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MPANewsBook: Statehouse News for MPA Members: 3/19/2010 - MPA News 3/19/10

The House passed a ban on synthetic marijuana March 17. One day later, the Senate passed a similar measure.

During debate on both bills, amendments to legalize the use of medicinal marijuana were brought to the floor in both the House and Senate. Both amendments failed before either chamber gave initial approval to the fake pot ban.

Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis County, gave an impassioned speech in favor of the medical marijuana amendment in the Senate. Green recounted the suffering experienced by his mother at the end of her life.

The amendment was defeated in the Senate 26-5.

The House version of the bill also includes an emergency clause which would allow it to become law the day the governor signs the bill.

The House and Senate need to pass the same bill before it can reach the governor's desk.

The Senate passed a bill March 18 requiring insurance plans to cover treatment for autism spectrum disorders.

The Kansas City Star reports that the bill passed by a vote of 26-6, and that the bill could cost the state as much as $29 million a year.

In a press release, Gov. Jay Nixon said the bill would provide children with autism access to therapies that would "make a major and lasting difference in their lives."

The bill will now move to the House which passed a similar measure earlier this year. Once the House and Senate pass the same bill, it will then move to Nixon for his signature.

The House approved an amendment March 16 that would allow the use of deadly force to remove an intruder from private property.

The current law, known as the Castle Doctrine, allows the use of deadly force to remove an intruder from one's residence, but not the entire piece of property.

The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Bryan Stevenson, R-Webb City, was approved 130-22.

Get the roll call vote:

The House overwhelming approved a resolution, 109-46,  allowing Missourians to reject any federal health care legislation.

speaking in opposition, House Minority Leader Paul LeVota, D-Independence, said he worried the legislation would cause a clash between federal and state governments

Rep. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, said he encourages a face off with the federal government, and state legislators needed to protect the rights of Missourians.

Speaking before a rally of supporters of the resolution, held in the Capitol, Senate Majority Floor Leader Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, said a Senate version of the resolution could be heard as early as the week of March 21.

The Senate version of the resolution was co-sponsored by all but one of the Senate Republicans: President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph. In a flier released by several conservative grassroots groups to attract attendees to the rally, Shields was named as an obstacle to allowing the bill to come before the full Senate for debate. It stated that supporters will not let "one man stand in the way" of the resolution.

Shields said he worked with the sponsor, Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, to alter some of the language of the resolution to clarify the language. He agreed that the issue of health care reform should be left to the states instead of "one-size-fits-all" legislation from the federal level.

Shields said he thinks the resolution could see debate on the floor but said he was "hesitant" to predict if it would pass the upper chamber.   

If approved by the legislature, the proposal would require statewide voter approval to become part of the state's constitution.

Get the house roll call vote here:

Get the story on the similar Senate resolution and rally here:

The House Budget Committee chairman said he will leave it to the Senate and Gov. Jay Nixon to make the roughly $500 million in cuts to next year's budget that were proposed by Nixon last week.

Rep. Allen Icet, R-St. Louis County, said the House joined the Senate March 14 in agreeing to Nixon's request for revised budget numbers for next year.

While State Budget Director Linda Luebbering said it would be feasible to develop a new projection within a few days, Icet said the numbers won't come in time for his committee to incorporate them.

Luebbering and Nixon spokesmen Jack Cardetti said the governor doesn't plan to issue a revised budget proposal to the legislature including these cuts.

Icet has said numerous times that he would expect Nixon to recommend cuts if a new revenue estimate for next year is released. He suggested that the General Assembly could pass a bill without these cuts and force the governor to make the cuts through withholdings.

Sen Tim Green, D-St. Louis County, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he thinks this would be contrary to the duties of the General Assembly.

The Missouri General Assembly is required to pass its budget for next year by May 7, one week before the end of session.

Get the full story here:

Missouri's legislature has yet to take up the governor's proposal from last week to consolidate the state's two education departments.

After slashing $126 million from the current budget, Gov. Jay Nixon said the state needs to combine Missouri's two education departments -- the Higher Education Department and the Elementary and Secondary Education Department as a cost saving measure for future budgets.

Jack Cardetti, a spokesperson for Nixon, said an official plan for consolidating the two departments has not been prepared by the governor or anyone in the legislature, but that both are considering the idea.

Education Appropriations Chair Mike Thomson, R-Maryville, said he hasn't considered the matter enough because no one has calculated the possible savings. He said the state would save less than $1 million if everyone in the Higher Education Department were fired and their duties were given to the other department.

