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MPANewsBook: Statehouse News for MPA Members: 2/26/2010 - MPA News 2/26/10

While giving preliminary approval to an ethics reform bill on Wednesday, the Missouri Senate rejected amendments that would have closed the so-called "revolving door" between leaving the legislature and lobbying, and also voted down proposals to limit individual and corporate campaign contributions.

Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, introduced an amendment which would have required a year-long waiting period between leaving the state legislature and taking a lobbying or major state position. It was one of the four amendments he introduced, all of which were rejected by Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, who also introduced the initial ethics reform bill.

Majority Leader Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, who called for the objection of Crowell's amendments, said they were irrelevant to the modified bill Shields brought to the floor.

Shields said he removed a number of earlier provisions, including the ban on legislators contracting with each other for consulting services, because he wants to get a bill through the Senate before major reconciliation with the House.

The Senate bill, in its current form, would ban fund transfers between campaign committees and require all donations over $250 between January and May to be reported. The bill would also allow the state ethics commission, for the first time, to file its own complaints. Shields also said he would change the Senate rules to require all Senators and staffers to file income reports, which they currently are not required to do.

The House version of the ethics bill is expected to include a number of the provisions removed by Shields and Engler in the Senate bill.

The chairman of the House committee working on their ethics bill, Rep. Kevin Wilson, R-Neosho, said he expects a draft of the House bill to be discussed next Mar. 1.

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As the summit on national health care raged in Washington on Thursday, a pair of bills in Missouri that would put money into the pockets of medical care providers more quickly unanimously passed the House and Senate.

Rep. Timothy Jones, R-St. Louis County, said the bill would help clear up current ambiguities in the payment of health care insurance claims across the state.

Opponents of the legislation, however, said claim paying is a very complicated process, and health insurers must be considerate of the premium rates of their costumers. The opponents include America's Health Insurance Plans, Missouri Insurance Coalition, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield of Missouri.

The bill, called "prompt pay" by some legislators, deletes a clause allowing carriers to suspend responding to a claim for an indefinite time. It also creates a penalty -- one percent of the claim per day -- for unpaid claims that exceed 45 days from the initial filing of the claim.

In addition, Jones' bill also defines a "clean claim." These claims have been deemed to be without faults and have all of the necessary paperwork. As a result, a "clean claim" has nothing about it that should prevent timely payment.

After passage on Thursday, the House and Senate will begin looking at the other chamber's bill.

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The first bill of the 2010 legislative session became law on Feb 25.

House Bill 1540 requires motorists to obey directions made by law enforcement officials while enforcing infractions and requires judicial procedures for an infraction to be the same as a misdemeanor, according to the House's Web site.

In a statement following the signing of the bill, Gov. Jay Nixon said, "this new law will mean that when Missouri law enforcement issues tickets for infractions, prosecutors and judges can handle these matters in the same way as criminal matters."

The bill, passed by the House on Feb. 11 and the Senate on Feb. 25, was sponsored by Rep. Scott Lipke, R-Jackson.

The Associated Press reported that two Missouri Senators, Brad Lager and Kurt Schaefer, have filed bills to move water testing responsibilities to the Health and Human Services and away from the Natural Resources Department.

The bills come the same day Lager's office released to the Associated Press a draft report from a Senate committee affirming that people did get sick from swimming in bacteria-damaged water at the Lake of the Ozarks last summer.

Lager, a Republican from Savannah, said the report says that the Natural Resources Department cannot be trusted and violated public safety and health.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, however, reports that Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, said there are some things in the report she does not agree with. Bray also serves on the committee that produced the report.

Lager's office has delayed public release of the report until next week to give some members of the committee time to comment on it and suggest changes, The Associated Press reports.

A spokesman for the Natural Resources Department, Judd Silvka, said the department would not comment before receiving the report.

The Missouri Senate voted unanimously to pass a bill that will allow victims of child pornography to sue those who download nude images of girls 14-years-old and younger.

This bill gives the victim the right collect at least $150,000 from people caught downloading their image.

This bill is a state statute that expands a national law passed by President Bush in 2006 that puts sex offenders on a national registry.

Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Jackson County, settled on 14-years-old being the cutoff age because he says the bill's intent is to catch pedophiles, not statutory rapists.

The Southeast Missourian reports that a Mississippi County judge has decided to bring assault case against former House Speaker Rod Jetton to trial.

Hearing the testimony of one victim, Jetton's accuser, Associated Circuit Court Judge Terry Brown found probable for the trial.

The alleged victim, Mary Elizabeth Lowe of Sikeston, testified that she had discussed sex with Jetton by text message, but had not agreed to be punched during intercourse, the Southeast Missourian reports.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Mar. 10.

Roughly $300 million of anticipated state revenue next year is in jeopardy.

