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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of September 21, 2009

The Kansas City Star reported Friday that a former Natural Resources Department aid claims to have informed the governor's office about reports of high pollution levels at Lake of the Ozarks.

The claim was found in the transcript of an interview the former DNR staffer had with Senate investigators.

According to the newspaper, a top senior Nixon adviser was told about the high bacteria levels within 24 hours after the department got the information -- a month earlier than the governor's office has claimed.

The DNR staffer has since left the department.

Federal student loan interest rates have decreased despite the lending crisis.

Although applications for federal loans have increased, state officials say there is not shortage of funds.

St. Louis Democratic Representative T.D. El-Amin pleaded guilty to bribery Thursday.

Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields and House Minority Leader Paul LaVota both said they are disappointed with El-Amin's actions.

But they did say they are glad he is being held accountable.

Neither say they think there is an ethics problem within the Missouri General Assembly.

Gov. Jay Nixon announced Wednesday broad plans to clean up the water in Lake of the Ozarks.

The initiative, to be carried out by the Department of Natural Resources, will focus on stricter regulation of wastewater permitting and further testing of the lake's water.

The governor could not specify what the program will cost or where the money will come from.

Republicans called Nixon a fox guarding a henhouse in a news release concerning his ability to negotiate with groups who donated to his campaign.

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)is asking Missouri for a six percent increase in pay for some 7,000 workers.

AFSCME donated $60,000 to Nixon's campaign last year. Republicans claim this will make it difficult for Nixon to negotiate impartially.

The union AFSCME presented a declaration to Governor Nixon asking for adequate staffing.

Negotiations between the state and the union begin today.

Personal testimonies were given by state workers that have been attacked at their job on account of under staffing.

Gov. Jay Nixon hired a consultant without competitive bids, and the state then doubled his spending cap within two months of being hired, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

Nixon hired the Baller Herbst Law Group in July to seek more federal stimulus grants for broadband Internet access in Missouri. The state initially set a spending limit at $50,000, then raised it to $100,000. Baller spent nearly $72,000 in July and August alone, according to the paper.

State Republicans questioned the no-bid deal, while Nixon's top spokesperson defended it because of the "short deadline and the expertise needed" to apply for grants, according to the Post-Dispatch.

Last Week

The Missouri Department of Higher Education reports that the state student loan default rate increased by 40 percent this year.

State officials say the economic downturn and high unemployment rate are both contributing factors.

The fund's board of directors changed an accounting practice that would have cost taxpayers almost $50 million more.

State Sen. Jason Crowell,R-Cape Girardeau, called the change "a politicized outcome."

The state will forgo the opportunity to apply for $100 million in federal grants, Missouri's education commissioner said Wednesday.

In her first time speaking before the Joint Committee on Education, Chris Nicastro shared with lawmakers her goals for Missouri public education. The commissioner said participating in the national competition for $4.3 billion in Race to the Top funding is a priority.

There are two application dates for the federal funds. Nicastro has recommended the state not apply for the first phase in December.

Two senators said they are concerned about the new plan to expand high-speed Internet access to rural Missouri because the equipment purchased might duplicate what is already underground.

Transform Missouri Director Paul Wilson said this is the only way the get usable Internet to rural areas.

State Budget Director Linda Luebbering said that her office may have to make further recommendations on budget cuts.

Revenue is down 4.2 percent from this time last year.

In response to Monday's audit, Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields said using lobbyist contributions to buy meals keeps the legislature from using tax dollars for business expenses.

State Auditor Susan Montee said they used lobbyist money for more than meals, but rather parties and Christmas gifts.

A Bill requiring that the administration give keys to the Capitol dome to all lawmakers failed to receive enough votes to overturn Gov. Jay Nixon's veto.

State Sen. Jason Crowell said next session he will add the dome-key provision to every bill he can.

The House Interim Committee on Autism Spectrum Disorders met Tuesday to hear testimony of witnesses and gather information.

The hearing turned emotional as legislators and witnesses alike shared their personal stories.

A bill to insure autistic children is expected to be introduced when the legislature reconvenes in January. A similar bill was killed in the House during the 2009 session.

Missouri lawmakers convene Wednesday to take up bills vetoed by the governor.

Legislative leaders say they do not expect any of the governor's vetoes to be overridden.

The bill getting the most attention is one that would strengthen legislative review of how the administration is spending federal stimulus funds.

The governor had vetoed the measure because lawmakers added a provision to require that the administration give every legislator a key to the top dome of the Capitol.

The 16 member interim committee on state intelligence oversight met Tuesday and no one objected to a more watchful of the Missouri Information Analysis Center (MIAC).

MIAC came under serious pressure in January when one of its reports leaked to the public. The report on the American Militia Movement drew a harsh response from lawmakers because it described supporters of presidential candidates Ron Paul and Chuck Baldwin as dangerous militia members.

The members present at the meeting all agreed more oversight is necessary but made no decision on how to specifically govern the MIAC.

State Economic Development Director Linda Martinez resigned Monday after just eight months on the job.

In her resignation letter, Martinez told Nixon she was sorry the two couldn't meet to resolve their differences on how to move the state forward. Nixon spokesperson Scott Holste didn't deny Martinez' words, but wouldn't say whether the governor and his economic development director clashed.

Martinez wasn't available for comment.

For years, House and Senate members used lobbyist money to buy gifts and throw parties, according to a report released by the state auditor Monday.

Some of the lobbyists' donations went unreported, a violation of state law. The Senate has used about $61,000 from its slush fund since 2003. The House doesn't have an account; instead, lobbyists paid vendors directly for gifts and parties, the auditor's report said.

The Senate also spent more than $4,000 of taxpayer money since 2006 on framed and engraved silver trays for outgoing members, according to the report.