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

State lawmakers would be able to serve as long as 16 years in either the House or the Senate under a measure that cleared the Missouri House Thursday.

Sponsor Rep. Myron Neth, R-Liberty, pre-filed legislation last year so that a legislator could serve 16 consecutive years in either house of the General Assembly or a combination of the two. The proposed amendment was passed in the House Thursday in a vote of 121 to 30.

The current Missouri Constitution states a legislator is only allowed to serve eight years in the House and eight years in the Senate for a total of no more than 16 years.

"I really emphasize that we're not extending term limits," Neth said on the House floor Thursday. He said legislators can already do eight years in each house but this amendment would just "tweak" the system to make it better.

Philip Blumel is the president of the group, U.S. Term Limits, which is an organization that pushes for states to enact term limits for their legislators. He said there is no reason to change the Missouri term limits in a press release Wednesday.

“HJR 4 is just another of a long series of attempts by some politicians to cling to office by increasing their tenure in the state capitol and should be rejected overwhelming by the state Senate,” Blumel said.

A colorful statue of "Old Drum" sitting on a bench in the Capitol on Thursday

The proposal might be all bark and no bite, but Missouri lawmakers were at it again Thursday, considering a bill that would bestow the title of state historical dog on loyal bloodhound that is already a part of canine lore.

The House Tourism and Natural Resources Committee heard from the public about a proposal that would give the title to "Old Drum," a hound who lived with his owner near Warrensburg in the 1870s. During an argument before the state Supreme Court around that time, Old Drum was dubbed "best friend man has," which is said to be origin of the phrase "man's best friend."

The committee has yet to vote on the bill. Last year the tourism committee heard about three candidates for the historical dog title, but did not send any of them to the House floor. The House voted down a similar measure in 2010 because the dog considered then was found to be of Canadian origins.

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Several republicans in the state Capitol said some license offices have started using new equipment from the federal Department of Homeland Security to process concealed carry permits.

And they said that equipment is sending gun owner's information straight to federal computers.

A lawsuit has been filed in southeast Missouri to stop this practice.

Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific said he supports this lawsuit for many reasons. Curtman said one of those reasons it has become an issue is because there are multiple violations of Missourians constitutional rights, such as a right to privacy.

"Being able to store all of us in a national database, I think it is an issue of deeply intrusive government going way too far."

Neither the state Department of Revenue nor the governor has said anything about the accusations.

At least two Missouri Republicans said Thursday that they want to strike down education standards set three years ago, that one critic called "academic child abuse" and "a train wreck."

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education adopted the national "Common Core" standards in 2009, and Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis County, said they should have consulted the legislature before doing so.

"When I came down and surveyed my fellow members in the Senate this year, maybe one or two of them knew what Common Core standards were," Lamping said.

In the hearing, State Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro said her department isn't required to get the approval of the legislature every time it makes a policy move.

The Missouri Senate gave its approval Thursday to a plan that would allow home brews to be a part of festivals, exhibitions and competitions across the state.

This comes after home brewed beer was abruptly banned last year from St. Louis's Brewer's Heritage Festival.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, allows home-brewed beer to be removed from the premises where it was brewed for use at organized affairs, exhibitions or competitions. The plan would also loosen liquor regulations for boats at Table Rock Lake and bowling alleys in the state.

Schmitt said he's seen universal support from large breweries in response to his plan.

"Those festivals like that kind of celebrating the industry and they want to have more participants," he said.

Stephen Hale, Chief Brewer at The Schlafly Tap Room, said the plan will help consumers see that all big companies in the industry got their roots at home breweries.

"It just supports the general message that beer is good, beer is good for you and it may not seem that we all get along, and there are different viewpoints on that, but I'm a big supporter of the kumbaya among all brewers," Hale said.

The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

The Missouri Senate has given preliminary approval to a series of income tax cuts and a sales tax increase that GOP leaders have been calling for to keep the state competitive economically.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee's Summit, would cut state income tax rates for individuals, small businesses and corporations and raise the state sales tax by 0.5 percent in his bill. The bill would start phasing in the rate changes in 2014 and the final rates would take effect in 2018.

Kraus pre-filed his tax cut legislation in December and has modified the bill several times since then. Kraus said some type of tax cut would be necessary after Kansas slashed its individual income tax rates and tax rates for small businesses in May 2012.

"I'm not trying to do what Kansas is doing, I'm trying to stop the bleeding. I'm trying to stop the businesses from fleeing Missouri into Kansas," Kraus said.

The Senate endorsed the plan despite the absence of an official fiscal note with an estimate of the costs of each provision. Kraus estimates the legislative package would cost the state treasury $450 million each year.

The plan also moved on despite Democratic opposition. Some Democrats said the General Assembly should tread carefully in crafting new tax policy because the state already struggles to fund some of its obligations through its current revenue stream.

"I'm not saying that we should do nothing," said Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City. "I'm saying that what we should do should be very calculated, very vetted and we should understand the potential consequences or the unintended consequences of the actions we're gonna take here today."

