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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of November 30, 2009

Republican House Speaker Ron Richard's spokesperson says little time was spent discussing former Speaker Rod Jetton's recent assault allegations.

Instead, as planned, the Caucus spent time discussing plans for the approaching legislative session.

The caucus did however, discuss ethics for state lawmakers, according to Richard's spokesperson.

A bill filed for the 2010 legislative session would give Missourians the chance to vote on whether or not the state participates in federal health care reform.

Bill sponsor Republican Senator Jane Cunningham from Chesterfield says many of her constituents are concerned about national health care plan and want the freedom to choose their own health care.

St. Louis Democratic Senator Robin Wright-Jones says Missouri needs to give the federal government a chance to reform the health care system.

Wright-Jones also says this bill is a strong political move against the President.

The Missouri Roundtable for Life filed litigation against Secretary of State Robin Carnihan and State Auditor Susan Montee over the ballot summary of their most recent initiative.

The initiative would prevent the use of healthcare dollars on abortion and stem cell research.

The coalition says the wording was biased against the bill and would cause voters to vote against it.

Carnihan's office denies these claims, citing a similar lawsuit which was denied earlier in the summer.

Springfield-based not-for-profit Alternative Opportunities, Inc., originally won the management contract bid, but failed to disclose its work with a for-profit corporation according to the Department of Revenue.

In effect, 10 motor vehicle and license offices across the state will have their management contracts re-bid.

Those include offices in Ava, Camdenton, Creve Coeur, Joplin, Nevada, Olivette, Poplar Bluff, Republic and Springfield.

Past governors used a patronage system to award fee offices, but Governor Jay Nixon decided this year to bid them out.

In the revenue department's news release, director Alana Barragan-Scott said "After studying the issue, we determined that re-bidding the offices was the right thing to do."

Scott said the new bidding system will ensure accountability, and enable the revenue department to deal with problems fairly.

The Missouri Capitol Police announced it received accreditation recognition from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agency Tuesday.

The accreditation comes after a three-year process of an "agency wide self-evaluation, an exacting outside review by an independent assessor and an examination of Capitol Police standards and practices by a (Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement) panel of law enforcement professionals," according to a release by the Public Safety Department.

This recognition will last for three years and will be reviewed again in November 2012 when the Capitol Police will be eligible for full law enforcement accreditation status.

Missouri Capitol Police Chief Todd Hurt called the accreditation recognition "a great step for Capitol police."

To get the recognition, the department had to review review their current practices and procedures and add ones they didn't have.

According to Hurt, over the next three years the department must go through the total 100 standards and fulfill what they is needed to order to get full accreditation.

Gov. Jay Nixon announced the details of a new bill that would overhaul the way driving while intoxicated offenses are handled.

The bill was presented by Nixon as part of a three stop tour through the state. Beginning in Hannibal, Nixon also made stops in St. Louis County and Cape Girardeau County.

Among the legislative steps proposed in the bill are:

-Requiring offenders with a blood-alcohol level of .15 and above, as well as those who decline to submit to a blood-alcohol test, to be tried in state as opposed to municipal courts.

-Making it a crime to refuse to submit to a blood-alcohol test.  Currently, the penalty for refusal to submit to the test is a one-year administrative suspension of a driver's license, Scott Holste, a spokesman for the governor said. This new legislation would change the administrative suspension to a criminal penalty.

-Requiring first offenders with a blood-alcohol level of .15 and those who refuse to submit to a test to install an interlock device. Currently law only requires these devices for repeat offenders.

-Requiring all DWI information to be entered into the State Highway Patrol's Driving While Intoxicated System (DWITS).

-Prohibiting defendants from withdrawing guilty pleas when reaching the end of a probation period under a suspended imposition of sentence.

The new DWI legislation will be sponsored by Rep. Brian Stevenson (R-Joplin) and Rep. Rachel Bringer (D-Palmyra). While it has not yet been filed, Holste said he expects the legislation to be filed very soon.

This legislation follows a summit on DWI enforcement on Nov.4 where Nixon gave opening remarks. The summit was prompted by a series of stories in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch detailing problems with DWI enforcement, especially in the St. Louis area.

The attorneys general of Ohio and Connecticut have sued three of the largest credit rating agencies on behalf of their state employees' pension funds. Chris Rackers, manager of investment policy and communication for MOSERS, the state employees' pension fund, said the fund is not considering asking Missouri's Attorney General Chris Koster to do the same.

The lawsuits from Ohio and Connecticut focus on ratings for investments that involved mortgage-backed securities. Rackers said MOSERS held investments in mortgage-backed securities, these investment came from external managers. The external managers, she said, have told the firm that their investment decisions were made independent of credit rating agencies, instead using their own internal "underwriting for risk and stress testing."

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During the Senate Appropriation Committee's hearing several people gave testimonies to receive state funding.

Among those requesting funding were economic development centers.

St. Louis County Democrat Senator Tim Green says he would like to see results from economic developments centers before they receive more state funding.

Center for Emerging Technologies spokesman Jim Farrell says the company helped create 35 new businesses this year.

