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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of March 16, 2015

Former Joplin police chief Lane Roberts was nominated by Gov. Jay Nixon Thursday, Mar. 19 to run the Department of Public Safety.

Roberts was at the helm of the Joplin Police Department during the 2011 Joplin tornado and, according to the statement announcing his appointment, spent 42 years in law enforcement.

Nixon addressed Roberts' experience in a statement.

"Lane’s extraordinary skills, experience and leadership abilities will make him an invaluable asset to the Department of Public Safety and all Missourians." Nixon said.

The nomination is subject to confirmation by the Missouri Senate.

The Missouri General Assembly adjourned for their spring break Thursday, Mar. 19 having taken up some hot-button issues, but has either left some issues hanging or ignored some issues altogether.

One of the issues the House passed is a reduction in the time people and families can access food stamps and TANF funds.

House Speaker John Diehl, R-St. Louis County, said the bill is needed to address strains on the state's budget.

"One thing we know is that there's an increasing burden on our budget because of social welfare programs," Diehl said.

House Democrats took issue with the welfare bills that have passed in their press conference.

"12,000 kids in Missouri will no longer have the assistance they need to have a meal or clothes on their back," House Democratic Leader Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis City, said.

An issue the legislature has acted on is some-Ferguson related bills.

A Senate committee passed three bills relating to the use of deadly force Wednesday and revision's to the Mack's Creek Law are moving forward.

However, Diehl said using these bills as examples of what happened in Ferguson may go a bit too far.

"I don't think anything of this is Ferguson-related," Diehl said. "I think it's a mistake to try to fashion legislation to address a specific situation. I think we have to look at the culture and look at the overall issue that's happening."

Hummel chastised Diehl for not taking up bills relating to Ferguson.

"It appears that House Speaker Diehl, who on opening day said that we're not going to have a Ferguson agenda in the House, is being true to his word," Hummel said.

One program the General Assembly has done nothing about is Medicaid expansion.

Advocates for expansion rallied at the Capitol Thursday morning, delaying the start of the Senate for just over an hour.

Diehl said the protesters have a right to come to the Capitol and "speak their peace," but he didn't commit to any specifics when asked about what Medicaid reforms the House may take up after spring break.

"I think we're going to take a look at some reforms," Diehl said. "That's part of what we're working on as part of our second half agenda."

Hummel said House Republicans are leaving those without health care in the cold by not expanding Medicaid.

"By not expanding Medicaid, 300,000 Missourians will continue to needlessly go without health care access," Hummel said.

Lawmakers return to the Capitol on March 30.

Missouri scored the lowest of all states on the Heartland Institute's most recent welfare reform report card. The news came only days after the House passed a bill that would place even tighter restrictions on welfare than were originally proposed by the Senate.

According to Logan Pike, the Government Relations Manager for the Heartland Institute, the grade took the following factors into account: work requirements, cash diversion programs, limiting time limits, integrating services and having strict sanctions. The Heartland Institute is a nonprofit research organization based in Chicago, but Logan said the institute collected all data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

With a 'F' in overall welfare reform, House Speaker John Diehl, R-St. Louis County; Rep. Diane Franklin, R-Camdenton; and Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville called to pass a set of restrictive measures.

"Sometimes with government acronyms you forget what something stands for. TANF, what's the first letter stand for in TANF? Temporary," said Diehl. "This program was started and initiated to a temporary assistance for needy families. Not permanent assistance for needy families."

The bill the House passed yesterday would decrease the life-time limit on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families from five years to two. The Senate's version of the bill would set the limit at four years. The bill would also have those eligible for the TANF program participate in a face-to-face orientation and follow-up meetings.

"As every bill that comes through the House and the Senate at this point, there's a House position, there's a Senate position," said Diehl. "We're going to go to conference on this bill and we'll get it figured out."

But some are questioning the validity of the Heartland Institute's report. Empower Missouri, a welfare-rights organization, issued a statement saying the way the institute distributed points for diversion programming was skewed since states with only a few diversion cases still get the full 100 points. Missouri gets zero points in that category because it does not have a diversion program.

And as Diehl, Franklin and Sater were discussing the report card and bill, a group in opposition of the bill gathered inside the Capitol to call for Medicaid expansion. One woman said she sees expansion as the solution to a moral crisis.

"We want to let the Senate and the House, we want to let the legislature know before they leave for spring break that they are leaving perhaps their most important piece of work this year undone," said Reverend Molly Housh Gordon. "And we need them to come back and have the debate and expand Medicaid and save lives."

The Senator responsible for Missouri being the only state without a prescription drug monitoring program has agreed to support the bill this year.

The bill, which Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph has filibustered in the past, would require Missouri pharmacists to record prescriptions for drugs that have a high potential of abuse on a database.

During debate in the Senate, Schaaf said he agreed to support the bill on the floor, but would not vote for it.

Senators who oppose the legislation are concerned about the database being hacked, which is the reason why Republicans are divided on the bill.

