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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of March 10, 2014

A Senate committee considered measures that would abolish or regulate the death penalty in Missouri.

The first measure would repeal the death penalty completely.

Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Jackson County, sponsored the second bill. The measure would halt all executions in Missouri until a commission is created to adopt new execution protocols.

The commission would be made up of eleven members.

“If the death penalty is going to stay on the table in the state of Missouri it needs to be done in a moral, ethical, legal manner,” Justus said. “It needs to be done with transparency that we require of all governmental actions.”

Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, sponsored the last bill and said there is a lack of transparency in the execution process.

Schaaf's bill would require the provider of an execution drug be independent from the execution team, and the drug cannot be bought with cash.

Schaaf said he introduced this bill because of the "shenanigans" that have taken place the past few months in Missouri with regards to the death penalty.

Schaaf said he has had no one voice concern to his bill.

Justus said her and Schaaf's bills might be lumped together at some point.

The House gave first round approval to a bill that would remove a legal hurdle from existing laws so cities can enforce red-light and speed-camera fines.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, is similar to a bill introduced earlier in the session by Sen. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown.

Both bills cap the fine for a red-light or speed-camera violation at $135, and both prohibit the state from assessing points against a driver's driving record.

Speaking in opposition to the bill, Rep. Bryan Spencer, R-Wentzville, said this bill was flawed in many ways.

He said the bill was flawed in the sense that a person knows who they are getting a ticket from when they get one from a police officer, but when a person goes through a red light and gets a ticket, only the person who owns the car receives the ticket and not the driver.

"There is nothing listed that shows how I can appeal this ticket if I disagree with it," Spencer said.

Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Jefferson County, cited statistics which said red light cameras do decrease future violations of the same kind.  

Spencer responded, "How do you know that?"

This led to a feisty debate between the representatives with each of them accusing the other of making up facts to advance their own cause.

Under constant questioning, neither could provide statistics.  

Despite the long and intense debate, the House gave initial approval to the bill by voice vote.

The battle for dog equality has reached the Missouri Senate, where a bill aimed at outlawing breed-specific ordinances was heard before the Senate General Laws committee.

"I've gotten...a lot of information from people that just really believe that it would be wrong to single out any particular breed or any particular type of dog to have rules about that dog that wouldn't be the same as any others," said Nieves during the hearing on Tuesday, March 11.

Among all other dog breeds, pit bulls were the breed most commonly referred to during the hearing. Opponents of the bill claim that breed-specific ordinances regarding pit bulls is beneficial for community welfare.

Proponents of the bill claim that local breed-specific ordinances infringe upon a home owner's property rights by limiting what dogs they are allowed to own.

"When we label dogs as 'dangerous' simply based on their breed makeup and appearance, we deflect where the attention needs to be, which is addressing dangerous dogs, regardless of the breed," said Courtney Thomas, president of the Great Plains SPCA.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

Missouri's House voted to be the last state to tax cell phone's for 911 calls, under a measure proposed Tuesday, March 11.

A tax on 911 calls has only ever impacted land-line phone calls, so funding for 911 Services decreases each year as the use of land line phones declines.

As a result, there are numerous counties in Missouri in which 911 calls cannot be made.

Rep. Jeanie Lauer, R-Jackson County, the bill's sponsor, said "pick any highway" and on it there will be an area where 911 services cannot be reached.

This bill would impose a $1.50 tax on 911 cell phone calls that last 10 minutes or more, or on phone calls that cost $5.00 or more on a prepaid cell phone.

Lauer said this bill differs from its predecessors in that it will be voted on by county, as opposed to being put on the statewide ballot, where it has been rejected twice in the past.

The House's final reading and passage of this bill has not been scheduled.

Missouri hunters would be allowed to trespass to retrieve their hunting dogs under a measure presented to a legislative committee.

Members of the House Committee on Agriculture Policy heard the plan Tuesday, March 11. The legislation would limit trespassing to hunters trying to retrieve their hunting dogs, and stipulate that they could not enter the property with a firearm.

The bill's co-sponsor, Rep. Jay Houghton, R-Martinsburg, said the bill would prevent criminal or civil trespassing cases, and would require the individual leave the premises immediately after retrieving their hunting dog.

Wesley Powell, a resident of Laclede County, spoke in opposition to the bill. He said he understands the dilemma, but he does not believe this is a problem the General Assembly needs to get involved with. He said the bill gives permission to trespass and takes the place of the landowner.

Powell also said he worried about unintended consequences of the bill. He said he was concerned about the safety of hunters who try to retrieve their dogs off private property at night.

