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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of February 11, 2013

Jefferson City National Cemetery with a flag by the grave of one of the few Confederate soldiers buried among hundreds of Union Civil War troops
Jefferson City National Cemetery with the graves of about 350 soldiers buried during and immediately after the Civil War

The graves of Civil War soldiers lie less than two miles down the road from the Missouri Statehouse, where legislators are trying to re-argue an issue that led to the Civil War --the right of a state to nullify a federal law within its borders.

In the wake of 23 executive orders signed by President Barack Obama in January in response to the Newton, Conn. shootings, many states have taken action to block federal gun regulations. Since Jan. 1, 43 bills have been proposed in at least 19 other states. A majority of the legislation would exempt that state from federal gun regulations while others would make enforcement of federal gun legislation a criminal act.

What began as a movement to avoid gun regulations has expanded to include a variety of political issues. Missouri is among several states where lawmakers have proposed bills restricting federal government regulations on abortion alternatives, commerce, health care, property rights, the Defense Authorization Act, civil unions, hate crimes and home schooling.

Lawmakers' efforts to evade proposed federal regulations bring to light the tension that remains between states' rights and federal supremacy, an issue at the core of American politics.

The House committee voted in favor of the measure that would require schools to be rated by letter grades on a scale of zero to one-hundred.

The measure would require school's to be graded with a letter grade on a scale of zero to one-hundred. Principals of each school would be responsible for notifying parents and the community.

The reports are for informational purposes and schools would not be penalized for bad reports.

Republicans in the state capitol said they want to give Joplin more aid to help rebuild from the 2011 tornado that swept through the city.

The House Economic Development Committee voted 21-0 Thursday to move legislation to the full House that would give Joplin access to state funds for rebuilding.

The bill doesn't specifically address Joplin. But it would allow half of Missouri's revenue from new jobs and new sales taxes each year to fund tax increment financing district in disaster areas around the state.

Joplin already brings in $42 million from its local TIF district but the additional state revenue would bring in about $17 million over the next two decades, said Brian Head, Joplin's city attorney.

"It's an additional tool we would like to have to rebuild," Head said.

After another heated debate Thursday, Feb. 14, the House sent two measures to the Senate that would require voters to show photo identification to cast a ballot.

The House voted to support a change to the state Constitution to allow them to require photo identification, and they backed legislation to actually require that if voters approve the constitutional amendment in 2014.

Supporters of the measures said they protect Missourians' fundamental right to vote. Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, said voting fraud is a real problem.

House Speaker Tim Jones said he thinks Missourians will vote in support of the constitutional amendment if it passes the General Assembly.

"You're going to see an overwhelming super-majority of Missourians support this because it is common sense," said Jones, R-Eureka.

Opponents of the proposals argued that the measures are being pushed to prevent seniors, veterans, minorities, and low-income Missourians from voting for Democrats. Democratic representatives challenged supporters to present them with cases of actual voter fraud.

Members of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus said they were denied the opportunity to speak during the debate. One caucus member, Rep. Steve Webb, D-Florrissant, said that voter identification is not the problem.

"This bill isn't going to do anything to fix any problems because there are no problems," Webb said.

A Republican lawmaker wants to change the state constitution to make it easier for local authorities to prosecute sex crimes committed against children.

State Rep. John McCaherty, R-High Ridge, told members of the House Crime Prevention and Public Safety Commitee on Thursday prosecutors should be able to tell juries about crimes that defendants have committed or been accused of in the past.

The Missouri Supreme Court has previously ruled that that kind of evidence, called propsenity evidence, is inadmissible because it violates a defendant's right to face their accuser.

Jason Lamb, with the Missouri Office of Prosecution Services, told committee members that the constitutional change is needed because young victims can be intimidated during a criminal trial.

"Children are children," he said. "They know what happened to them. They don't always know how to tell what happened to them."

But the proposed amendment is getting some push back from people who say it could put defendants in the position of being guilty until proven innocent. The proposed amendment would let judges decide what evidence ultimately comes in and what doesn't. But Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, said he thinks elected judges would be reluctant to turn down any evidence in child sex cases.

If the measure passes both the House and Senate, it would go to a statewide vote in 2014.

In a compromise worked out with Senate Democrats, a Republican-sponsored plan is now one step closer to helping some 30,000 Missourians get compensation for their workplace injuries.

The Missouri Senate gave final approval Thursday to a compromise plan to fix the state's troubled Second Injury Fund and limit the amount of money workers can receive if they contract deadly diseases on the job.

The state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations announced earlier this year that the fund was $28.1 million in debt and had 30,000 pending workers compensation cases.

The Senate voted 32-2 to send its plan to the House. Sponsoring Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County, said the measure aims to pay off the backload of existing cases and help people get the money that should be coming to them now.