Thomson said he also questioned how the departments would be combined. Not enough discussion has occurred, he said, to determine if the departments would merge together, or if one would take the other under its jurisdiction.

Get the full story here: 

The Missouri Senate will spend an entire day evaluating ideas submitted by Missourians on how to streamline state government on Tuesday, March 23.

Senators will be divided into eight work groups ranging from Tax Structure to Social Programs to General Government.

Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, says he plans to act on these ideas to make state government more cost-effective.

The work groups are tasked to submit five or more ideas they agree on to introduce into legislation or the budget process.

Missouri residents can continue to submit their ideas by going to the Senate's website and clicking on the Rebooting Government logo.

The Web site of Missouri's Senate:

Legislation, introduced by Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, would change the wording in state statute regarding bullying, including adding "discrimination" based on "being motivated by actual or perceived race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender (or) sexual orientation."

It would also require every school district to issue a statement specifically prohibiting bullying on those grounds and require them to implement plans for reporting discrimination.

A group of lesbian high school students spoke to the Senate Education Committee in favor of adding the provisions, as did other representatives of homosexual student groups, along with an administrator from the Parkway School District in St. Louis County.

Sen. Norma Champion, R-Springfield, expressed skepticism of the bill. She said the state can never really know what people are being bullied for and gave a personal anecdote. In grade school, she said, she was bullied for shining her shoes every day, something wouldn't be covered under these provisions.

Champion said she worries creating specific classes of discrimination would instead create a policy of favoring some aggrieved students over others.

The committee's chair, Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, said the reforms face an uphill battle from here, seeing as how there are only seven weeks left in the General Assembly's session and the bill was only now introduced.

Get the full story here:

In a Senate Commerce Committee hearing March 16, Tracy Joyce, an aide to Rep. Bryan Stevenson, R-Joplin, testified in support of a bill to expand the rights of doctors to override pharmaceutical restrictions. Joyce explained how particular applications of a method known as step therapy can be ineffective, or even adverse, to a patient's health.

Step therapy begins by treating a patient with alternative medication and only covers the drug specifically prescribed by a doctor if the alternative treatment is found ineffective.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, the sponsor of the bill, said it would regulate third-party prescription drug program administrators--groups Schaefer said are unregulated within the health insurance industry. Commonly known as pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), these groups act as a liaison between pharmacies and patients by providing processing and payment for prescription drugs.

Schaefer's bill would not prohibit PBMs from taking such action unless the alternative medication costs were greater than the prescribed drug, said Jorgen Schlemeier, lobbying on behalf of Missouri Pharmacy Association. The bill would require them to disclose financial incentives for requesting such a switch and explain the possible health effects the new medication may have on the patient, he said.

The regulation would hamper the process with increased paperwork and bureaucracy, Michael Harrold, Senior Director of State Government Affairs at Express Scripts said. It requires request be sent to the Department of Insurance, he said.

Get the full story here:

Bingo events could be longer and held more frequently under a Senate bill that would lessen restrictions on the game.

The bill, heard by the Senate Ways and Means Committee, would allow bingo license holders to conduct up to two events each week, rather than one as currently allowed.

Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, said bingo halls are facing competition and the halls are often are run by organizations that put money back into local communities.

Pearce said at the hearing that the House and Senate passed similar bills last year, but it was vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon.

According to the governor's veto explanation, he rejected the bills because it would cause the Bingo Proceeds for Education Fund to lose $2.2 million each year, which would have "significant negative fiscal impact on the Missouri Schools for the Deaf, Blind and Severely Disabled."

With some changes to this year's bill, Pearce said he hopes it will gain approval. He said some lawmakers last year speculated that bill would have taken some money away from the general revenue, so anything that might lead to that in this year's was taken out.

No date to vote on the bill has been set.

Get the full story here:

At an event where state lawmakers and Census officials urged Missourians to "stand up and be counted," not even belly dancers, free food and gifts could entice people to show up.

The 2010 Census "Portrait of America Road Tour" pulled up to the state Capitol on Monday for a promotional event to encourage participation in the U.S. Census. Organizers attempted to draw crowds with free food, belly dancing, gifts, music and speeches from prominent lawmakers.

But few people attended. During a presentation by U.S. Rep. Blaine Leutkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, state House Minority Leader Paul LeVota and other state and local officials, the audience consisted of fewer than 20 people.

Lori Simms, the Office of Administration spokeswoman, said the weather likely limited the turnout.

Get the full story here: