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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of March 17, 2014

Gov. Jay Nixon signed a measure into law Wednesday, March 19, that will limit the price of oral chemotherapy for Missourians.

Rep. John Diehl, Jr., R-St. Louis County, said this measure would make more effective treatment available to more people.

"Anything we can do to try to help make their treatment easier, more effective, is a good thing," said Diehl.

The new law caps the price of chemotherapy pills to $75 as starting in January 2015.

Oral chemotherapy is more convenient to patients and doctors because it can be taken at home without supervision.

Over the last few years, this kind of legislation has failed due to fear over insurance premium increases.

Fifteen Republican lawmakers voted to uphold Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of a controversial tax cut bill last September.

Conservative special interest groups attacked the lawmakers for their vote, calling them the "Flimsy 15."

With less than a week left for candidates to file, one lawmaker now has a primary challenge.

Mike Lind filed to run against Rep. Lyle Rowland, R-Cedarcreek, in the August primary.

Rowland said he was not surprised by Lind's challenge.

"I expected him to file again this year and when he didn't on the first day, I thought 'well maybe he won't file,' but I kind of expected that he would," Rowland said.

Lind has filed to run against Rowland in 2010 and 2012.

In 2010, Rowland narrowly defeated Lind by a 42-40 margin, but Rowland coasted to victory in 2012 by a 69-31 margin.

Twelve of the 15 Republicans who voted against overriding Nixon's veto are running for reelection.

Rowland says he does not know if conservative groups will pour money into Lind's campaign.

"The other groups may see that he has filed and they may contact him and they may push money his way to try to get rid of me," Rowland said. "If they push a bunch of money into his campaign, I always thought that'll help the economy in my district."

An advisor for the Missouri Club for Growth said his group will not discuss their plans for the primary season until after filing closes.

Candidates can file to run for office up until 5 p.m. on Tuesday, March 25.

A non-partisan research think tank released a study showing Missouri has the 14th highest state and local sales tax in the nation.

The Tax Foundation's study ranked states across the country based on state and local sales tax rates.

Conservative interest group, Americans for Prosperity, released a statement attacking state leaders for attempting to hike up local taxes each year.

"The problem Missouri has is that local government's think it is necessary to put tax hikes on the ballot every April, ratcheting up the burden on hardworking Missourians," the statement read. "And, discouraging families from relocating to our great state."

Neighboring states like Kansas and Illinois rank worse than Missouri, and Arkansas ranks the second worst in the nation.

Despite an uproar from conservative special interest groups in September 2013, none of the lawmakers who upheld Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of a controversial tax cut bill will face a challenger in their primary elections. 

Fifteen Republican lawmakers voted to uphold Nixon's veto of the tax cut bill last September, and of those 15, 13 are eligible to run for reelection.

Rep. Mike Thomson, R-Maryville, will not run again due to term limits and Rep. Kent Hampton, R-Malden, has decided not to run for reelection.

Republican lawmakers who did vote to override Nixon's veto, however, are facing challengers in their races.

Meanwhile, five Democratic lawmakers, Reps. McNeil, Peters, Gardner, Hubbard, and Carpenter are facing primary challengers of their own.

Candidates who want to file for office in Missouri must do so by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, March 25.

Two measures in the Missouri House would require schools to allow home-schooled students a chance to participate in school athletics.

Eva Jones,  a home-school sports advocate, said she hopes the bill passes sooner rather than later because she wants her daughter to be able to participate in her town's athletic program.

Rep. Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, said he wants to give home-schooled students an opportunity to try out for public school athletics in the districts where they live.

Jason West, Communications Director for Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA), said their main concern is maintaining a level playing field for everyone participating in school athletics.

He said many MSHSSA schools said representing the school is a privilege, not a right. West said the biggest concern member schools have is making sure home-schooled students have the same standards as students in the member schools.

Haahr and Jones agree home-schooled students in the northern part of Missouri do not have many opportunities to participate in sports.

Jones said the measures would be beneficial to home-schooled students.

"Home-schooled students would have access to their local schools athletic and competitive activities without giving up their home schooling," Jones said.

The measure was heard by the  House Education committee and needs to be voted out before heading to the House floor for further debate.

Last Week

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.

The bill would create a tax up to $1.50 on 911 calls made on cell phones, upon voter approval in each county.  The bill would also impose a 3 percent surcharge on prepaid cell phones costing $5.00 or more or exceeding 10 minutes. 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.