From Missouri Digital News:
MDN Menu

MDN Home

Journalist's Creed


MDN Help

MDN.ORG: Missouri Digital News
MDN Menu

MDN Home

Journalist's Creed


MDN Help

MDN.ORG Mo. Digital News Missouri Digital News MDN.ORG: Mo. Digital News MDN.ORG: Missouri Digital News
Lobbyist Money Help  
NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of March 25, 2013

After weeks of grilling the Missouri Department of Revenue on its licensing procedures, state lawmakers threatened Thursday to delay the department's budget if it doesn't provide answers.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said Thursday that several constituents had recently notified him that the department has been giving old state-owned ID processing equipment to a private company for disposal as a part of its contract with the group.

But a spokesman for the Department of Revenue said Thursday in an email that the equipment being removed from the fee offices is not state property.

Less than an hour after the Missouri House passed the state budget, Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard said to Schaefer the Senate would delay allocating funds to the department until proof is provided.

"If we have to go into special session on their budget we will go through the budget process," said Richard, R-Joplin. "But we will not go through their budget until you are satisfied with their answers."

The Missouri House of Representatives passed its version of the state budget Thursday, but that spending plan leaves out an expansion of Missouri's insurance system for the poor that is mandated as part of federal health care law.

In a series of 13 votes, House members sent their spending plan on to the Senate. Both chambers will have to agree on a final balanced budget before their regular legislative session ends in mid-May.

The end of the House's first debates on the measure were marked by good spirits and praise across both sides of the aisle, except on the issue of the health care expansion.

There, the parties were sharply divided. Republicans who control the House said they're worried about the expansion's cost. The GOP has said that growing the state's insurance program for the poor could greatly what the state spends on health care in future years.

But Democrats said that not doing the expansion will hurt poor Missourians. House Minority Leader Jake Hummel said that lawmakers get taxpayer-funded health insurance and he said poorer citizens should too.

"To turn our backs on Missourians, to say that we think that we as a legislative body deserve to have our taxpayers pay for our health insurance, but that they do not deserve to have health insurance, that's wrong for this state," said Hummel, D-St. Louis. 

The state House passed a measure Thursday that would cap non-economic damages in medical lawsuits, a move supporters said could help draw more doctors into the state.

Lawmakers have tried to cap such damages before. But Missouri's Supreme Court threw out those caps as unconstitutional.

In a 93-62 vote, the House passed legislation that would cap damages for things like pain and suffering at $350,000. There is also a proposed constitutional amendment moving through the legislature aimed at overcoming the Supreme Court's objections.  

Democrats largely opposed the caps, saying that they interfere with a person's right to have decisions made by a jury. But Republicans, like Rep. Bill White, say that measurable awards, such as lost salary, would excluded from the caps.

"That deals with things like pain and suffering and enjoyment of life," said White, R-Joplin. "This is not going to put people on welfare. This is not going to leave them owing lots and lots of medical bills."

The measure now heads to the state Senate.

Sen. David Pearce (left) and former Miss America Kirsten Haglund (center) are advocating for a measure to require health insurance coverage for eating disorders

A former Miss America came to Missouri's capitol on Thursday to talk about her battle with anorexia to support a Senate bill that would require Missouri's health care insurance companies to cover complete treatment for eating disorders.

The Senate passed a bill Thursday that would require the Joint Committee on Legislative Research to investigate how a mandate to treat eating disorders will impact the costs of health insurers and customers. That bill now goes to the Missouri House.

Another Senate bill would require Missouri health insurance companies to provide coverage for eating disorders. The Senate Small Business, Insurance, and Industry Committee heard the bill last month but it hasn't voted on it yet.

Haglund said she recovered from anorexia but said the process was a long one that lead to her parents being in debt because their insurance didn't cover all the care she needed to fully recover.

The Missouri House gave final approval Thursday to $219 million in additional state spending for 2013 in a broadly bipartisan vote.

The measure is spending in addition to the $24 billion budget lawmakers approved last year. About 69 percent of the supplemental measure comes from federal dollars, with about 10 percent coming from Missouri tax dollars.

Most of the money in the bill goes to the state's K-12 schools and services for people with disabilities. The largest state-funded expense is $17.1 million for payments by the Department of Mental Health.

The measure now goes to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.

