked well.

Higher education officials from across the state came before a House panel Tuesday to voice their support for an almost billion dollar bond proposal and to ask for state funds for a growing list of campus building and renovation projects.

University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe said the four-campus system has a $1.3 billion backlog of projects, such as renovating the engineering buildings at the system’s Columbia campus. Representatives from other state colleges and universities echoed Wolfe’s remarks with their own lists of projects that have been put on hold due to a lack of state funds.

Last month, House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, announced the creation of a special committee that was established for the express purpose of dealing with the $950 million bond proposal. In addition to construction on college campuses, the bond would dedicate funds for state buildings and facilities and potentially transportation infrastructure.  

Committee chairman Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said he would prefer if the bond proposal was combined with a transportation funding measure that was introduced earlier on Tuesday. If approved by voters, that legislation would dedicate funding specifically for Missouri’s roads and transportation infrastructure through a one-cent increase of the state sales tax 10 years.

No one spoke in opposition to the bond proposal at Tuesday’s hearing, Kelly acknowledged that the atmosphere may not remain friendly as the committee continues to work on the measure.

“Every single one of us will be disappointed, but every single one of us will be delighted,” Kelly said. “There’s no way that we can do everything that we need to do, but we can do some very good things and move our economy forward.”

Politicians in Washington may be talking about increased gun control, but at least one Missouri Senator does not want it to happen here.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown, would make federal firearm laws unenforceable, and a crime for agents and licensed firearms dealers to enforce such laws.

Munzlinger said that he thinks new federal gun laws would violate the constitutional rights of people across Missouri.

"It goes beyond just firearms," Munzlinger said. "It goes with our constitution and what our founding fathers gave us to protect our rights of ownership and our rights of protection of ourself, as well as all of the other amendments."

Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis,said this law will be overturned by the court because Missouri does not have the power to override federal law.

Missouri's biggest power companies told a Senate panel on Tuesday that they need more cash for infrastructure upgrades -- and that cash could come out of the pockets of ordinary Missourians.

A bill pending before the Senate's Commerce Committee would enable a rate increase to fund improvements to the electrical infrastructure that would allow utility companies to raise rates. The measure is largely supported by an electric alliance formed between Ameren Missouri, Kansas City Power & Light and The Empire District Electric Company.

Warner Baxter, President and Chief Executive Officer of Ameren Missouri, said the proposal would create jobs for thousands of Missourians. An Ameren study found that the bill will cause about a 50-cent increase for average residential electrical consumers.

Consumer advocate groups that oppose the bill, such as Missouri Industrial Energy Consumers, worry that the increased rates will negatively affect Missourians, especially the elderly, those with disabilities and low-wage workers. 

Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, said he found problems with the bill. 

"The vagueness of some this language means that while we may be wanting to build the infrastructure for the steel refrigerator, we end up paying for ceiling fans," Holsman said.

The committee plans to meet throughout the week to add new proposed language to the bill.

A measure that would require a state-issued photo ID to vote is headed to the floor of the state House.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, spent more than an hour fielding questions from House Democrats in an elections committee meeting on Tuesday. The Democrats on the panel said the push for a photo-ID requirement has been politically motivated.

The Missouri Supreme Court struck down a similar measure in 2006. Cox said his bill won't suffer the same fate, because it would change the Constitution after a statewide vote.

But Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, said Tuesday that Missouri doesn't have a voter fraud problem, and that the Republicans are trying to stifle the votes of minorities. Nasheed said if the legislation passes the House, she might filibuster it on the Senate floor.

"With a supermajority [of Republicans] in the House as well as the Senate, this will become law," Nasheed said. "The only way that this will stop, is in the Senate, so I will be calling on all of my Democratic colleagues to hold the line on this one. This is the one we are going to go to bat for. We are going to go to battle."

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   Citizens and state government agencies would not be allowed to use unmanned drones to pry into the lives of Missourians, under a measure heard by a House agribusiness committe Tuesday. 

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Casey Guernsey, R-Bethany, would only permit the use of drones for surveillance with a warrant.