Some Democrats have also voiced concern that the sales tax increase is regressive and will hurt the poor, as the poor pay a larger percentage of their income in sales taxes.

The bill needs another affirmative vote in the Senate before it can move to the House.

A state representative introduced legislation Wednesday that he said would create more privacy protection for Missourians.

Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, said he filed the bill in response to a lawsuit that was filed Monday. The Stoddard County lawsuit alleges private information is being sent by the Missouri Department of Revenue to a third party and the federal government.

The bill would make it illegal for the department to collect, store or transmit Missourians' personal documents used for drivers's licenses and non-driver's licenses, such as conceal-and-carry licenses.

Richardson said Representatives "need to be very vigilant in guarding Missourians' privacy rights."

In a statement, House Speaker Tim Jones said he will quickly refer the bill to the committee on Governmental Oversight and Accountability.

The Missouri House gave first-round approval Wednesday to an amended bill that would offer an air export tax credit for freight companies who ship goods internationally through Missouri airports. Before the amendment, proposed by Rep. Anne Zerr’s, the bill only extended the time period a freight line company could collect an unrelated tax credit.

As amended, the bill would include shipping out of any airport with international flight capabilities in the state, including Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.

Zerr, R-St. Charles, said the amendment would create jobs and encourage international exports, improving Missouri’s economy.

Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, said he supports the bill even though it is similar to legislation that would provide tax credits to forwarders of international cargo. In the past, such legislation has been dubbed “China hub.”

“This is, for lack of a better term, China hub light,” Roorda said.

Rep. Vicki Lorenz Englund, D-St. Louis County, also said she supports the bill but voiced a major concern.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t ask the question, how are we going to pay for it?” Englund said.

Last week, the Missouri Senate revisited "China hub" legislation and passed a bill to the House to provide tax breaks for international freight handlers at any airport in the state, similar to Zerr's amendment.

The effort to create a program to monitor prescribed painkillers has lost a major supporter while gaining an unlikely one.

Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, is sponsoring a bill that would create a program that would allow the Department of Health and Senior Services to establish a program to monitor the prescribing and dispensing of strong painkillers, such as Vicodin or OxyCotin, by doctors.

Last year, Rep. Keith Frederick, R-Rolla, proposed a similar bill, which Schaaf strongly opposed, calling it both a freedom issue and a privacy issue. Schaaf vowed to kill it with a filibuster unless it was put to the vote of the people. This time around, Frederick said he has changed his opinion on the program.

In his bill this year, Schaaf inserted a referendum clause that would put the program on the ballot so it could be put to a vote of the people.

Schaaf said he is supportive of giving the voters the opportunity to decide "if they want to give up their right to privacy."

"I fully believe the people would vote it down," he said.

Even though he's against the program, Frederick said he likes that the bill would go to the people and gives them the opportunity to decide.

Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, and Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, also sponsored bills that would create a prescription drug monitoring program.

Engler said it is important for doctors to have access to a program such as this to see if doctor shopping is occurring. He said Missouri is one of the few states in the nation to not have a prescription drug monitoring program.

Sater, previously a pharmacist in Cassville for 30 years, also believes a monitoring program is essential. He said there is a serious problem with prescription drug abuse.

"I have seen prescription drug abuse skyrocket over the past 10 years," Sater said.

His bill would set up a computerized system that would record all prescribed scheduled drugs. He said if a pattern of doctor or pharmacy shopping arises, the Department of Health and Senior Services would be informed and an investigation would begin.

Vietnam veterans supported a bill in a committee Wednesday to protect Second Amendment rights by declaring certain federal laws invalid.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Douglas Funderburk, R-St. Peters, would declare all past, present and future federal laws and regulations that "infringe on the people's right to keep and bear arms" invalid.

Funderburk said the bill would "protect Missourians to the extent that if any federal agency or any agent of a federal department would attempt to...enforce illegal gun control laws...they would be violating the law."

Several veterans spoke in support of the bill. Michael Kilgus, a Vietnam veteran, said that veterans' rights had been suppressed and veterans had been stripped of their right to bear arms without due process of law.

No witnesses opposed the bill.

A state representative and a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood debated the true meaning of a bill that would ban certain types of abortions Wednesday to the House Health Care Policy committee.

Bill sponsor, Rep. john McCaherty, R-St. Louis County, said his bill would prevent doctors from encouraging women to have sex-selection abortions or abortions because of a genetic abnormality diagnosis.

Planned Parenthood lobbyist, Michelle Trupiano said the language of McCaherty’s bill would ban these types of abortions.  

Trupiano said this bill would take away women’s ability to make difficult decisions about the obstacles facing them.

No further action was taken on this bill.

The Health Care Policy Committee also heard a bill sponsored by House Speaker Tim Jones. His bill would expand the protection rights for anyone who refuses to participate in medical procedures that violate their conscience.