"This is certainly not a free market, individual sovereignty, individual liberty, Republican principle bill," said Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County.

The database will controlled by and only accessible to the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD) with the hope of tracking individuals who are abusing prescription drugs.

"This bill will cut down on a lot of excessive drug usage by way of legal prescription drugs," said Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City.

The bill also requires the database to notify the pharmacist and the BNDD if a patient has a suspicious drug prescription pattern.

"It's gotten better and better over the various iterations," said Schaaf. "I think now we have something that the state of Missouri, in comparison to other states, can be very proud of. We're protecting our citizen's liberty much better than any other state is protecting theirs."

Legislation changing rules for welfare and food stamps is back in the Senate after the House passed its version of the bill Monday.

The life-time limit to be on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, would be adjusted from the current five years to two, causing families to receive $2,700 less a year as well as food stamps.

The bill the Senate passed would change the amount of time to be on government assistance to four years, and the House version is two.

The restrictions will not only be on TANF but also Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP, or commonly known as food stamps.

The food stamp program would require those receiving them to be searching for a job, have a job, or working on their education.

Those who are in support of cutting the life-time limit say that government assistance is called temporary for a reason.

“It is not meant for years and years, not meant for two or three years and not meant for five,” Rep. John McCharety, R- St.Louis County said.

Lawmakers opposing the bill said that Missourians in poverty will lose benefits.

"Over sight estimated that 4,700 people will lose benefits, that's alot of hungry people," Rep. Sue Allen R-St.Louis County said. 

This bill was approved by the Senate and the House has improved it.

Director of the Missouri Department of Mental Health, or DMH, Dr. Keith Schafer will be retiring this summer, ending his second tenure at the helm of the department.

Schafer has ran DMH since 2007. He previously lead the department from 1986-1994.

In a statement, Schafer thanked those he has worked with over the years.

“I have always felt that public service is the noblest of professions,” said Schafer. “My greatest satisfaction has been to take part in shaping a lasting system change that makes a difference in the lives of the individuals DMH serves.”

The search for a successor will begin March 20.

The Missouri House advanced legislation requiring high school students to take the same test immigrants take prior to becoming citizens.

The legislation would remove a current statute requiring high school seniors to take an exam about the U.S. and Missouri Constitutions. Instead, they will take an exam similar to the test taken by naturalized citizens.

One more vote is needed to send the bill to the Senate.

The Missouri Senate Education committee heard testimony on bills that would require high school students to pass an exam given to immigrants in order to graduate.

The bills revise current Missouri law that requires high school seniors to take an exam about the U.S. and Missouri Constitutions. Instead, they will take an exam similar to the test taken by naturalized citizens.

The civics test is designed by the United States government. The tests required by current law are produced by the state.

Sen. Jeanie Riddle, R-Callaway County, is the sponsor one of the bills. She said this bill takes the future of this country into account.

"For our government to function properly for years to come, our children and grandchildren must be active and knowledgeable participants," Riddle said. "If the citizens of this state and country choose not to be knowledgeable or at least active participants then our government will never be of the people, by the people, and for the people."

The test is one hundred questions and a passing grade of at least 60 percent is required.

Retired social studies teacher Bill Erling said he doesn't think the tests need to be changed. 

"This test is designed for immigrants who are just learning our culture," Erling said. "It was not designed for most students who have lived in the United States all of their lives. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service test does not require any knowledge of Missouri's Constitution. We have that requirement now. If we adopt this law that will go by the wayside." 

The Senate committee took no action on the bills.

The Senate Judiciary committee passed three bills onto the Senate floor that would change when a police officer can use deadly force.

Currently in Missouri a cop can kill a fleeing suspect.

"It is not everything that I thank needs to be in there," Sen. Committee Leader Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, said. "Nor my colleagues. But we do not want this bill to sit in committee over spring break and we don't really have time to get into making the bill what it ought to be today."

Sen. Scott Sifton, D-St. Louis County, said he agreed with Dixon but also said more work needs to be done.

"We do have more work to do on it," Sifton said. "The bill that's before the committee now, in my view, does not do that. But I think we need to continue the discussion. This bill needs to get to the floor."

The bill passed with a six to zero vote.

The Senate Judiciary committee heard testimony from three Missourians who are in favor of a bill that would make it a felony for an adult to provide alcohol to a minor.

One mother, Nancy Elliott, told the story of her teenage son Austin who died in a drunk driving accident.

"My son passed my house nine minutes before he was killed," Elliott said.

On May 23, 2014 Elliott said she received a phone call around 10:30 p.m. informing her of an accident.

"That moment something just didn't set right," Elliott said. "And I jumped and I couldn't get a hold of my son, and that was odd."

Elliott's son was riding in the car of a friend who had been drinking.

The driver had been provided alcohol from two adults.

Currently in Missouri it is a misdemeanor for an adult to provide alcohol to a minor.

"I can go out and write a five hundred dollar bad check and get a felony," said Elliott. "But they can go out and kill, and get a misdemeanor."

Two different sheriff's from two different Missouri counties testified in favor of the bill.

