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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of February 18, 2013

Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency Thursday morning in response to a winter storm churning across Missouri.

“A severe winter storm continues to bear down on communities across the state,” Nixon said in a statement released mid-morning. “Missouri stands ready to help communities in need and to deploy the resources to keep folks safe. I urge all Missourians to keep a close eye on the weather and avoid unnecessary travel.”

The National Weather Service has said on its website that the storm will bring ice, sleet and snow to Missouri, with up to 11 inches of total accumulation in the mid-Missouri area.

Both the state House and Senate adjourned and sent members home Wednesday afternoon as the storm rolled east from Kansas. According to their websites, both chambers are to reconvene Monday afternoon.

Classes and exams at the University of Missouri's Columbia campus have also been cancelled for the rest of the week, according to an email sent out the campus police department.

In a news release, Lambert-St. Louis International Airport said that 230 flights had been canceled there by early afternoon. Multiple airlines had canceled all of their service at the airport for the remainder of the day.

The Missouri Senate gave first-round approval Wednesday to a bill that features the names of two men, not just "the Man."

Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, amended a bill to name a new Interstate 70 bridge after Stan "the Man" Musial, adding Andy Gammon, a carpenter who fell to his death while working on the bridge last March.

Romine's amendment was approved by the Senate Wednesday, and would name the roadway from Mile Marker 248 to the Illinois state line after Gammon. The bridge, pending Illinois' approval, would be named after Musial.

Sen. Gina Walsh, D-St.Louis County, thanked Romine for offering the amendment to remember Gammon.

"I've been on jobs where folks have been killed and there's never anything left to show," Walsh said.

Missouri lawmakers left the state Capitol early this week after the House and Senate leadership dismissed the legislators to prepare for an incoming winter storm.

Rep. Delus Johnson, R-St. Joseph, said lawmakers wanted to avoid being stuck in the Capitol, which happened during the 2011 snowstorm.

"What we saw happen here two years ago -- we had 18 and a half inches of snow -- shut the Capitol down, (we) had people in a mess everywhere, so we're definitely shutting down early," Johnson said.

State lawmakers managed to complete some legislative work before adjourning for the week.

The House gave first-round approval to a bill that would allow voters in University of Missouri System extension districts to approve taxes dedicated to funding the system's extension program. The House also endorsed a measure that would help fund tax increment financing districts for disaster areas around the state, such as Joplin.

The Senate gave first-round approval to a bill that would name a new Interstate 70 bridge over the Mississippi River after Stan "The Man" Musial and Andy Gammon, a worker who was killed while working on the bridge. Senators passed a bill that would require the Division of Workers' Compensation to maintain a public searchable database of workers' compensation claims.

Students and employees at health care facilities would be subject to a targeted testing program to determine if they are at high risk for contracting tuberculosis.

A targeted testing program would be created under the legislation, that would screen all students enrolled in a college or university in Missouri to identify those at high risk for latent tuberculosis infection and persons at high risk for developing tuberculosis disease. The program would test persons identified as high risk. Screening would require completion of a tuberculosis risk assessment questionnaire form recommended by the American College of Health Association. Any entering student of a college or university who does not comply with the targeted testing program would not be permitted to maintain enrollment in the following semester.

The bill would grant local public health authorities or departments the power to require individuals suspected of TB infection to obtain treatment. The recommended course of therapy, is a regimen of anti tuberculosis chemotherapy or isolation. Persons with suspected or confirmed infectious TB disease would be separated in a single-occupancy room that should provide negative pressure in the room, an airflow rate of six to twelve air changes per hour, and direct exhaust of air from the room to the outside of the building or recirculation of the air through a high efficiency particulate air filter.

If a person with active tuberculosis violates the rules and is acting in a reckless manner that would result in others infections, they person would be guilty of a class D felony unless the victim contracts TB, in which case it would be a class C felony. The bill would allow local health authorities to petition for directly-observed therapy (DOT) when a person with TB violates the state rules and regulations. DOT is a strategy in which a health care provider watches a patient swallow each dose of the prescribed anti tuberculosis medication.

Currently, Eastman said, individuals with active TB who are not taking medication can be court ordered by the local health department or local prosecuting attorney to a facility that is designated by the department, which is currently a contract the state has in South Carolina.

