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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of February 24, 2014

One of the state's largest unaccredited schools could regain accreditation under a measure given first-round approval by the state Senate Wednesday night, Feb. 26.

Rather than accrediting or stripping accreditation for an entire school district, the measure would require the state Board of Education to make accreditation decisions on the basis of separate buildings, or schools, within a district.

Only if  55 percent or more of the district's buildings were unaccredited could the entire district lose accreditation.

Under that provision, the unaccredited Normandy School District in St. Louis County would regain accreditation since it barely has enough buildings that meet accreditation standards, said the bill's sponsor -- Sen. Dave Pearce, R-Warrensburg and chair of the Senate Education Committee.

Normandy's accreditation could happen in time for the next school because, Pearce noted, the bill has a section that would put it into effect immediately upon approval by the governor.

Supporters argue that determining accreditation by separate schools rather than then entire district would reduce the number of students seeking transfer to other districts under a law guaranteeing the right to transfer by student in an unaccredited district.

It also would save money for the student's district that has to pay tuition costs of the schools receiving the student transfers. The transfer cost to Normandy has financially threatened that school and led to an emergency $5 million appropriation measure in the legislature to keep the school open in the remaining months of the current school year.

Missouri's education commissioner Chris Nicastro has said the current transfer costs for unaccredited schools is not sustainable for unaccredited districts.

"If their home district goes bankrupt, if their home district can't afford to pay their bills, that's not if we can keep that district afloat, if we can reduce the money that is leaving that district, then I think we're all successful," Pearce said.

The Senate's Democratic leader for the bill said the provision also would allow students to attend accredited schools closer to home than if they had to transfer to an outlying district.

"It saves dollars and it keeps kids local and in their community," said Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal D-St. Louis County.

Accreditation of schools is one of several changes in the bill designed to address problems arising from the current law that give students in an unaccredited district the legal to transfer to an accredited district.

In St. Louis and Kansas City, some accredited schools have complained they lack the facilities and staff to handle a large number of transfers.

The bill would set up a process for managing transfers and would give the highest priority for available seats to the lowest achieving students.

In addition, the bill would require a school district to pay at least some of the tuition for a student in an unaccredited school who transfers to a private school located within the district.

The measure faces a second vote in the Senate before going to the House.

Struggling students would be given the priority for their choice of school transfer if their current school district is unaccredited in an amendment to a measure debated by the Senate.

The amendment to a bill on unaccredited schools was sponsored by Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County. She said the whole measure is about education reform.

"This whole conversation is about the children who are most in need and giving them options," she said.

Her amendment, however, came under criticism from Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph.

"Why are we rewarding the low-achieving student? I mean, is the student low achieving for sure not within the student's control?"

Legislation would allow terminally ill patients to take drugs not fully approved by the FDA.

Under the measure, the drug must have passed stage one of the FDA approval process, which is the safety phase, and the patient must consent to taking the drug.

The bill would also states all other doctor-recommended options must have been used before a patient can experiment with an investigational drug.

Rep. Jim Neely, R-Cameron, is a physician and sponsored the bill. He explained one situation of a family with two boys who have Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

"One boy is responding well to the treatment - the other boy can't get it because it's an investigational medication," Neely said. "And they won't bring in the other child. It'd be tough to be that parent."

Neely said a hospice agency voiced concern on the bill because they thought it would give false hope to patients.

"I think it is compassionate," Patrick Ishmael from the Show-Me Institute. "I think it provides hope and I think it's humane."

Neely said the bill would give people the right to be in charge of their own life and allow people to make their own decisons about their treatment methods.

Just hours after Missouri executed its fourth inmate in as many months, a Springfield Republican lawmaker said he wants to bring greater transparency to the execution process.

Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, introduced a bill that would would bring the execution process out of secret.

Burlison said much of the controversy surrounding Missouri and the death penalty shouldn't have happened.

"A lot of this could've been avoided if this process and the decisions that were made were not done in secret," Burlison said.

Early Wednesday morning, Missouri executed Michael Taylor who was convicted of kidnapping, raping, and murdering a teenage girl in Kansas City in 1989.