Joe Ortwerth, executive director of the Missouri Family Policy Council, testified in favor of the bill. He said the bill is not designed to stop any procedures from happening, but to assure that individuals can opt-out of performing the procedures if it violates his or her religious beliefs.

"I think we all realize that individuals who choose to go into medical profession generally do so because they have a real interest in sustaining, nurturing and fostering human life," he said. "They take seriously the credo to 'do no harm' and unfortunately, there are certain circumstances, which this bill is designed to address, where they are asked to potentially do harm to human life, to go against the values and convictions and religious beliefs that they hold, and in effect, forced to choose between their career and their conscience, a moral quandary they should not be in."

The committee voted the bill out of committee by a 5-3 vote.

Missouri would refrain from joining 46 other states in adopting national education standards under legislation heard by a Senate committee Wednesday.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis County, would prohibit the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education from implementing the statewide education standards without approval by the General Assembly.

The education standards targeted by the bill, the Common Core Standards, are a part of the application for Race to the Top money. When Missouri applied for this federal funding in 2010, Missouri government officials agreed to adhere to these standards even though they had not yet been written or clearly defined.

Lamping argued that standards should not be adopted if the government does not have a wealth of knowledge on the issue.

"I am against all of our state standards that are in the process of being changed without any of us in the General Assembly being made aware of the fact," Lamping said.

Witnesses testifying in opposition of the bill and in favor of Common Core Standards said that these requirements would give Missouri and other states the opportunity to create a large nationwide resource for collaboration.

The Missouri Supreme Court heard a case about the ability of the governor's power to withhold funds.

The case emerged when the state auditor questioned the governor’s withholding of appropriation funds from the 2012 fiscal budget.

Gov. Jay Nixon issued an executive order in June of 2011 withholding about $172.2 million from the 2012 fiscal budget. The circuit court ruled that the governor is allowed to withhold funds regardless of revenue estimates, but he did not have the right to transfer withheld funds for other reasons than it was appropriated.

State Auditor Tom Schweich is appealing the ruling that the governor had the right to withhold the funds, and Nixon is arguing that the auditor did not have the right to sue him in the first place.

“The auditor does not have the authority to sue the governor on behalf of the state, only a tax payer or the attorney general can do that,” said James R. Layton, the governor’s lawyer.

Layton continued to say that there is no law saying the auditor has the right to demand information from the governor for his policy making decisions.

“This is not about the auditor wanting to second guess or make policy decisions,” said Darrel L. Moore, the state auditor’s lawyer. “This is about the standing of the auditor to fulfill his constitutional statutory duties under Article IV Section 13, to audit the office of the governor.”

The justices did not hand down a ruling.

The House Utilities Committee plans to go back to the drawing board after six hours of debate.

A bill proposed by Rep. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, would allow electrical corporations to file petitions to recover funds for infrastructure replacements. To recover these funds, companies would add a surcharge to utility bills.

Riddle said she filed the bill because she feels Missouri is in the midst of an energy crisis.

“Part of it is infrastructure, part of it is the anti-coal movement,” Riddle said. “Many coal plants that could still be functioning are going offline because of age. We will lose 20 percent of our nuclear power in the nation in the next 20 years. So, yes, we have a crisis.”

At a committee hearing last week, several large utilities companies came to speak in support of the bill.

Warner Baxter, President of Ameren Missouri, said this legislation is an important investment for the future of Missouri electric corporations.

But on Monday, the committee heard two hours worth of opposition to the bill from smaller electric companies who said it would hurt their businesses while benefiting the larger corporations.

Riddle said this is the first time opposition expressed these complaints, causing Riddle to rethink the layout of her bill.

“To say that I’m a little frustrated is an understatement,” Riddle said. “This is a lot of information today that would have been nice to have when we were working through the bill months ago. I didn’t have the opportunity to get that, so here we are.”

Riddle advised committee members to draft up amendments before the committee takes up the bill again next week.

Riddle said she hopes the committee will be able to move the bill to the House floor for debate once the amendments are approved.

Representatives of the business community disagreed on a proposed compromise to fix the troubled Second Injury Fund at a House hearing Wednesday.

The bill, which was already passed by the Senate, places coverage of occupational diseases exclusively under the workers' compensation system. This is a move that business groups support.

But it creates a separate account within the Second Injury Fund to cover 10 toxic exposure diseases. Before the House Labor and Workforce Development committee, bill sponsor Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County, said the compromise was necessary to ensure Gov. Jay Nixon would sign the bill.

This compromise drew criticism from several business groups. Ray McCarty, president of Associated Industries of Missouri, said he was concerned that the cost of the separate coverage of toxic exposure diseases.

“We don’t know what the impact of advertising that you can get an easy settlement will be,” McCarty said. “We don’t want to set up a baby SIF (Second Injury Fund).”

Richard AuBuchon, a lobbyist for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, testified in support of the bill. He said there could be some improvements, but that this version would become law if passed.

