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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of October 7, 2013

John Hagler has been replaced as the Director of Agriculture, according to a press release sent out this morning.

The release failed to mention why Hagler was leaving office.

The governor's announcement came just a day after a top staffer in the department sent an email announcing her resignation based on a hostile workplace environment in the department.

The Governor's office and Hagler's office both refused to comment on Hagler's replacement.

  Nixon announces plans for a proposal to reopen national parks. 10/11/2013

One day after his administration refused comment on the federal government's offer, Gov. Jay Nixon's issued a release that his office had directed the Natural Resources Department to develop plans on how to open federal parks.

Neither the governor's office nor the Natural Resources Department would explain the governor's announcement.

The two-paragraph announcement came a day after answered questions had been raised with the Nixon offices as to whether his administration would take advantage of the federal offer to let Missouri reopen the Gateway Arch grounds just a couple of blocks away from where the St. Louis Cardinal's playoff games are getting national attention.

The press release from the governor's office cited the cited the Gateway arch, but gave no indication of whether the state actually would staff the facility.

Gov. Jay Nixon has delayed the scheduled Oct. 23 execution of Allen Nicklasson and has directed the Corrections Department to find a new form of lethal injection, citing concerns about using the anesthetic propofol executions.

“As Governor, my interest is in making sure justice is served and public health is protected. That is why, in light of the issues that have been raised surrounding the use of propofol in executions, I have directed the Department of Corrections that the execution of Allen Nicklasson, as set for Oct. 23, will not proceed," Nixon said in a written statement.

The state's execution procedure has been under fire in recent weeks and two propofol manufacturers requested the state to turn over its supply of the drug. The Corrections Department changed its protocol to use propofol after it could not acquire its traditional three-drug cocktail previously used in lethal injections.

Nixon's statement said the state will immediately request a new execution date for Nicklasson from the Missouri Supreme Court.

Officials from the governor's office, the Corrections Department and the Attorney General's office refused or where unavailable for explanation.

There was no indication in the governor's statement as to whether his decision was based on threats from the European Union that it would stop shipments of the drug to Missouri if it used propofol for executions.

One day earlier, the Corrections Department issued a release that it was returning doses of propofol from a European manufacturer, but the department refused to respond to repeated questions as to whether it had enough of the drug required to execute Nicklasson.

The day after European manufacturers demanded back batches of a drug called Propofol, the Missouri Department of Corrections refused to say if they had enough to carry out scheduled executions.

John Simon is an attorney for Allen Nicklasson, a convicted killer scheduled to die Oct. 23.

"I can definitely say that they have enough Propofol to carry out the executions that are currently scheduled," Simon said.

Missouri's ACLU Legal Director Tony Rothert said Missouri's courts have not explicitly determined if Propofol is constitutional for executions because it can cause a burning sensation.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled states cannot add additional pain to executions.

The Department of Corrections did not return repeated requests for comment Thursday.

Missouri's corporate tax rate was rated 7th lowest in the nation in a new report released Thursday afternoon.

The report from the non-partisan Tax Foundation ranks Missouri as the 16th best tax climate for businesses. Missouri is ranked higher than Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska and Arkansas.

In a statement, Governor Jay Nixon credited investments in workforce training and education for the high state's ranking.

"Today, it is clear that these proven, fiscally responsible strategies are paying off for Missouri families and businesses," Nixon said. "This independent report reaffirms Missouri’s status as a low-tax state with a stable and competitive climate for businesses to grow and invest."

The ranking comes a month after the Missouri House of Representatives failed to override Governor Jay Nixon's veto of a bill that would have lowered taxes.

Attorney General Chris Koster disclosed the terms of a settlement Thursday with Affinion Group, Inc. The settlement provides at least $19 million for refunds to consumers.

The lawsuit came as a result of Affinion and its subsidiaries deceiving consumers into signing up for special deals provided by banks or retailers. Once the consumer deposited a check, they were signed up for a membership and they were charged a monthly fee of up to $16 or an annual fee of up to $139.

Koster said in a news release, "Affinion uses deceptive practices to enroll consumers in their programs and then charges outrageous prices for minimal services that consumers didn't want in the first place."

Mike Bush, spokesperson for Affinion Group, said in an email, "Both companies (Trilegiant and Webloyalty) voluntarily ceased these practices several years ago, and they represented an insignificant contribution to revenues."

Customers who were charged by Affinion or their marketing partners are advised to call or email the attorney general's office to file a claim. Claims must be submitted by Dec. 31, 2013.

The US Supreme Court will not be hearing a Missouri case questioning whether or not schools have the right to conduct random drug dog sweeps.