Rupp also said after working on fixing the fund for a number of years, he doesn't think there's a better deal out there.

"I think the more that people are starting to dig into the details they're coming to that position that 'wow you guys really hit the ball out of the ballpark on that one,'" Rupp said.

Minority Floor Leader Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Jackson County, thanked Rupp for working with all of the people in the chamber.

"We got to a point where we don't love it, but we don't hate it, and I think we even got to the point where many of us are willing to vote yes on it," Justus said.

The fund would be partly paid through temporarily doubling the fee Missouri employers could be charged.

Republicans in the state Capitol want to change the Missouri constitution to cap state spending and possibly lower the state income tax.

Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, told the Senate Ways and Means Committee Thursday that he wants to put a spending limit on the General Assembly. It would prevent the government from exceeding the budget of the previous fiscal year, with an adjustment for inflation.

Any extra revenue would be go toward reducing the income tax.

"We have to begin to limit the growth of government, the spending of government," Lager said.

Some groups say they are worried the change could unfairly restrict future lawmakers to set state spending.

The Missouri House gave preliminary approval Wednesday night, Feb. 13, to measures that would allow Missouri voters to decide if the state's Constitution should be amended to require government-issued photo identification to vote.

The legislation provoked heated debate over whether the proposals would endanger some citizens' right to vote, and if the threat of voter fraud warrants a compelling reason to amend the state's Constitution. Ultimately, the measure passed by a vote of 108 to 48 after hours of debate on the House floor.

St. Louis County will be excluded in proposed legislation to create taxation districts for the University of Missouri Extension program.

The measure sponsored by Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, creates districts to fund extension programming via a tax proposed to voters.

Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, proposed an amendment to exempt St. Louis County from the legislation because of their already standing tax burdens.

"We are not wanting this new taxing jurisdiction to add to the litany of others that we already have," Schmitt said.

Missouri lawmakers questioned Gov. Jay Nixon’s Chief of Staff, Highway State Patrol and the Office of Administration about the purchase of a $5.6 million plane.

The Missouri House Appropriations Chairman Rep. Mark Parkinson, R- St. Charles, asked John Watson, the governor’s chief of staff, to explain the reason for the new plane.

"One of the patrol's missions includes ensuring the governor's travel is safe and efficient," Watson said.

Later in the afternoon, a Senate Committee heard from the Missouri Highway State Patrol and the Office of Administration.

Col. Ron Replogle, the Highway Patrol’s superintendent, apologized once again for not informing the legislature of the plane’s purchase. Replogle also said neither the governor nor his staff told him to buy the plane.

Missouri teens under the age of 17 would be required to gain parental consent to use a tanning bed under new legislation proposed by lawmakers.

The House Committee on Health Care Policy heard the measure, sponsored by Rep. Gary Cross, Wednesday. Cross, R-Lee's Summit, proposed the same legislation in 2011 but it died in the House.

Brundha Balaraman, a doctor with Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, said there are approximately 3.5 million new cases of skin cancer in a year. She said that the UV rays in tanning beds are 10 to 15 times more intense than sunlight. Balaraman also said there has been a rising rate of childhood melanoma cases.

Owners of tanning salons in the state said they already require parental consent for minors.

Joseph Levy, from the American Suntanning Association, said his group supports constructive regulation at the state level but the 75 percent statistic was derived from a survey and is not accurate.

Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, proposed a bill that would prohibit children ages six and under from using tanning devices. Any person under six years of age who uses a tanning device or any guardian who knowingly allows his or her child to use a tanning device would be guilty of a class C misdemeanor. Barnes said his bill is intended to protect children from the growth of a public health crisis.

Levy also testified in opposition to that bill, saying it was a frivolous bill because children that young do not tan.

No action was taken on either bill.

The state chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group that advocates for lower taxes, tallied the number of tax increases and bond issues before Missouri voters in April.

According to the group, 85 percent of counties in Missouri have tax issues on the ballot.

The group's director, Patrick Werner, says while the group is not calling for any specific action from state lawmakers, he hopes they will take local ballot issues into account this session.

"Subjecting Missourians to one, two, three , four, five different tax increases in 2013 just doesn't seem to make good economic sense," Werner said.

The Senate gave initial approval to a bill making it more difficult for fired workers to get unemployment benefits on Wednesday.

Bill sponsor Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County, said the current definition of misconduct meant fired workers who had clearly done something wrong still got benefits, putting more of a burden on businesses.

“I think it’s a win for the state, a win for Missouri businesses,” Kraus said.

Kraus said the definition in the bill is based on a Florida change passed last year that drastically reduced unemployment liability. The new definition of misconduct would include actions outside of the workplace, as long as they are reasonably related to the job.