"Our young people do not have the ability to drink responsibly," said Ozark County Sheriff Darrin Reed. "And without hurting themselves or others."

When asked by a committee member if this bill would be used by prosecutors and law enforcement officers Reed agreed.

"I think it would be a very valuable tool," said Reed. "To the prosecutors and the law enforcement across the state of Missouri."

No one testified in opposition of the bill.

The committee took no immediate action.

The House gave their initial approval to a bill Tuesday, Mar. 17 that would prevent cities from imposing plastic bag bans or fees and that would give a retailer the option of providing a paper or plastic bag.

Rep. Dan Shaul, R-Jefferson County, sponsored the bill and says the bill does four things.

He says the bill allows consumers to decide what type of bag they want, retailers to run their business as they see fit, the consumer having ultimate control, and the consumer going in with $20 and coming out with $20 worth of groceries because they don't have to pay a fee for a bag.

Rep. Mary Nichols, D-St. Louis County, said Shaul's bill is a bad idea.

"It would be a very bad idea to ban the banning of plastic bags and thereby making them a protected class," Nichols said.

However, one of Nichols' fellow Democrats supported the measure, saying consumers should have choice.

"We should have choice: paper, plastic reusable," Rep. Alan Green, D-St. Louis County, said. "I'm speaking in favor of this bill because it's what we as a people decide."

The bill has become a hot topic of debate because the city of Columbia proposed a ban of single-use plastic bags, but the proposed ban with withdrawn because city staff said they needed more time to educate the public about the issue.

The bill was given initial approval by a voice vote and must receive one more vote before it goes to the Senate.

The House endorsed a bill Tuesday, Mar. 17 that would allow religious student organizations on college campuses to select their members based on their organization's religious beliefs.

Rep. Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, sponsored the bill and said the bill is intended to protect the viewpoints of religious minorities.

"At the end of the day, the freedom of association on college campuses allows those people to associate together with common interests," Haahr said. "And if you take that away, what you do is that you ruin that minority viewpoint. You basically force upon them the tyranny of a majoritarian viewpoint."

Democrats spoke in opposition to the bill, accusing Haahr and Republicans of interjecting themselves in a college or university's affairs.

"You talk about local control," St. Louis Democrat Mike Colona told Haahr. "You want to trust your colleges and universities to do the right thing. Now you want to pass a law that tells colleges and universities 'that's okay, let your religious organizations discriminate by race, creed, national origin, gender, or age.'"

Rep. Kevin Corlew, R-Kansas City, supports the bill and said organizations need to be protected in what people they accept.

"Without a policy that properly respects and protects associational rights, students with opposing beliefs could take over a belief-based group simply by overwhelming the vote," Corlew said. He specifically cited examples of a climate change skeptic joining an environmental group or a Muslim group leader suddenly converting to Judaism.

After an hour-long debate, the bill was given initial approval by voice vote.

Rep. Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, sponsored the bill and says there's no reason why Missouri can't become a leader when it comes to ridding the world of human trafficking.

"It sends a message that we will do everything that we can in our power to prevent this from continuing to occur," Haahr said.

The measure enjoyed bipartisan support from Democrats like Rep. Tracy McCreery of St. Louis County.

"It truly is a nonpartisan issue that we can get behind," she said.

Haahr's bill would ban the advertisement of children participating in a commercial sexual act.

Similar legislation was introduced on the federal level by Missouri Congresswoman Ann Wagner, but it is being held up in the Senate over some anti-abortion language.

Haahr's bill was perfected by voice vote and must receive one more vote of the full House before it goes to the Senate.

Only hours before Missouri could execute its second person this year, the Senate gave initial approval to a bill that would have the state auditor conduct a one-time cost analysis of the death penalty.

The proposed measure would instruct the auditor to look at ten or more first degree murder cases filed on or after January 1, 1990 and compare those with an equal number of cases where the death penalty was used.

The amendment with this provision was proposed by Sen. Joseph Keaveny, D-St. Louis City. He used both Nevada and California as examples of how much the death penalty can cost a state.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said he personally doesn't believe the studies that are out there claiming that the death penalty costs more than alternatives.

He also added that he doesn't think cost should be a factor at all when determining whether or not Missouri should allow the death penalty.

But Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Dependence, said he thinks the amendment would add clarity to the death penalty process for both the General Assembly and the public.

Later, Schaefer noted that Keaveny's amendment would only consider legal costs and not other costs, such as what it would cost to house and provide medical treatment for someone serving life without parole.

He then proposed his own amendment to the amendment to include consideration of these additional costs.

Keaveny's amendment passed along with Schaefer's and the bill was perfected.

Gender pay equality was discussed during a Senate Small Business Committee hearing Tuesday, March 17, and received overwhelming witness support.

Sponsored by Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, the measure would require the Department of Labor to create guidelines involving gender equality in salaries and wages.

"The guidelines will include, but not limited to, what gender pay equality is, why gender pay inequality happens, the benefit of gender pay equality and how to achieve gender pay equality," LeVota said.

