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MPANewsBook: Statehouse News for MPA Members: 11/18/2009 - Archived File

Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, announced Nov. 13 he will step down as chair of the Senate's Appropriations Committee the end of this month.

Nodler, who has announced his candidacy for one of Missouri's U.S. House seats, said he wanted to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.

The committee's vice-chair -- Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter -- will replace Nodler.

The committee switch comes as negotiations begin between administration budget and legislative staff on how much money will be available for legislators to budget in next year's session that begins January.

With several versions of federal health care bills requiring states to expand Medicaid, many Missouri officials say the legislation has the potential for an unfunded mandate and even has some calling to abandon the state's participation in Medicaid.

The U.S. House passed its version of the bill shortly after Gov. Jay Nixon announced $32 million in cuts to Missouri's Medicaid program. Both the House version and the version approved by the Senate Finance Committee would require a serious expansion of Missouri's eligibility rates for Medicaid.

Missouri has one of the lowest Medicaid eligibility rates of any state in the country, requiring a family of four to earn less than $4,400 a year for the parents to receive coverage. The Senate Finance version of the bill would require Missouri to expand it's eligibility from 20 percent of the Federal Poverty Level to 133 percent. Under these provisions, that same family of four could earn up to $29,326 and the parents would still qualify for Medicaid.

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By the end of the day Monday, Jefferson City police reported no hostages were found in the Governor Office Building -- where a morning report of a hostage situation generated nationwide attention.

The building is located across the street from the Governor's Mansion in Jefferson City. State workers were asked to close their doors and stay inside their offices during the ordeal.

Dozens of law enforcements officers barracaded blocks of the downtown -- forcing some government agencies to shut down. A Highway Patrol helicopter circled the vicinity. Nearby streets were shut down. In total, police reported 60 or more police responded -- including snipers and swat teams.

Police said the response was to a call they received from an alarm company about a possible hostage situation. The alarm company had been called by a government supervisor of an employee who reported hearing something on an elevator speaker about a hostage being taken.

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Former House Democrat T.D. El-Amin already pleaded guilty to felony bribery charges and is now facing scrutiny for abusing his House spending account.

These issues, combined with other recent ethical issues within the Missouri House of Representatives, has sparked opinions from it's members.

House Majority Whip Brian Nieves said there are already laws that monitor and prevent ethical issues, and that each case will be looked over to see if a additional law would make a difference.

On the other hand, Democratic Representative Trent Skaggs says the House Ethics Committee should take a more proactive stance to prevent future unethical behavior.

Skaggs said the Ethics Committee has only seen two cases in the last seven years.

After three years on the job, Missouri will be getting a new commissioner for higher education.

Robert Stein is retiring after more than two decades with the department, the last three as it's commissioner.

Within the hierarchy of state government, Stein holds the top higher education position. He sits on the governor's cabinet. His department evaluates student and institutional performance, sets policy and administers student financial assistance.

But the reality is, it's not as much power as it sounds.

Get the news story here. [ ]

With state revenue collections in sharp decline, one would think Missouri would be accepting money from all available sources. But Missouri's new Revenue Director Alana Barragßn-Scott, argues for delaying when some teens can buy their driving licenses.

The main function of the Revenue Department is to collect state and local tax revenue as well as license and motor vehicle titling fees. Barragßn-Scott said she can wait to add new drivers to the ranks of Missouri's licensed drivers, who now can get a license at age 16.

While not advocating a change to the law, parents need to evaluate young drivers on a case by case basis and "maturity should determine" when teenagers begin driving, Barragßn-Scott said.

Barragßn-Scott, 46, cites her son Mason, 16, as living proof of her philosophy.

"He's not quite there yet," Barragßn-Scott said, noting that her eldest son Drew, now 21, also had to wait to receive his license.

Get the profile here. [ ]