“They couldn’t subjectively terminate somebody because they didn’t like that they were Irish or Catholic or, like me, both,” said Sen. Ryan McKenna, D-Jefferson County.

The state House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education panel looked at two measures Wednesday that would require more from Missouri high schoolers before they graduate.

The first bill, sponsored by Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, looks to require students to enroll in math and science courses their last two semesters before entering higher education. Currently, students are required to take three years of math and science courses, so many choose not to take one their senior years of high school. Hinson said this causes problems when they enter college and haven’t studied math or science for two or more years.

Some opponents worry it will hurt districts in rural areas and limit students’ options.

“If you mandate what students have to take it gives them very little as far as electives,” said Larry Davis, who spent 30 years as a superintendent for schools in Missouri, South Dakota and North Dakota.

Tim Wolfe, president of the University of Missouri System, said he was not sure if the bill was the best way to go or not, but did not oppose or support it.

“Employers in this state are telling us at the university that we are simply not producing enough graduates in science, technology, engineering and math fields,” Wolfe said.

The committee also heard another bill that would require students to take certain end of course exams before receiving their high school diploma. Bill sponsor Rep. Bryan Spencer, R-Wentzville, said it would be a more accurate way to see how students will perform in college and beyond. Others brought up specifications for special education as well as concerns for people with test anxiety.

The committee did not vote on either bill, but did approve a measure to ban on bullying in schools as well as a bill requiring schools to publish a letter-grade report card for each school building to the House.

After years of debate and with $28.1 million owed to injured workers in the state, Republican and Democratic Senate lawmakers reached a compromise Tuesday on allowing workers to sue for occupational diseases.

Democratic and Republican senate members realized they had to compromise to fix the troubled Second Injury Fund. The Department of Labor announced this year that the fund was $28.1 million in debt and had 30,000 pending workers compensation cases.

Senators gave preliminary approval to a bill about the Second Injury Fund that increases how much businesses pay toward it, decreases the amount of eligible workers, sets a time period for workers to file for money, and illnesses that are contracted on the job to the types of workplace injuries that are covered.

The Second Injury Fund pays workers with a preexisting injury who received a second injury on the job.

A hearing with the Senate Small Business, Insurance and Industry Committee heard testimony on four proposed labor laws Tuesday.

One bill would repeal the state's current prevailing wage laws. Prevailing wage establishes the minimum rate that must be paid to workers on government construction projects.

Business owners and union lobbyists from across the state came to testify in opposition of the repeal. Legislators supporting the bill say the current prevailing wage laws are driving up the costs of construction projects in rural Missouri.

Other measures the committee heard would ban business owners from forcing or not allowing their employees to join unions.

Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, is sponsoring one of the proposals that would make Missouri a "right-to-work" state.

"Everyone should have the freedom to work," Parson said.

Republicans in the state Capitol want to know more about how Gov. Jay Nixon uses his plane and they want to use the state's open records law to get that information.

The House gave first-round approval Tuesday to a bill would, in part, make the governor's flight logs a public record.

Originally, Republicans wanted the governor's flights to be public before he took off. But Rep. Bill Otto, D-St. Charles, who is a retired aircraft controller, said that might be a bad idea.

"There is a flight movement that we're not aware of," Otto said. "There's military flight, there's executive flight. There's a lot of flights that should be private."

Democrats said the GOP was trying to harass the governor because they're angry that he bought his newest plane without telling them--for $5.6 million.

The Senate also gave its first-round approval to a similar bill. That legislation would force government agencies to pay a fine or pay court costs if they violate the state's open records laws.

Several state lawmakers have sponsored bills that would name the new Interstate 70 bridge connecting Illinois and Missouri after the late Cardinals player Stan Musial.

In a House Transportation Committee hearing on those bills, multiple Representatives backed a new idea to create a holiday named after "Stan the Man."

Rep. Dwight Scahrnhorst, R-St. Louis, said Musial is the best example he knows of "the spirit of St. Louis", and his values need to be carried on.

"He's one of those people that if I ever, with my two grandsons, if I ever had to leave town in and emergency, and I needed to leave them with anybody. I could leave them with Stan Musial and never have to worry," Scharnhorst said.

Representatives Rick Stream, R- Kirkwood, and TJ McKenna, R-Jefferson County, also voiced support for including the new holiday in the "Stan Musial Memorial Bridge" bill during the House hearing.

Missouri Senator says lakes across the state could have more of a health risk than originally thought 02/12/2013

A Missouri state senator said Tuesday that testing methods for e. Coli at Missouri State Parks' swim beaches should be changed.

State Sen. Dan Brown told a Senate panel that the body should pass a bill that would help document health risks at these beaches.