The measure received great support from the witnesses who testified at the hearing. Among them was a representative from the Attorney General's Office and Wendy Doyle, executive director of the Women's Foundation of Greater Kansas City.

Doyle said the Women's Foundation worked with the University of Missouri's Truman School of Public Affairs to analyze census data concerning gender pay inequality.

"With few exceptions, this income gap persists across all racial and ethic groups, age, educational level and occupation," Doyle said.

The only witness in opposition to the measure was Ray McCarty, president of Associated Industries of Missouri.

"We want to be in opposition of the bill because we feel it's unnecessary," McCarty said. "This bill, if it truly is establishing guidelines, these guidelines could be set up right now by the Department of Labor or really any private group that wants to take it on."

As is customary upon first reading, the committee took no immediate action on the bill.

Just two weeks after U.S. Sen. John Danforth eulogized state Auditor Tom Schweich and called for an end to political bullying, the House Elections Committee heard a bill that would prohibit candidates from knowingly publicizing lies about an opponent.

The bill, if passed, would establish the Political Accountability in Campaigning Act. The act would allow courts to issue an injunction to prevent the publication of false statements. A candidate who violates the act would be forced to publicly retract the statement via the same media used to make the false statement.

An eligible voter, prosecutor or the Attorney General may also seek damages from a candidate violating the act. If a claim is successful, the amount awarded to a state official would go to local schools. Otherwise, a maximum of $20,000 in damages would be awarded to the person bringing forth the claim.

The bill does not limit any actions for defamation, libel or slander.

This is Rep. Joe Don McGaugh's third year sponsoring the bill. He said although the issue is not new, he welcomes the conversations that may result from the events surrounding Schweich's death.

"I think Auditor Schweich's death brings us to the forefront like it or not," said McGaugh, R-Carrollton. "And I think having a wild west mentality about campaigning is bad for voters, voter turnout and people engaged in the political process."

Several representatives on the committee expressed their support for the bill. Rep. Bill Kidd, R-Jackson County, even thanked McGaugh for his work.

"Thank you, representative, I appreciate you doing this since I have access to a corporate jet, hate children and want our money to go to California," said Kidd. "Just some of the few little things that I've been accused of. I would sure like to have that corporate jet for spring break."

Not all, however, are in favor of the bill. Sarah Rossi, director of Advocacy and Policy at the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, testified against the bill. She said it's purely a constitutional issue for the ACLU.

"You can't mandate truthfulness," she said. "The government can't decide what is true and false in political ads. It's a free speech issue. It's black and white. Again, I wish a lot of things would stop happening but the government can't decide what people can and cannot say."

The Senate advanced legislation prohibiting Gov. Jay Nixon from re-issuing bonds to pay for a new stadium for the St. Louis Rams.

Kansas City Republican Sen. Ryan Silvey sponsored the amendment and similar legislation on the issue.

"My concern was that we don't allow any process to circumvent this process on the underlying bill," He said.

The bill allows the state to issue bonds to pay for the renovation of buildings currently owned by the state, such as the state Capitol.

One more vote is required before the bill heads to the House.

Legislation before a House committee would allow Missourians to learn more about their adopted parents was met with opposition Monday Mar. 16.

Rep.Joe Don McGaugh, R-Carrollton, sponsored the bill and said the bill would equalize the privacy between parent and adopted child. He also said it would protect the privacy of birth parents and releasing necessary information.

McGaugh said that individuals would need more than their birth certificate to learn about lineage and family medical issues following opposition wanting a birth certificate.

Birth parent Judy Bock said the bill is cumbersome and wastes valuable time. Bock also said that those involved should control the access given to them.

"The power to determine their own lives should be the right of adopted person, and they should be granted easy access to their original birth certificates without mandated consent."

Much of opposition to the bill was in areas that were not related to the current bill.

Ina Lewis said, "HB 1112 would push back progress and it is time rectify outdated laws."

Supporters of the bill said it would help those wanting to reach out to their birth parents to learn more about the families medical history.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said he supports an audit of the Highway Patrol to determine the numbers they submitted for Ferguson overtime payments are correct.

Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, asked Schaefer if there was any way to ensure the numbers submitted by the Highway Patrol were accurate, which brought up the discussion of an audit.

"So when the Ferguson ordeal is all said and done, will that all be audited?" Parson asked. "At some point, can it be?"

"I think that's discretionary for the auditor," Schaefer said. "We can certainly ask for that to be audited. It should be audited."

Schaefer said without an audit, there is no system of verification to determine the numbers submitted are accurate.

"We have to take them at their word that those numbers that we got are the numbers," Schaefer said. "And we have to do that on every one of those budget lines because we don't have any independent verification or auditing on anything."

Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, criticized Gov. Jay Nixon Monday Mar. 16 for a lack of transparency in his past budget recommendations while discussing the House's budget proposal that would match funding for state disaster relief organizations.

Specifically, Schaefer slammed Nixon's decision to omit concrete dollar amounts from his budget.

