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MPANewsBook: Statehouse News for MPA Members: 2/12/2010 - MPA News 2/12/10

The House Budget chairman has a career change recommendation for U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.

"If your aim is to be a participant in the Missouri budgeting process, I encourage you to come back and run for state representative once again," Rep. Allen Icet, R-Wildwood, wrote Feb. 10 in a letter to McCaskill.

In a conference call with reporters earlier that day, McCaskill accused Republicans in the legislature of political posturing.

"They're saying the stimulus is evil, and then they're shutting the door as they do their budgets and saying thank God we have a stimulus," she said.

Icet said he wishes Missouri had never received any stimulus money. He said he ultimately supported its use because the money, which in part comes from Missouri taxpayers,  would have gone to another state if Missouri declined.

"The federal government has not helped the states," Icet said. "The federal government has just extended the day of reckoning by a couple of years."

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The House voted 115-39 to pass a bill requiring those suspected of of drug use to be tested in order to receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits.

A similar bill was held up in the Senate following a filibuster by some Democrats.

Senate Minority Leader Victor Callahan, D-Jackson County, said that withholding benefits would punish the children of drug users.

Some Republicans, however, said Temporary Assistance for Needy Families was designed to help people find employment while other programs are designed to protect families.

Get the House roll call vote here:

Gov. Jay Nixon would be denied the ability to replace secretary of state under a bill approved by the House Wednesday.

The bill, approved by a 88-59 vote, would necessitate a special election to fill mid-term vacancies in the offices of secretary of state, attorney general, auditor, treasurer and both of Missouri's U.S. Senate seats. Lieutenant governor vacancies already require a special election. 

Secretary of State Robin Carnahan is running for the U.S. Senate seat that will be vacated by Sen. Kit Bond. Under current law, Nixon would be allowed to name her replacement.

Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, - the bill's sponsor - said the legislation arose from constituent questions about the governor's appointment powers following a scandal involving former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.  

"I don't believe the people of Missouri are aware that whenever a vacancy occurs in the U.S. Senate that they don't have the right to choose who represents them," Smith said.

Rep. Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County, however, said he trusts the ability of Missouri voters to know the powers entrusted to the governor when they vote.

"If you don't think that they are smart enough to figure that out then you have less faith in the people of this state than I do," Talboy said.

The House is required to vote on the bill a second time before it can move to the Senate.

Get the full story here:

Get the House roll call vote here:

The Senate unanimously passed a bill Feb. 11 that would protect water from the Southeast Missouri Water District from being diverted and used for non-agricultural purposes.

Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said the bill stems from concerns that businesses from the western states may buy land in the area to tap into the precious water supply.

"We want to guarantee farmers with an adequate water supply to grow food and fiber," Mayer said.

He added the Southeast region is unique compared to other Missouri areas because of their emphasis on cotton and rice production, items that require a larger water source.

"In time, it would be wise to consider a state-wide policy on water ownership," Mayer said.

The bill has been sent to the house.

The House passed a resolution - approved by a vote of 121-28 - asking for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would require a balanced federal budget.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Allen Icet, R-St. Louis County, said the amendment does not call for a full constitutional convention, but rather asks Congress to send a single amendment to the states.

Carl Esbeck, professor of law at MU, said states cannot join together and demand Congress offer a constitutional amendment. States can ask Congress to propose an amendment - something Congress would not be required to do - or two-thirds of states could call for a full constitutional convention, Esbeck said.

A constitutional convention would leave all current provisions in the U.S. Constitution open to approval or rejection, Esbeck said.

Icet's bill has been moved to the Senate and assigned to the Rules Committee.

Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, resolution asking the attorney general to look in what legal action Missouri can take on federal health care bill's Nebraska Compromise passed the state Senate by a vote of 23-6.

The Nebraska Compromise is a provision inserted into the U.S. Senate's health care bill. The provision would exempt the state of Nebraska from increased Medicaid costs required under the bill's increased Medicaid eligibility. U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., - for whom the provision was inserted - has since asked for its removal.

Schmitt said he sent a letter to Missouri's Attorney General Chris Koster Jan. 7 and has not received a response.