Like the other inmates Missouri executed in recent months, Taylor was executed with pentobarbital, but this time, a different pharmacy provided the drug.

Attorney General Chris Koster refused to name the pharmacy, citing the execution team's anonymity.

Burlison said Missouri's process must be out in the open for the public to see.

"I think that whatever our process is, it's a process that we should trust, and that it's a process that should be open to the public," Burlison said. "And if it's not open to the public, then I think that people in general are losing their faith in government."

The committee took no action on the bill.

Missouri Senators voted to give the State Board of Education power to eliminate failing school districts.

Under the act, if the Board of Education and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education determined a district could not afford to finish the school year, the district would be prevented from starting in the fall and could be shut down alltogether.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, sponsored the measure. He said it prevents situations like those in St. Louis counties where a district came to lawmakers asking for extra money to survive until summer.

"I am moving that crisis point sooner," Schaefer. "So, not when we're 500 feet before impact in a train wreck, but when we're five miles down the road and we know there's a stalled truck on the track."

The amendment is part of a proposal aiming to help failing school districts.

A measure before a House committee would change the Missouri state flag for the first time in a century.

Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Jefferson County, is the sponsor of a bill that could change the flag or standardize it.

“There's some folks that don't think that the design is consistent across the state,” Roorda said. “There's some folks that think that maybe we ought to update the flag as Colorado did.”

The measure would commission the Secretary of State along with one person from each congressional district to travel the state and gather public opinion.

Roorda said the commission has no strict plans to change the flag but just gather public opinion to see what they should do.

The flag was originally designed by Marie Elizabeth Oliver and adopted in 1913.

Attorney General Chris Koster made a statement after the execution of Michael Taylor early Wednesday morning, Feb. 26.

Koster was quoted as saying Taylor spent 20 years attempting to convince the courts to overturn his death sentence, five years longer than Ann Harrison lived on this earth. He asked that people take a moment to keep Ann and her family in their thoughts and prayers.

Michael Taylor and Roderick Nunley were convicted 25 years ago of abducting 15-year-old Kansas City girl Ann Harrison as she waited for her school bus. Taylor and Nunley were also found guilty of repeatedly raping the girl, then stabbing her to death and leaving her body in the trunk of a stolen car.

Taylor's attorneys petitioned for a stay of execution due to questions about the state's supplier for the new execution drug, and concerns that pentobarbital would cause their client inhumane pain and suffering. Gov. Jay Nixon and the Missouri Supreme Court denied the petitions.

Taylor's execution marks the fourth in four months.

A plan to force unaccredited school districts to help pay tuition for some children to attend private schools survived in Missouri's Senate.

The Senate effectively shot down an effort to remove a plan that could force an unaccredited school district to pay some or all of the tuition costs for students to attend private schools within the district.

"We're just trying to provide an additional local option, an additional local option that children and those families do not currently have," said Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County.

The fight to take the funding for private school enrollment was led by Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City.

"Are we fostering an environment where all kids have the chance to succeed when we're giving money to private schools that have admission standards that say 'we're not going to take all kids?'"

The provision for private school tuition was included in the Senate Education Committee's proposal to address the state's failing school districts.

Tuesday night, Feb. 25, the Senate effectively defeated Holsman's amendment to take that provision out of the bill.

Instead, the chamber voted to substitute language that would impose additional requirements on private schools that would be eligible, such as being accredited.

The measure before the Senate would require an unaccredited district to pay at least part of the tuition of any nonsecretarian private school in the district that the student chose to attend.

The tuition costs could not exceed the tuition the unaccredited school charged students from outside its district.

In addition, private school tuition would not be paid if there was any public school that remained accredited in the unaccredited district.

Unlike current law in which an entire district is either accredited or unaccredited, the proposal before the Senate would allow separate buildings, or schools, in an unaccredited district to remain accredited.

By a 22-6 vote, Missouri's Senate rejected giving unaccredited and provisionally accredited districts the power to fire teachers including tenured teachers.