Rep. Linda Black, D-Desloge, said she agreed with the nature of the bill and the reason behind it, but expressed some concerns. Specifically, she worried about residents in rural Missouri who strongly opposed people stepping onto their property.

Karen Strange, president of the Missouri Federation of Animal Owners said this bill is not trying to infringe on property rights, it is trying to protect property. She said she gets phone calls from hunters on this issue more than others.

No immediate action was taken on the bill.

Missouri legislators heard a bill that would decriminalize, regulate, and tax marijuana in the state.

Bill sponsor Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said regulating marijuana could raise $100 million dollars in tax revenue for the state of Missouri. He said money is currently being spent on inefficient and ineffective policing of marijuana use.

"Tens of billions have been spent on enforcement of laws against marijuana, and it'd be difficult to prove we stopped one single person from smoking one single marijuana joint," Kelly said. "When the government is doing things so comprehensively wrong for such a long period of time, we should change it."

Supporters argued for the medical benefits of marijuana. Several doctors and mothers of children with life-threatening illnesses said they found medical improvement exclusively with medicines derived from the marijuana plant.

Opponents said marijuana is addictive and legalization would have consequences on public safety.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

In a packed public hearing room, Rep. Noel Torpey, R-Jackson County, presented an eight-part measure to change Medicaid as part of Gov. Jay Nixon's plan to expand coverage.

The measure is dependent on certain necessary waivers granted by the federal government.

Sidney Watson from St. Louis University School of Law and Joel Ferber from Legal Services of Eastern Missouri both said the bill could fulfill its purpose without these waivers.

More controversial parts of the bill include cost sharing and work requirement provisions.

Torpey said the bill pushes the envelope with the work requirements, but he said he thinks that is a good thing.

Not everyone, though, shared those same thoughts.

"The bill will encourage work with or without these provisions," Ferber said.

Ferber also said the measure should modify cost sharing and work requirements or lighten up the waiver provision.

“I’d hate to see a poisoned bill that stops all of this from going forward,” Ferber said.

The measure also includes provisions intended to make health care costs more transparent, increase care to children, fight substance abuse and avoid emergency room misuse.

The committee went on hold until later notice. They plan to hold two more committee hearings later in the session to complete discussion on the measure.

A Senate committee heard two new measures Monday, March 10, regarding Missouri elections.

The first bill would change Missouri’s primary election date from August to June.

Kraus said the legislation is needed to catch up to other states. He said supporters of the measure believe there should be more time between the primary and the general election.

“After doing some research, 31 states have an earlier primary than we do,” Kraus said. “Eighteen of them have the primary in June.”

The bill also changes when a candidate can file for office from late February to mid-January.

Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, said he opposes the bill.

“It extends the election process, allows more money into the process and allows the idea of more campaigning,” LeVota said.

The second bill presented to the Senate Elections committee would change the date of the presidential primary election in Missouri from February to March.

Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County, introduced the bill. He used the example of Missouri having a primary and a caucus in 2012, and he criticized the reasons for having a caucus at all.

“It disenfranchised people because it cut people off at the door,” Kraus said. “If you were a mom that had children in soccer or other activities that day, you couldn’t participate in the caucuses. I think it’s not a great process to have a caucus.”

Sen. Jay Wasson, R-Nixa, said he agrees with the premise of the bill.

“I do not want another caucus ever,” Wasson said.

The committee took no action on either bill.

Last Week

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster received support in his pursuit to ban California's egg law.

In 2015, a California provision of a multi-year national farm bill would require better treatment of chickens, which they would extend out to all states that supply their eggs.

The initiative would require farmers to expand their hen houses enough for chickens to lie down in any direction.

Missouri farmers collectively sell 2 billion eggs to California each year, but in order to comply with this law it would cost farmers $120 billion combined.

In the beginning of February, Koster sued California saying the law was unconstitutional.

Now, Nebraska, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Alabama and Iowa have joined Missouri in challenging the law.

“We welcome the five states joining our effort,” Koster said in a press release.

But Koster said it is not just about farming practices.

"At stake is whether elected officials in one state may regulate the practices of another state’s citizens, who cannot vote them out of office."

Rep. Sheila Solon, R- Jackson County, introduced a bill for the third year in a row that would prevent health care providers from charging more out-of-pocket costs for oral cancer treatments than intravenous treatments.

Solon said the intravenous treatments are harder on cancer patients because they have to be hooked up to an IV for hours and experience harsher side effects.

She said bill will also help economically because it will allow patients to get back to work more quickly than when they have to go through the intravenous treatment.

Solon received bipartisan support from Democrats who commended her work on the bill.

The same day the House passed a bill extending the waiting period for having an abortion from 24 hours to 72 hours, a democratic filibuster in the Senate blocked it.

State lawmakers spent four hours Wednesday, March 5, debating the measure.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville, said he wants pregnant women to have sufficient time to reflect on this life changing issue.

Opponents of the bill said the government does not have the right to tell a woman to wait 72 hours to have an abortion.

"This bill is a bill to really stop women from having abortions. I mean, this is a stall tactic right here," Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City said.

A split among Senate Republicans delayed a vote on one of the key issues for the GOP-controlled legislature -- a cut in the state's income tax rates.

Last year, Gov. Jay Nixon had vetoed a tax cut measure arguing it would harm funding for local public schools.

This year, the Senate's tax-cut sponsor -- Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County -- entered into extended negotiations with the governor's office to craft a bill the governor could sign.

On Wednesday, March 5, Kraus presented his compromise to the Senate chamber.

It would tie income tax rate reductions to increases in education funding and cuts in tax breaks for real estate developers.

"I think we can put bill after bill on the governor's desk, he's going to veto it and basically just say that hurts education," Kraus said to his colleagues in presenting the compromise approach.

Under the proposal Kraus presented to the Senate, a major portion of the income tax cut would not take effect until the state met the funding level set in the state law that allocates state appropriations to local public schools.

But the Senate Appropriations Committee Chair -- Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia -- argued that would delay the full tax cut implementation indefinitely. Schaefer said the state is more than $600 million below the legal minimum funding level for education and unlikely to reach the legal level in the immediate future.

Schaefer also questioned whether Kraus really had a solid deal with Nixon to sign a tax-cut bill.

"They are pretty slick about how they word things," Schaefer told Kraus. "So while you may believe you have a deal, it may not be a mutual feeling on the other side."

Another senator offered an alternative that eliminated all of the provisions sought by the governor and more than doubled the size of the tax cut Kraus had brought to the Senate.

The original bill would have phased in income tax rate reductions based on tax collection growth. Legislative staff estimate that when the tax cuts were fully phased in, the state tax collections would be more than $900 million less each year than would have been collected without the tax cuts.

Because each year of the phased-in income tax rate cut would occur only if there had been a growth in tax collections in a prior year, Kraus argued his plan would not cut government agency budgets.

"We're not going to be cutting core-level budgets with this proposal. We're going to take the growth of government and return it to taxpayers," Kraus said.

But Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Kansas City, attacked Republicans for seeking tax cuts while some also where pushing for a sales tax increase for transportation.

"We're actually discussing an issue where we're going to raise some taxes to fix the roads, so we're not in apposition where we have so much extra money."

Rep. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, donated $250,000 to his campaign fund to challenge Sen. Brian Nieves for his seat in the Senate.

"When I got in the race I wasn't kidding, and I can't get in half-way, so I had to make a statement that I am in this race, I am going to continue on this path and I plan on winning the 26th seat," Schatz said.

Nieves was unavailable for comment.

Schatz said he heard that Nieves may withdraw from the race.

Both legislators have filed for the upcoming Republican Primary in August.

The Missouri House passed a bill Wednesday, March 5, that would cap non-economic injuries a plaintiff can collect if they sue a doctor for medical malpractice.

The non-economic injuries capped under the bill are damages for pain and suffering.

The bill passed despite a number of Republicans voting against it.

Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, sponsored the bill.

He said caps on pain and suffering damages are very helpful for different people and groups.

“Caps go a great deal to reducing the costs for not only the medical community, but for the patient,” Burlison said. “It also reduces the number of claims and also reduces the amount of defensive medicine.”

Speaking in opposition, Rep. Jeff Grisamore, R-Jackson County, implored members to think about the victims as if they were their kids.

“I don’t want to see legitimate victims of medical malpractice and negligence, even if unintended, thrown under the bus of economic expediency,” Grisamore said. “And to place an arbitrary lifetime cap of $350,000 for non-economic damages for pain and suffering, mental anguish, inconvenience, physical impairment, disfiguration, and loss of the capacity to enjoy life… Madame Speaker, it is immoral, and it is not pro-life, and it is not constitutional, or in keeping with our Bill of Rights.”

The bill passed by a 94-61 margin and now heads to the Senate.

State lawmakers gave first round approval to a bill that would require women to wait 72-hours instead of 24-hours to have an abortion after giving consent.

Most Democratic representatives strongly opposed the bill and said it involves too much government involvement into the personal lives of Missouri citizens.