The parents of a Springfield Central High School student filed suit against the school and the Greene County Sheriff in 2010 saying the search of the school violated students' the 4th Amendment rights.

School officials and Greene County Sheriff's deputies brought a trained dog through several Springfield Public Schools including the classroom of former student Connor Mizer, who's parents filed the lawsuit on their son's behalf.

The case was dismissed in US district court which was then upheld by the 8th District Court of Appeals.

A St. Louis-based lead mining company contributed $10,000 to House Republicans after lawmakers overrode Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of a law shielding the company from large liability judgments in some lawsuits.

Records from the Missouri Ethics Commission show the Doe Run Co. made a contribution to the House Republican Campaign Committee on Oct. 3. That is just three weeks after the supermajority Republican House voted to override Nixon's veto. Some Democratic lawmakers also supported the override.

Nixon vetoed a bill limiting punitive damage awards against The Doe Run Co. related to old lead mining sites.

Doe Run oversaw an extensive lobbying effort to support the legislation, and also gave a similar $10,000 to the Missouri Senate Campaign on July 25.

Senate leaders Ron Richard, Tom Depmsey and Kurt Schaefer and House Majority Leader John Diehl were also on the recieving end of thousands of dollars of contributions from Doe Run over the summer.

Eleven months after the request, the Missouri Department of Corrections released a statement that they are returning propofol to the supplier's company.

"After the propofol was delivered by Morris & Dickson to the Missouri Department of Corrections last year, Morris & Dickson requested that the order be returned. Today's action fulfills that request," the statement read.

According to the Monday's statement Morris & Dickson supplied propofol a German company manufactured. The department said the rest of their propofol inventory is from a domestic manufacturer.

Since the department claims there is still some propofol left, Missouri should become the first state to use propofol for lethal injection on Oct. 23.

The European Union warned it may stop shipments of propofol to the United States if it was used for executions.

Earlier this month the Missouri Society of Anesthesiologists came out in public opposition of the department using propofol for lethal injections.

Anesthesiologists use the drug during surgery, and the society feared if the European Union took away propofol from United States completely, they could not use the drug on a day to day bases for patients in need.

The Missouri Department of Corrections and the governor's office did not immediately return phone calls.

At a hearing Wednesday lawmakers voted to keep the Agricultural Department's current cap of 10 percent on ethanol used in gasoline.

Chairman of the committee Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, said the committee rejected to increase the cap because of the legislative process rather than the principle of the matter.

"This matter should have been handled legislatively as opposed to by way of fiat by unelected bureaucrats," Schmitt said.

In earlier hearings this week, members of the automotive industry expressed concern that using higher ethanol blends in older cars could both harm the engines and void vehicle warranties.

Also Monday, proponents like Christy Moore of the Renewable Energy Association claimed an increase in the cap would economically benefit consumers.

Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, and Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, were the only two of eight committee members who voted to accept an increased cap.

Nine of 50 states in the nation allow gasoline to contain up to 15 percent blend ethanol.

Secretary of State Jason Kander announced Tuesday he received a potential ballot initiative that would give voters a chance to extend students voting right on their state university's school board.

Kander said Tuesday his office is in the process of drafting the ballot summary language and is accepting public comment on the issue. St. Louis lawyer Brad Ketcher submitted the initiative. Ketcher was formerly chief of staff to former Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan.

Chairman of the House Higher Education Committee Mike Thompson, R-Maryville, said the addition of a student with voting rights could be a slippery slope.

"If they do get a vote then you have turned your board from what we call a lay board into a constituency board," said Thompson. "Now we have a special interest group on the board."

Ketcher would not disclose to the Associated Press who is behind the proposed measure and did not return calls for comment.

Missouri Department of Labor spokesman Tom Bastian said Tuesday the 10.4 percent rise in unemployment claims filed during the week of the federal shutdown is the highest jump he has ever seen.

Bastian said the Department is not allowed to comment about how many of the claims were filed by federally furloughed workers because of a Missouri statute that prevents department officials from commenting on employers.

However, Bastian said the spike in claims filed can be attributed to businesses impacted by federal workers in addition to the furloughed workers themselves.

"If there's a restaurant right near a federal building, and employees usually come out and eat at that restaurant, those jobs would be affected," Bastian said.

The Department of Labor has extended hours for regional claims centers. Offices are now open from 7:30 am to 6 pm, and on Columbus day.

Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education communications director Sarah Potter said districts across the state would suffer if the federal government fails to extend its borrowing limit on Oct. 17.