Several farming organizations in the state as well as the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union voice their support for the measure. Guernsey said he plans to change some provisions of this legislation to ensure it doesn't outlaw business use of drones, particularly for farming.

But the ban could have a negative impact on NPR affiliate KBIA in Columbia. The station is operated at the University of Missouri-Columbia and recently received a grant to operate its own drone.

In response, Guernsey said after the hearing that he doesn't want to create problems for education and has no problem with the students learning about drone technology; however, he is concerned about them using it for news-gathering purposes.

"If we're moving into an age of news agencies using drones to collect information on private citizens, I'm definitely concerned about that," Guernsey said.

KBIA's content director, Scott Pham, was at the hearing but didn't testify one way or another. After the hearing however, Pham told Guernsey the drone is different than a military drone in that it can stay in the air no more than 14 minutes. He also said the station doesn't use the drone over any land without permission from the owner.

"I'm in public radio, you know, we're not chasing down ambulances, we're not looking for criminals or scandals or something, we're telling these big deep stories that seek to explain," Pham said.

The Associated Press reports that a total of nine states have currently proposed limiting the use of drones by police.

Sen. Mike Kehoe speaks about his transportation funding bill Tuesday in Osage County

Two Missouri state senators filed legislation Tuesday that would increase funding for the state's roads and highways while passing on at least part of the cost to shoppers in the state.

State Sens. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, and Ryan McKenna, D-Crystal City, are pushing a measure that would impose an additional one-cent sales tax for 10 years, if voters approve it in the November 2014 elections. Revenue from the tax would go specifically to city, county and state transportation projects.

Kehoe and McKenna spoke to reporters Tuesday morning about their proposal at a construction site near U.S. 50 in northwestern Osage County, about 15 miles from the state Capitol.

Both senators have called for increased transportation funding in the past. Kehoe voiced support last year for a proposal to put tolls along most of Interstate 70 to finance upgrades to the aging highway. That proposal never made it to the full Senate, but a group of lawmakers was formed to study the state's transportation funding needs.

Missouri Lawmakers fear that physicians will leave the state in large numbers if a cap on medical malpractice payouts is not implemented, leading to less quality care within the State.

The Missouri Constitution follows English common law from 1607 on issues not covered by Missouri law. Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, has proposed a bill that would exclude this specific issue from those covered by English common law

Brown's bill would place a cap of $350,000 for non-economic damages, defined as pain and suffering, emotional damage and companionship. The cap on non economic damages was ruled unconstitutional by the Missouri Supreme Court because English common law prohibits caps. Brown said his bill would solve this problem because it would exempt this issue. He also said he believes his bill will prevent Missouri from losing physicians to other states that do have caps.

"We were losing a lot of good physicians in Missouri," Brown said. "We were losing a lot of specialty practices because the risk of a neurosurgeon or someone who delivers babies is much greater than a general practitioner and therefore those folks were choosing not to come to Missouri. Once we put the caps on we grew by 1,000 physicians in a very short period of time."

The Senate Judiciary committee voted unanimously to continue for another five years authorization for state and local government agencies to keep security plans confidential.

While the original exemption was designed to address government planning for potential terrorism acts, Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City,said his bill would allow school districts to keep evacuation plans and security systems confidential. This would mean that the press cannot file sunshine requests for evacuation plans or security systems in schools.

Cole County Sheriff Greg White, said his department fully supports the exceptions written into the bill. He said he believes that safety plans are just one reason for the exemption.

The Senate voted not to leave increasing the amount businesses pay into a fund to cover re-injured workers to a commission of elected officials by a majority of the Senate Monday night.

The Second Injury Fund provides payments to workers with prior injuries or preexisting medical conditions who are injured at work and become partially or totally permanently disabled.

The fund has a shortfall of $28.1 million and no way to pay the full amount owed to injured workers, according to a recent report by the state auditor. There are also more than 30,000 pending cases that will have to be decided in the courts with an estimated liability of more than $100 million.