All employees and volunteers of a health care facility would also be required to receive a tuberculin skin test or interferon gamma release assay test upon employment.

Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, sponsored a similar bill in the Senate which passed out of the chamber last week.

No one testified in opposition to the bill and no action has been taken on the bill.

A tax credit for businesses hiring convicted felons and people with disabilities received support at a House committee hearing Wednesday.

“Hiring workers who know they can’t afford to slip up often pays off for small businesses,” said bill sponsor Rep. Michele Kratky, D-St. Louis.

The bill would provide a $500 tax credit for businesses that hire recently released felons and people with disabilities. The business would have to employ the individual for at least one year before being eligible for the credit.

Jane Quartel, a business owner from St. Louis, said her company employs three convicted felons.

“It is the ability to land a job right out of prison that is this state’s best chance to avoid recidivism,” Quartel said. “It is our intention to have every dollar we spend have double or triple social impact.”

No one testified against it and the committee took no action.

A Missouri lawmaker defended his legislation before a House committee Wednesday which would encourage public elementary and secondary school teachers to teach differing theories of evolution.

While the bill doesn’t mandate teaching creationism, it does call on educators to examine the "strengths and weaknesses" of evolutionary theory and prohibits schools from barring them to do so.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, said most textbooks are one-sided when it comes to teaching evolution.  His bill, he said, would empower teachers and allow for greater academic freedom in the classroom.

“Many teachers are afraid to teach criticisms of scientific theories out of fear of losing their jobs,” Koenig said.

Rep. Jeff Roorda, R-Barnhart, expressed concerned that the bill was legislating curriculum.

"We ought to let this issue evolve slowly," Roorda said.

Spokespersons from the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank which advocates for intelligent design, argued that the bill would encourage students to think critically in the classroom. They pointed to similiar laws in Louisiana and Tennessee, which they say have not faced legal challenges.

No one testified in opposition to the bill.

After a House committee heard their version of a bill that would increase the state’s sales tax Tuesday, a Senate committee took up a similar one Wednesday.

If passed, the bill would put a proposal for a one cent sales tax increase for the next 10 years before Missouri voters in 2014. The revenue would go toward transportation.

Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, said the the tax increase would create nearly $8 billion in revenue and 250,000 jobs. He also said the jobs created would stimulate spending, and thus, the economy.

Some argue the tax would unfairly hurt those who don’t drive on highways often.

"Even if you don't leave your home you benefit from transportation, because somehow the food on your shelves had to get there, when you order through Amazon, the product still has to be delivered to your home,” said Pete Rahn, former director of the Missouri Department of Transportation and a transportation leader at an engineering consulting firm in Kansas City.

But opponent Scott Ogilvie, alderman of the 24th ward of St. Louis city, said he wants legislators to create a concrete list of the projects the revenue would go toward. He also spoke at a Missouri House hearing on the same issue Tuesday.

“I talked to somebody and they said ‘well we'll find a way to spend the money,’” Ogilvie said. “And to me that’s not a great answer.”

He said to sell to the metropolitan St. Louis area, legislators are going to have to guarantee expenditures on public transportation projects.

A Republican senator sponsors the bill that would require health insurance companies to cover treatment for eating disorders.

The Senate Small Business Committee heard testimony Tuesday afternoon.

Some witnesses say they oppose the measure.

Health insurance companies say they oppose the measure. They say state mandates could affect their companies by raising premium cost.

Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, agreed to an amendment that changed his bill that would have required gun education for first-graders and active-shooter training for teachers.

Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, said her amendment is better for more districts.

"I think this is a good compromise, and I know that every community is different, and we have different concerns," Chappelle-Nadal said.

Brown said he disagrees with the changes, but allowed them in order to give the bill a chance of passing.

"I guess they don't think the safety of children requires a mandate," Brown said.

The Senate gave first round approval, but the bill requires another vote before it can be moved to the House.

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As Congress considers tightening federal gun laws in response to last year's school shooting in Connecticut, Republicans in the Missouri Legislature moved Tuesday to limit the power of any new federal measures within the state's borders.

Senate Republicans initiated debate on a bill that would require students and teachers to get training every year about guns and about how to respond to a school shooting. Sponsoring Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, said the instruction could help save childrens' lives if a school shooting happened here.