The provision had been included in the substitute approved by the Senate Education Committee the week before.

But on Tuesday, Feb. 25, the committee's chair -- Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg -- voiced support to his colleagues for taking out the provision.

Pearce had offered that committee substitute, but he said he realized there could be unintended consequences that would cost troubled districts their best teachers.

"It would be a disincentive for some teachers to possibly work in the toughest in those districts that are struggling because what assurances would they have they would have a job?" Pearce asked.

"What would prevent a whole lot of people just saying this is going to be unfair, I'm going to leave and going to a neighboring building in my district. And who's left to teach?"

Even supporters of allowing troubled districts to fire tenured teachers voiced support for dropping the idea voicing fears it could cause a filibuster or get the bill vetoed by the governor.

Kit Bond

A major leader in the creation of the modern Missouri Republican Party came before a state business group to promote a measure that already has been rejected by GOP state lawmakers -- Medicaid expansion.

Kit Bond spoke to a conference of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, an organization that has retained the former U.S. senator and former governor to lobby for the idea.

Bond repeated his opposition to the underlying federal health care law, but warned that the law includes cuts in federal medical payments that will harm Missouri health providers without the extra funds from Medicaid expansion.

"If Missouri doesn't act to address these coming cuts, I'm concerned that hospitals in rural and inner communities will be forced to make dramatic cuts in their services and in some cases, close their doors," Bond said.

But Bond's endorsement for Medicaid expansion has not won over two of the harshest Republican critics in the Missouri Senate.

"Other than being a mild curiosity, I don't know that it really adds much to it," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia. "I understand he has a position that he's advocating for, but I don't know if that's going to change anybody's mind."

The Senate's only physician, Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, said he was in more agreement when Bond had voiced opposition to the entire federal health care law.

Bond, however, argued to the business group that Medicaid expansion could be used as a vehicle for major changes that Republicans have sought in the system.

"A Missouri solution designed with true market principles can reward the values of hard work, self sufficiency and personal responsibility; not punishment which the current system too often does," Bond said.

Bond cited various ideas that have been proposed in the legislature including health savings accounts by which recipients would have a choice in how to spend limited health care funds and extra charges for services like emergency rooms that were used inappropriately.

But Schaafer said some of these changes would require changes in federal law and beyond what Missouri has the power to require in its Medicaid program.

Bond said he has been talking with individual Missouri Republican legislators, but he acknowledged that there are not yet sufficient votes for passage.

"Do we have all the votes now? No, but we've got a significant number who are working on the process and I can tell you that there are enough of them engaged in the process right now that there will be, as the session develops, a significant group coming forward."

Earlier this year, a Medicaid expansion effort was defeated in the Senate without a single Republican vote in support. Last year, a similar effort failed in the House with only one Republican vote in support against more than 100 against expansion.

    It was ethics day in the Missouri statehouse, Tuesday Feb. 25.

Ethics bills presented to lawmakers in both the House and Senate, would:

Rep. Kevin McManus, D-Jackson County, a sponsor of one of the ethics bills, said he is not trying to terminate the process between lobbyist and legislators, but he said he wants to address the excessiveness of lobbyist gifts. He said his goal is to restore the faith of the Missouri general public when they see the lobbyist reports printed in newspapers throughout the state. 

Rep. Don Gosen, R-St. Louis County, asked about the possibility of legislators resigning early in order to start their two or three year cooling off period sooner.

Another bill sponsor, Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said in reply that that is a possible result of the legislation, but he said the desire of the cooling off period is to make the legislative process as pure as possible.

Rep. John McCaherty, R-St. Louis County, asked why the General Assembly only would be affected by these ethics bills and not the governor or executive branch. Rowden said he did not leave them out for any particular reason and would be willing to make amendments on that issue.

McCaherty also questioned bill sponsors on the purpose of not allowing legislators to work as paid consultants.

Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis City, said that he really did not see the problem with the way things are and that full disclosure has already provided complete transperency.

The discussion of ethics bills in the Senate entailed much less discussion, but bills proposed by Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, and Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County, both addressed similar principles.