"Right now even though most of the U.S. Department of Education is furloughed they are still making most of their funds available," Potter said. "When the 17th happens we've hit our limit for actually funding those federal programs."

Potter said the state receives well over $500 million in federal funding annually for everything from school lunches, Title I, special education, and career and technical programs.

"All we can do right now is help school districts be informed of the situation, let them know of the possible ramifications," Potter said. "We're hopeful we don't have to cross this bridge but it's hard to tell what's going to happen and what's going to be funded."

Potter said the state's poorest districts would be effected the most, but didn't clarify whether there would be any plans to keep students home in the event of a debt ceiling breach.

Thousands of Missourians could lose access to food stamps next year due to a rule change proposed by the State Department of Social Services.

A 1996 federal waiver qualifies able-bodied, unemployed adults without dependents for the federal food stamp program without meeting work requirements.

The Missouri Department of Social Services recently proposed letting that waiver expire.

Suggested new rules include waivers on work requirements only applying in counties where unemployment is higher than 10 percent. In those counties, an adult currently receiving benefits would have three months to find a job working at least 20 hours a week or enroll in a federally approved job training program. Without that, they would no longer qualify for food stamps.

Adults in counties with unemployment rates less than 10 percent could receive food stamps three months out of every three years.

Executive Director of the Missouri Association for Social Welfare Jeanette Mott Oxford said Tuesday this rule change wouldn't give people incentive to find work.

"Making people hungry does nothing to actually improve our economy in any way,” Oxford said. “Hunger is actually a debilitator rather than a motivator when it comes to employment.”

A hearing was held Monday to discuss whether to repeal the Agricultural Department's cap of 10 percent.

The opposition, mainly composed of members of the automotive industry, says they are not arguing against increasing the cap on ethanol to 15 percent, they just think it should be passed through the legislative process.

Ron Leone, Executive Director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association expressed concerns he had regarding the void of warranties when using ethanol blend 15 gas on older cars.

"It will cause misfueling of your constituents and it will potentially cause damage to engines and void vehicle warranties," Leone said.

"There have been zero reports of misfueling, engine damage, or liability claims against retailers offering E 15. And with a zero claim history the label has been proven effective," said Christy Moore with the Renewable energy association.

Moore also cited the economic savings consumers would receive from using the proposed ethanol blend gas.

"We have a safe, legal product that has been federally approved for sale that is for sale in our surrounding directly competitor states and the only reason it is not for sale today is that we have a rule that is historical in nature that we need to update in order to make it consistent with the national standard," said Jon Hagler, Director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture.

The hearing will continue Wednesday at 10 a.m. to further discuss whether Missouri will join the nine other states in the US allowed to use up to 15 percent blend ethanol gas.

Republican Attorney General Candidate Kurt Schaefer wrote a letter to Governor Jay Nixon, asking him to include money for a new gas chamber in the budget or propose a third method of execution.

He voiced his concerns after the European Union threatened to stop exporting the most commonly used anesthetic for any practice.

"If Propofol is not going to be a long-term viable mechanism to carry out those judgments, which it appears it may not be, then the governor needs to let the general assembly know and make a recommendation of what he needs with the Department of Corrections," Schaefer said.

About 85 percent of Propofol used in the United States comes from European Union countries, and domestic producers are not expected to make up for that shortfall.

Missouri has enough Propofol to carry out three more executions; the first batch will expire this month.

The state scheduled to carry out the execution of Allen Nicklasson on October 23 and Joseph Franklin on November 20, both by lethal injection.

Chris Nicastro, Commissioner of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, testified in front of the House Government Efficiency committee Monday morning.

Nicastro, along side education analyst Michael Petrilli, urged the committee to support additional appropriations of $18.5 million.

This money would allow the implementation of Common Core, or educational standards created through state-led initiatives that have been adopted by more than forty states.

Missouri's 520 public school districts would be responsible for their own curriculum and how their students will meet the standards.

"[School Districts] can do as they chose on curriculum and instruction. The standards that they are held to, and that [students] will be assessed on, are established at the state level." Nicastro said.

Common Core was adopted by Missouri in June of 2010 and is scheduled for full implementation during the 2014-2015 school year.

Last Week

A state audit reported Tuesday the Office of Administration failed to cancel purchasing card accounts for nine former state employees.

Deputy Auditor Harry Otto said they found no evidence people continued card use post-employment, but that the oversight is concerning.

"There's always a risk if you haven't collected the keys, the computer, the car and the cards, that they're going to be continued to be used for non-state use," Otto said.

State Auditor Tom Schweich's staff also found over 45,000 small dollar transactions totaling $1.8 million that could have been paid using purchasing cards.