“The governor vetoed the bill and said he had to have an enhanced remedy (for toxic exposure diseases),” AuBuchon said. “I’m tired of working on bills that get vetoed.”

Missouri has six elected officials and a Republican lawmaker said Tuesday he wants to add one more for the agriculture department, meaning it could be someone who's never set foot on a farm. 

The House Agriculture Policy Committee heard a proposed constitutional amendment Tuesday that would make Missouri's Agriculture Department director an elected position instead of continuing to allow the governor to appoint someone to the role with the approval of the Senate.

Sponsor Rep. Jay Houghton, R-Martinsburg, said it was time that Missouri had an "unbiased leader" in the agriculture field. He also said that an elected official would make the issues that impact the 108,000 farms in Missouri more widely known throughout the state.

"They would be able to seek policies and procedures that are truly best for Missouri's agriculture," he said. 

Rep. Ed Schieffer, D-Troy, called the proposal an "attack" since none of the Democrats were asked to co-sign on the constitutional amendment and wanted to know if the amendment was meant as a charge against the governor. 

The group, "Mayors Against Illegal Guns", released a poll Tuesday saying 85 percent of Missourians favor background checks for gun buyers.

But Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis City, said she knows her bill requiring all sales of firearms be made through licensed dealers won't pass because of resistance from Republicans.

"This is a common sense method of keeping guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't be legally able to purchase them," Newman said.

Rep. Casey Guernsey, R-Bethany, said he will oppose any measure that restricts access to firearms.

"Because the other side of this issue from me are so bent on focusing on gun control as the solution to everything that you're having to focus in on again protecting our fundamental second amendment rights," Guernsey said.

Rep. Eric Burlison, of Springfield, continues to try to pass a bill that authorizes an individual income tax deduction for business income.

This bill would phase out for over five years, and allow taxpayers to deduct a certain percent of the business income each subsequent year.

Once fully phased-in, taxpayers will be allowed a 50% deduction for all tax years after the 2016 tax year.

Members of St. Louis Heroin Help rallied outside the state Capitol to support a bill that would protect heroin users who call 911 for people around them who overdose.

After the rally, St. Louis resident Kathi Arbini said her son died from overdose because a user who was with him was afraid to call the police.

"I feel that he was afraid he would be questioned," said Arbini. "So if they would have taken him, I think we would still have our 21-year-old son."

Rep. Bryan Spencer, R-Wentzville, is sponsoring the measure, and he said the bill wants to save lives, but not protect drug dealers.

"If you have enough drugs for distribution, you would not be protected like simple users would be," Spencer said.

Spencer said he has gotten calls from constituents and lawyers complaining that the bill is too soft on drugs, and that users deserve whatever they get for choosing to do drugs. 

Missouri senators are still steaming over the $5 million purchase of a new plane for Gov. Jay Nixon and on Tuesday they moved to make sure such purchases won't happen without their approval in the future.

Senators gave first-round approval to a bill that would require the State Highway Patrol to get approval from leaders of the House and Senate budget committees before making some high-dollar purchases. Specifically, the lawmakers have said they want to limit purchases from "revolving funds," pools of money that departments get to cover incidental expenses without specific legislative approval. Lawmakers have said they want to have the power to approve or reject any revolving fund purchases that exceed $150,000.

Nixon's new plane was purchased with money from a revolving fund meant for maintenance of highway patrol vehicles. The fund was created so that the patrol wouldn't have to get approval for basic maintenance on squad cars. But the highway patrol used that money to purchase the new plane several months ago, saying that the old plane was becoming increasingly harder to maintain.

The Highway Patrol posted public notice of the purchase, but lawmakers have said the patrol didn't ask them for permission before making the buy. That drew ire from Republicans who have had to draft and pass tight budgets as the state has dealt with the struggling national economy.

Missouri lawmakers discussed options Tuesday on how the state can finance a billion dollars for infrastructure repairs across the state.

But in a meeting of the House Appropriations Committee for Infrastructure and Job Creation, Rep. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, said the current list of repairs could pose a problem in swaying metropolitan votes.

"I think it would be much easier to go out and pass this through the General Assembly," Schatz said. "They [metropolitan voters] are the lion's share of the votes in those areas and those are the people we've got to get to buy in to this."

Some of the recommended fixes include Fulton's State Mental Hospital, public colleges and universities and other state buildings.

Democratic Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said Missouri voters should decide when their tax dollars are spent.

"I'm not ruling anything out but I'm hesitant to incur debt without a vote of the people," Kelly said. "You know, this is not the United States government, we try to be a little more fiscally responsible than that."

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said his bill would force the state of Missouri to be accountable for any state or federal law that infringes upon the right to bear arms.

"It makes it so citizens can say (to the government) you have an affirmative obligation," Schaefer said. "You don't get to sit on the sidelines. You have an affirmative obligation to protect this right."

Schaefer said this bill is not just about gun control, but it is about making sure all of the constitutional amendments have equal protection.