Neither the House nor Senate took action on any of the bills presented.

Missouri lawmakers want to ignite the state's economy with legislation that would allow hiring business recruiters to bring jobs from other states.

The bill, known as the Missouri Business Recruiters Act, would create positions for state business recruiters. The recruiters would lure out-of-state businesses to Missouri and receive compensation for each business relocation equal to 2 percent of the withholding tax received from the relocated jobs.

The bill states that the jobs have to be retained for one year before the recruiter can receive wages. Also, the recruited jobs must be full-time jobs at or above the national average in wages.

Missouri residents would be asked to decide on a law that requires voters to provide a government-issued photo ID in order to vote in an election.

The measure was given first-round approval by the House Tuesday, Feb. 25. The House then gave first-round approval to a companion bill that would impose the requirement if the constitutional amendment was approved.

The implementation bill's sponsor, Rep. Tony Dugger, R-Hartville, said this is the only reliable way to prevent voter fraud.

"There are Missouri counties with abnormally high voter rolls. Many, 90 percent of the population of the county, even one county that has 105 percent of registered voters," said Dugger. "The only way to truly verify one's identity on election day is with a photo ID."

Opponents argue the bill will disenfranchise inner city and minority residents.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said he believes the real purpose of this bill is to prevent older black women from voting.

Kelly also asked the bill's supporters to cite instances of voter fraud in Missouri.

"I think, if you're going to support a bill that's going to disenfranchise 220 thousand Missourians, you should be able to name a single instance," said Kelly.

Rep. Mike Lair, R-Chillicothe, said he could not show any evidence because it is a "secret case."

The bill was passed along party lines with not one Republican voting against the measure nor one Democrat voting in support.

Previously, the legislature had placed a similar constitutional amendment on the November 2012 ballot. Legal challenges however, tied the measure up in the courts, thus blocking the issue from being submitted to the voters.

Conflicting views from exonerated killers, a rape survivor and numerous attorneys were presented Monday, Feb. 24, to the Senate Judiciary Committee on a measure to impose tougher standards on the use of eyewitness testimony in criminal cases.

Joshua Kezer was exonerated of murder by an appeals court after spending nearly two decades in prison.

"I was put in prison for 16 years," Kezer said. "That means their killer was left on the street. That's not acceptable when other people could possibly be victimized."

A different side was presented by Kansas City area Kim Case who described her trauma from gang rape.

"I was choked to unconsciousness more times than I can remember," Case said. "I was beaten and gagged and brutalized."

She said she correctly identified her attackers and that the bill's proposed changes would make it harder to process cases like hers.

Bill Sponsor Joseph Keaveney, D- St. Louis city, said the bill was drafted using recommendations from former prosecutors, city judges, a retired judge and law professors.

Part of the team is University of Missouri Law Professor Paul Litton. He said the U.S. had a record-breaking 87 exonerations in the past year.

“The main cause of wrongful conviction is wrongful eyewitness identification,” Litton said. “This happens not because of malice, but because our memories aren’t as good as we thought they were.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee took no immediate action on the bill.

After months of debate, House Budget Chairman Rick Stream, R-St. Louis County, and other House leaders agreed on a bipartisan plan to fund a new state mental hospital in Fulton.

Rep. Jeanie Riddle's, R-Mokane, district is home to the current hospital. She said a new hospital hasn't been built for a multitude of reasons.

"Progress has been prevented because of revenue shortages, lack of political will and mostly bureaucrats," Riddle said.

The measure calls for a 5-year revenue bond proposal in which Missouri would pay approximately $47 million a year into the bond.

This is different than the 25 year proposal Gov. Jay Nixon proposed.

Stream estimates the interest payments on the bonds will only cost taxpayers $30 million over 5 years, a savings of $120 million over Nixon's plan.

Republican House Speaker Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, criticized lawmakers who came before him, saying they should have done something about the hospital.

"This project's long overdue," Jones said. "Our predecessors before this probably could've taken care of this issue decades ago."

