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MPANewsBook: Statehouse News for MPA Members: 4/9/2010 - MPA NEWS: 4/9/10

The Associated Press reports that the Senate Appropriations Committee has finished making its initial cuts to the fiscal year 2011 budget. In total, more than $500 million have not been cut from the proposal since it was introduced by Gov. Jay Nixon in January.

Two of the cuts, one to higher education and another to the career ladder program, have raised the greatest amount of debate.

The higher education cut, $15 million more than the one proposed by Nixon, could invalidate a deal made between the governor and universities. In exchange for having their funding only cut by 5 percent, universities promised to not raise in-state tuition rates. The cut proposed by the Senate panel would raise that cut to 7 percent.

The Appropriations Committee is also suggesting ending Career Ladder, a $37 million program that pays teachers extra for performing additional duties, according to the Associated Press.

Career Ladder payments, however, are reimbursements for work already performed. Senators Frank Barnitz, D-Lake Spring, and Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said ending the program now would effectively be reneging on a contract, the Associated Press reports.

Ending the program would force the payments onto school districts who are also facing funding programs and may have to short change teachers for work already preformed.

According to the Associated Press, chairmen of the House and Senate committees that work with the budget had warned school officials last summer that Career Ladder may not continue to be funded.

The budget will now move the the Senate floor, and then to a conference committee with the House before it reaches Nixon's desk. Funding for the programs could be restored and additional cuts could still be made to other departments on the Senate floor or in conference.

Speaking in Columbia one day after a Senate committee proposed new cuts to higher education, Gov. Jay Nixon affirmed his support for a tuition deal reached with Missouri's public colleges in November.

"I'll do everything within my power to make sure that we uphold that deal," Nixon said.

The plan would cut the budget for higher education next year by roughly five percent, which would translate to about $50 million.

On April 6, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a further cut of $15 million beyond the originally agreed upon reduction.

Next week the University of Missouri Board of Curators will set tuition for its four campuses next year, and MU Chancellor Brady Deaton said MU will recommend that the curators stick to the plan to freeze in-state undergraduate tuition.

MU Budget Director Tim Rooney said the university would have opportunities to increase in-state tuition next year if the tuition deal falls through but the timing of the legislative process could present some difficulties.

The House previously upheld the tuition deal.

Get the full story here:

The Springfield News-Leader has released a four-page list of proposed budget cuts provided by the state's budget director.

The list would reach the $500 million the governor has said needs to be cut from the budget recommendations he presented to lawmakers in January.

Although acknowledging his budget plan needs to be cut, Gov. Jay Nixon has not publicly presented a revised budget to the legislature.

The list of "potential reductions" released by the state budget director came after requests from reporters concerning a list mentioned by the Senate Appropriations Committee chair, according to the News-Leader.

A spokesperson for the governor said list of cuts emerged from discussions between the budget director and the Senate Appropriations Committee chair.

The Missouri House gave first-round approval to a driving while intoxicated reform bill by voice vote on April 7.

Several amendments were added to the original bill by representatives. One, from Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, essentially repeals many of the original ideas in the bill. Colona's amendment would allow first-time DWI offenders to keep the conviction off their record. Also, the amendment calls for allowing those who complete DWI court programs to recant a guilty plea. Colona said this will give offenders more incentive to participate in DWI courts.

Bill sponsor, Rep. Bryan Stevenson R-Webb City, said going through DWI courts is necessary for repeat DWI offenders. He spoke of his cousin who has gotten four DWIs.

"It's very traumatic for him. It's very traumatic for the family," said Stevenson. "And in those types of situations, it's an addiction, and there needs to be treatment."

After a lengthy debate, House members also approved an amendment that would allow police to collect blood samples from DWI suspects without a warrant.

Get the full story here:

Insurance agency representatives asked a House committee on April 6 to reject the Senate version of autism insurance legislation.

The House and the Senate have passed separate bills mandating insurance coverage for applied behavioral analysis therapy to treat autism spectrum disorders. A cost difference divides the two bills, with the House setting a $36,000 annual cap for treatment while the Senate bill would cap treatment at $55,000.