But Democratic Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, of St. Louis County, said Tuesday morning that guns already cause too much violence in urban areas like St. Louis. She said the legislature should instead be focused on bills that promote gun control.

"They're people who don't care about a black life," she said. "And they have legislation such as this that puts our citizens and our communities at risk, more than they already are."

The Senate has tabled debate on the school training issue for now.

Both House and Senate General Laws Committees heard gun-related bills on  Tuesday and the Senate panel even heard a proposed amendment to the Missouri constitution that would state citizens have the right to bear arms to defend their family as well as their home, property, and their self.

Rep. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, sponsor of the amendment proposal, said all rights under the Missouri Constitution are equal including the right to bear arms.

“Some of them because they may currently be less popular are no less important,” Schaefer said in reference to his proposed amendment.

The amendment would also remove language from Missouri's Constitution that the right to bear arms does not justify a person wearing a concealed weapon. If approved by the legislature, it would go to the state's voters in 2014.

Businesses and consumers could be facing some relief as Missouri lawmakers push to make a simplified tax system.

A Republican lawmaker said Tuesday that he is sponsoring legislation that would have the director of the Department of Revenue enter the multistate Streamlined sales and use tax agreement in order to substantially reduce the tax compliance for all sellers and all types of commerce.

Sponsoring Rep. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, said he wants eliminate tax credits while introducing a flat income tax rate.

The provisions of the bill regarding the streamlined sales tax would become effective Jan. 1, 2015.

A Missouri senator said Tuesday that she wants repeal of several Missouri anti-immigration measures.

Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, is sponsoring a bill that would remove laws passed in 2008 that heightened the illegal status of undocumented immigrants and increased penalties on those who knowingly employed or harbored illegal aliens.

Chappelle-Nadal told the Senate Seniors, Families and  Committee that immigrants make valuable contributions to society, regardless of their legal status.

Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, said he would be opposed to Chappelle-Nadal’s bill, but that it highlights several problems in the state’s immigration laws.

“We’ve got to come up with a system that will help immigrants coming in to have proper documentation so they can be here and be effective citizens of our state,” Romine said.

Several Missouri lawmakers have said the state needs more money for road projects. And a Republican in the state House has proposed changing the state Constitution to finance those repairs.

Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, is sponsoring a measure that would increase the state sales tax by one percent for 10 years, with all of the money going to transportation projects. Ten percent of the funds raised from that extra tax would go to cities and counties for road projects and the state would keep the other 90 percent to fix up highways and interstates.

The House Transportation Committee heard testimony on the measure Tuesday afternoon. If it passes the legislature, the measure would go before voters in 2014.

Kevin Keith, Director of the Missouri Department of Transportation, said the measure would create 270,000 jobs over the next decade.

 Another similar but slightly different measure has been filed in the Senate. In that chamber, Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, has said he wants to add an addition one cent to the state sales tax, which would be distributed in a similar manner to cities and counties. He has also filed a constitutional amendment, which is to be heard by Senate transportation committee on Wednesday. 

The Missouri Senate Judiciary Committee heard a measure that would let some medical care providers refuse to provide services to whch they had moral objections.

Some witnesses testifying in opposition expressed concern that giving health care professionals these options would limit patients' access to medical resources.

However, Joe Ortwerth, Executive Director of Missouri Family Policy Council said it would just give the patient's health a higher priority.

"This legislation is not intended to stop anything from happening," Ortwerth said.

The University of Missouri Extension system would be able to get additional funding from voter-approved local taxes under a bill given final approval by the Senate Monday.

Districts consisting of one or more counties would be able to collect taxes to fund the activities of the UM System Extension in the area. Voters in each county would have to approve the tax, and a county could withdraw from the district if the voters did not approve the tax.

“It would have to have a majority vote in that whole district,” said bill sponsor Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg.

The bill passed by a vote of 23-7. It will now go to the House.

Local sales taxes would be imposed on vehicles purchased outside of Missouri under a bill passed by the Missouri Senate Monday.

The Senate gave final approval to a measure allowing localities to collect a sales tax on cars, boats and trailers based on the residency of the person who purchases the vehicle.

Last year, Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a similar bill because it contained a retroactive provision that would apply to people who had already bought vehicles before the passage of the bill. This version does not include that provision.