"The governor just keeps giving us this line with a one-dollar E," Schaefer said. "And I think all of us agree that's not transparent."

Schaefer told the committee it would be better to set an official amount and adjust as needed to prevent anyone from being misled about the budget.

"It looks like you're spending one dollar, when in reality, you're spending $223 million," Schaefer said.

Last Week

After two St. Louis County police officers were shot during protests outside the Ferguson Police Department, several senators reflected on the sacrifices that the state's police officers have made during the recent events in Ferguson.

"While certain facets of the law enforcement response to Ferguson have themselves been the subject of scrutiny and even criticism, it's absolutely clear that we as a state owe these officers an enormous debt of gratitude for all they have sacrificed and done to keep the public safe," said Scott Sifton, D-St. Louis County.

Sifton concluded his speech by calling on both lawmakers and the state as a whole to remember Martin Luther King Jr.'s teachings of nonviolence and peaceful protests.

Sen. Gina Walsh also shared her thoughts on the shootings. Walsh comes from a law enforcement family.

"It was a crime of opportunity to take a shot at these people that are trying to bring peace to the St. Louis County area," said Walsh, D-St. Louis County. "And I hope that we all when we go home this weekend, we hug our kids and our grandkids and we think about those folks lying in the hospital there and what their families are going through this weekend."

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed added she would keep her thoughts and prayers on the two officers. She called the attack "cowardly" and said she expects a swift investigation to bring the shooters to justice.

"And for that senseless act of violence to occur during a time that we have seen so much progress throughout the months due to the Ferguson situation, its appalling," said Nasheed, D-St. Louis City.

The wounds suffered by the two police officers are serious, but non-life threatening. They have been released from the hospital.

The Senate passed a bill Thursday, Mar. 12 that would limit the amount of damages a person can collect from medical malpractice lawsuits.

If made into law, the bill would cap the amount awarded for personal injury to $400,000. For catastrophic injury and death, the limit would be $700,000.

"The final version of Senate Bill 239 might not be the bill that I would file, but it is a bill that will be getting my vote today," said Sen. Scott Sifton, D-St. Louis County. "And I would encourage members of the body to support it."

The bill was passed 28-2 and will now head to the House.

The House passed its version of the state's budget on Thursday, Mar. 12 after a long and sometimes contentious debate over education and Medicaid expansion.

On Tuesday, House Republicans voted down an amendment that would've expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Republicans like Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, say the existing system is already broken.

"The decisions we make today are going to have impacts on future General Assemblies, on future citizens of the state of Missouri and they're not all going to be positive if we expand Medicaid," Fitzpatrick said. "It's a broken system, it needs fixing... but expanding it and just hoping things are going to get better for everybody isn't the way we need to go."

Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-St. Louis County, says her experience with the current system when she was a staff member in the Senate in 2005 wasn't a good one.

She says the Republicans supposedly fixed the system 10 years ago, but it really isn't fixed.

"If it's broken, who broke it?" McCreery asked. "And if it's broken, you [Republicans] have a super-majority in this chamber. Why can't you fix it? You can do anything you want."

Another item of contention was the School Foundation Funding Formula.

Democrats charged the Republicans are underfunding it because they're giving away millions of dollars a year in tax breaks, but Republicans fired back, saying they put more money into the formula than Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon did in his budget.

"I think it's a bit disheartening for folks to get up and say that we're not doing something while offering no real, relevant, functional solutions by which to do the things that they're speaking about," Columbia Republican Rep. Caleb Rowden said. "It's really really easy to lob bombs. It's a little bit harder to govern."

At the end of the budget debate, Fitzpatrick said Nixon should be happy with the budget the House passed.

"I just ask the governor to take this budget seriously," Fitzpatrick said. "We are passing a budget that I don't think he's going to need to withhold from."

House Assistant Democratic Leader Gail McCann-Beatty, D-Kansas City, said Republicans can't fully fund education for one reason.

"As long as we continue to see tax cuts and increases in tax credits and nothing done to increase revenues, we're going to be able to fund our foundation formula," she said. 

All 13 House-passed budget bills now move to the Senate.

Three senators and two House members called on Missouri Republican Party chairman John Hancock to resign from his leadership post.

The call for his resignation on Thursday, Mar. 12 comes just two weeks after State Auditor Tom Schweich committed suicide at his home in Clayton.

Sens. David Pearce, Mike Parson, and Gary Romine were present at the news conference as well as Reps. Bill White and Jim Neely.

Pearce said Hancock needs to go.

"The reason why we're asking for change is because the party is not working," Pearce said. "Our chairman has not responded to media calls, not offered a new direction, and really has been more interested in keeping his job than in leading in the party."

Hancock launched a media blitz Thursday, doing a lengthy interview on KMOX in St. Louis before doing interviews with many other media outlets throughout the day.

"Now's the time to unify the party, not divide it," Hancock said on KMOX.

Sen. Mike Parson gave an impassioned speech on the Senate floor just days after Schweich died and he repeated his calls for the end to politics as usual.