"My office faces the Supreme Court building (where the Attorney General's Office is located)," he said. "He could have sent a smoke signal."

Opponents to the resolution questioned why resources and time should be diverted to an issue that has not yet become law.

Senators who would be responsible for reviewing tax credit applications under a proposed bill are mixed on whether they should have the authority to do so.

"I think it's only proper that they come out before the committee and argue the merits of the tax credits versus giving more money to education or some other program that could be funded with the money that goes to tax credits," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter.

But State Economic Development Director David Kerr told the committee on Monday that subjecting tax credits to the appropriations process could scare off businesses.

"What businesses need is certainty," Kerr said. "If it's not certain, they will go to a state where they know what they're getting."

Mayer said he acknowledges concerns about certainty, but mechanisms could be put in place to make it work.

The state's more than 50 tax credits cost Missouri nearly $600 million in revenue not collected last year, a figure which has grown exponentially in recent years, Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, said.

Opening tax credits to review, however, could make the process more political, Bray said, because many of them were pet projects of legislators and governors.

"In a body of 197 people," she said, "you're going to have 197 different ideas about what's appropriate."

Get the full story here:

A bill mandating insurance coverage for autism spectrum disorder has been held by the Senate Financial Oversight Committee.

The committee estimates the cost of the bill now stands around $28 million, higher than previously expected according to Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia.

Committee chair Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, passed a motion to hold the bill in committee until a hearing next week.

Schaefer, a supporter of the legislation, said he hopes to find a way to lower the bill's cost.

Most Missouri public school students would be allowed to enroll in any district they please beginning with the 2011-12 school year under a bill heard by the Senate Education Committee.

Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said students across the vast majority of the state are required to attend schools within their district, which can create a logistical nightmare if they live on the edge of one district, where a school outside their zone would be closer.

Mayer and other witnesses who spoke before the Senate Education Committee, said open enrollment would create and foster competition and motivate flagging schools to improve, especially in the realm of special-needs children.

Opponents said too many students might leave rural districts under open enrollment, forcing consolidation and the loss of teachers in economically destitute areas.

The bill would apply to 523 public school districts, with the exceptions of St. Louis and Kansas City. St. Louis City Public Schools currently has a limited desegregation plan already in place with some districts within St. Louis County.

The committee took no immediate action on the measure. Committee chair, Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, said he was unsure when the bill would come up again for a full vote that could send it to the Senate floor.

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Maj. Ronald Replogle was named superintendent of the Missouri Highway Patrol by Gov. jay Nixon Monday.

Replogle "has shown that he is tough and smart, two qualities vital to leading a statewide law enforcement agency of 2,200 men and women charged with protecting 5.9 million Missourians," Nixon said.

According to a press release from the governors office, Replogle joined the Highway Patrol in 1984 and became director of the Division of Drug and Crime Control in 2001. As director, Replogle has worked closely with homeland security and has been trained in counterterriorism measures both nationally and internationally.

A bill banning adults from texting while driving ran into skepticism from House committee members.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Rodney Schad, R-Versailles, told the committee that "inattentiveness is a major cause of accidents and deaths on our Missouri highways." He cited a recent fatal accident in his own Miller County that he said was attributed to texting and driving

Former police chief and long-time law enforcement official, Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, expressed skepticism about the proposed bill. 

Roorda voiced concerns about the "subjective standard of law enforcement" to be able to look at a driver and determine whether they were texting, or merely using their cell phone for an allowable function, such as a GPS feature. Roorda felt that unless law enforcement officials were given the power to search phone logs, little could be done to successfully enforce the bill.

The bill before the committee would extend to adults a current ban on texting passed last year that covers only those under the age of 22.

Get the full story here:

The Missouri agriculture community is asking voters to understand the consequences before signing a ballot initiative sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States.

The Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act is an attempt to further regulate the dog breeding industry. Some members of Missouri's agriculture community, however, said the history of initiatives similar to this one go much deeper.

Agricultural leadership has said this initiative opens the door for further legislation by the Humane Society. Such legislation could be focused in the production agriculture sector, according to Jeff Windett, Missouri Cattlemen's Association executive vice president.

"The bottom line is that (the Humane Society) has a history of not stopping here," Windett said.