The surcharge on workers’ compensation premiums that pays for the fund was capped at 3 percent in 2005, causing the shortfall.

“Obviously, we’re having a lot less revenue coming into this fund,” Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County, said.

Originally, Rupp included in his Second Injury Fund bill a commission with members including the governor, the attorney general, the speaker of the House and the president pro tem of the Senate. That commission would have decided whether or not to raise the surcharge businesses pay into the fund by 1.5 percentage points up to 6 percent.

Rupp said concerns raised about the political risk to the people on this commission convinced him to amend his bill.

“They don’t want to be put in that position,” Rupp said. “The fear was that none of them would want to do it so then we’re stuck letting politics keep us from having enough funds to pay the claims.”

Instead, Rupp said, the decision should lie in the hands of the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, depending on the need for additional money for the fund to meet its obligations.

The chamber approved the amendment by a standing vote of 22-12 but did not take any final action on the bill.

Majority Floor Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said a Second Injury Fund bill would pass by the end of the week.

The Senate Financial and Governmental Organizations and Elections Committee heard from Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County, Monday on his sponsored SB27 and SJR6.

Opponents of the bill claimed the requirements would restrict some residents from voting, specifically including the elderly and college students.

The bill would allow those born before January 1, 1941, as well as other special circumstances, to vote on a provisional ballot if the election authority can verify the voter's signature with their signature on file with the election authority.

A Cole County Circuit judge struck down a similar Missouri voter ID law in 2006 as being unconstitutional.

Kraus said the bill has adjusted language and has changed provisions to make it accommodating for those in opposition of the bill.

Gov. Jay Nixon cited increased revenues behind his decision to release previously withheld $8.5 million in funding for the state's public colleges and universities.

This includes $1.3 million in funding for state community colleges, and $7.1 for four-year institutions.

The University of Missouri got the biggest boost, receiving just under $4 million.

Nixon, a Democrat, also announced the release of funding for the Missouri State Historical Society and foster care programs.

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Missouri lawmakers unveiled a new performance-based funding model for the state's public colleges and universities.

In the Joint Committee on Education hearing Monday, Chairman Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, introduced a proposal for performance-based higher education funding. The committee released a spreadsheet detailing the results of how the proposed formula would have appropriated funds to Missouri schools had it been implemented in 2013.

The proposal would appropriate ten percent of higher education funds in fiscal year 2015 based on the institutions' performances in six key areas: instruction, research, public service, academic support, student services and institutional support. The purpose of the performance-based model, committee members said, is to encourage colleges and universities in Missouri to focus on completion rates rather than just enrollment rates.

Last Week

Several Missouri business groups are pushing lawmakers to cut their taxes. And Missouri shoppers could be the ones making up the cost.

Several business groups are pushing lawmakers to pass a bill that would cut taxes for Missouri business owners by more than $50 million each year.

The businesses say Missouri has cut its taxes to compete with Kansas, which recently made business income tax-free. But those tax cuts have Kansas facing a budget deficit of about $200 million for next year. And that fact has some Missouri lawmakers pumping the brakes about enacting big tax cuts here.

State Sen. John Lamping said Thursday that there is one way that Kansas can close its budget hole.

"The only way you're going to go to zero income taxes is raise sales taxes," said Lamping, R-St. Louis County. "That's what they're going to do."

Lincoln University would receive the smallest increase in state funding out of all of Missouri's public four-year institutions under a new higher education funding model being pushed by Gov. Jay Nixon.

Nixon, a Democrat, proposed during his State of the State address Monday a $150 million budget increase for education with $34 million going to the state's public colleges and universities. But just how much of that increase each school receives would now be based on a new set of performance criteria.

Nixon's recommendation used a performance funding model developed by the Missouri Department of Higher Education that uses five performance measures. The four common performance criteria for all institutions are student progress, increased degree attainment, quality of student learning and financial responsibility. Each university is allowed to pick their own fifth criteria.

"The universities were involved in deciding what all the measures were," said Paul Wagner, the deputy commissioner at the state's Department of Higher Education.