"We have let this thing get out of hand, what I believe, the politics in this state," Parson said. "And it's going to be up to some of us to show leadership and to be able to somehow make sure that we get politics back in some orderly fashion."

Hancock called out the members who asked him to resign.

"It's disappointing that some fellow Republicans have jumped to conclusions before the truth has been fully revealed," Hancock said on the radio.

Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin, said the Republican Party must rise up and not allow dirty politics in to their party.

"We need to tell our own candidates, our own operatives: this is not going to happen in our party anymore," White said. "We're not going to do this kind of advertising, we're not going to run these kind of smear campaigns. We need to be the ones to say we're not doing it."

Pearce said two to three additional senators would have joined the press conference, but they could not due to scheduling conflicts.

The Missouri Supreme Court transferred all Ferguson municipal court cases to Eastern District Appellate Judge Roy Richter in an effort to "help restore public trust and confidence," in Ferguson's courts, according to a press release.

The transfer came one day before the Ferguson City Council voted to remove City Manager John Shaw from his post.

Two days after the case transfers were announced, Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson resigned from his position.

"Judge Richter will bring a fresh, disinterested perspective to this court’s practices and he is able and willing to implement needed reforms," Chief Justice Mary R. Russell said in a press release.

The court has authorized Richter to, "implement needed reforms to court policies and procedures in Ferguson to ensure that the rights of defendants are respected and to help restore the integrity of the system."

Representatives serving on the House Health and Mental Health Policy committee heard testimony on a bill that would change current law that determines when the Department of Health is required to make records regarding the rate of infections public.

House Staff Member Chris Dunn is working with bill sponsor Rep. Sue Allen, R-St. Louis County. He said Allen reported a statistic in the hearing that requires the attention this bill provides.

"I think [Allen] said about 75,000 people a year die from a hospital acquired infection," Dunn said. "And hospitals don't want that to get out, and I'm not trying to beat up hospitals, but they don't want that to get out. If you find out that a hospital isn't doing a good job with preventing infections, you won't go to that hospital. If you don't go to that hospital, they lose money."

The bill includes provisions that detail which types of infections require reporting. The bill would expand the list of infections that require reporting to include those associated with c-section and vaginal birth, hip and knee replacements and hysterectomies including abdominal, vaginal, and laparoscopic.

Ventilator associated events and central-line related bloodstream infections must also be reported.

The Attorney General's office is appealing a Cole County judge's ruling that struck down the state's agreement with a group providing Common Core testing supplies.

The release states the case does not affect already scheduled Spring 2015 assessments.

The decision to remain a member of the group has been criticized by Republicans including House Speaker John Diehl, R-St. Louis County, who said the House will vote this session to de-fund the agreement.

The Missouri Black Caucus held a news conference Wednesday afternoon to express their frustration with House Speaker John Diehl, R-St. Louis County, for what they called his lack of commitment to legislation dealing with issues relating to the unrest in Ferguson and the death of black teenager Michael Brown.

Missouri Black Caucus chairman Rep. Brandon Ellington, D-Jackson County, said Diehl's decision not to assign seven bills filed that deal with issues brought to the forefront by the unrest in Ferguson could send a bad message to nation and world.

"Missouri is sending out a message that we're racist and we don't care." Ellington said.

He also said while legislation filed by Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, changing the amount of money cities can bring in through court fees is good, it does not address the underlying problems in the state. That legislation passed the Senate in early-February.

It has not been assigned to a committee in the House.

Diehl addressed the Caucus' concerns in a statement released Wednesday afternoon.

"I am disappointed with the inaccuracies reflected in the comments made by Rep. Ellington," Diehl said. "As I said in January, we will have all bills dealing with this important issue referred before the legislative spring break. As they move through the process, we will weigh their merits with a reasoned approach based on facts, not emotion."

The bill aimed to release a man who is serving a life in prison for marijuana charges has added an amendment that would make him eligible for parole.

Jeff Mizanskey is currently serving life in prison for three marijuana-related felony drug convictions.

The House Corrections Committee discussed the bill Wednesday Mar. 10.

The committee approved an amendment that would give the state parole board the jurisdiction to release Mizanskey.

Committee chair Rep. Paul Fitzwater, R-Potosi, said he was not sure if the committee would have the authority to release Mizanskey.

"I'm not sure if it's constitutional and we have the power to release an inmate like this," Fitzwater said.

The board would also have to grant Mizanskey parole within 30 days of the bill becoming law.

Fitzwater also said since new criminal code is going into effect in 2017, this bill would only apply to Mizanskey.

A bill legalizing cannabis for medical purposes passed the House Emerging Issues Wednesday, Mar. 11 by a 10-1 vote.

The legislation sets up a mechanism for the state to tax and regulate businesses which would grow marijuana, caps the number of growers and dispensaries while allowing doctors to prescribe cannabis when needed.

Missouri lawmakers voted to approve the use of hemp oil last year for medical purposes. Several states, including Illinois, legalized medical marijuana. Washington state, Washington D.C. and Colorado have decriminalized the use of cannabis.