The Missouri Senate endorsed a plan Wednesday to roll back a tax credit provided to low-income elderly and disabled renters.

The Senate measure -- sponsored by Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St.Charles -- would restrict to home owners a tax break known as the "Circuit Breaker" tax credit.

Under current law, the tax credit is provided to both home owners and renters who have lower incomes and are either elderly or disabled.

Critics charged it was unfair to deny to renters a tax break provided to low-income home owners.

"Don't you think the cost of the property tax is buried in the rent?" asked Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph.

Dempsey responded that the property tax is part of the landlord's cost of doing business. He described the bill has part of a broader plan designed to reduce tax credits provided to various categories of persons, activities and developers.

Sen. Kiki Curls, D-Kansas City, said many low-income seniors depend on the rebate to pay for necessities each year. However, Dempsey said the state can make a more efficient use of the funds to help seniors.

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon included elimination of the program in his 2013 State of the State address, and his appointed Tax Credit Review Commission recommended that the program be eliminated in its 2010 and 2012 reports.

Legislative staff estimate elimination of the tax credit for lower income renters would free $57 million per year. Under the bill, that money would be transferred to programs for the elderly.

On the same day the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on gay marriage, nearly 100 gay rights supporters rallied in the rotunda of Missouri's Capitol.

About a dozen legislators addressed the rally, including the legislature's two openly gay members.

"This is my favorite day of the year. This is the day of the year when everyone comes to my office and says, 'hey, isn't this the day when your big gay army shows up in Jefferson City?'," said Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City and the Senate's Democratic leader.

Rather than gay marriage rights, many of the lawmakers address the group stressed pushing for laws banning discrimination based on sexual orientation and to toughen laws on school bullying.

Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, directly urged the group to avoid lobbying on gay marriage.

"Some of us are not in tune with you on the marriage issue," said Engler who had sponsored a gay-marriage ban measure in 2004. "But all of them, in particular the ones who profess to be right-wing Christian fundamentalists, should be with you on non-discrimination."

In the same year Engler had sponsored his measure to deny recognition of gay marriages, Missouri voters approved a similar state constitutional gay-marriage ban by an overwhelming margin.

One of the rally's organizers suggested the large number of lawmakers seeking to speak to the group suggested that attitudes about sexual orientation were changing.

"We used to have to go and ask and beg them to come down and they would stand on the side and say hello. And now we can't stop them from coming and wanting to speak," said Claire Cook, the Kansas City and Mid-Missouri field organizer for PROMO.

Debate over whether to expand the state's Medicaid program flared up quickly Tuesday as the House of Representatives finished the first debate about how the state should spend taxpayer dollars for the coming fiscal year.

Several Democrats chastised Republicans for leaving the Medicaid expansion out of their proposed budget, which totals about $24.8 billion. The expansion is part of the federal health care law passed in 2009 and has been the focus this year of state Democrats and Gov. Jay Nixon.

Republicans mostly oppose the expansion because they say it will great increase the state's health care spending over the next decade. Their budget calls for the state to pass on about $940 million in federal funds to cover the costs of the expansion.

Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, said that without the expansion, lawmakers would be leaving the state's poorer residents "out in the cold." Roorda moved to send part of the spending plan back to the House Budget Committee, but that motion failed in a vote of 110-47, mostly along party lines.

Republican-controlled committees in both the House and Senate have voted down Democratic legislative proposals to expand the Medicaid program. A House committee heard testimony Monday about a proposal that would expand the eligibility criteria for Medicaid, but that would ultimately decrease the number of people enrolled in the program.

Later Tuesday, the House voted 105-50 to strike down an amendment from House Minority Leader Jake Hummel that would have put the Medicaid expansion into a budget bill for the state Department of Health and Senior Services. The vote came after nearly an hour of emotional, high-strung debate that had members from both parties yelling at each other and at least one Democrat storming from the chamber in frustration.

The House gave first-round approval to the budget bills in a series of 13 votes. House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, has said that he wants to send the budget to the Senate by the end of this week.

Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal spent more than four hours Tuesday filibustering an anti-gun control measure.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, would put before voters a proposed constitutional amendment that would force state lawmakers to prevent any measures restricting gun ownership.