According to the Cole County sheriff, Jetton turned himself in on December 7 at 11:53 p.m. and was released about a half hour after he got to the jail at 12:25 a.m.

He was released after a bail bondsman posted $2,500 dollars bail.

An e-mail from Jetton's attorney released on the afternoon of December 8. Apparently, the statement said Jetton was dissolving his firm and leaving politics to be with his family.

Senator Rob Mayer, a former client of Jetton's, says that he has not used his services since January of 2009, and tried to get his name off of Jetton's client list.

Calls to previous clients of Jetton's and politicians he worked with were not immediately returned.

Jetton's current and past clients included senators Jason Crowell, Rob Mayer and Luann Ridgeway, Majority Leader Steven Tilley, Majority Whip Brian Nieves as well as Mitt Romney's presidential campaign.

Jetton has not yet been arraigned. Scott County Circuit Clerk says that it is waiting for the return of service back on the warrant, at which time it will schedule a court date.

Dexter Senator Rob Mayer was listed as a recent client of the Rod Jetton & Associates political consulting firm before the website was taken down some time Tuesday.

Mayer says he hasn't used Jetton's services since January of this year and even asked the former speaker numerous times to remove his name from the website.

Jetton turned himself in for assault charges to the Cole County Sheriff late Monday night and was released on bond early Tuesday morning.

All state departments want for Christmas is to keep funding at current levels.

Facing revenue collections that are expected to decrease close to a billion dollars compared to fiscal year 2008, the Senate Appropriations Committee met Monday to hear testimony on funding for state departments. While most of those who testified acknowledged the state's dire financial situation, they also asked the committee to keep their funding at current levels.

One Missouri state representative has sponsored legislation that would give voters a choice when it comes to the national health care bill.

Rep. Cynthia Davis, R-O'Fallon, has sponsored legislation that would allow voters to effectively put a halt on the national health care legislation. Davis said her intent was to give voters a way to protect themselves.

"We (Missourians) don't like it when people try to take away our freedom. We will maintain the right to purchase health care however we chose," Davis said. "This national health care debate is not about health care as much as it is about redistribution of the wealth. This resolution allows voters to say don't redistribute our wealth here in Missouri. We have the ability to make choices, and we want to preserve that."

Get the print story.

An immediate arrest warrant has been filed in southeast Missouri for former House speaker Rod Jetton for second-degree felony assault.

According to the alleged victim, Jetton hit and choked her at her home Nov. 15. Jetton and the alleged victim were drinking wine and watching football after agreeing earlier in the day to have sex, according to the probable cause statement. The woman told police she and Jetton had never previously dated or been in a relationship.

The woman told police she drank a glass of wine Jetton had poured for her, then began losing consciousness. When she awoke, Jetton was hitting her "very hard," according to the probable cause statement. She said after drifting in and out of consciousness again, she awoke to Jetton choking her and having sex with her.

The statement says photographs of the bruises were taken.

Jetton, who is recently divorced, runs a political consulting business in Jefferson City. He was seen in Jefferson City just hours before news of his arrest warrant was issued. A call to Jetton's cell phone was not immediately returned.

Several high profile Missouri politicians are listed as clients of Jetton's consulting firm including Majority Floor Leader Steven Tilley and Majority Whip Brian Nieves.

Eric Brooks, Vice President of Rod Jetton and Associates, said he did not know Jetton's whereabouts or how to contact him. 

Gov. Jay Nixon, joined by legislative supporters, traveled across the state Thursday to announce support for legislation that would require health insurance cover treatment of autism up to $72,000 per year.

Nixon argued it was not fair to deny coverage to parents. But Missouri Insurance Coalition spokesman Calvin Call said the autism bill would cause a three percent increase to insurance policy holders across the board.

Republican Senator Delbert Scott had another problem with the proposal.

Scott said to eliminate his concerns with the bill there would need to be a certified training program to provide equal and competent service across the state.

The Sierra Club says that donation could make prosecuting make it harder for Koster to enforce possible litigation of Premium Standards Foods.

Sierra Club's Ken Midkiff says it's unethical to accept money from an entity that the attorney general could possibly be pursuing a case against.

Captain Tammy Spicer with the Missouri National Guard says it will not send troops to Afghanistan "any time soon."

The MO National Guard has had a plan to replace a current team of troops sometime next year but that was in the works long before President Barack Obama decided to deploy more troops.

Columbia Rep. Chris Kelly will lose his designated title as the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

Kelly will now serve on both the Budget and Judiciary committees but is relinquishing his responsibilities as the ranking Democrat -- a position charged with assisting and communicating with the Budget chair and coordinating among the caucus.

"The minority leader and I, I agree with him, that you can't do everything," Kelly said. "If I want to go to judiciary, I give up being a ranking member on budget. It doesn't change anything for me, and it's at my request."

Minority Leader Paul LeVota, D-Jackson County, has designated Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, as the new ranking Democrat. She has served on the committee for two years.

Get the print story.

In preparation for the Congressional redistricting required following the 2010 Census, President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, announced the members of the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting.