The two bills also differ on an age limit for coverage, with the House bill requiring coverage until age 18 and the Senate until 21. Additionally, the House bill establishes licensure requirements for therapists, while the Senate version does not.

Steven Bledsoe, Vice President of Government Affairs for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City, spoke against the Senate bill. He said while he preferred the House version, their 18 and under age restriction was "excessive."

The sponsor of the original Senate bill, Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County, offered a compromise between the two chambers' versions -- taking the lower age cap of the House and splitting the difference on the annual cap with a $40,000 limit per year.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill. The House version was referred to a Senate committee on March 18, but a hearing has not been scheduled at this time.

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Following two days of debate, the House overwhelmingly rejected adding open enrollment provisions as an amendment to a larger education bill by a vote of 34-122.

Rep. Scott Dieckhaus, R-Washington, said he isn't comfortable telling parents they have to send their children to a run-down school because they can't afford to move or send them to a private school.

But the House Education Committee chair, Rep. Maynard Wallace, R-Thornfield, argued that letting parents move out of the district of their residence had undercut the St. Louis city school system.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, previous versions of open enrollment had exempted St. Louis and Kansas City. Rep. Don Calloway, D-St. Louis, pushed for St. Louis to be included.

The house also heard an amendment that would add ballroom dancing into the physical education curriculum in Missouri. The idea initially had been raised in a separate bill sponsored by Rep. Tim Flook, R-Liberty.

Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, raised concerns about whether the issue should be decided by Missouri statute and if it would raise students' heart rates high enough to be a suitable replacement for physical education.

The amendment's sponsor. Rep. Jerry Nolte, R-Gladstone said "It (ballroom dancing) got my heart rate up. But maybe it's because I was close to a girl for a change."

The amendment was also rejected by an overwhelming vote.

Get the full story here:

Get the House roll call vote on the open enrollment amendment:

Get the House roll call vote on the ballroom dancing amendment:

Vague language in cyberbullying legislation passed Thursday has some Missouri representatives questioning its effectiveness.

The bill states that cyberbullying includes the use of the Internet or text messaging to "ridicule, harass, intimidate, humiliate or otherwise bully a student."

Reps. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, and Sarah Lampe, D-Springfield, said the bill doesn't clarify for schools what should be done to find and stop cyberbullies.

Lampe said the lack of specificity will leave school districts unsure about how to implement anti-bullying policy, and without clear guidelines, cyberbullying in Missouri will continue.

Rep. Joe Aull, D-Marshall, aid the legislation will provide education for Missouri schools to prevent further violence. The bill requests $500,000 for the School Safety and School Violence Prevention Fund, which will create a statewide center to provide resources for bullying prevention.

But Lampe said the weak language will cost the state money in lawsuits.

"We're putting our schools in line for more litigation when we have weak school policies," Lampe said. "Schools are going to be sued."

The bill now moves to the Senate.

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Gov. Jay Nixon detailed the state's progress in refocusing the scope of state government.

Nixon said the budget process has been difficult but that he's worked diligently with members of both parties and from both the House and the Senate.

He denied any charges of not being transparent in his approach to negotiations over budget cuts.

The governor once again proposed merging and making more leaner some state departments.

The examples the governor gave were merging the Highway Patrol and Water Patrol into one department as well as creating a Department of Education by dissolving the Departments of Higher Education and Elementary and Secondary Education.

Opponents teamed up against a plan to merge the Missouri State Highway Patrol and Water Patrol that Gov. Nixon is pushing.

The House Public Safety Committee heard testimony on the bill. The plan would save $2 to $3 million annually by cutting duplication between departments, a Department of Public Safety Department spokesperson said.

But the bill's fiscal note shows "unknown" cost savings, and the committee's chairman, Rep. Mark Bruns, R-Jefferson City, said without real cost cutting, the measure will stay in rough waters.

The plan would allow water patrolmen to work on the highways during the winter, the Water Patrol's off season. Highway Patrol troopers would help the Water Patrol on the waterways in the summer.