The Office of Administration was not immediately available for comment. The audit deemed the overall performance of this entity "good".

Republican statewide elected officials butt heads on government spending 10/03/2013

The state auditor said they found Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder using thousands from state funds for a website without legal authority to spend the money.

"The Lieutenant Governor received the $38,000 for a website that can be deemed duplicative, maybe even wasteful in itself," Otto said.

Kinder's campaign committee paid $1,189 for the site. The remaining $36,811 of the $38,000 Otto referenced funds Kinder's employees' salaries.

Otto said Kinder lacks legal authority to protect the identities of people who report potentially illegal government spending.

Kinder's office released a statement saying he was pleased with the overall good rating he received.

State Auditor Tom Schweich and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder are the only two Republican statewide elected government officials in Missouri.

Donald Arnold, a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists and the Missouri Society of Anesthesiologists, condemned the Missouri Department of Corrections decision to use Propofol in two upcoming Missouri executions.

"We strongly oppose the Missouri Department of Corrections use of Propofol in lethal injections due to the immediate impact it could have on our ability to safely administer anesthesia during surgery," Arnold said.

In 2012, Missouri opted to become the first state to use propofol during an execution. The state had to do that because the traditional three-drug combination of Sodium pentathol, Pancurium bromide, and Potassium chloride was in short supply.

Many in the medical community, including Dr. Mark Dershwitz of the University of Massachusetts, say when a large amount of Propofol is used, it can cause intense pain.

Arnold had a message for the Corrections Department.

"We would hope that there is a pathway forward that would prevent the use of Propofol in lethal injections as currently scheduled," Arnold said.

Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander approved a proposal to amend the state’s Constitution on Wednesday.

The proposal would change the way judges are elected to the Supreme and Appellate Courts in Missouri. It would allow judges or judicial candidates to campaign for a seat in the court.

Currently Missouri follows the current Missouri Plan adopted in 1940. The Missouri Plan works by a nominating committee picking three candidates they feel fit the spot for an open judgeship. Once these candidates are picked, the governor then selects one of these candidates for the position.

John Elliott, President of The Adam Smith Foundation, crafted the proposal that would repeal the Missouri Plan. The petitions would require judges to be elected into their positions-allowing them to campaign, change the term limits from 12 to eight years, and switch to nine judges instead of seven.

“The petition would turn judges into politicians, which is a terrible idea,” said Skip Walther, Treasurer of the Missourians for Fair and Impartial Courts Committee.

Walther said judges are currently based on merit and intelligence, but repealing the non-partisan plan would change the whole playing field for the justice system.

Days after the Missouri Supreme Court upheld Governor Jay Nixon's right to withold budget funds in order to maintain a balanced budget, Nixon announced the state will save millions over the next few years.

The State Board of Public Buildings announced Wednesday that the state will save $900,000 this fiscal year because of bond refinancing. Missouri has saved $15.6 million so far this year as a result of bond refunding, according to Gov. Nixon.

In a press release, the governor said the refinancing was possible because of the state's fiscal discipline.

"Balanced budgets have meant lower interest rates and reduced principal, which in turn, has translated into millions in savings for taxpayers," Nixon said.

Going into the third day of the first government shut down in two nearly two decades, "non-essential" programs are still figuring out funding including parts of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At this time last year, the CDC had distributed 112.7 million doses of the vaccine while this year they have only distributed 73 million doses.

Spokesperson for the Department of Health and Senior Services Ryan Hobart was not concerned the shutdown would affect the process or amount of vaccines that have been dispersed.

"There are health providers all around the state already doing flu vaccine clinics," Hobart said.

Seven pharmacies from across the state all had vaccines in stock as of Thursday morning.

Several Missouri lawmakers in Washington D.C are refusing their congressional pay during the government shutdown.

Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill and Republican Representatives Vicky Hartzler, Jason Smith and Ann Wagner have openly stated that they will not accept compensation during the closure.

Their announcements came the day after the government shutdown officially started. The stance has become increasingly popular amongst the nations lawmakers.

As of Wednesday afternoon, at least 91 legislators have announced they will either donate or simply refuse their compensation during the shutdown.

Despite threats to lose $4.2 billion of federal support, Missouri Senators are still unsure if they are willing to expand Medicaid coverage.

At a meeting Wednesday morning, an appointed committee reviewed past reforms of the state's Medicaid system and instances of Medicaid expansion funded under the Affordable Care Act.

The committee scheduled witnesses and researchers to discuss provisions of the Affordable Care Act, other states' policies and current health care services and products.