House Speaker Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, said the exclusion of the retroactive clause made the bill more attractive.

“I like it a lot better than last year’s proposal,” Jones said.

The bill passed by a vote of 28-0 and will now go to the House.

The sales tax would also cover in-state car purchases from friends and neighbors who are not state automobile dealers.

At the Senate Appropriations committee hearing Monday chairman Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, right off the bat questioned the Office of the Director of Public Safety on the purchase of a $5.6 million dollar plane.

Schaefer asked the Jerry Lee, director of the Department of Public Safety when he found out about the purchase and why he didn’t think to talk to the legislature about it. His office oversees the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

“I felt like it was a capital improvement and it was within their budget,” Lee said.

When reviewing budget requests for the patrol itself, Schaefer grilled Ron Replogle, superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, on a request for a salary increase to match water patrollers and a request to buy vehicles out of the general revenue fund rather than the $9 million fund the new airplane came out of.

Schaefer voiced his frustration with the patrol.

“I think this whole process has put a serious dent in the discretion and trust we put in the patrol,” Schaefer said.

One Kansas City civil rights activist testified in favor of a bill that would change the amount of time that can pass before someone can be prosecuted for sexual abuse.

Alvin Sykes, who's known for his influence on Missouri Legislators, testified in favor of the bill that would eliminate the 10 year statute of limitations on third degree sexual assault against a minor.

Sykes is most known for his advocacy for desegregating Kansas City schools and for the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act, which funds investigations of unsolved homicides predating 1970.

Though on Monday, Sykes spoke of his own past in what he said to be the most important testimony of his life.

“I have engaged in this activity both in the state of Missouri and in the state of Kansas and been successful in the United States Congress,” Sykes said. “But before all that, I was an 11-year-old child of sexual abuse.”

Sykes recalled his experience with sexual abuse as he testified in favor of the bill. He said the experience started with his neighbors across the street offering him candy.

“One day the candy stopped, and I was wondering why they weren’t giving me candy anymore,” Sykes said. “One day I found out why, when both a man and a woman sexually assaulted me in their home.”

The committee did not hear testimony in opposition to the bill, but legislators said their primary concern is handling people who have already reached their 10-year statutory limit.

The bill has not yet been placed on the House calendar.

Lawmakers heard opposition to a bill that would make three revisions to definitions in the current Missouri prevailing wage law.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Lyndall Fraker, R- Marshfield, is a follow-up of a similar bill proposed last year.

According to the Missouri Department of Labor, the state's prevailing wage law establishes a minimum wage rate that must be paid to construction workers for all public works projects for the state and public bodies.

“If you’re coming into an existing facility and you want to have a room painted, we are clarifying that the statute is defined as maintenance and not new construction,” Fraker said.

“Please use caution and concern when you are considering this,” said Bruce W. Holt, a lobbyist from the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades.

Holt said they had a few issues with the revisions, and said they have a lot of problems with how painting was or will be defined.

One lobbyist said the bill's language will be litigated over and over if the bill passes.

Rep. Jake Hummel, D-St. Louis, introduces legislation to expand Medicaid in Missouri

After Gov. Jay Nixon labeled Medicaid expansion the "right thing to do," in his State of the State address, some members of his party introduced the legislation that would act on the issue on Monday.

House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, D-St.Louis, is sponsoring legislation that will expand eligibility requirements for MO HealthNet, the state's Medicaid program, up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

Hummel said the expansion will help rural hospitals like Pemiscot Memorial Hospital in Hayti, where 30 percent of the area's population lives below the federal poverty line.

Kerry Noble, the hospital's CEO, said the hospital will not be able to shoulder the costs of uncompensated care in the long-term.

"We will jeopardize our facilities, we will no longer be in existence if passage of this expansion does not occur," Noble said.

Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, said Medicaid expansion will not receive much support from the House Republican caucus. Instead, Barnes said "stay tuned" for his legislation that will enact changes to the state's Medicaid program to deliver better care.

"I think there is interest in transforming Missouri's Medicaid system into what would be the most free-market based Medicaid system in the entire country," Barnes said. "I think there's no interest in simply expanding Medicaid as envisioned under Obamacare."

Last Week

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.