Barbara Schmitz, sponsor of the initiative and director of the Missouri Humane Society, said allegations of a potential farm animal initiative are entirely untrue.

"This measure is about bettering the treatment of dogs," Schmitz said. "We do not have any plans in Missouri to pursue a measure on farm animals."

Get the full story here:

Rep. Tom Loehner, R-Koeltztown, has proposed a bill that would place a constitutional amendment before Missouri voters that outlines the right to raise animals in a humane manner without state regulations that would place a large economic burden on owners. In testimony to the Agriculture Policy Committee, Loehner said the purpose is directed at humane care of animals with a balance on taking care of producers as well.

"The citizens of the state of Missouri shall have a right to raise animals in a humane manner which promotes the animals' health and survival without the state imposing an undue economic burden on their owners," his bill states.

Dale Bartlett, deputy manager of animal cruelty issues for the Humane Society of the United States, said Loehner's proposal doesn't properly define a large economic burden. He said the phrase is too vague and will lead to further complications that may fall back on the court system.

The bill remains in the agriculture policy committee, but is expected to be taken up again next week

Loehner said the bill would bring a significantly larger challenge to animal rights groups attempting to sponsor initiatives in Missouri, like the recent Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act sponsored by the Humane Society.

Get the full story here:

Former employees from Fulton State Hospital told a House committee stories of vicious assaults at the hands of patients, arguing the necessity of a House bill that would legally justify the use of force by caregivers to defend themselves.

Five employees who testified in front of the House Corrections and Public Institutions Committee on behalf of a bill that would make the use of force legally justified by caregivers in self-defense, thereby protecting them from prosecution.

Joe Van Norman, who has worked at the facility for 21 years, said he had his jaw broken in two places. After returning to work six weeks later, a counselor said he was showing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

In its current language, the bill would also include teachers and parents defending themselves from children.

Rep. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, the bill's sponsor, said despite the broad-based language of the bill, she intended it to address problems with the Fulton institution, which houses the criminally insane.

Get the full story here:

A bill mandating English only driver's license exams received support from some legislators, but failed to resonate with a variety of interest groups, including social welfare and immigration rights.

The bill, proposed by Rep. Cynthia Davis, R-O'Fallon, would require Missouri driver's license tests to be administered in English, and without the use of interpreters.

The bill was heard in the House International Trade and Immigration Committee Feb. 11.

Committee chairman Rep. Jerry Nolte, R-Gladstone, stressed the importance of safety, saying that drivers must have the capability to "function on the roadway, especially when it's important to be able to read and interpret."

Nolte said he is in favor of the bill and feels the majority of the committee is also in favor.

Judy Ancel, director of the Institute for Labor Studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, felt the proposal "made no sense at all."

Ancel cited a Peruvian immigrant friend who moved to the United States seeking political asylum. Her friend was not fluent in English, but was able to obtain a license to drive to both work and English classes. Being able to drive "made it possible [for him] to survive," Ancel said.

Get the full story here:

Newspapers are no longer the most efficient medium for local governments to post financial information, Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County said.

A Senate Committee heard testimony on Bray's bill which would allow government financial reports and candidate announcements to be posted online instead of in newspapers -- currently required by law.

Bray said some citizens in the St. Louis don't have access to community papers and the cost of running ads is detrimental to local government budgets, under strain from the current financial crisis.

Richard Gard, member of the Missouri Press Association board of directors, said allowing governments to post the notices themselves provides an "invitation for mischief."

Get the full story here: 

A proposed amendment to regulate the use of red light cameras was withdrawn after much debate on the Senate floor Feb. 9.

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, sponsored the amendment which would require automated traffic enforcement systems - including red-light cameras - to photograph a car's driver.

If passed, the bill would mandate cities using the devices to issue criminal charges instead of civil infractions.

This is the second year Sen. Lembke proposed reform of red-light cameras.

The House Crime Prevention Committee discussed possible improvements for DWI record keeping at a Feb. 10 hearing.

During testimony on a DWI bill proposed by Rep. Brian Stevenson, R-Webb City, some members expressed concern that certain municipalities don't keep electronic records of DWI and other offenses.