After nearly four hours of testimony and debate, the committee's senators decided they weren't ready to agree on a draft.

Senate research staff members addressed committee concerns for Medicaid program recipients, like those who are unemployed and receiving benefits.

"There were some people who were taking advantage of the system who were not working and were staying at home," said Sen. David Sater (R-Cassville).

Some committee members didn't want to steer too far away from federal decisions.

"We need to figure out a way to mold a program that fits the basic parameters stipulated by the federal government," said Sen. Joseph Keaveny (D-St. Louis).

Missouri's Education Department came under criticism Tuesday over its handling of the state's unaccredited schools.

State Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro pitched several different options to a joint education committee tasked with finding solutions for the state's failing schools.

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, said by not addressing the problems of low socioeconomic status that many of the students face in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas, they would only be furthering a broader cycle of failure.

"If we aren't educating these kids, we are incarcerating them," said Nasheed.

The federal government began furloughing "nonessential" positions Tuesday.

State Budget Director Linda Luebbering said the federal government shut down will hit state programs with a loss of funding if it is not resolved within a few weeks.

"The state has some federal cash still available that we've already brought down, and we'll be able to continue those programs at least for a very very short time period," Luebbering said.

Some of the departments Luebbering said could lose funding for some of their programs are education, public safety, senior services, and transportation. Luebbering said the shut down will hit these programs with varying levels of funding cuts depending on how much of the departments are funded by federal grant money.

Luebbering said if Congress cannot reach an agreement on the debt ceiling, even programs like Medicaid and unemployment would face a loss of funding.

"If the debt limit is not worked out, there won't be federal funding available for much of anything," Luebbering said. "We've not gotten specifics from the federal government yet about exactly what that would mean, but we do believe that that would have a larger impact on our program."

The Missouri Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in a unanimous decision State Auditor Thomas Schweich does not have standing to sue Governor Jay Nixon in order to prevent Nixon from withholding budget funds.

Schweich sued Nixon in 2011 for withholding funds prior to the start of the new fiscal year.

The Court said in its ruling that Schweich did not have the legal standing to prevent Nixon from withholding funds. The state's high court ruled the auditor does not have constitutional authority to audit the governor before the end of the fiscal year, and Schweich "may be given no greater authority than set out in the Constitution."

In a press release Nixon wrote "The Missouri Supreme Court has confirmed once again that Missouri governors have the authority and the responsibility to rein in spending and keep the budget in balance."

The Court did rule that Schweich had standing to contest the $300,000 withheld from his office, but the injunction was filed before the start of the fiscal year and was premature.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that as of September 24, Missouri only had six reported cases of the deadly disease.

Last year, Missouri had 20 cases.

West Nile Virus is transmitted by mosquitoes, who get the disease from infected birds. To prevent the disease the CDC recommends wearing long sleeves and pants at night, using mosquito repellent containing DEET and installing screens on windows and doors.

Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services spokesperson Ryan Hobart credits the public for the decrease in cases.

"A lot of times people who are taking the proper precautions when they're outdoors have a lot to do with it and just in general trying to avoid areas where there might be a high population of mosquitoes." Hobart said.

Missourians can only wait as the impending shutdown of the federal government moves ever closer.

If the U.S. Congress can not reach an agreement for a stop-gap spending bill before midnight, government agencies and programs deemed “non-essential” would begin closing their doors for the first time since 1995.

A federal shut down would have significant implications for several Missouri state Departments.

Bagnell Dam's new "step-up" transformers at the Lake of the Ozarks will raise the standard to transmit power to homes more efficiently.

The transformers will switch to $4 million gas-insulated transformers from the 80-year-old oil-powered ones.

Alan Sullivan-- consulting engineer for Ameren Missouri-- says he supports this change from the old transformers, which his grandfather helped install during the Great Depression.

"It is absolutely worth the money we spent both from a safety standpoint for the people who work here, environmentally for the Osage river below us and for safety of any pedestrian or vehicle traffic on the road above us," Sullivan said. "I think it's really neat that I'm here 80 years later to watch a new generation move in."

The transformers change the electrical pressure, the cost justification was on the concept of the gas transformer preferred from the oil-powered units, according to Sullivan.

Ameren Missouri is preparing the installation for the third of four transformers in the dam's project.

Despite being the man responsible for media inquiries for the Department of Labor, Tom Bastian refused a phone interview.

After numerous phone calls and emails requesting an interview, Bastian said he needed the questions to be asked emailed to him in advance.

When we told him that we could give the topic of the interview but not specific questions, Bastian said he was not available for an interview.