Republican Majority Leader John Diehl, R-St. Louis County, said this is a good use of taxpayer's money.

"This is a way to do this project in a manner which is fiscally responsible," Diehl said.

Shortly after the announcement, Nixon's press secretary Scott Holste released a statement on behalf of Nixon.

"We applaud Chairman Stream for working on a bipartisan plan to issue bonds to address this issue so that the project can begin without needless delay," the statement said.

The Republican-led House Workforce Committee heard two bills Monday, Feb. 24, involving right-to-work legislation in Missouri.

Right-to-work means an individual has the right to decide if you want to join a union.

The first measure heard by the committee would allow workers to refuse to join a union or pay union dues.

Bill sponsor, Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, said the right to choose is fundamental to our liberty.

Rep. Karla May, D-St. Louis City, opposed the measure.

“We want to protect workers, but when we’re protecting workers we are protecting their right to organize,” May said.

Jay Atkins, a lobbyist for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, testified in favor of the bill. He said the choice to sign into a union contract should be up to the employee.

“I think it is smart for workers to operate with a contract and if they can do that,” Atkin said. “But I don’t think it’s smart to force them into it.”

Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, said non-union employees do not have the right to bargain and are at the whim of the employer.

The second measure would allow each county to vote separately if it wishes to allow right-to-work to pass.

24 states have currently passed right-to-work legislation.

A new measure in the Missouri House encourages food stamp recipients to buy fresh fruits and vegetables from their local farmer's market.

The House Government Oversight and Accountability Committee heard a bill, Monday, Feb. 24, that would create a pilot program that allows food stamp recipients to buy fresh fruits and vegetables with their electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card. 

 The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, would also allow those who purchase fresh produce to receive a dollar-for-dollar match of their food stamp money if they purchase $10 of fresh   produce a week.

Once the recipient purchases fresh produce, the Department of Social Services would put matching funds onto that person's EBT card.

Several groups advocating for healthier lifestyles testified in support of the bill.

Co-founder and executive director of Cultivate Kansas City, Katherine Kelly, said a program her organization supports, similar to the bill's pilot program, is good for the community.

"Our experience is that local food, fresh food at farmer's markets is a healthy addiction," Kelly said. "Once you taste really good healthy food, you want to keep coming back."

Dan Kuebler, vice president of Missouri Farmers Market Association, said one specific area of the state needs a program like this.

"Out in the country, there's a great need for this," Kuebler said. "It's difficult for those communities to find the funding for a program like this. They just don't have the population density and the foundations to support them."

Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, expressed reservations about giving the department the authority to determine what exactly a farmer's market is.

"We might think about writing [the farmer's market] definition into the statute," Richardson said.

No one spoke in opposition and the committee took no action on the bill.

Last Week

School teachers and Missouri  lawmakers met Thursday, Feb. 20, to debate federal backed school standards after one lawmaker said the standards are not helping the state's public schools.

The Common Core Standards is a list of requirements generated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices in 2010 that has since been implemented in schools of 45 states and the District of Columbia.

Rep. Kurt Bahr, R- St. Charles, proposed a bill that would place a ban on these standards.

Individuals who testified in favor of the bill said the program was designed without the input of Missouri educators and gives the central government control of education.

Those in opposition to the bill said the standards do not tell teachers how to teach, but instead hold educators at a higher level and bridges a gap between student’s success from high school to college.

The Senate Education Committee approved Thursday, Feb. 20, a measure that would provide public-school funding for students from unaccredited schools to attend non-religious private schools.

The measure also would allow the governing board of an unaccredited district to terminate the contracts of school staff, including tenured teachers.

Under current law, a student attending school in an unaccredited district has the right to transfer to a nearby accredited public school. The unaccredited district is required to pay the tuition costs for the transfer.

Under the Senate Education Committee's plan, a district without an accredited school would be required to pay at least some of the tuition costs for a student who chose to attend a private, non-religious school.

The committee chair, Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, said the bill could come up for full Senate debate as early as Tuesday, Feb. 25.