A U.S. Senate bill passed Monday did not include federal money Gov. Jay Nixon had been counting on in his budget.

Nixon's recommendation, released in January, includes funds that are to come from a federal jobs bill, but State Budget Director Linda Luebbering said the Senate bill that passed Monday did not include these funds, though a jobs bill passed in December by the House of Representatives did. Both houses will have to approve identical versions of the bill before it can go to the president for approval.

Senators Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Kit Bond, R-Mo., both voted in favor the bill.

House Budget Chairman Allen Icet, R-St. Louis County, said Monday's U.S. Senate vote doesn't necessarily mean the stabilization funds won't materialize.

"There are opportunities to amend the bill," Icet said. "My honest opinion is I don't think there's a lot of appetite in D.C. to do things to help the states."

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After learning the state may be forced to release non-violent inmates due to space constrictions, a House appropriations committee chairman urged members of the Budget Committee to consider the people of Missouri's safety amid cross-departmental budget cuts.

Rep. Dwight Scharnhorst, R-St. Louis County, chairman of the Public Safety and Corrections Appropriations Committee, defended his committee's unanimous vote against cutting $19 million from the Corrections Department budget at a hearing Tuesday. Such cuts, he said, would force the state to shut down one to two minimal security prisons.

Referencing a statement from a Corrections Department spokesperson, Scharnhorst said, "His statement at the time was 'I will definitely have to close one institution, possibly two. It would be minimum security.' He designated that right away."

At the hearing, Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, inquired about a possible method that could alleviate the Corrections Department's budget pressures.

The method Kelly asked about would allow elderly inmates to be granted parole and move into a nursing facility of the state's choice. Once prisoners are no longer incarcerated, they can qualify for Medicaid and Medicare and reduce health costs for the Corrections Department.

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Missouri's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released a memo Wednesday outlining 2 percent cuts to Missouri schools.

The cuts come in response to Gov. Jay Nixon's supplementary budget recommendations for the current fiscal year, which were more than $40 million below full funding for the state's K-12 education foundation formula.

A Senate committee voted on Feb. 22 to move forward two abortion bills.

One bill, sponsored by Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, requires abortion providers offer a woman an ultrasound of her fetus at least 24 hours prior to an abortion. He said at a hearing last week that seeing a photograph of the fetus and hearing its heartbeat would deter women from getting an abortion.

Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Jackson County, voted against the bill, saying abortion providers in the state already do everything the bill would require. Justus said additional requirements to Missouri's informed consent law would not reduce the number of abortions in the state. Legislative staff said 11,580 abortions took place in Missouri in 2008.

The other bill passed out of committee Monday would require physicians to collect information from women on whey they sought an abortion, such as social, medical or economic factors. Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Louis County, said it would allow lawmakers to examine more information as to why women have abortions.

Justus voted against the bill, saying it would be needless because abortion providers already gather most of the information required in the legislation.

The bills will now move to the Senate Rules Committee.

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Candidates from across the state waited in long lines to file election paperwork, some waiting for over 2 hours.

The Secretary of State's office was full of hopefuls from all across the state.

Current Missouri Secretary of State, Robin Carnahan and Missouri Congressman, Roy Blunt, both entered the race for the U.S. Senate seat that will be left open after the retirement of current Sen. Kit Bond.

For a current listing of candidates who have filed click here:

The Missouri Sunshine Law is finding itself under criticism from lawmakers who call it 'ineffective' in its current state.

Rep. Timothy Jones, R-St. Louis County, proposed two bills to tighten Sunshine Law provisions on local officials to the General Laws Committee this week.

Jones' primary bill contains provisions that would provide more public information on closed meetings and make electronic records easier to access.

Stan Berry, editor of the Daily American Republic in Poplar Bluff, testified before the committee on Tuesday citing his real-life struggle with some who have intentionally violated the law.

Berry said his newspaper spent approximately $98,000 in legal fees suing school board officials from his area for violating the law. Following the legal battle, only two officials were charged in violation and received small fines of $250 and $150.

Tim Fischesser, executive director of The St. Louis County Municipal League, voiced his concerns on what he called a complicated piece of legislation.

"This legislation will discourage people from serving their community because it's just becoming too complicated," Fischesser said.

As a back-up to his first piece of legislation, Jones has also proposed less stringent bill. The second bill focuses on notice requirements for public meetings.

Both bills remain the the General Laws Committee.

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Members of a Missouri House committee discussed on Feb. 24 the possibility of ending a practice in which legislators are reimbursed for cell phone fees.

Currently, lawmakers may submit a request to have their personal phones payed for by taxpayer money, but some committee members wondered if asking the state to pay these fees opens a door that would make private information public.