A new bill introduced in the Missouri Senate seeks to eliminate racial profiling by Missouri police in light of the death of black teenager Michael Brown.

Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, sponsored the bill and said she filed the legislation in light of the events that occurred in Ferguson.

"It was a devastating point in Missouri history, and in our countries history," said Chappelle-Nadal. "Right now we are the embarrassment of the country. As people are making policies and are interacting with similar situations everyone is learning from the Ferguson experience. They always say let's not do what they did in Ferguson."

The bill would create definitions for certain words already inside a state law mandating how police officers write reports. The bill would also require police to include more information about pedestrian stops, which is not covered under current law.

The bill also requires every law enforcement agencies to conduct yearly reports from their officers to see if individual officers have patterns of stopping or arresting minorities.

Chappelle-Nadal was joined by member of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Don't Shoot Coalition and Veterans For Peace. The three groups support her legislation.

"One of the things we have to understand is we have to deal with the legacy of racism," said Michael McPhearson, the executive director of Veterans For Peace. "So we have to deal with that legacy within the framework of the laws. But we also have to deal with that racism within the framework of how we socialize and relate to each other as people."

The legislation has not yet been assigned to a committee. Chappelle-Nadal told reporters she hopes Senate leaders take her bill serious. Sens. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, and Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, have also filed legislation dealing with police conduct.

Get the bill.

A bill that would set a cap the amount of damages someone can receive from being injured by a doctor has been perfected.

Tuesday evening the bill was largely debated on the Senate floor by Sen. Scott Sifton, D-St. Louis County, and Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, the bills sponsor.

Sifton said he wanted to be sure that the bill that was perfected was one that would be beneficial, not harmful.

"The last thing we want to do is have something leave this chamber," Sifton said. "Become law, and have immediate unintended consequences that have everybody back the next year trying to fix the problem we just caused."

In order to pass the bill Brown agreed to increasing the malpractice cap to $700,000.

"Never had I agreed to that number before," Brown said. "I don't think it's the right move, but I'm hoping this gives some certainty."

The bill needs one more vote before the Senate before it can be sent to the House.

The Senate debated a bill Tuesday, Mar. 10 that would establish when and under what circumstances an expert witness can testify in court.

However, multiple senators from both parties filibustered the bill after it came up again during the Senate's evening session.

Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, sponsored the bill.

"Currently, we use a standard called the Frye decision recognizing that the trial judges have the responsibility to act as gatekeepers to exclude unreliable expert testimony," Kehoe said.

Kehoe wants Missouri to change to another standard.

"Forty states have now adopted the Daubert... Standard to use in their court systems," Kehoe said. "All of our surrounding states with the exception Illinois now use this standard and Missourians who have appeared in front of the federal court are already operating under the standard. So, It's only the state court that has not adopted it yet."

The Daubert Standard determines whether an expert witnesses' testimony can be used in a federal court preceding.

Sen. Jill Schupp, D-St. Louis County, offered an amendment that urged the Senate to allow the expert's expertise in the expert's opinion rather than the testimony itself.

Schupp then asked Sen. Scott Sifton, D-St. Louis County, about the amendment and what effect it would have.

"What the underlying bill does is it deletes from current statute the existing expert witness standard and inserts the federal standard," Sifton said. "What your amendment would appear to do is modify that insertion of the federal standard by reinserting part of the existing state standard."

Schupp also pointed out how the long delay of the case would affect the plaintiffs and their financial position especially in domestic violence cases.

"My concern that if those cases are coming forward, the time delay, the expense delay, sometimes there is one person in that relationship who controls the purse strings and may also be the person who is perpetrating the acts of domestic violence," Schupp said.

Schupp's amendment was ultimately defeated during the filibuster that ran until midnight when the bill was laid over.

The House gave first-round approval Tuesday, Mar. 10 to its $26 billion budget that includes nearly $5.8 billion for K-12 education and $1.26 billion for higher education.

But what the House didn't put in its budget left more than a few members unhappy.

One such item the House didn't include is an expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Rep. Judy Morgan, D-Kansas City, offered an amendment to expand Medicaid and said this is personal to her.

"As a member of the minority party, I lose on more votes than I would like, but not winning on Medicaid expansion is one of the most heartbreaking ones for me," Morgan said.

Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said the current Medicaid system is broken, so the state should not create a new one.

"The reality that we deal with in this body... is that there is a growing monster in our state that is starving the life out of our general revenue and that is our current Medicaid population," Rowden said.

The House defeated Morgan's amendment by a 115-44 margin.

Another item left out of the budget is a pay raise for state employees.

The House's budget isn't the only budget that doesn't include such a pay raise.

Gov. Jay Nixon and the Senate don't include a pay increase either.

Engler chastised his fellow members for not helping state employees.

"Last year, we came up with a whole one percent and then we couldn't deliver it until the end of the year," Engler said. "For the past almost 10 years, we haven't even come up with a raise that kept up with the deductible part of the insurance for the state employees."