Committee Chair Rep. Scott Lipke, R-Jackson, said it's possible these paper records end up in a box in a basement making it impossible to keep track of repeat offenders.

Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, said he agrees there needs to be some kind of DWI reform, but the issue of how to keep DWI records shouldn't be a big issue. He said an offender's driving record should suffice as a good indication of their prior offenses.

No witnesses testified in opposition to the DWI bill.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, asked the Senate Thursday whether a bike trail or a cancer hospital would be a better use of state's money.

The Missouri Department of Transportation will give $23 million in federal stimulus funds to Union Pacific for construction of a second rail bridge over the Osage River. As part of this deal, Union Pacific will sell a historic bridge over the Missouri River to Boonville for a dollar.

Schaefer said Gov. Jay Nixon's priorities are mixed up, and the money would be better spent on a new cancer hospital in the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center.

Nixon spokesman Scott Holste, however, said the money the state received must be spent "specifically for railroad projects."

"This is the bridge that will take out the last bottleneck (in rail service) between Jefferson City and St. Louis," Holste said.

Schaefer also said he has extreme doubt Boonville will raise the money needed to rehabilitate the bridge for the Katy Trail.

The city has already allocated a portion of money needed to rehabilitate the bridge, Holste said, adding that concrete action on the project must come from Boonville, not the state.

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A bill sponsored by state Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, would prohibit anyone guilty of a felony or anyone without proof of liability insurance from obtaining a permit to sell, make or ship fireworks. It would also allow the state fire marshal to examine sales records to make sure businesses buy and sell only from those with a permit.

Sen. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville, said she's worried the higher scrutiny and regulations would be a burden on commercial sellers, especially those who rely on fireworks sales through the entire year. She said some fireworks sellers could be driven out of business solely based on what they sell.

State Fire Marshall Randy Cole testified on behalf of the bill, saying his department has reached out to the industry to make sure no businesses are harmed.

The bill would also allow ground salutes, also known as "cherry bombs," to be used in commercial fireworks displays but keeping consumer use banned.

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Former drug users would receive food stamps if a pair of bills that would allow Missouri to opt out a federal law pass the General Assembly.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996 provides that any individual convicted of a drug felony after Aug. 22, 1996 is not eligible for cash welfare benefits or food stamps.

"The bottom line is that everybody should be able to eat," said Yvonne Wilson, D-Jackson County, the bill's sponsor. "I feel we're sending them back on a path that does not benefit society."

Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, said he opposes legislation that gives federal help to drug offenders. Crowell is a member of the Senate Progress and Development Committee that heard the bill Feb. 10.

Missouri is one of 11 states that still upholds the ban, and a drug felony is the only conviction that keeps ex-inmates from the food benefits, said Christine Woody of the Missouri Association for Social Welfare.

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Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, testified in favor of his bill urging Congress to continue support for the military "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Stouffer said the military should not change the policy while currently involved in two conflicts.

Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Jackson County, is sponsoring a opposing measure asking Congress to repeal "don't ask, don't tell."

President Obama and some top military official have asked Congress to repeal the current policy of requiring gay and lesbian members to remain silent about their sexual orientation.

The state Development Financing Board will own a planned $29 million parking garage at the former St. Louis Centre.

Missouri had to step in to keep a major law firm from moving away from downtown, costing St. Louis 500 jobs, the board said.

The state won't see any of the garage's potential profits, even though taxpayers are on the hook for $5 million worth of tax credits to the owners of US Bank Tower. The owners are helping pay for the garage's cost.

The board will now own three parking garages downtown. The St. Louis Centre is an abandoned mall, and it has a mostly vacant 25-story office tower above it. The city is planning to redevelop the office tower to bring in more tenants.

There will be no hit to general revenue, and the payoff for redeveloping the site is huge, said Jeff Rainford, an assistant to Mayor Francis Slay.

The Department of Health and Senior Services reports Missouri has the fourteenth highest gonorrhea rate and the sixteenth highest chlamydia rate.

The House Health Care Committee heard the bill Wednesday that would allow doctors to treat both patients even if only one is present.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases are highly contagious. If one partner has a disease, it is likely the other does as well.