"Anytime you take away protection from one part of the constitution, you're agreeing that any part of the constitution is open to change," Schaefer said.

Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, said the important part of the proposed constitutional amendment is that it ultimately gives voters the power to decide what to do with gun rights.

"Anytime we have a hotly contested subject like this, getting the will of the people is always a good idea," Holsman said.

The Missouri Senate gave preliminary approval to a bill that could help the state's two largest natural gas companies replace nearly 1,200 miles of old pipeline.

The bill modifies what the Missouri Public Service Commission can approve for Infrastructure System Replacement Surcharges (ISRS), charges utility companies seek to pass on the cost of infrastructure improvements to customers.

The bill increases what a gas corporation can charge for an ISRS relative to its revenues from 10 percent to 15 percent.  It also lengthens the time period a company can charge an ISRS from three years to five years.

Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, sponsored the bill and said Laclede Gas and Missouri Gas Energy can replace cast-iron and metal pipes with plastic pipes if the bill ultimately passes. Lager said each company looks to replace 30 to 40 miles each year and ISRS changes are needed to facilitate the decades it will take to replace 1,200 miles of pipeline.   

Lager said ISRS filings have been used responsibly in the past and his bill allows rates and regulations to accommodate the need to replace old infrastructure.

Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Jackson County, offered an amendment to cap what gas utilities could charge each month for an ISRS, as he said he was concerned residential ratepayers would bear the brunt of likely increases in the surcharges.

"To have a whole dollar cap amount is transparent and it is good for our constituents," Holsman said.

Holsman's amendment received support from Democrats in the chamber but was defeated. The bill must pass the Senate before it can move to the House.

Sen. Will Kraus and Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal held a press conference on Monday, Mar. 4,2013, to announce welfare reform agreement.

Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D- St. Louis County, announced Monday she decided to work with a Republican senator on a bill she opposed last session.

Last year, Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County, proposed a similar bill that would require a photo I.D. to get food stamps.

Chappelle-Nadal argued the bill would hurt her constituents who rely on the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families fund for support.

She decided to work with Kraus after she learned that people were abusing the TANF fund.

"These funds are supposed to be used for families who are in need and for children who are in need," Chappelle-Nadal said. "So when I found out that these cards were being used for casinos and at strip clubs and out of town for possible vacations, I was dismayed."

Kraus’ and Chappelle-Nadal's bill would limit Electronic Benefits Transfer cards from being used for liquor, strip clubs, casinos and other recreational activities.

This bill is similar to a federal law passed in 2013 that would regulate the use of TANF welfare cards at casinos, strip clubs and to buy liquor and tobacco.

Kraus’ and Chappelle-Nadal’s bill takes it one step further by also regulating all recreational activities such as going to the movies or to amusement parks.

Chappelle-Nadal also says it will help regulate business owners who knowingly let welfare recipients use their EBT cards for recreational purposes.

Critics say that people who want to abuse welfare cards can still get cash from ATMs to use recreationally.

A bill that would regulate both big cats and nonhuman primates stirred up controversy in the House Local Government committee Monday. The bill would require owners to obtain a state permit, and alters the information that must be included in the permit. The bill would also lower the required insurance owners must carry from $250,000 to $50,000.

Despite the lower cost, exotic animal owners present at the hearing opposed the bill due to its repetitive nature. Owners would have to obtain a state permit in addition to the permits already required by federal and local government.

Vickie Harvey, representing America's Animal Owners and a primate owner herself, brought in the paperwork required by the USDA. It includes required documentation of the apes' daily care and a log of health issues, ages and food.

The USDA's requirements are "really very extensive, and much more...extensive than this bill," Harvey said.

The state's zoos saw the bill differently.

"I would hope Missouri doesn't wait for a situation like Ohio, where the exotic bill came around after those 48 lions and tigers came out," said Dr. Eric Miller, Senior Vice President of the St. Louis Zoo. "It will better ensure the safety of the public."

Republicans lawmakers have stood strong with their multiple bills detailing photo ID for voting.

The Senate Elections Committee heard more bills Monday on the subject, this time with a different date for eligibility of a provisional ballot. The date of 1948 would allow those 65 and older to qualify.

Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County, previously proposed a nearly identical bill to the committee that had the date for the provisional ballot as 1941.

The makeup of the Senate Lounge looked very similar to previous hearings, with a representative from the Secretary of State’s office holding firm on its opposition to voter ID legislation and claiming it will disenfranchise voters.

Get the radio story.

Last Week

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night could keep Missouri lawmakers from passing their bills this week.

Snow piled up at the Capitol after a foot fell on Jefferson City and Midwest Missouri this past week.

Last week Missouri experienced a major winter storm with heavy snowfall, sleet and freezing rain with some areas in the state getting as much as a foot of snow on Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

In 2011, Rep. Wanda Brown, R-Lincoln, was hospitalized after getting in a car accident in Camden County during that year's blizzard. Brown injured her neck and back during the accident.

She has since recovered and is still a member of the House. But chamber leaders are much more cautious now about working through snowstorms when members have to get home.