Rep. Jon Carpenter, D-Clay County, said state employees should blame the legislature's lack of frugality with the funds they're given.

Carpenter said the reason Missouri's employees are the lowest paid in the nation is because "this body over and over again has made the decision that we are not going to preserve revenues necessary to give them a raise."

After five hours of debate, the House approved all 13 of their budget bills by voice vote.

The Senate Small Business Committee met Tuesday, Mar. 10 in a completely packed hearing room to discuss the bill. Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, is the bill supporter and gave a full-throated defense of his legislation.

"Unions argue that the benefits of union membership justify workers to pay the dues," Brown said. "They argue that states with lower union membership have significantly lower wages. And the facts, as we'll see in testimonies, show that those statistics just are not true."

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay testified in opposition to the bill.

"I'm very, very proud that St. Louis is a strong union town," Slay said. "It's one that has outstanding union leadership."

The committee heard many from other opponents of right to work during the nearly three-hour debate. They said unions help provide better wages, superior health care and pension benefits.

Mark Sweeney of McCallum Sweeney Consulting testified for informational purposes. His company is a location consulting firm focusing on manufacturing and industrial clients.

"We help our clients make the most informed decisions to go to the location that best meets their strategic and operational needs," Sweeney said. "The vast majority, certainly well over 75 or 80 percent, of our manufacturing clients express a preference for operating in a non-union facility."

Sweeney said that clients often will limit their location searches to only states with similar right to work legislation in place.

As is customary upon its first reading, the committee took no immediate action on the bill.

Regulations for legal lenders in Missouri were the subject of a Monday hearing of the House Banking Committee.

The committee heard testimony on three bills that would place new regulations on businesses that offer loans to help cover costs associated with lawsuits, like court and attorney fees. This is the third year in a row legislation has been filed relating to legal lenders in Missouri. Current legislation would, if passed, require civil justice lenders to registers with the state and standardize contracts between consumers and legal lenders.

This is the second year in a row that legislation has been filed concerning the issue.

One of the bills -- sponsored by Rep. Don Gosen, R-Ballwin -- would ban the loans outright.

Two other bills -- one sponsored by Rep. Tony Dugger, R-Hartville and another sponsored by Rep. Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield -- would regulate the industry by creating uniform font sizes and require lenders to disclose certain information like the loan's interest rate.

The main difference between the two bills it that Haahr's legislation requires a cap on interest rates. Dugger's does not have a cap.

No immediate action was taken relating to the three bills.

Missouri welfare programs that distribute temporary unemployment benefits would have new requirements if legislation is passed by the House.

The House Children and Families Committee heard four different bills each pertaining to the state's welfare program and different aspects of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The bills would allow benefits for food-stamp recipients without dependants to expire and prohibit the use of an electronic benefit transfer card at an ATM.

Rep. Diane Franklin, R-Camdenton, sponsored one of the bills that would decrease the lifetime limit that a person is eligible to receive temporary assistance from five years to two years.

"The state is not the end all to helping people move from a point where they need a helping hand to being in the workforce," Franklin said. "We can only provide so many dollars and so much time and so much face-to-face."

One of the bills that the committee heard has already been passed by the Senate.

This bill would require the Department of Social Services to conduct an investigation in order to determine if a person within a household that is receiving TANF benefits is cooperating with the work requirement.

Under the bill the person would have to be actively searching for work or participating in certain work activities.

The bill would also establish an orientation, conducted by Department of Social Services, in order to inform families of the program's benefits and new requirements.

"My objective is to have a program that is efficient, encourages people back to work and makes people self sufficient and not dependent on the federal government," said David Sater, R-Cassville, who sponsored the bill. "This is a temporary assistance to needy families, not a permanent assistance to needy families. We want them on their own."

Those who testified in opposition of the bills at the committee hearing said they were concerned about the effect these bills would have on the children of the families.

Amira Wyatt with Operation Breakthrough has experienced the need for temporary assistance.

"It is increasingly hard to support a family and truly support a family," said Wyatt. "You do fell like you're being penalized for trying to be a productive citizen. At what point can we change that?"

Members of the Missouri House heard testimony regarding the costs of building a new stadium in order to keep the St. Louis Rams in St. Louis.

The House Government Oversight and Accountability Committee heard testimony from Dave Peacock who was appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon to do a 60-day analysis of the Rams situation.

Peacock said if there is no firm stadium plan by the end of the year, there would be a high risk of losing the Rams to California.

Committee Chairman Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, said the state needs to be careful not to pick "winners or losers."

Barnes said Missouri's legislators need to work for its taxpayers rather than take care of a private industry.

If a new stadium is built in St. Louis, Peacock said it should be Super Bowl eligible.

A Super Bowl eligible stadium meets the NFL's 72,000-seat requirement and could bring more revenue to the state.

Barnes said the Rams currently have the lowest operating income in the league and the value of a team in Los Angeles is likely higher than the value of a team in St. Louis.