The Missouri House of Representatives passed two bills, Wednesday, Feb. 19, that would provide tax cuts to both businesses and individuals.

The first measure would gradually cut Missouri's income taxes for business in half, from 6.25 percent to 3.125 percent.

Republicans said the tax cuts would help improve the economy.

In a statement, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon said he supports legislation that would provide certain individual tax cuts, but not tax cuts to businesses.

"I've never been opposed to making responsible changes to our tax code," Nixon said. "In fact, I've cut taxes four times as governor. Missouri now has the sixth lowest taxes in the nation. But if we're going to cut taxes, I want it done the right way."

The second bill  approved by the House would grant tax cuts to individuals.

Taxes would be cut by $100 million a year for seven years.

The bill was amended to only trigger tax cuts if the general revenue reaches $150 million.

Nixon and the Senate's tax cut bill sponsor have been negotiating a compromise on tax-cut legislation.

Nixon vetoed an income tax cut bill last year.

Later in the week, the House passed both bills, sending them to the Senate for approval.

A Johns Hopkins University study found a 2007 repeal of permit-to-purchase caused a 16 percent increase in Missouri's murder rate.

The repealed permit-to-purchase law required gun buyers to be approved by the local sheriff and to receive a license before buying a gun.

According to a press release from Johns Hopkins University, the analysis "controlled for changes in policing, incarceration, burglaries, unemployment, poverty, and other state laws adopted during the study."

The study will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Urban Health and the data used in the study came from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting system.

Missouri's leading 2nd Amendment rights advocate Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, questioned the accuracy of the findings.

"This is something that would require a heck of a lot more scrutiny, not only from myself, but anybody else that wants to either believe or refute this," Nieves said.

Nieves has sponsored four gun rights bills this session and one has passed the Senate. He has sponsored similar measures in the past.

Gov. Jay Nixon signed legislation Wednesday, Feb. 19, that would give deployed members of the military running for office the chance to have their names come first on the ballot.

On filing day, candidates enter names into a random drawing determining the order of the names on the ballot.

The new law allows deployed members of the military or people who can not physically be there to designate proxies to participate in the drawing for them.

This is the first bill to become law this year and it is effective immediately.

The waiting period before an abortion could be preformed would be extended from 24 to 72 hours under proposed legislation.

Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, the bill sponsor, presented the bill to the Senate Wednesday, Feb. 18.

"I just believe that 24 hours is too short of period," Sater said.

Sen. Scott Sifton, D-St. Louis County said he worried about travel arrangements for the patient because the only abortion clinic in Missouri is in St. Louis.

The Senate did not take any action on the bill and it was placed on the Senate's informal calendar.

Lawmakers consider legislation that would grant the Department of Corrections the authority to decide how to carry out the death penalty. 

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, proposed the bill Wednesday, Feb. 19. 

Currently, the only two forms of execution the department is allowed to use are lethal injections or gas. However, because the state does not have a functioning gas chamber, lethal injection is the state's only option.

Before proposing the bill, Schaefer and Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, addressed the abduction of a young girl in Springfield, Tuesday Feb. 18, that triggered an Amber Alert.

"It's just like what occurred in Springfield last night," said Schaefer. "A random abduction of a teenage girl, for nothing but a short sexual gratification encounter and then murder. If we are going to talk about the death penalty, and we are going to talk about pentobarbital and whether or not an inmate feels some pain, then we are going to have discussion about the details of these crimes."

Michael Taylor is scheduled for execution Wednesday, Feb. 26 for the death of a 15-year-old Kansas City girl.

Pentobarbital has been used in Missouri's last three executions, however, the Oklahoma pharmacy that usually sells pentobarbital to the department announced it would not sell the drug for lethal injections.

The same day, the head of the Corrections Department, George Lombardi, declined to tell lawmakers whether the department had enough of the execution drug for Taylor's execution next week.

Red light and speed camera violations would not add points to a driving record under legislation proposed to lawmakers.

Sen. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown, presented a bill to the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Wednesday, Feb. 19, that would prohibit the Department of Revenue from assessing points to a person's driving record for tickets issued by red light and speed cameras.