Under the proposal, Lincoln University could have received a maximum increase of $744,000. But the governor's budget would only give it 60 percent of that amount, resulting in an increase of about 1.5 percent of its budget or about $446,000.

The Associated Press reports on the same day that Gov. Jay Nixon delivered his State of the State address calling for campaign spending limits, he received a $10,000 donation from St. Louis-based World Wide Technology.

The following day Nixon then received a $25,000 donation from Cincinnati-based RightCHOICE Managed Care, Inc.

AP reports the $10,000 donation from World Wide Technology was meant to pay for inauguration costs.

In response, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, called out the governor who had recently said that large campaign donations erode the public confidence in elected officials.

"And I mean if that's the case the governor has taken more large individual contributions than any other elected official I know so I'm actually really surprised that he made that statement," Schaefer said.

Schaefer also said if the governor wants to have a real conversation on campaign spending limits it has to discuss all the realities.

"To say that it's everyone else's problem and everyone else is causing the problem when frankly the governor is taking more large individual checks than anyone else is pretty silly," Schaefer said.

Nixon's spokesman was unavailable for comment because he was traveling around the state with the governor.

Four days after Gov. Jay Nixon called on the Legislature to cut back and reform Missouri's numerous tax credits, the state Senate passed its first bills, and all of them expand the tax credit system.

The chamber voted 32-0 on three bills that extend existing benevolent tax credits. With a 28-4 decision, the lawmakers also voted to create two new tax credits meant to attract amateur sports events to the state.

Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, sponsored legislation to renew five tax credits directed toward non-profit agencies that help those in need.

The senate also passed two tax credits meant to attract amateur sports events to the state. Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, said the overwhelming majority support in the passage of the benevolent tax credit along with the amateur sports bill is a sign of good things to come for the state.

"It proves that we have the ability to look at these things and make independent judgments," Schmitt said. "It's January and I think the fact we were able to come together on both of these issues shows a lot of promise when we begin to address overall tax and tax credit reform."

The Missouri Medicaid Coalition presented lawmakers with more than 1,500 from concerned citizens.

The letters were delivered to the office of Rep. Sue Allen, R-Town & Country. Allen serves as the chairwoman of the House Approproations Committee on Health, Mental Health, and Social Services.

Members of this coalition are calling for a Medicaid expansion to provide coverage for 260,000 Missourians without health insurance, especially single parents and childless adults.

Retired Jefferson City Reverend John Bennett says that Medicaid expansion is a moral obligation to Missouri legislators. His main concern lies with Missouri's uninsured children.

Associate Pastor of Jefferson City's First Baptist Church Jeanie McGowan said, "I just hope the people of faith from all over our state will get interested enough to really research this and find out the facts."

Gov. Jay Nixon's recent budget proposals are in favor of this expansion. The Department of Social Services is looking at one of the largest percentages of budget increases with this new proposal.

Gov. Nixon discussed his proposal in Kirksville today. "Providing health care for an estimated 300,000 more Missourians - men, women and children- who currently have no health insurance is the smart thuing to do, and it's the right thing to do," said Nixon.

Two days after Missouri’s governor called for performance-based higher education funding in his state of the state address, University of Missouri System officials voiced their support for the same proposal.

Nikki Krawitz, the UM System’s vice president of finance and administration, along with several other higher education institution representatives spoke in front of lawmakers Wednesday to present their need for state funding.

Krawitz and several other higher education officials told lawmakers they supported Gov. Jay Nixon’s proposal to base funding increases on performance. On Monday, Nixon proposed a $150 million budget increase for education with $34 million going toward higher education that would be determined by a performance model developed by the Missouri Department of Higher Education to go into effect in the upcoming 2014 fiscal year.

“This is good for our university and it’s good for our state,” Krawitz said.

Truman State University President Troy Paino told committee members that he is worried the focus of such a formula wouldn’t be on quality learning but on the amount of degrees produced.

A St. Louis County lawmaker has brought a cargo hub for Lambert St. Louis Airport back into the discussion in Jefferson City.

Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, is proposing a state tax credit that would be applied to units of exported goods placed on cargo flights to global destinations.

The authorization of the credits would be capped at $7.25 million.

"This is an opportunity for us to become a marketplace where there is a reliability," Schmitt said. "There's a schedule and the freight forwarders know that they can get their goods through St. Louis."

The proposal for a Lambert air hub became known as "China Hub" in 2011 when Gov. Jay Nixon called a special session and lawmakers attempted to follow through with the initiative.

In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky trial, Missouri legislators are continuing to debate what defines a criminal in sexual abuse cases.

Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, has sponsored a bill that would mandate that a witness of child sexual abuse come forward or face criminal charges. Schmitt said that the ultimate goal of this bill is not to criminalize people who are witnesses, but protect children in Missouri from sexual abuse.

"I think at the end of the day, what it comes down to for me is doing the right thing and expecting our neighbors to do the same to protect our kids," Schmitt said.

Current law states that only certain professionals who deal with children have a legal obligation to report cases of child sexual abuse.

Schmitt's bill provides that all people above the age of 18 would be required to report these cases to law enforcement. Those who fail to report a child sexual abuse case would face one year of jail time or a $1,000 fine.

Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, said only reasonable people should be held liable.

“I could see in my own mind somebody saying, ‘well I didn’t think what I saw was sexual abuse’ and the court saying ‘oh no you’re going to jail,” Schaaf said.

Missouri's troubled Second Injury Fund poses a risk for the state of several million dollars, with liabilities of $28.1 million.

The most recent proposal by Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County, would allow the surcharge to be raised incrementally up to 6 percent in two years. It would also lower the interest rate paid on delayed benefits, restrict eligibility and eliminate permanent partial disability benefits.

Rupp's bill was reported out of committee on Jan. 29 and is on the Missouri Senate calendar for debate.

A new plane available for use by state officials will cost nearly $900 per hour for operational costs, Patrol Superintendent Col. Ronald Replogle told state lawmakers Wednesday.

The chair of the House Budget Committee, Rep. Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood, said it was highly unusual for the money to be given that quickly.

"Even in a state government, a two-week turn around is incredible, just incredible," Stream said.

Other representatives questioned why the General Assembly was not notified before the purchase, and how the Highway Patrol came up with the money for the expenditure.

Replogle apologized for not telling the legislature of the Patrol's purchase beforehand. Replogle said he filled out the paperwork to be approved by the Department of Public Safety and the Office of Administration.

The Missouri Senate has until early next month to decide if they will confirm the appointment of Doug Nelson for the Acting Commissioner for the Office of Administration. Nelson's confirmation has been held up on the Senate floor as senators continue to question and investigate the purchase of the new plane.

Missourians originally in favor of a 2008 renewable energy proposition said the passage of a bill before the House to change the requirements will undermine their previous vote.

In 2008 voters approved Proposition C, which called for a move away from coal and toward cleaner energies including hydropower, wind power and solar power.

Currently, there is a quantity limit on the hydroelectric power that will count toward this standard. The bill changes the law to include all hydroelectric power, including already existing plants such as the Taum Sauk hydroelectric power plant operated by Ameren Missouri, which was originally excluded from the standard.

The House Committee on Utilities met to discuss the bill and homeowner and self-proclaimed “bible-thumping” Republican Francis Baab voiced her dissent for the proposed bill.

"Don't undermine the intent of what I went to go vote for,” Baab said.

Baab said she and her husband purchased solar panels for the incentives Proposition C promised, and said she feels changing the intent of the proposition will undermine all of her work.

Supporters of the bill, including Trey Davis, President of the Missouri Energy Development Association, said wind and solar power have an unfair advantage right now under Proposition C. He said since higher quantities of hydropower would not count, the creation of solar and wind power is in higher demand.

"Contrary to the folks on the other side's belief, this is not because we don't want to invest in renewables,” Davis said.