"When you took that oath as an elected official to uphold the rights of the constitution it meant all of the rights, not just the ones you like," Schaefer said. "We're simply saying that when those things come up that are a potential infringement it is the responsibility of the elected officials to make that determination and then act on it."

Chappelle-Nadal initially supported the measure, but said she filibustered because she said Schaefer was disrespectful to her when she tried to change some of the measure's language.

"I hope he learned his lesson," said Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer said Tuesday that the Department of Revenue is breaking state privacy laws through its new driver's license process.

In the Missouri Senate's first subpoena since 1990, Schaefer and several lawmakers said the department bypassed the legislature when it changed the system to meet federal guidelines passed down by the 2005 Real ID Act.

"When they're no longer candid with us about what they're doing with the public's money and we have to second guess, we're simply not going to give them the ability to spend the public's money," said Schaefer, R-Columbia.

Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, announced that he had issued the subpoena Monday night.

Schaefer said the subpoena will provide more information about whether license offices overseen by the revenue department have been violating Missourians' rights. In recent weeks, state Republicans have accused the license offices of scanning the personal information of people applying for concealed carry permits and then sending that information to third-party companies with connections to the federal government.

The Department of Revenue did not respond to a request for comment on the subpoena, but department officials have vehemently denied that the license offices are sending the personal records to outside entities.

In a separate action Tuesday, the Republican-controlled House voted to add provisions to the state budget that would effectively bar the Department of Revenue from carrying out any such program using its state funding. Rep Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, said a scanning program like that would jeopardize the privacy of law-abiding residents.

That provision was attached to the budget legislation after a voice vote in the chamber.

Shelley Blecha, of Imperial Mo., gives tearful testimony about the death of her son at a House hearing.

A House committee on Tuesday heard parents’ emotional testimonies about how their children died in daycare facilities to support a bill that would regulate the number of children an unlicensed daycare can provide for at one time.

The bill entitled “Nathan’s Law,” was named after three-month old Nathan Blecha who died in 2007 at an unlicensed in-home daycare from lack of oxygen after he was placed face-down on bedding. Current Missouri law passed in 2011 states that a licensed daycare must put babies on their back to sleep but the law doesn't’t regulate unlicensed daycares.

Nathan Blecha’s mother, Shelley Blecha, of Imperial, Mo., spoke at the hearing on Tuesday and said that the day her son died she found out his at-home daycare had 10 children there and six of those children weren’t the provider’s relatives. Blecha said charges weren’t brought against the daycare provider.

“We were told by the police department that there’s nothing that they could do because she was unlicensed and she was remorseful,” Blecha said.

Kerry Messer with the Missouri Family Network was the only person who spoke in opposition of the bill. Messer said his concern is that if someone is babysitting kids and there is an emergency where they have to take on additional children then they are in violation of a law and are considered a criminal under the bill. He said it often isn’t known whether these facilities are licensed or not. Messer said this bill would put everyone under a microscope.

Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-St. Louis, who became teary-eyed after Blecha testimony, said was appalled that Kerry decided to speak in opposition.

“It is beyond my comprehension that your sitting there testifying against it," Montecello said.

House Governmental Oversight Committee Chair Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, presented to his committee a broad set of changes in the Medicaid system that includes expanding eligibility levels for some adults.

The increase, however, is below the 138 percent of federal poverty income level recommended by the governor and covered by the new federal health care law.

Instead, Barnes' plan would raise eligibility to 100 percent of federal poverty. Barnes bill is contingent upon federal acceptance of the lower coverage level. Critics said the federal government would not accept anything less than 138 percent, thus making the entire bill useless.

Barnes makes cuts in several other Medicaid programs including coverage for the Blind Pension recipients, the Women's Cancer program, the Women's Health Program and child health care coverage.

Barnes told the committee that in total, his bill would reduce the total number of persons eligible for Medicaid, but that he expected total participation would increase because of other changes.

His bill would place all Medicaid recipients into managed care systems, require treatment for substance abuse recipients, encourage preventive care and offer cash rewards to recipients who keep down their health care costs.

Barnes criticized the federal health care law, but said it provided an opportunity for Missouri to "transform" the state's health care program for the lower income in an historic fashion.