Both the House and Senate adjourned early last week so legislators could return home to their districts before the storm hit. The Senate ended last week on Wednesday at noon and the House was also adjourned a day early.


A similar bill has been vetoed for the past two years by Gov. Jay Nixon, but House Republicans said Missouri would remain unattractive to business owners if it didn't address its amount of workplace discrimination lawsuits.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Kevin Elmer, R-Nixa, would make it more difficult for workers to file lawsuits.

Elmer said that discrimination should be a "motivating" factor in any wrongful action taken against an employee, instead of a "contributing" factor.

"We are changing this to keep employers from simply being held in on years of discrimination because someone has alleged discrimination," Elmer said. "We're requiring now that it needs to be proven in a court of law."

The state House voted to the Senate a bill that would allow energy companies to count electricity made from water towards their quotas for renewable energy investments.

PJ Wilson, Director of Renew Missouri, said the measure contradicts the purpose of Proposition C, the voter initiative passed in 2008 for development of additional renewable energy supplies in the state. He said this will give an advantage to companies like Ameren, who already own hydroelectric power plants.

But House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, said hydroelectric power should have been included in the first place.

"I think that just flies in the face of fact," Jones said. "I mean, water is our most basic renewable resource."

The state House gave its approval Thursday to a bill that would exempt some public schools from "prevailing wage" laws.

Those laws mandate that construction workers be paid a certain rate for government projects. Republicans said the change would allow schools to hire more workers and contribute to local economies.

Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis City, said it would result in pay cuts for middle-class workers.

"Doing away with the prevailing wage puts us on a state path to a race to the bottom," Colona said.

Missouri lawmakers are attempting to make the St. Louis airport an international trade hub, and the sponsoring senator said this is vital to the city's economy. The Senate passed the bill with a 27-7 vote Tuesday.

Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, said having St. Louis as a hub for trade with Chinese companies would make it a gateway to the rest of the world.

The bill would provide statewide tax breaks for any business that facilitates an international shipment. Originally, the tax breaks equaled $360 million but have been slashed to $60 million.

Opponents of the bill said increasing tax credits takes money out of an already strapped state budget. Legislators have been working on this contentious issue for several years. Missouri legislators went into special session in 2011 over the so-called "China Hub" debates, spending an entire summer working toward a solution that was never reached.

The Senate's top leader Tom Dempsey, R-St.Charles, said he supports the measure.

"This is a bill that we very much hope the House will consider," Dempsey said. "The sooner the better."

With Tuesday's added 13 amendments, the bill will now make its way to the House.

"Part of the process and the importance of getting this thing done is that I do think it allows us to move forward and not in ominous way all the time, Schmitt said.

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon also signaled his support for the Senate bill in a rare public statement.

"This bill contains long-overdue reforms to our state’s largest tax credit expenditures, which would yield significant savings for taxpayers in years to come," Nixon said in a statement Thursday. "The overwhelming bipartisan support shown today for reining in these tax credits represents an important step toward getting fiscally responsible tax credit reform to my desk this year."

The debate over tax credit reform is heating up in the state Capitol, and a House committee laid out that chamber's position in a hearing Thursday.

After an all-night debate earlier in the week, the Senate has given approval to a measure that would make deep cuts in tax credit programs and put more than $40 million per year back in the state's coffers. But House members said Thursday that they want to trim those credits, not slash them.

One area where the House and Senate differ: tax credits for low-income housing. The Senate wants to make deep cuts and the House doesn't. Sam Licklider, the lobbyist for the Missouri Association of Realtors said those credits help poor neighborhoods in the state.

"I want to thank the representative for taking a much more reasoned and measured approach than the people at the other end of the building, who kept me up far too late a few nights ago," he said, referring to the earlier Senate debate.

The chairwoman of the House Economic Development Committee, Rep. Anne Zerr said she wants to move fast on the issue. Zerr, R-St. Charles said she wants her tax bill on the House floor within two weeks.

The House Health Committee voted 7-3 to pass a bill that would place a $350,000 cap on non-economic medical malpractice damages, although similar legislation was struck down by the Missouri Supreme Court last year.

The non-economic damages are defined as damages to quality of life, pain and suffering, among other injuries. In the past, these damages have amounted to millions of dollars.

Rep. Jeanne Kirkton, D-Webster Groves, argued against the cap.

"The one thing that has not been implemented is giving the Department of Insurance some regulatory my opinion that's a better answer to this issue than the caps," Kirkton said.

The bill now moves to the House chamber.

Discrimination lawsuits would have to meet a higher standard for evidence to go before a jury under a bill given first round approval by the Missouri House Wednesday.

Bill sponsor Rep. Kevin Elmer, R-Nixa, said it would bring the standard of evidence more in line with the federal standard.

Currently, the standard of evidence in Missouri is that the discrimination based on factors such as race, age, religion or gender, has to be a contributing factor to the firing of an employee. This bill would raise the standard to a motivating factor.

