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MPANewsBook: Statehouse News for MPA Members: 3/26/2010 - MPA NEWS: 3/26/10

The House passed its budget for the next fiscal year which Republican leaders said was balanced after a cut to K-12 education.

The House version of the budget is more than $200 million below the budget recommendation submitted by Gov. Jay Nixon in January.

It would cut funding to the K-12 Foundation Formula by $18 million, freezing funds at this year's level, cut nearly $100 million from social services and cut more than $10 million from the agriculture department.

House Budget Committee Chairman Allen Icet, R-St. Louis County, said the cuts will balance the budget.

Nixon, however, said recently that next year's budget should be cut by at least half a billion dollars, a figure which includes $300 million in federal stabilization funds that have not been given final approval by Congress.

He suggested that if these federal funds are approved, they could be put aside for the 2012 budget, when nearly $1 billion dollars in federal stabilization funds expire.

The House budget includes these funds in a separate Federal Budget Stabilization Extension Fund that is slated to fund health care for prisoners and Medicaid funds for doctors and nurses.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said this week he anticipates the Senate cutting these funds in its version of next year's budget.

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To avoid a potential fist-fight, two Missouri representatives were pulled off the House floor March 25.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, was speaking on the floor about Republicans using "revisionist history" in recounting the budget process.

During this speech, Rep. Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, began shouting "you lie" and moving in Roorda's direction.

Both members were removed from the House floor and later apologized.

Upon returning to the floor, Roorda apologized for "loosing his cool", according to the Post-Dispatch, and said he had been badgered by some representatives for missing votes on March 24 to attend a funeral.

Jones apologized on his twitter account, but said that he would not apologize for "calling Rep. Roorda on the carpet."

Missouri's House approved by an overwhelming margin a measure that includes expansion of the the so-called "Castle Doctrine" that provides a legal defense for killing an unwanted intruder on one's property.

The House measure would add private property and leased property to the grounds upon which one can use deadly force against an intruder.

What supporters call the "Castle Doctrine" allows one to use physical force to defend against an intruder if the person believes the intruder is or is going to harm them with "unlawful force."

Currently, the "Castle Doctrine" applies dwellings, residences, or vehicles. Rep. Bryan Stevenson, R-Webb City, said he proposed this amendment to protect business owners, who according to Stevenson would fall under the category of "private property."

The omnibus judiciary bill covers several unrelated issues, like conceal and carry rights, adoption records, and personal privacy. Ironically, the bill started out as a simple measure dealing with real estate licensing -- having nothing to do with the right to kill, concealed weapons or adoption records.

The House voted to pass the bill, with 130 members in favor and 21 opposed. The legislation will now move to the Senate for consideration.

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Get the House roll call vote here:

A House committee approved a ethics reform bill Thursday containing provisions removed from a similar bill passed by the Senate last month.

By unanimous vote, the House Ethics Committee approved a bill containing 28 provisions pertaining to conflicts of interest, campaign finance laws and ethical conduct by legislators. The bill was proposed by the committee's chairman, Rep. Kevin Wilson, R-Neosho.

The House bill would cap contributions to campaigns for state office at $5,000, prohibits members of the General Assembly from acting as paid political consultants while they are in office, and makes bribery by elected officials and appointees a class D felony.

These provisions were not contained in the Senate's ethics reform bill, which on March 4 passed the upper chamber 31-0.

One of the major differences with the Senate involves reimposing limits on campaign contributions. Missouri voters approved campaign contribution limits in 1994 by an overwhelming vote -- only to be repealed by the legislature in time for the 2008 elections.

Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, said a bill that reinstates campaign contribution limits would not be likely to pass in the Senate.

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The Missouri Department of Transportation director Pete Rahn will resign to become a vice president of a company that received one of his department's largest contracts, the department announced Wednesday.

Rahn's new employer, HNTB, is part of a group of contractors that won a contract last year to repair or replace more than 500 bridges across the state. At the time, the department estimated the value of the contract at nearly $500 million with an ultimate expected cost of $700 million for more than 800 bridges

"I have never influenced the decision of a contractor or consultant," Rahn said. "We have allowed the process to take its course and allowed the professionals to choose."

Rahn said he accepted the job because it would allow him to move to New Mexico to spend more time with his children and infant grandson, Brayden Jones, with whom he says he has spent only two hours.

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The Missouri House gave first approval to a bill that would modify current abortion regulations March 22.

The bill would make coercing a woman into abortion illegal, require abortions performed on minors to be reported to the prosecuting attorney in both the county the abortion takes place and the county the minor lives in, and would impose further implied consent to be given at least 24 hours before the abortion is performed.

Rep. Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County, said he wanted to have a discussion with the sponsor regarding the bill, but was ignored by the chair.

Talboy said this behavior is on par with the way the majority party has acted so far this session.

Rep. Bryan Pratt, R-Jackson County, said the provisions of the bill will decrease the number of abortions in the state and should appeal to both pro-life and pro-choice factions.