But, many Republicans said asking for a three-day waiting period is not that much to ask for.

"I feel that this is a very important decision that is being made," Sonya Anderson, R-Springfield, said. "And not only is life of the mother being affected, but we're talking about the life of a child."

Rep. Linda Black, D-Desloge, added an amendment to the bill requiring women to watch an informative video and sign off on it prior to having an abortion. The House adopted the amendment.

"It's patronizing, it's insulting," Rep. Margo McNeil, D-St. Louis County said in response to Black's amendment. "It's really a shame that here this body that holds freedom and the rights of people to act according to their conscience in a constitutionally accepted way, to act in a constitutionally accepted manner, we are putting these kind of prohibitions and I find it insulting."

The House approved the bill by a 115 to 37 vote, which is more than the two-thirds majority to override a governor's veto.

The measure needs another vote to get to the Senate.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster announced, Wednesday, March 5, a woman is paying $39,000 for rebuilding efforts in Joplin after an investigation revealed she took a large portion of money collected for Joplin-tornado relief and spent it on herself.

Sidney Ray-Bazan collected more than $133,000 in donations and illegally withheld more than $39,000 - nearly 30 percent - of that money for personal use.

"Some individuals diverted charitable donations for personal gain," Koster said in a statement. "I am pleased that today we return a portion of that money to the people of Joplin."

Koster's statement said the check will go to the Community Foundation of the Ozarks,which will give the funds to Rebuild Joplin, a non-profit agency dedicated to Joplin's rebuilding efforts.

In addition to repaying the funds, Ray-Bazan agreed not to solicit funds for charitable purposes in the state of Missouri for five years. The Attorney General's Office filed an Assurance of Voluntary Compliance with the Jasper County Circuit Court Wednesday. The agreement is subject to court approval.

Gov. Jay Nixon announced. Wednesday, March 5, the state of Missouri will sell $3.2 billion in Missouri goods to Quebec over the next four years.

The agreement would increase Missouri's exports to 15 percent by 2018. Missouri's Director of Economic Development Mike Downing and Quebec's Minister of Industrial Policy Elaine Zakaib signed the deal.

"Selling more Missouri goods abroad creates more Missouri jobs back home," Gov. Nixon said in a statement. "Canada is our largest trading partner, and this $3.2 billion agreement with Quebec will solidify this relationship while strengthening Missouri's economy for years to come."

Nixon made the announcement on a delegation to Canada where he met with Canadian companies and the American Chamber of Commerce in Toronto.

Canada purchased nearly $4 billion in Missouri products last year, making the country Missouri's largest export market.

Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County, said he and the governor’s office talked through a tax cut bill that the Gov. Nixon would potentially sign.

His message during Wednesday’s Senate debate was to get a reasonable bill to the governor’s desk.

“We are trying to work within the confines of getting a bill that will be signed into law,” Kraus said. “I think a reasonable bill has a reasonable chance, and that is all we can do at this point.”

Kraus and the governor’s office worked out a compromise that stipulated tax cuts would not kick in until the School Foundation Formula is fully funded.

The Foundation Formula provides funding for school districts across the state and is more than a half billion dollars behind schedule.

Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, said he is opposes this bill, and said other people should not change their stance.

“If you believed in the original purpose of the bill, then you have to be against this because it doesn’t even do that,” LeVota said.

Missouri representatives want to give the State Board of Education authority to restrict where students from unaccredited districts can transfer.

Rep. Rick Stream, R-St. Louis County, is sponsoring a bill that creates a statewide achievement school district as a political subdivision, to which State Board of Education must transfer all under-performing schools in an unaccredited district. The bill also requires the state board to provide assistance teams to borderline and provisionally accredited districts and to continue monitoring schools assigned to an unaccredited district.

"I'm trying to protect the receiving districts from being overwhelmed with more students than they can handle," Stream said. "The sending districts, I'm trying to protect them by reducing the tuition payments that are being sent to the receiving districts."

Rep. Mike Cierpiot, R-Jackson County, presented a bill that includes a private option. Once superintendents within a reasonable bus ride say they can take no more kids, transfer students can choose to attend private schools funded by tax credits.

Members of the state House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education expressed concerns that these proposals may be moving problems from one school to another, and they will be masked by the receiving school's population. Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-St. Louis County, said she fears commonalities between unaccredited schools are not being considered.

"When we look at districts that are unaccredited, the common thread is that they have very, very high poverty rates," Montecillo said. "We're putting more impediments on these students when they have less time in a seat. We could be making things worse."