Davis said this proposition promised to create jobs, but he says the way it is hydropower plants are not encouraged to expand and create jobs. He added that the advantage solar and wind power plants have could cause hydropower to scale back and kill jobs.

A tax approved by voters in individual counties may soon be a source of funding for the University of Missouri System's extension program.

The extension program, first established when the system accepted federal lands through a land grant program, requires that the universities provide access to research and community outreach throughout the state.

Sen. David Peace, R- Warrensburg, sponsored a bill to allow the formation of extension districts to support a tax that funds these programs in individual counties.

Each district will have its own vote, allowing for voters to support or to reject the tax.

"It's obviously voluntary, not anything that anyone has to do," Pearce said.

The way union members opt into and out of their money being used for political purposes is once again before state lawmakers.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, would require employees to agree each year, in writing, to having an automatic deduction for any political purposes. The same bill was introduced last year and the year before but never made it out of committee. Burlison said he based his legislation on the most recent version of that bill.

He said many union members are unaware of their right to opt out of having any of their dues used for political purposes.

“It’s important to protect a union member’s hard-earned salary,” Burlison said. “This ensures that the union is held more accountable.”

He said many union members join out of necessity but do not always agree with the political goals of the union.

The law already makes automatic contributions to political committees voluntary. Those contributions are separate from automatic deductions for union dues, which can be used for some political activity. Union representatives said members are notified each year of their right to opt out of having their dues used for any political activity and they can do it at any time.

“Every union has to notify every member annually of their right to opt out, they also have to provide the form,” said Mike Louis, the secretary-treasurer of Missouri AFL-CIO.

Reps. Kevin McManus, D-Kansas City, Karla May, D-St. Louis, and Michael Frame, D-Eureka, questioned the singling out of unions specifically in the legislation.

“There seems to be a concerted effort in this General Assembly to decimate labor unions,” Frame said.

A measure making its way through the state Senate would require Missouri school districts to train their faculty to respond to situations involving firearms and intruders.

Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, filed the bill one day before the Connecticut shooting. The bill would put gun-safe programs into effect in Missouri's public schools. Brown acknowledged some confusion surrounding his bill, but stressed that the bill promotes "gun-safe education" rather than gun safety.

"This bill has nothing to do with teaching kids how to shoot," Brown said.

Brown's bill would function in two parts, the first focusing on education for teachers. The proposal would establish a training program that would train all school faculty members on how to respond if a firearm or intruder is found on school grounds.

The legislation would also require schools to establish a gun-safe education program for students, such as the NRA's Eddie Eagle Gunsafe Program for first-grade students.

   The performance of Missouri's higher education institutions could be the future determining factor in how much money they receive from the state.

The heads of several higher education institutions told lawmakers Tuesday they were in favor of performance based higher education funding as was proposed the day before by Gov. Jay Nixon during his State of the State Address. 

Nixon proposed a $150 million budget increase for education with $34 million going toward higher education that would be performance-based instead of based on past funding. 

Rep. Mike Lair, R- Chillicothe, warned all institutions that money talked about in the Nixon's speech yesterday wasn't available yet. 

"It's all pending on legislation," Lair said. "The money's not there." 

Despite much vocal opposition of Gov. Nixon's Medicaid expansion proposal, state lawmakers have expressed interest in additional funding for a different Medicaid related program--a state unit that works to expose Medicaid fraud.

The group, which is part of the Department of Social Services, investigates potential Medicaid fraud and reports violators to the Attorney General's office. The head of the unit, Markus Cicka, stated his case to state Representatives that increased technology funding would save the state money in the long run.

On Monday Nixon challenged state lawmakers to work with him on expanding Medicaid coverage in his State of the State Address. Republicans, who hold a veto-proof majority in the House and Senate, said they were not swayed by Nixon's arguments.

"I mean...did you see any Republicans stand up when he said that?" Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-Buchanan, asked rhetorically. "There is zero chance that this Medicaid expansion passes."

The call for more funding to stop Medicaid fraud received a vastly different response.