A day after the U.S. House of Representatives passed health care legislation after negotiations with anti-abortion Democrats, Missouri state senators pushed a bill through committee to impose additional restrictions on health-insurance abortion coverage.

Members of the Insurance Committee voted March 22 to advance a bill that would prevent consumers from purchasing optional insurance to cover abortions. Current Missouri law restricts abortion insurance coverage to optional riders, or a health insurance plan to which someone can opt in.

The Senate bill would extend that restriction to include this optional health insurance coverage, specifically for abortions.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County, said his bill would allow for the state to counter the federal legislation that allows insurance to cover abortions.

Michelle Trupiano, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood, said further restrictions on abortion insurance coverage would make it nearly impossible for women of lower socio-economic statuses to afford abortion procedures.

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Get the House roll call vote here:

On March 24 the Senate debated a resolution that would amend the state's constitution to allow Missourians to exempt themselves from insurance mandate in the health care reform bill signed into law the day before.

Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, the resolution's sponsor, said the health care reform bill was an encroachment of federal authority on states' rights and Missouri needed to assert itself.

Cunningham's resolution would bring the issue to a statewide vote in November. She said she hoped the amendment would pass and trigger a conflict between state constitutions and federal law, which would most likely lead to a court challenge.

Democrats unleashed a lengthy filibuster on the resolution, which was at times combative or also off-topic from health reform.

Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis County, questioned the point of spending an entire day's session debating the resolution.

"We spent the entire day today debating state sovereignty," he said. "I thought that debate was settled during the Civil War."

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The University of Missouri System won a victory Monday, as a Senate committee cut down a plan to consolidate state workers' health plans that system officials had opposed.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, would have created a commission to recommend creating a single state Division of Health Care to handle all the health plans.

The committee first weakened the bill, then tied in a vote to pass the bill. A tie vote results in the bill's failure.

Republicans argued a commission is unnecessary because lawmakers already know the various organizations, such as the UM System, don't want to consolidate their health plans. Supporters have said combining plans would lead to lower costs.

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In the face of a statewide budget crisis, Missouri senators spent much of March 23 gathered in small work sessions to have what Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, called "one of the most fascinating and intensely honest discussions this government needs to have."

The eight groups met to review more than 1,500 e-mailed suggestions from Missourians on how to cut the budget. They were reviewed alongside suggestions from legislators and agency officials, some of which are already proposed as legislation.

Four senators on the education workshop sifted through 103 constituent e-mails and talked to education officials to find suggestions to improve education in Missouri.

Many e-mails suggested downsizing the bureaucracy within the Elementary and Secondary Education Department, as well as government in general. Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, said he thought a quotation from an old colleague would summarize his view on overgrown bureaucracies.

Another Senate work session focused on finding ways to reduce the state prison head count by 2,000.

Suggestions included setting a formula that would put a cap on the amount of non-violent offenders a county could send to state prisons, an option that didn't resonate well with a few county prosecutors.

In late afternoon, the chairs of the eight work groups presented their findings to an informal session of the Senate. No votes were taken by the Senate on the proposals.

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Senators Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County, Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield, Brad Lager, R-Maryville, and Robin Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis City came up with five recommendations for legislation during the Senate's "Reboot Missouri" workday on March 23.

The recommendations included:

A global tax credit cap on the Department of Economic Development. There will be no immediate budget impact until tax credits are spent.

Creation of an interim committee to create an Optimal Tax Policy. Everything will be left on the table, including the Flat tax, Fair tax, and other ways to streamline the tax process.

Quantifying the Sales Tax Exemptions.

Providing a discount for timely filed electronic tax payments.

Improving revenue collection and tighten enforcement of delinquent tax collections.

A bill would adding sexual orientation as a category protected under the Missouri Human Rights Act, was heard by the House Urban Issues Committee.

The Missouri Human Rights Act currently prohibits against discrimination in the areas of employment, public accommodation and housing.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, said "most people are surprised to find out that, for instance, you can be asked to leave a restaurant if you're gay."

Several witnesses testified in favor of the bill, and no one spoke in opposition.

A similar Senate version of the bill had public testimony heard in February, but no date for a vote has been set on either bill.

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Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, has sponsored a bill creating the "right" for a home-schooled student to apply to play sports at the public high school they would otherwise be zoned to. It would also allow eligible 19-year-old students to play, increasing the age limit currently set at 18.

During the roughly hour-long hearing, Senate Education Committee members heard from Sam Williams, 14, an eighth-grade home school student from Neosho. Williams said he wanted to continue his wrestling career past the club team he had been on for eight years but didn't want to give up his home-school education.

Lembke's wording of the bill caused some opposition. Two witnesses, both high school principals, objected to the term calling sports participation a "right," saying playing sports is a privilege, and they also objected to the increase in the age limit. They also worried that the home-schooled or parochial students would not be held to the same standards of those who attend the actual high school.

While the odds for passing the bill this late in the semester seem small and no date to vote on it has been set, Lembke said he hoped to attach the bill as an amendment later in the session.

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