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MPANewsBook: Statehouse News for MPA Members: 10/19/2009 - Archived File

The Department of Natural Resources failed to protect the public from high levels of bacteria in lakes across the state, Gov. Jay Nixon said in a news conference Oct. 16.

An internal investigation of the Department of Natural Resources revealed several cases in recent years when the department failed to close state beaches even though E. coli levels were above the state standard, Nixon said. This includes 14 cases since 2005 when the public should have been notified of high E. coli levels.

At the conference Nixon reinstated the department's director, Mark Templeton, who had been suspended for two weeks during the investigation. Nixon also rescinded the nomination of the department's former deputy director, Joe Bindbeutel, to a state commission.

In July The Kansas City Star reported that department officials had failed to alert the public about dangerously high bacteria levels at the Lake of the Ozarks for almost a month.

After months of denying his office knew of the bacteria levels, Nixon recently announced that two of his top aids knew about the report but did not inform him. At the Oct. 16 news conference Nixon said no one else in his office will be punished.

Nixon also said the department had failed to inform the public of multiple sewage discharges into the Lake of the Ozarks. He provided a list of discharges, which showed levels far exceeding the stateÔ019s standard for the amount of sewage a waste-water treatment facility is allowed to discharge during the summer.

Earlier in the week Senate Commerce Committee chairman Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, said a "cover-up had been underway" at the department relating to the E. coli matter.

The Senate Commerce Committee is conducting an investigation -- separate from the department's internal investigation -- into information failures within the department.

Lager said the department has made it impossible to sift through over 500,000 documents, including e-mails, internal memos and other communication, relating to the E. coli levels.

"Someone made a decision to, instead of giving (e-mails) electronically, to go and print every one" and to have them scanned back in, Lager said. The department "specifically asked the vendor to not make them searchable. That's even before we talk about that someone decided to hold 5,000 e-mails they decided we didn't need to see."

Lager has indicated that the state attorney general's office should consider appointing special investigators to review the natural resources department.

Story from earlier in the week about Lager's cover-up claims. [ ]

A Missouri branch of the American Civil Liberties Union threatened to file suit against two towns' efforts to crack down on production of methamphetamine.

Earlier this year, the town of Washington in eastern Missouri adopted an ordinance requiring a prescription to purchase any cold medicine that contains pseudoephedrine -- a key ingredient in the production of methamphetamine. And on Tuesday, Union, also in Franklin County, adopted a similar ordinance.

Now these ordinances are under attack from the ACLU.

The legal director for the ACLU of Eastern Missouri, Anthony Rothert, said the recent actions taken by these cities to make pseudoephedrine only available by prescription are an "overreach of government power."

Pseudoephedrine is used in some over-the-counter cold medicines like Sudafed.

Get the complete story here. [ ]

With the first waves of flu season hitting Missouri, the state Department of Health and Senior Services has set up a 24-hour phone line for people who have questions.

Missouri residents can call a new toll-free number for information about the H1N1 flu, from symptoms and basic medical advice to the availability of the new H1N1 vaccine.

According to a department news release, the number, 1-877-FLU-4141 (1-877-358-4141), will be answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Specialists will answer questions about flu symptoms, when to seek medical care and ways to limit the spread of the flu, including the new vaccine. Medical professionals will also be available to assist the specialists with callersÔ019 questions.

According to the Missouri weekly influenza report for the week ending Oct. 10, 114 cases of the H1N1 flu strain were reported in the state.

Go here for maps of flu cases by county [ ] .

According to a Missouri Conservation Department news release, hunters checked 1,242 deer during the urban portion of Missouri's firearms deer season.

During the 4 day urban portion, hunters were encouraged to shoot female deer around the state's main urban areas. The harvest consisted of 80 percent does.

It is more difficult to control the deer population in the St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield and Columbia-Jefferson City areas because hunting is less common.

Boone County had the largest harvest with 247 deer checked.

Other major harvests included:

The 2009 urban harvest was nearly double last year's number. The department said this was due to unseasonably warm weather, when deer were less likely to move around and be seen.

(Missouri Department of Conservation photo)
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+ Missouri to receive 20,000 doses of Swine Flu vaccine [Entered: 10/07/2009]

As the health care debate rages across the U.S., President Barack Obama's plan for expanding the use of electronic medical records is being met with skepticism in Missouri.

Supporters see electronic medical records as a major money-saving device that could transform America's health care system, but many health professionals, including several physicians in the Missouri legislature, doubt the technology could deliver the promised savings.

The federal stimulus package provides $19 billion in assistance for doctors and hospitals to ditch their paper systems in favor of electronic record keeping.

Obama has said much of his $900 billion plan can be paid for through changes to the health care system, including $80 billion from switching to electronic medical records.

To get funding, a hospital or doctor's office must use a certified computer record-keeping program that includes a patient's medical history, allows physicians to order tests and write prescriptions, and interfaces with other systems.

Although there is significant support for the switch from a variety of groups, the president's estimation on the amount electronic medical records would save has drawn skepticism.

"Just putting something on a computer doesn't save a great deal of money," said Doug Ervin, a Republican state legislator from Holt and former employee of Kansas City-based technology company Cerner. "It's what's in there and how it's being used that saves money."

Get the complete story. [ ]

Students in Missouri's charter schools aren't scoring as well on standardized tests as public school students, according to data released by the state's education department.

In Missouri, both charter and traditional public schools are required to meet all standards set forth by the No Child Left Behind Act and the state. This includes conducting the Missouri Assessment Program test.

According to 2009 assessment test scores provided by the Missouri Department of Education, charter schools are performing below the state average -- sometimes significantly.

Missouri has 44 charter schools. By law, they are only allowed to exist within the Kansas City and St. Louis city school districts. Only students eligible for public school in those districts can be enrolled in charter schools.

Twenty-eight percent of students in Kansas City area charter schools tested into the "Proficient" and "Advanced" categories of the communication arts portion of the MAP test. Among charter school students in St. Louis, the average was just above 13 percent. The state average, however, was nearly 48 percent.

Charter schools also fell below the state average for the math section of the test. While the state average for the math section test is almost 48 percent, Kansas City charter schools placed only about 24 percent of students into the "Proficient" and "Advanced" ranges. St. Louis charter schools were even lower with just above 12 percent.

Jocelyn Strand, the charter schools director of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said the schools' test scores are comparable to other area schools. She said it's unfair to compare mostly urban charter schools to public schools across the state.

Get the complete story here. [ ]