Brown said when lakes are closed because of e. coli, the media scares away residents and visitors. He said that with certain testing methods, people can be reassured their lakes pose no health risks.

"When that comes out in the press, and the way it's been presented in the press, it's just like it's closed," said Brown, R-Rolla. "And they take that to mean everybody, so motel accommodations and condo accommodations just to go waste, they're gone. And it's a big impact."

Brown said these lakes have a big impact on the tourism industry and businesses around the state would profit.

Missouri lawmakers debated Monday if it is fair for some veterans who served abroad to face the state's penal system at home.

Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee's Summit, presented a bill before a Senate committee that would allow the state's circuit court jurisdictions to create special treatment courts for veterans who commit non-violent crimes.

Missouri already has veterans courts in four jurisdictions: St. Louis City, Jackson County, Kansas City and a six county jurisdiction in Southeast Missouri. Kraus' bill would extend the service throughout the entire state by allowing other jurisdictions to create them or by sending participants to jurisdictions that already have them.

Dewey Riehn, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars said he hopes the bill is successful, but said the proposal needs more specificity in addressing how more courts will be set up.

"If we are going to have veteran's courts in Missouri, and they are needed badly, we should have some standardization of the model to be used," Riehn said.

Sen. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, proposed a bill that would require state judges to consider giving minors a juvenile sentence before trying them as adults.

The bill, dubbed "Jonathan's Law", is named in remembrance of Jonathan McClard, who committed suicide in juvenile prison at the age of 17.

Jonathan's mother came to the hearing and pleaded for lawmakers to take action on the issue. She said her son feared he would be moved to an adult court.

"You have this power," McClaud said. "You can prevent the loss of more children. What would you do if the child were yours?"

Legislation that would change Missouri's primary date from August to June drew criticism Monday from members of the Senate Elections Committee.

Sen. Joseph Keaveny, D-St. Louis, said the bill would give him "three weeks to fundraise" and would put incumbents at a disadvantage to challengers.

Bill sponsor, Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis County, defended his bill saying the idea behind it was to give voters a longer time to decide between candidates.

Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee Summit, said that voters were "tired of the election when it gets here in November" and the extra time would make them more frustrated.

No action was taken on the bill.

Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, proposed an ammendment to the state constitution in a hearing Monday that would grant lawmakers the right to put a cap on noneconomic damages victims of medical malpractice can claim.

Last year, the Missouri Supreme court ruled these kinds of caps unconstitutional on the grounds that they deny the victim their right to a jury trial.

However, multiple state lawmakers have sponsored bills that would restore the caps.

Lager said the right way to go about changing a law like this is to put it on a ballot measure.

"The people decide," Lager said. "that's what our government is based on, not the courts deciding," Lager said.

Lager said he remembered the last time these kinds of caps were put into place in 2005, and he said it forced many doctors and businesses to move to Kansas, where there are limits on noneconomic damages.

"This is activism by our courts that does nothing but create a business environment in our state that companies don't want to be part of," Lager said.

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Legislation changing discrimination law vetoed by Governor Jay Nixon last session drew support from the business community at a House committee hearing Monday.

Richard AuBuchon, a lobbyist for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, said the current law discouraged businesses because it has a lower standard for evidence.

“Companies are choosing to locate in other states and I’m not going to tell you this is the only reason,” AuBuchon said. “But certainly it is a factor when companies look at the cost of doing business.”

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Elmer, R-Nixa, would raise the standard of review for discrimination lawsuits from a contributing factor to a motivating factor. It would also limit non-economic damages, restrict protections for whistle-blowers and allow attorneys' fees to be awarded to the party that wins the case.

Tina Trickey, whose husband won an age discrimination lawsuit against an industrial parts distributor, opposed the bill because of the assumptions she said are made in it.

“You are assuming that all companies are going to do the right thing, and they don’t,” Trickey said. "(This law) does not protect the employees in the state of Missouri.”

Some representatives of political subdivisions expressed concern over the changes to the law that may affect sovereign immunity. Currently, governmental entities are protected from such lawsuits because of that exemption.

Missouri residents who have just gained the right to smoke, vote, and enlist in the army at the age of 18 would gain the right to run for alderman in some cities through a bill sponsored by Rep. Bill Lant, R-Joplin. This bill changes the age of eligibility to run for this position from 21 to 18.

An alderman serves in a role similar to that of a city council member. Fourth-class cities have populations from 500 to 2999 upon incorporation.

Lant said his legislation will help small towns with the problem of too few candidates and will hopefully drum up more residents willing to be involved with local politics.

"Many of our small towns struggle to find enough aldermen to run for office," Lant said.

Centralia alderman Farris Sanders said he was concerned that young candidates lack the maturity to fill such a position.

Last Week

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.