"I think if there is any budget worth giving more funds to, it's your shop," Rep. Jeff Grisamore, R-Jackson County, said to Cicka.

The day after Gov. Jay Nixon called for reform in Missouri's tax credit system, the Senate has endorsed a bill creating new credits aimed at attracting amateur sporting events to the state.

Sponsoring Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, has proposed similar legislation for several years, but he said he thinks this measure has a better chance at passing the House and Senate.

"The is a better bill, and I think a real testament of how the Senate operates to make a good idea better and make it more accountable," Schmitt said.

The credit creates two different tax credits to draw amateur sporting events, such as college tournaments, to the state. It would give groups like the NCAA up to five dollars for each admission ticket sold for a sporting event.

A fiscal estimate included with Schmitt's bill says it could cost the state more than $3 million per year.

But Schmitt said the economic effects of those sporting events could outweigh the potential cost.

"I don't think the fiscal note tells the whole story on this," Schmitt said. "Do you believe it's better to have these events than not to have these events, and if we have an incentive to bring these events is the state better off? I think the answer to that is yes."

Missouri House Republicans are again pushing a constitutional amendment that would require Missouri voters to show valid, state-issued photo identification before they can cast full ballots in the state’s elections.

Republicans have pushed similar bills for several years, with last year’s version passing the House but dying in the Senate. But the elections committee heard testimony Wednesday on measures that could advance further because Republicans in the House have a majority that is nearly large enough to overcome a potential veto by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.

The GOP controls 109 seats in the chamber and would need just one more to override the governor. The party is expected to pick up that seat in a special election that will be held in early April to fill a seat in southwestern Missouri.

Republicans argue that requiring photo identification will prevent voter fraud and say that such credentials are already needed to do many everyday things, such as rent a movie from a video store.

But Democrats, as well as advocates for the disabled, the elderly and for minorities say that the law would effectively block those voters from the ballot box by requiring them to provide documents they don’t have, such as a birth certificate, or by imposing prohibitive costs, such as transportation to a state license office or the cost of a day off from work to get the identification.

Gov. Jay Nixon delivers his State of the State address

During his State of the State Address, Gov. Jay Nixon presented one of the broadest agendas in recent years by a governor.

His package, presented in a nearly hour-long speech to a joint session of the legislature Monday night, Jan. 28, included issues supported by Republicans as well as a few issues strongly opposed by GOP lawmakers.


The Missouri General Assembly listens to the State of the State address.

Nixon's proposals include:

  • Get get the print story on the non-budget proposals,
  • Get the print story on the governor's budget.
  • Get the radio story
  • Get the governor's budget plan.
  • Get text of the governor's speech
  • The economic model relied on by the state to predict the effects of tax incentive programs drew criticism during a House committee hearing.

    Howard Wall, director of the Institute for the Study of Economics and the Environment at Lindenwood University and a Show-Me Institute research fellow, criticized the model for over-emphasizing economic multiplier effects from new jobs.

    “It’s nothing more than a reflection of the model builder’s belief in how the economy works,” said Wall. “Instead of looking at what happens in some fictitious model world, I look at what actually happened.”

    The chair of the House Government Oversight and Accountability committee, Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, thanked Wall.

    “As a representative who was on a one man crusade. It seemed like at the start of last year against the (Regional Economic Models, Inc., or) REMI model, I really appreciate your perspective," Barnes said.

    “The REMI model also assumes that the jobs created were created as a result of the tax credit. Even the Department (of Economic Development) would probably admit you can’t prove that.”

    Wall and others testified about the Quality Jobs program, a state tax incentive program that gives companies tax breaks for creating jobs. The House Government Oversight and Accountability committee was originally created in response to the failure of Mamtek, a company approved for a range of state and local tax incentives.

    Barnes asked each of those giving testimony about improving the Quality Jobs program so more of the companies create the jobs they plan to create when they’re approved for incentives.

    “How do we avoid the complete whiffs and end up with more home runs?” Barnes asked. He said it seemed giving the Department of Economic Development more discretion may give better results.