"It turns receipents into participants by empowering them to make their own health care choices, cuts down on waste, fraud and abuse and it reduces dependency of Missourians with incomes above the federal poverty level," Barnes

Representatives of several organizations that had endorsed the governor's Medicaid expansion plan testified in support of Barnes' bill, although some urged the eligibility for adults be raised to the 138 percent federal income level provided by the federal law.

"I think it is important that we do consider going to the 138 percent so that we can get the necessary waivers that we need from the federal government. Remember, they're in control of what we can do with the system," said Ray McCarty, president of Associated Industries of Missouri.

After the committee hearing, Barnes indicated he was willing to compromise on the issue.

Other Medicaid-expansion bills have been defeated in House and Senate committees on party-line votes.

If Barnes' measure clears the House, it could face a difficult future in the Senate. Senate leaders previously had issued a statement attacking the Medicaid expansion idea. And on the same day Barnes' bill was heard, Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, told reporters the prospects for the bill were dim in the Senate.

Get the bill, HB 700.

Last Week

Missouri's auditor criticized state House and Senate members for their handling of the state's open records laws in an audit released Friday.

In the audit, State Auditor Tom Schweich said state lawmakers from both chambers have been exempt from the Sunshine Law, even while they work on legislation to tighten it for other state agencies.

"It is a double standard for the legislature to impose additional requirements on other public governmental bodies while enjoying a blanket exemption from the Sunshine Law," the audit states.

While Schweich noted that state law is "ambiguous" in regards to individual lawmakers being subject to the Sunshine Law, he recommended that each chamber amend the law so that it applies to individual members.

In their responses to the audit, both the House and Senate asserted that individual members were exempt from the open records law.

The audit also states that each chamber does not have proper procedures in place to retain emails. Even with these criticisms, the House and Senate each received "good" ratings, which is the second highest in rating available from the auditor's office.

The Missouri Department of Transportation announced Thursday that Department Director Kevin Keith is taking a medical leave of absence and plans to resign later this year.

Keith has worked in the department for more than 25 years and was appointed its director in 2010. He will step down from his post immediately and will retire on July 1. The medical reason behind Keith's departure was not disclosed.

The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission, which oversees the department, will be responsible for appointing a new director. MoDOT's chief engineer, Dave Nichols, will serve as the department's interim director for at least one year while the commission decides on how to proceed with appointing a new director.

Nichols has served with department since 1984 and was appointed its chief engineer in 2011.

Gov. Jay Nixon, legislators and Missouri businesses traveled overseas to Taiwan and Seoul, South Korea this week.

Nixon announced today that the trip resulted in trade agreements to sell a total of $1.9 billion in Missouri goods to Korean and Taiwanese consumers. In the last two years, Missouri has sold $28 billion in local-made goods around the world. Gov. Nixon signed similar trade agreements with China in October 2011 and Brazil in April 2012.

"It's simple, when we sell more Missouri products overseas, we create more jobs for workers at home," he said.

Of the $1.9 billion, $1.2 billion resulted from agreements signed with trade organizations in Seoul. A partnership between Taiwanese trade organizations and the Missouri Department of Agriculture was reached in what Nixon called a "strong, prosperous democratic ally in this region."

Gov. Nixon said this trip as an opportunity to jump on the opportunity offered from the Korea and United States trade agreement that the federal government signed about a year ago. The three business areas that will benefit most from the trade agreements are argiculture, manufacturing, and biotech goods.

House Speaker Tim Jones has asked Missouri's attorney general to appeal a federal court ruling that struck down a law exempting moral objectors from providing certain forms of birth control.

Jones, R-Eureka, asked Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster to appeal the decision in a letter Wednesday. Jonessaid the law is necessary to protect Missourians from federal laws that "would essentially force religious institutions to provide insurance coverage for procedures...which violate their core beliefs."

The state General Assembly passed the law last session to combat the federal health care law. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the law, but the Republican-led legislature overturned the veto. The state law exempted health care providers, such as employers and insurers, from providing mandatory insurance coverage for contraception, abortion and sterilization due to religious or moral objections.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig issued a ruling striking down the law, citing a U.S. Constitutional provision that declares federal laws supersede competing state laws. In the opinion Fleissig said the state law is “pre-empted” by the federal health care law, but refrained from discussing the merits of either law.

The Associated Press reported that Nanci Gonder, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office, said Wednesday that the attorney general had not yet decided whether to appeal the ruling.