The General Assembly is responsible for redrawing Missouri's 34 Senate districts and 163 House districts before the end of 2011 for the following year's Congressional elections.

Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County, is to be the chairman of the committee. Senate Minority Leader Victor Callahan, D-Jackson County, will be the ranking Democrat on the committee.

Although state revenue collection for the year is still down, revenue collection for the month of November increased compared to last year.

State Budget Director Linda Luebbering announced that general revenue collections for November increased by almost 7 percent compared to collections from November of 2008.

"It's the first positive number in quite awhile" Luebbering said, adding that the increase needs to be understood in context.

One of the collection dates that fell in October last year was pushed into November this year which affected the number, Luebbering said. It is important to look at both October and November in order to completely understand the figure, she added.

According to Luebbering, combined collections for October and November declined by $36 million.

Previously, Gov. Jay Nixon said he expects revenue collections to decline by four percent for the year. These numbers show collections are "coming in right in line with actions the governor has already taken," Luebbering said.

Overall, state revenue collections are down 7.7 percent compared to the same period last year.

Two bills were prefiled in the Missouri House of Representatives to make the ban on text messaging while driving effect drivers of all ages.

Some Representatives are in support of the bill because they feel that texting while driving is a hazard regardless of the driver's age.

Jefferson City Representative Mark Bruns said he does not think he could support a bill dealing with text messaging while driving because he feels it is already covered under the careless and imprudent driving law.

Bills prefiled by state legislators Tuesday indicated issues that might be significant come the legislative session January 6.

Two House bills proposed extending the law banning texting while driving for motorists 21 and under. The bills, if passed, would make the act of texting illegal for all Missouri drivers.

Missouri House Speaker Republican Ron Richard says he does not know why the FBI would ask questions of his colleague, fellow Republican Representative Tim Jones.

Jones informed Richard that the FBI called him and asked about a bill which would have allowed cities to continue implementing sales taxes for general purposes of capital improvements.

The bill never made it to the House floor and Richard never even assigned it to a committee. The FBI agent asked Jones why the bill never made progress and Jones referred the agent to the House Speaker.

Top legislative leaders proposed Tuesday measures to impose tougher conflict of interest standards on government officials.

The House Democratic leader announced a legislative package that would ban elected officials and their staff from working as lobbyists for one year after leaving office.

The Republican Senate president pro tem proposed banning lobbyists from giving campaign contributions to legislators or the governor while the legislature is in session.

The proposals come amid continuing reports of a federal investigation into special interest influence in Missouri's statehouse.

In the past three months, three St. Louis area legislators have resigned from office after pleading guilty to federal felony charges.

Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields appointed Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, as the new vice-chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Schaefer will become one of five senators to serve on every budget related conference committee.

Missouri will receive a $1.9 million federal Recovery Act grant for to expand broadband coverage across the state, according to a news release from the governor's office.

The grant will provide $1.5 million for mapping and data collection of areas with existing lines. Another $470,000 will be provided to create regional teams to develop regional broadband adoption plans.

Get the print story.

Rep. Brian Yates, R-Jackson County, will resign his seat in the Missouri House of Representatives effective Tuesday.

Yates said he wants to spend more time with his family and give his successor the advantage of more seniority than other incoming new lawmakers, according to a news release obtained by the Associated Press.

Yates, elected to the House in 2003, would have been term-limited out of his seat in 2012.

Last Week

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that a Cole County Circuit judge ordered the state to pay $152,000 to a janitorial company that had its contracts with the state terminated for hiring illegal foreign workers.

The contracts were canceled by former Gov. Matt Blunt in 2007 after an evening raid of state offices where the company was providing services.

Judge Richard Callahan ruled the state had breached its contract because the company could not have known that some of its workers were not in the country legally.

Judge Al Rendlen died at the age of 87 in Hannibal on Monday.

He had served on the state's highest court from 1977 to 1992.

He was known as an outspoken conservative justice who often feuded his more liberal colleagues.

Prior to attending law school, Judge Rendlen had served as an Army rifleman in Europe during World War Two. He participated in liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp.

Gov. Jay Nixon and Treasurer Clint Zweifel proposed Tuesday a plan to pay the first year's property tax for lower and middle-income home buyers.

The proposal will be presented to the Missouri Housing Development Commission Dec. 18.

The plan would cover a family making less than $98,000 per year who contract to purchase a new or existing home.

The tax payment would be capped to a maximum of $1,250 -- with another $500 for purchase of energy-efficient appliances.

A news release from the governor's office estimated the program would cover between 9,000 to 11,000 families.

Although the release did not cite a specific cost, it indicated the funding would come from $15 million of available reserve funds of the Housing Development Commission.

Pete Rahn's warning was made to the legislature's Joint Committee on Transportation.

Rahn said the Transportation Department has been able to make major improvements in the state highway system because of recent bonds on federal economy recovery funds.

But the transportation chief said that is one-time money that will run. In a few years, Rahn warned that the department would be unable to even maintain the current improvements.

As opposed to $1.5 billion available this year, Rahn said his agency would have just $421 in five years.

He offered no solutions to the committee. Even the word tax was not used by the committee members until near the end of the hearing.