Members of the House Administration and Accounts Committee debated what records were public under the Sunshine law regarding state-funded technology.

Chief Clerk of the House Adam Crumbliss said only business conducted regarding government work would be accessible to public scrutiny. However, he said to error on the side of caution when communicating personal issues in a state office.

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No opposition was voiced to a bill providing children of illegal immigrants in-state tuition in a Senate committee Wednesday, something the bill's sponsor said was a surprise.

Still, Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Jackson County, said she wasn't confident the legislation would move any closer to becoming law this year.

The bill would provide Missouri students in the country without legal documentation in-state tuition rates at Missouri's colleges and universities.

It requires they graduate from high school, live with a parent or guardian while attending high school, and go to a Missouri high school for at least two years. They also must file an affidavit with their college or university promising they will apply for permanent U.S. residency when the opportunity becomes available.

Missouri is losing talented young students because they don't have options after graduation, Justus told the Senate Education Committee.

The committee's chairman, Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, said the hearing was an opportunity for Justus to present her bill. It's now up to her to drum up support, he said. Pearce wouldn't say when or if he would schedule a committee vote.

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The effort to ban synthetic marijuana hit a slight roadblock on Feb. 22 in the House, but the bill's sponsor said he still expects the drug known as K2 to be outlawed.

The House Rules Committee had been expected to vote on the legislation sponsored by Rep. Ward Franz, R-West Plains. Its language is similar to that of a bill introduced by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, and discussed in committee last week.

Like Schaefer's bill, Franz's legislation would add nearly a dozen drugs, including 1-pentyl-3-(1-naphthoyl)indole, which is the scientific classification for K2, to the state's Schedule I classification for drugs. Possession of the drug would be a misdemeanor, similar to marijuana, which has different penalties for possession over and under 35 grams.

Franz said the House committee had mistakenly classified some of the other drugs included in the bill and the bill would need to be edited in the next week.

The committee, of which Franz is not a member, voted 10 to 0 to send the bill back to the original committee.

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Even from prison, former Missouri State Sen. Jeff Smith's voice can still be heard.

Smith is e-mailing tweets to aid Kailey Burger who is then posting them on Smith's Twitter account.

Smith is allowed by federal law to send e-mails to Burger under a law letting inmates use electronic mailing services.

Officials at the Manchester, KY Correctional Facility Smith is at and the Federal Bureau of Prisons disagree over the legality of the Tweeting.

A Manchester, KY officer who refused to be named said the act is violation and Smith's e-mail will be shut down.

Federal Prison Bureau spokesperson Felicia Ponce, however, said it was not.

Jeff Smith's twitter feed:

Gov. Jay Nixon would be forced to gamble for funds to bolster the state's declining budget under legislation proposed Feb 17.

The bill, proposed by Rep. Mark Parkinson, R-St. Charles County, would deduct $2 from Nixon's paycheck twice a month to buy Powerball lottery tickets and place any potential winnings in a fund called "Governor Nixon's Scratch-off, Match-off Fund."

The fund would be dissolved and moved into General Revenue if the governor's potential winnings were to match or exceed $300 million -- the exact amount in Nixon's budget recommendation for Fiscal Year 2011 that comes from an extension of federal stabilization funds that has not yet been approved by Congress.

"The odds of that, the second stimulus funding package being passed by the Feds are probably the same odds as winning the lottery," he said.

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Currently serving his eighth and final year in the Missouri House of Representatives, Curt Dougherty said he has learned an ugly but important truth: it is hard to get your opinion recognized without a lobbyist.

"It's just the way it is down here," said Dougherty, D-Independence, referring to the influence of lobbying. Dougherty was recently a subject of a column in The Kansas City Star, written by political columnist Steve Kraske. In it, Dougherty is quoted as telling a group of home inspectors who opposed a bill that their opinion wouldn't get heard effectively without aid from a lobbyist.

Some legislators worry that the system, as it is now, gives a bad ethical impression. Rep. Rachel Bringer, D-Palmyra, said Missouri is the only state with no limits on individual campaign donations or lobbyist gifts, and that leaves citizens feeling cynical about their government.

Bringer did agree with Dougherty that lobbyists serve a very useful informational purpose, but he said the system has too many holes for unethical lawmakers to potentially walk through.

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Gov. Jay Nixon accepted the resignation of former St. Louis police commissioner Vincent Bommarito Feb. 22.

Bommarito was accused of using his position to get a nephew out of jail on a drunk driving charge earlier this month.

City officials and state lawmakers had urged Nixon to fire Bommarito, a nominee of former Gov. Matt Blunt. Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, criticized the governor for allowing Bommarito to resign instead of deciding Bommarito's fate.

Republican Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields says senators will take a harder look at Nixon's replacement nominee after the scandal.