So far this session, Republicans have defeated two Medicaid expansion bills pushed by Democratic lawmakers in committee. House Minority Floor Leader, Jake Hummel, D-St. Louis City, sponsored a bill that would expand Medicaid eligibility coverage to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. This expansion would have put Missouri's Medicaid program in accordance with the federal health care law. Hummel's bill, however, was killed in the House Government Oversight and Accountability committee.

A similar bill, sponsored by Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence was defeated in the Senate Appropriations Committee by a vote of 8-3 along party lines. Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, is sponsoring similar legislation but her bill has yet to be heard in committee.

Even though Republicans have defeated Democratic-backed measures twice so far, one Republican is sponsoring legislation that would address eligibility for the state's Medicaid program. Rep. Jay Barnes' bill would transform the Medicaid systems as well as expand it.

Barnes' bill would cut a large number of children from the program and expand Medicaid eligibility, but not to the extent set by the federal law. His bill would also offer an annual cash incentive to encourage Medicaid recipients to keep their health care costs low.

Gov. Jay Nixon has been traveling around the state touting the importance of Medicaid expansion. Nixon has said the expansion would provide health care to an additional 300,000 people and add 24,000 jobs.

Whichever way Missouri lawmakers choose to address the state's Medicaid program, they are wading into an already complicated system. Missouri has had a Medicaid program since 1965 when it was enacted through an amendment to the Social Security Act. The program was designed to offer long-term care to low income citizens of the state.

Citizens near historically contaminated creek are outraged after a study showed the area does not have more cases of related cancer.

The creek, located in the Florissant area of St. Louis, suffered contamination from nuclear waste sites in the 1960s and 70s.

Many residents raised concern that this contamination led to a higher number of cancer cases in the area, but a report from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services found the area does not have any higher rates of related cancers than other parts of Missouri.

The report includes data from the Missouri Cancer Registry which experts then analyzed, none of which were available for an interview. But, this data only includes cases from people who lived in the area between the years of 1996 and 2004.

Some residents are angry the data doesn’t include those who lived in the area and moved away, because their cancer diagnoses are logged in another state and were not used in this study.

“It’s just upsetting that it keeps being reported like this when it’s not accurate,” said Jennifer Smith, a woman who lived near the creek in the 80s and 90s but then moved to Las Vegas where she was diagnosed with leukemia. Leukemia is one of the cancers related to nuclear contamination.

Department spokeswoman Gena Terlizzi said they did not include those who moved away and were diagnosed because they would have to include everyone who lived in the area.

“I think that you can probably appreciate the limitation that that implies,” Terlizzi said.

House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, said today that the Missouri House will act quickly to address concerns that the Department of Revenue is violating the privacy and Second Amendment rights of Missourians.

Jones is working with Rep. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, to sponsor a bill that would eliminate concealed carry endorsements and replace them with concealed carry permits.

This legislation's ultimate plan is to ensure Missourians are able to receive their concealed carry permits without fear their information is being shared with out-of-state parties.

Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich announced Tuesday that eligibility problems continue to plague the state's welfare programs. Schweich said Missouri's Temporary Assistance For Needy Families and Medicaid programs in particular are not adequately determining Missourians' eligibility.

These findings come after Schweich's office completed the annual Statewide Single Audit, which looks at how federal funds were used during the past year's budget. The audit specifically looked at how state agencies spent $12.7 billion in federal funds. Schweich raised red flags on $68 million of these funds used by various state departments.

Schweich said there's a risk with the welfare programs of needy families and elderly Missourians not receiving the money they deserve because ineligible citizens are using up the funds.

The audit also found widespread problems with the state compensating childcare providers. Schweich said the Department of Social Services paid nearly $300,000 to providers who billed the state for children not under their care.

In the wake of Missouri's fluctuating temperatures, the Transportation Department vows to speed up the repair of an increased number of potholes.

MoDOT spokesperson Holly Dentner said the warm weather after last month's snowstorms eroded Missouri roads which increased the number of potholes.

Dentner the St. Louis area pledged to fix potholes in less than 24-hours after first reported.

Other areas in the state did not pledge the 24-hour guarantee, but Dentner said the department will work harder to fix them faster.

Dentner said the repairs will not incur any extra costs.