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MPANewsBook: Statehouse News for MPA Members: 11/9/2009 - Archived File

A two-month investigation by Missouri Digital News has identified antiquated and unregulated septic tanks as a major factor in the contamination problems at the Lake of the Ozarks.

Although E. coli contamination at the lake became a statewide issue this summer, the MDN investigation found that contamination questions at the lake have been raised by some residents for years.

Communication problems between state agencies are a contributing factor in the problem, the investigation found.

The Missouri Department of Health reported there have already been more than 17,000 confirmed cases of the flu this season, which is near the total number flu cases last year.

The department spokesman Kit Wager said close to 90 percent of the cases are H1N1.

Wager also said that despite the high number of flu cases, the number of flu related emergency room visits have gone down.

Officials in the St. Louis County and Kansas City  Health Departments said they are not concerned about running out of vaccine despite a delay in seasonal flu vaccine production.

State revenue collections declined by 10.8 percent compared to the same period last year according the October general revenue report.

Gov. Nixon's recent $204 million budget cuts were based on a projected decline of 4 percent for the fiscal year ending June 30, State Budget Director Linda Luebbering said.

Last month Luebbering said revenue numbers are expected to improve in January or February, which is a year after revenue collections began to see the impact from the economic downturn.

With this improvement beginning in January or February, the governor's office is expecting the annual decline to rise to 4 percent, negating the need for additional budget cuts.

House Budget Chairman Allen Icet, R-St. Louis County, said he doesn't think revenues will rebound enough to meet Nixon's projection.

Due mostly to the state's unemployment rate of 9.5 percent, income tax collections, the state's largest source of revenue, have decreased by $140,000 for the year.

An elite group of Missouri state troopers has turned over 474 illegal immigrants to the federal government since 2007.

That year, former Gov. Matt Blunt ordered troopers to do immigration checks on everyone they arrested. That order has since become state law.

The state currently has 18 troopers working in the program.

The ACLU says it's dangerous because it takes local law enforcement away from the job it's supposed to be doing and gives troopers federal responsibilities.

Eastern Missouri ACLU Program Director John Chasnoff says he fears troopers will engage in racial profiling.

"There are natural stereotypes that are going to come to his mind as he's envisioning how to enforce that law," Chasnoff said.

But Missouri State Highway Patrol Lieutenant John Hotz says there's a system in place to prevent this.

"We actually fill out information and it is submitted as part of the Highway Patrol's racial profiling statistics," Hotz said.

Immigration status is only reviewed after an arrest, not as a basis for arrest.

Federal cap-and-trade legislation would cause Missourians' energy rates to increase by more than $200 annually if the state doesn't take steps to improve current energy procedures, according to a study commissioned by AmerenUE.

The Joint Committee on Missouri's Energy Future heard testimony Nov. 3 in Columbia on dangers of increased rates and how to offset potential costs from the Waxman-Markey bill, also known as cap-and-trade.

The Waxman-Markey bill has passed the U.S. House of Representatives, but has not been considered by the Senate. Under cap-and-trade, energy companies would be required to pay the government for permits to emit carbon dioxide.

While a number of alternatives were discussed, all testimony touched on Missouri's main source of energy: coal.

"We're married to coal whether we like it or not," Public Services commissioner Jeff Davis said.

Cap-and-trade would "double rates" within five to six years, Davis said, adding the legislation would provide "the largest wealth transfer in the history of mankind."

The "rate impact will be immediate and significant," said Shawn Schukar, vice president of energy delivery technical services for Ameren. While Schukar testified that "no silver bullet" exists to blunt the cost increase, it is important to have a technological infrastructure -- such as ensuring the grid is structured well -- in place to deal with the new regulations.

Missouri will begin enforcing a sales tax on yoga and Pilates centers.

The tax itself, a sales tax levied on fitness and exercise centers, isn't new, but the classification of yoga as exercise rather than a spiritual activity is.

The law was not enforced and many yoga businesses chose not to pay.

Now, the state will begin requiring all yoga and Pilates facilities to pay the 4 percent tax.

The 140 yoga and Pilates facilities not yet paying the tax were notified by mail Oct. 13 of the government's changing expectations. The businesses were required to register with the state and began paying the sales tax by Nov. 1.

The Department of Revenue says it "will consider religious exemption issues on a case-by-case basis."

The Missouri Transportation Department has prohibited its employees from texting while driving department vehicles or on department business, according to a department press release.

"There's no way we can track that in the car," Transportation Department spokeswoman Laura Holloway said. "(Enforcement will rely on) reports being brought to the supervisor's attention."

The penalty varies depending on whether past disciplinary action has been taken.

Gov. Jay Nixon said the "status quo is simply not acceptable" when it comes to current state DWI procedures.

Providing opening remarks to a panel of judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement personnel from across the state Nov. 3, Nixon said that laws and reporting methods need to be strengthened to treat drunk driving enforcement sternly and equally across Missouri.

"To often the most dangerous, chronic intoxicated drivers are still allowed to keep driving," Nixon said.

Following his remarks, Nixon left, turning the meeting over to the panel for discussion.

Dwight Scroggins, Buchanan County prosecuting attorney, said a problem exists in the way the state treats first offenders.
"The scheme is based on how may times you get caught," Scroggins said.

Even though the state treats first offenders as if they've made a one-time mistake, he said, studies show most first offenders are actually repeat offenders who have just not gotten caught.

Some DWI offenders tried in municipal courts received a suspended sentence where the conviction does not show up on the offender's record upon completion of conditions set down by a judge, usually classes, public service or an alcohol assessment.

The sharing of DWI records between municipalities was another major topic of discussion. Currently, reporting offenses to the statewide DWI database is voluntary.

Almost 25,000 Missourians could receive training for Microsoft brand computer programs under a program paid for by the computer giant. While program provides training, it does not include the needed software.

Missouri is one of 7 states participating in the Microsoft program. Democrat Gov. Jay Nixon announced the state's participation in the Microsoft Elevate America program at a news conference in St. Louis Monday.

Vouchers to waive the cost of Microsoft training modules are now available through the Missouri Department of Economic Development's Division of Workforce Development. According to the department's Web site, the training is focused on low-income workers and other job seekers who may want to increase their computer skills.

Vouchers are also available in Maryland, Mississippi, Illinois, Iowa, Virginia and Washington.