Munzlinger expressed his overall opposition to red light and speed cameras.

"I've never really been in favor of [red light and speed cameras], but instead of totally banning them, this I feel is a good middle-of-the-road bill," Munzlinger said.

The red light camera issue has been hotly contested in Missouri over the last year.

The controversy is somewhat related to how a driver's license points are handled.

Appeals courts in St. Louis and Kansas City have ruled that running a red light is a moving violation and points must be assessed against a driver.

Those cases are currently on appeal at the Missouri Supreme Court.

Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, expressed concern about the red light cameras and brought up the point about freedom.

"It concerns me, the argument on one side to say 'well, do you want less accidents?' Well, okay, I want less accidents. What are you willing to give up to have less accidents?" Holsman asked.

Creve Coeur Police Chief Glenn Eidman testified in favor of the bill and he said the red light cameras have greatly helped his city.

"It is a piece of technology that has been very effective for us and without the use of that technology, I'm very concerned that things could get a lot worse as far as semblance of order, traffic accidents, and just the obedience of the general population in that area," Eidman said.

As is usual when a bill is first heard, the committee did not take any action. 

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education drafted the Missouri School Improvement Program to help school districts that fall into the provisionally accredited group. According to the program's report, "such districts, are not providing children with education that meets the state's standards for academic achievement."

The board rolled out the draft of a state plan for classification, support, and intervention for its schools Tuesday, Feb. 18, during its education meeting.

Missouri Education Commissioner, Chris Nicastro, said the plan approaches school improvement in a systematic and comprehensive way.

"We want to take a far earlier look at school districts and make sure we intervene much earlier in the process," Nicasto said. "The idea is to help school districts improve and turn around before they reach the unaccredited status."

The program would serve as a preventive measure to keep a district from becoming unaccredited, a problem plaguing school districts in both Kansas City and St. Louis. Rural areas are also a big target for the program. The improvement plan consists of a set of guidelines that will help classify the status of the school and implement department and district actions when necessary.

Teachers' performance would also be monitored, to confirm they are meeting the learning needs of all students.

"The basic concept is that the higher the performance of a school district, the less support and intervention they need from the department," Nicastro said during a news conference. "Our recourses, time, efforts and interventions would be focused primarily on those districts that need the most help."

The program still needs approval from the state Board of Education in their meeting next month.

One of the state's biggest teacher organizations told lawmakers they don't want teachers carrying firearms in the classroom.

The Missouri branch of the National Education Association does not support the provisions of a gun bill heard by the House General Laws Committee Tuesday, Feb. 18, that would allow teachers to carry guns on school property.

Otto Fajen, a representative from the NEA said the chance for mishaps with a hidden weapon on school grounds is far too strong. He said the lawmakers promoting this bill are doing so without fully considering the risk and liability it would impose on the teachers it would affect. Fajen said firearms should instead be placed in the hands of full-time law enforcement officials and allow them to protect the school so teachers can focus on being educators.

Just days after the Missouri branch of the National Rifle Association raised objections, Missouri's Senate backed off its approval of the gun-rights bill Monday, Feb. 17, and removed an amendment opposed by the NRA.

The amendment would have required a person to report the theft of a firearm within 72 hours.

Although the amendment had no enforcement provision, it generated quick opposition from the NRA to the entire bill if the amendment was not removed.

Opponents to the amendment warned it could lead to registration of the owners of firearms whose weapons had been stolen.

The Republican effort in the Senate led to a five hour filibuster by Democrats.

The amendment's sponsor -- Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis -- charged Republicans were caving into pressure from the NRA.

"You are following the NRA blindly...and you're not being a free thinker," Nasheed said to Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St.Joseph, who made the motion to reconsider her amendment.

"You turned a blind eye to what is extremely important, particularly in my district," Nasheed told Schaaf.

Schaaf responded that he had concluded his initial support of her amendment was a mistake before the NRA took its position. "I want you to know that I didn't even think about the NRA's position," to which Nasheed responded "ah, give me a break."