But that's "looking for disaster," unless the state pays for costly training, a former Water Patrol commissioner said.

Hazardous materials linked to a U.S. Attorney's investigation were held in a storage locker on Rangeline Street in Columbia.

The Department of Natural Resources conducted an investigation in late January into space at Storage Mart Temporary Storage Facility, located at 2403 Rangeline St, according to documents obtained through a Sunshine request. Department investigators found 30 gas cylinders that may have contained "a extremely hazardous material that would ignite upon contact with air," although initial "investigations indicated no release," according to a department report.

The documents make no reference to radioactive issues, although the original source who disclosed the situation described it as an investigation into radioactive gas.

The department's report identified the cylinders containing the hazardous material has having originated from Umicore, advanced metals company with U.S. headquarters based in Quapaw, Okla. The company's president confirmed the cylinders originated from his company.

Richard Laird, president of Umicore USA Inc., said a former employee using a false EPA identification number was paid to dispose of the cylinders. Instead, the former employee, along with an unnamed partner, according to Laird, brought the cylinders to the Columbia location where they were eventually discovered by Missouri Natural Resources Department investigators.

Laird confirmed that the former employee and his partner are currently under investigation. The focus of the investigation is fraud, he said, not misuse of any hazardous materials.

Get the full story here:

Columbia voters have approved a measure that will place police cameras at various places in the city's downtown area. The measure was approved by 59 percent of voters.

Karen Taylor, whose son Adam was attacked in a downtown Columbia parking garage last summer, headed the plan to install the cameras. Police were able to track down Adam Taylor's attackers because of security camera footage in the garage.

"In a perfect world, I wouldn't want cameras, either," Karen Taylor said. "But we don't live in a perfect world, and that rang true to my family last June 6."

The Columbia City Council had opposed the plan, forcing Taylor's group of camera supporters to gather petition signatures to get the measure on the April 6 ballot.

In an interview with KCOU/88.1 FM, the University of Missouri's student radio station, mayoral candidate Paul Love said he thinks "it's a shame people are willing to surrender their liberties because of a little crime in town ... OK, a lot of crime in town."

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said he doubted that any of his anti-surveillance colleagues in Jefferson City would attempt to pass legislation preventing the cameras.

The Manufacturing Jobs Act would reward manufacturing companies for creating or retaining Missouri jobs.

The bill proposes decreasing those companies' tax withholdings by half if they meet certain requirements.

The bill had previously passed the House, and should be voted on in committee sometime next week.

If passed by committee and the full Senate, it would need Governor Nixon's signature to become law.

Boone County could add storm water runoff damage and old tires to its nuisance reduction ordinance, under legislation heard by the House Crime Prevention Committee on Wednesday.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said Boone county officials came to him asking for old tires and storm water runoff damage to be added to the list of items under the nuisance ordinance, which already includes items such as "derelict" vehicles, garbage and excessive weeds.

Boone County Commissioner Karen Miller said taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for tire disposal; the property owner should.

Rep. Steve Hobbs, R-Mexico, presented the bill at the hearing on behalf of Schaefer, saying that sometimes a house, while being built, causes storm water runoff that can damage nearby homes. This legislation would allow counties to require builders or homeowners to build structures that prevent water damage.

Hobbs said he hasn't had any opposition thus far in the years he's worked on it. The bill cleared the Senate late last month.

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On April 6, Missouri's House Special Standing Committee on General Laws discussed a bill that would stop public funds going to professional sports teams that black out home games that aren't sold out at the stadium.

Representative Jason Holsman, D-Jackson County, sponsored the bill, citing the economic impacts the game has on restaurants, bars, and local television stations when the NFL prevents broadcasts.

This would stop professional sports teams from receiving revenue through taxes and tax breaks if they did not publicly broadcast every home game.

Ten other states have submitted the same legislation, including New York, Pennsylvania, and California.

Last season, the Kansas City Chiefs were blacked out once and the St. Louis Rams have been blacked out five times in the last two seasons-- twice last year.