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

Plans to update a dilapidated state mental health facility were stalled by a filibuster during a Senate hearing Tuesday, March 4.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, would raise the cap on revenue bonds by about $600 million. The substantial amount of money the state would have to borrow would go toward both rebuilding the Fulton Mental Health Hospital in Callaway County and renovating higher education facilities owned by the state.

"It's probably time to take care of some of our buildings that I believe we have an obligation to here in the Senate," said Parson during the hearing.

However, the bill met stiff opposition from more fiscally-conservative lawmakers who want to keep the state from furthering its debts.

"You want us to go from around $4.1 billion in total indebtedness up to like $4.7 billion?" asked Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph.

"One of the things I keep hearing is that this is the perfect time in history to borrow money," said Schaaf. "I don't believe that at all. I think that this is a horrible time in history to borrow money."

Sensing that there would be no vote on the bill, the Senate adjourned for the evening.

A bill presented to the House on Tuesday, March 4, would reinstate a ban on foreign ownership of farmland, with some exceptions.

In 2013, foreign entities were allowed to own farmland as long as the total amount of land owned did not exceed 1 percent of the total agricultural land in Missouri.

In addition, the Director of the Department of Agriculture had to grant approval over any foreign ownership.

In this bill proposed, by Rep. Tony Dugger, R-Hartville, a ban on foreign ownership would be put in place with the exception of any owner from the months of October 11, 2013 to August 28, 2014.

Rep. John Wright, D-Rocheport, asked Leslie Holloway of the Missouri Farm Bureau, who testified for informational purposes, if the 10-month lift of the ban had anything to do with the Smithfield transaction.

Smithfield Foods is a pork and hog producer that operates in eight different states, Missouri being one of them.

Last year, China proposed a $4.7 billion deal to buy Smithfield.

Holloway and Dugger both said they were unsure of the bill’s motives.

After a 3-year, online-only hiatus, Missouri's Official State Manual will return to print publication.

According to Secretary of State Jason Kander's website, the manual has been published by the state for over 100 years, and contains detailed information on local, state and federal governments. It also contains stories, essays and pictures that help preserve the state's heritage.

In 2010, Missouri lawmakers voted to discontinue the printing of the manual, more commonly referred to as the 'Blue Book', and place the information solely online.

In a press release issued Tuesday, March 4, Kander announced that through a joint effort with the Missouri Press Association, the 2013-2014 'Blue Book' will be available in print once again.

The Missouri Press Association, a non-profit organization, will be in charge of the production and distribution of the new Blue Book.

"We look forward to putting this comprehensive resource back into print," said Doug Crews, Executive Director of the Missouri Press Association. "Interacting with elected officials and government agencies is vastly easier with a 'Blue Book' at your fingertips."

The House General Laws Committee was urged to prohibit landlords from restricting firearms on rented property.

The bill heard by the committee Tuesday, March 4, would provide that a leaser could legally keep a weapon and not be in violation of the lease agreement. The bill also would provide that a landlord would not be responsible for damage cause by the tenant's use or possession of a firearm.

The bill's sponsor is Rep. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane.

"I even have a directive from the St. Louis County house authority that instructs its managers and landlords to included a weapons prohibition in their lease agreement," Riddle told the House committee.

"As of 2012, census records show 7 percent of all Missourians rent apartments, that is a significant amount of the population that would have their Second Amendment rights violated and unable to defend themselves in a dangerous situation."

Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis City, said that private property owners have their own rights as well.

"Government intrusion of regulation is one thing, but there's nothing that prohibits me as a private citizen owning a building discriminating against a gun owner if I want to," Colona said. "So its not a governmental intrusion for me as a private citizen to prohibit guns on my property, why do you want to tell me what to do with my private property?"

A proposed rewrite to the Missouri criminal code would impose greater sentences for violent crimes committed within the state.

"For the past three years, this legislature has been vetting what will be the most significant rewrite of the criminal code since 1979," said Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Jackson County, during a press conference on Tuesday, March 4.

Among the supporters who attended the conference were members of the Missouri Bar, the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys (MAPA), and state legislators.

"[This bill] brings new tools for prosecutors to use so we can successfully prosecute cases and do what is right in every case and every situation," said Matt Selby, president of MAPA. "We support this revision because it promotes public safety."

Violent crimes are the main focus of the 1100-page bill. Under the bill, drunk drivers involved in fatal wrecks could face up to a decade in prison. Four new felony classes would be added for child sexual abuse cases, and incest would be added as an aggravating factor for these crimes.

Supporters are unsure when the revision will be debated by legislators.