In explaining his changed position, Schaaf said that the amendment he originally supported would have set a precedent for a requirement to report a firearm theft that is not required for the theft of any other item.

"Well, if someone stole my knife, I wouldn't have to report it stolen. If someone stole my car, I wouldn't have to report it stolen," he said.

Eventually, after five hours of filibuster, the Senate voted to take off the stolen firearms reporting provision and then gave first-round approval to the revised measure.

The influence of the NRA in Missouri's legislature was a dominate theme in Monday night's filibuster.

Even the sponsor of the firearms rights bill expressed exasperation with the NRA.

"You are talking to one person who can undisputedly be labeled as a person who doesn't give a crap about what the NRA has to say about this amendment because the NRA has not approached this amendment from the standpoint of truth," Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Franklin County, said in response to the charges that the Senate was bowing to NRA pressure.

Nieves has argued that the Missouri branch of the NRA had misrepresented the provisions of the theft-reporting amendment to which he originally had agreed to have added to his bill.

The underlying bill would declare invalid in Missouri any federal law that infringes on Second Amendment firearms rights and impose criminal penalties for violations by federal government workers.

The bill was sent to the House Thursday, Feb. 20, after being passed in the Senate.

Animal control officers would be protected under a measure that would equate the penalty for attacking an animal control officer with the penalty for attacking a police officer.

Rep. Sheila Solon, R-Jackson County proposed the bill to the House Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee, Monday, Feb. 17.

Animal control officer Gary Vande Velde testified on the need for such a measure to pass.

"We'd like this bill to pass so maybe it would discourage people from coming agter us, and there would be consquences if they do," Velde said.

Rep. Kathie Conway, R-St. Charles, disagrees with the measure, saying it would "dilute the law."

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

Purposely or recklessly causing a building or school to go on lock-down would be considered a felony in Missouri under proposed legislation.

Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis County, proposed the bill to the House Crime Committee.

This issue arose following a St. Louis's KSDK-TV reporter causing a lock-down last month, in order to test security risks at Kirkwood High School. 

"I was pretty terrified," junior Ewan Burns-Wilton said. "I didn't think I would die, I didn't think I would get hurt, because I feel like we have good security at our school. It was not his job to come and test that."

"We admit we made some mistakes, and we have already made some changes," said Kirkwood School Superintendent Tom Williams.

The American Civil Liberties Union opposed the bill. Jay Hardenbrook, the ACLU representative, said that the language should be modified, but the idea is good.

As is usual when a bill is first heard, the committee took no immediate action.

The father of Ryan Ferguson spoke at the Capitol, Monday, Feb. 17, in favor of a measure that would change the use of eyewitnesses in criminal cases.

Bill Ferguson said he hopes his son's story, which has gained national attention, will help others in the same position.

"Well once we got involved in Ryan's case then we realized there were many other people in similar situations," Ferguson said. "We'd feel that it'd be horrible if we didn't help people that we were convinced that were innocent."

Under the bill, law enforcement agencies that use eyewitness identification procedures would have to adopt written policies governing the procedures. The written policies may include procedures such as one that would require "a blind or blinded administrator" to administer a live or photo lineup, a minimum number of "filler" photos that resemble the suspect in a photo lineup, or written instructions to be given to the witness to "minimize the likelihood of an inaccurate identification."

The bill would also require courts to inform the trial jury of any "factors in the particular case that might raise the risk of a misidentification" from an eyewitness. It would also require law enforcement officers to record all interrogations, and mandates all biological evidence of a first degree murder investigation be retained until either 20 years after the offender has been executed or upon being found innocent.

Ferguson's son, Ryan, was implicated for the murder of Columbia Tribune sports editor Kent Heithold by a former friend who said he experienced dream-like memories of the crime. Ferguson was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

"We shouldn't be dealing with it after-the-fact," the father said. "We should be dealing with these issues before it even happens."

Ryan Ferguson declined to speak with reporters about the measure or his case.

The Senate Judiciary committee has not yet scheduled another hearing.