Democratic representatives argued that the higher standard would make it easier for businesses to discriminate. Rep. Rory Ellinger, D-St. Louis County, said Missouri should not try to attract businesses that discriminate.

“We are in the forefront of the fed government in being against discrimination,” Ellinger said.

The bill would also limit non-economic damages and restrict protections for whistleblowers. The non-economic damages would be tethered to the economic damages awarded.

Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a similar bill last year. When asked by Rep. Kevin McManus, D-Kansas City, whether he had communicated with the governor’s office, Elmer said he had looked at the governor’s veto letter and addressed the issues there.

After a final vote in the House, the bill will go to the Senate.

The Senate Accountability Committee heard a bill that would shorten the legislative session from 18 weeks to 12.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis County, would allow legislators to have more time for their jobs back home in their respective districts.

Lamping said the bill would cut down on "wasted time" that exists in the senate.

Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, said the bill would give too much power to the executive branch.

"I like my governors like I like my coffee, very very weak." Silvey said.

Silvey said that the shortened session would not allow enough time for lawmakers to come up with a comprehensive budget.

The committee took no action on the bill.

In a Senate Education Committee hearing Wednesday, Chris Nicastro, Commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, called a measure supporting early education the most significant legislation she has ever seen.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis, gives state aid to pre-kindergarten programs in Missouri schools.

"We believe that this may be the most important legislation before this body this year, or any other year," Nicastro said.

The legislation is split into two bills, each with the same wording, but one applies to children receiving free and reduced lunch and the other applies to all children. While Keaveny said he hopes that the law would eventually apply to all children, he thinks his bill will have a better chance when divided by socioeconomic status.

The committee also passed two bills that now head to the Senate floor. One bill would create a council to oversee Missouri gifted education and the other would allow incompetent teachers in the St. Louis School District to be fired despite tenured status.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a nearly $1 billion bonding bill Wednesday to address billions worth of capital needs around the state.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, proposed the bill as a way to fund needed projects at the state's college campuses, state parks, mental health facilities and other state facilities.

Wally Pfeffer, chairman of the Mizzou Legislative Network, testified in favor of the bill. Pfeffer said a bond issue could fund improvements at MU's College of Engineering, which was built in 1892 and serves over 2,000 students working toward degrees in high-demand science and technology fields.

"We can't generate enough revenue through tuition or private donations or grants to do everything that needs to be done," Pfeffer said. "The state has been unable to address capital improvement needs from general revenue for over a decade."

Schaefer said the bill can now move on to the floor, where the Senate can discuss the merits of bonding to fund state projects. Schaefer has endorsed bonding, since interest rates would be lower on new debt than they were when the state issued nearly $600 million worth of bonds in 1982.

The House gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a measure that would forever guarantee the right to farm and ranch using modern practices and technology.

If approved by voters, the measure would amend the state Constitution to protect farmers and ranchers. Sponsor of the measure Rep. Bill Reiboldt, R-Neosho, said outside groups and people who don’t understand farming might try to restrict agricultural practices, which he said is very important to the state’s economy.

“This is just to have a broad piece of legislation that protects what you and what I have done traditionally all of our lives in agriculture as well as the more modern practices,” Reiboldt said.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, spoke in favor of an amendment to the proposal that would have excluded pets from the definition of livestock and breeders of pets from the definition of farmers and ranchers. He said that without the amendment, the issue of puppy mills would again trouble lawmakers.

“This amendment is the only thing between us and a return to puppy land,” Kelly said.

The amendment failed to pass. The bill passed by a voice vote. The joint resolution will now go to the Senate and, if passed, would appear on the ballot.

Teachers, principals and superintendents from throughout Missouri showed support Wednesday for a bill to change the evaluation process for teachers to obtain and keep their tenure.

According to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kevin Elmer, R-Nixa, teachers would have performance evaluations and they must complete certain levels of evaluations to obtain tenure.

Rep. Michael Butler, D- St. Louis, asked what his district was supposed to do if a large amount of ineffective teachers were to be let go.

“We have the lowest teacher salary in the entire state and we can’t compete with any other school districts,” Butler said.

Multiple supporters of the bill said it would eliminate mediocrity among teachers and would hold teachers to a higher standard.

Officials from three of Missouri's largest electric companies spoke in favor of a bill Wednesday, which would give them the power to charge more for utilities to fund infrastructure.

The bill would allow the companies to recover infrastructure replacement costs with the Missouri Public Service Commission. They would do so by adding an “infrastructure system replacement surcharge,” also known as ISRS, to customers’ utility bills. The surcharge would fund electrical plant repairs as well as projects to comply with environmental and safety regulations.

Supporters, including leaders from Kansas City Power & Light, Ameren Missouri and Empire District Electric Co., spoke in front of the House Utilities Committee Wednesday. They said the bill would create jobs and improve services and reliability for consumers. They also said it will improve their bond ratings and thus make it cheaper to borrow money, which could lower utility bills for customers in the long run.

Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, said he thinks the companies already do a good job of providing reliable service and he would need to see a stronger justification for a the new funding.

“In the absence of a problem I’m not sure why we’re looking for a solution,” Richardson said.

Opponents to the bill are slated to speak when the hearing reconvenes at 1 p.m.

The week’s winter weather stranded many who wanted to testify on the bill, so Committee chairman Rep. Doug Funderburk, R-St. Peters, said he plans on hearing the bill further next week and hopes to go into executive session on the bill next Wednesday.

The House Transportation Committee endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment on Tuesday, Feb. 26, that would raise the sales tax to generate more money for state and local transportation projects.

Under the measure, the sales tax would be one percent for a ten-year period. The tax is expected to generate as much as $800 million per year in additional revenue, which would go to transportation projects. If it clears the legislature, it would require statewide voter approval to take effect.

The committee backed the measure in a unanimous vote.

"Republicans have a lot of rural legislators, that's a great concern of them, that their rural roads are upgraded and maintained and that's what this bill does," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair.

While nobody on the committee voted against the bill, the director of one welfare-advocacy group expressed opposition.

"Regressive means that those who have the least amount of money bear a higher burden in terms of how much taxes are being paid, as opposed to progressive which means that those of us who make more pay a higher percentage of our incomes in taxes," said Jeanette Oxford, director of the Missouri Association for Social Welfare.

Oxford said she supported increasing funding for transportation, but through other revenue increases rather than a sales tax increase.

The proposed constitutional amendment now goes to the full House.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee passed a bill containing a series of tax cuts Monday that would lead to a nearly $1.1 billion loss in revenue if the cuts took effect as prescribed by the proposal in 2014.

Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee's Summit, sponsored the measure as a Kansas City area lawmaker looking to keep Missouri on a level economic playing field with Kansas. Under the leadership of a Republican legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback, Kansas cut tax rates for individuals and small businesses in May. Some businesses have fled from Missouri to Kansas in the Kansas City area to take advantage of the lower rates and other tax breaks flaunted from Topeka.

Kraus said his bill will probably be tweaked more, but he hopes to accomplish this major GOP legislative priority to keep the Kansas City area on solid economic footing.

"I know we're committed to getting a vote on the floor. So will this be the bill, exactly the way it is today, obviously not. We're willing to work across the aisle to take amendments and understand where they want to be," Kraus said.

The bill would reduce Missouri's top individual income tax rate to 4.5 percent from 6 percent. It would also reduce the corporate tax rate and the create a phased-in tax deduction for business income that would allow filers to deduct 50 percent of business income in 2017.

Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, said he does not like the idea of cutting taxes and straining services. LeVota said Missouri should set an example as the Show-Me State instead of following Kansas as a "Me-Too" state.

A bill loosening the registration requirements for sex offenders found support among Missouri lawmakers Monday.

The bill would separate offenders into three tiers: the first tier holding offenders with the least severe offenses, to the most severe offenders in the third tier.

"It allows an opportunity for offenders to get off the registry after a designated period of time," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Don Phillips, R- Kimberling City.

The House Crime Committee heard opposition only from Dr. Brian Oliver who says he said he had a Ph.D. in criminal justice. 

"The bill is not concerned with public safety," Oliver said.

Oliver is currently registered on the Mo. sex offender registry for multiple offenses against males under the age of 10.

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Rep. Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis, argues for Medicaid expansion in committee Monday

  Committee rejects bill to expand Medicaid eligibility 02/25/2013

Lawmakers defeated a Democratic-backed measure to expand the state's Medicaid program in a House committee Monday.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis, said the expansion would bring back federal tax dollars that would be lost otherwise.

"These are our dollars that we're sending to Washington, that we need to bring back to the states," Hummel said.

Opponents argued that giving more funding to the state's Medicaid program would worsen the program's efficiency.  

"Medicaid is a system that right now doesn't work...why are we going to take an additional 300,000 Missourians, and put them into a system that nobody believes works very efficiently to begin?" said Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff.

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This was Fulton State Hospital's laundry building before the roof collapsed.--Brendan Cullerton MDN

The buildings at Fulton State Mental Hospital make it easy to see why state lawmakers and the hospital's own staff are clamoring for renovation.

There are several buildings that were constructed in the 1930s -- and those are the ones being used to treat the hospital's patients. Staff members said that many other buildings are simply unusable. The hospital still contains buildings from the 19th century. There are bricks falling off of staircases, boarded up windows and a sizable chunk missing from the roof of the old laundry building.

The hospital's website champions the fact that it is the oldest public mental health facility west of the Mississippi River, but that doesn't mean that the staff wants the oldest facilities west of the Mississippi.

"It's a shame we are using these buildings," said Ken Lyle, the hospital's chief financial officer. "It is the right thing to do to replace this facility because of the safety risk it poses for everyone in the building, let alone to provide space for people to receive adequate treatment."