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MPANewsBook: Statehouse News for MPA Members: 5/7/2010 - MPA NEWS: 5/7/10

In a straight party-line vote, Republicans in the House approved a campaign finance bill that would impose campaign contribution limits on statewide elected officials and candidates for local government, but not the legislative candidates.

House Speaker Ron Richard said exclusion of legislators was unintentional and could be fixed later in the legislative process

The proposal also would prohibit someone from voting without presenting a photo ID and require secrecy in union votes. It also would impose a limit on how much any one lobbyist could give to a legislator, prohibit legislators for working as lobbyists until two years after leaving office.

The measure was passed in a short House debate in which the Republican House Speaker refused to recognize a single Democrat to speak on the proposal or offer amendments.

"It was a runaway train and that's what they wanted," said Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart. "This was a sham bill and a terrible process that it went through."

When asked about the technique, Richard said he was taking advantage of a perk of being the leader of the majority.

Assistant Democratic Floor Leader J.C. Kuessner, D-Eminence, said the bill will die in the Senate, which has already expressed opposition to many of the provisions that were included in the original ethics reform bill the Ethics Reform Committee supported.

"We've seen the majority pull this stunt before," Kuessner said. "They send bills through knowing the Senate will ignore them, and then they go around saying we don't want ethics reform. It's a joke."

House Majority Leader Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, said he hoped the Senate would pass most of the language currently in the bill, and was confident they would pass it before the session ends next Friday.

Get the full story here;

The Missouri Senate passed a ban on synthetic marijuana without the House provision that makes possession of any amount a felony.

The House amended the ban in early March to make any K-2 possession charge a Class C felony, but the Senate reversed that move Wednesday by making possession of 35 and more grams of K-2 a felony. Anything less would be a misdemeanor.

This would make the treatment of K-2 the same as marijuana.

Some Democrats said a felony charge for any possession amount was too harsh and making a K-2 possession charges a felony did not make sense at a time when the state is trying to reduce the number of non-violent offenders in prisons.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, disagreed, comparing K-2 more to methamphetamines instead of marijuana because K-2 is a chemically synthesized drug.

The Senate passed the overall bill 32-0 as well as an emergency clause, which would cause the bill to go into immediate effect after receiving the governor's signature.

The revised bill needs House approval, or a compromise needs to be reached on the differences in a conference committee.

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State Budget Director Linda Luebbering said that despite a nearly four percent decline in April revenue compared to the same month last year, there were signs of improvement that indicated Missouri's economy may be starting to recover.

She pointed to increases in corporate income tax and income tax withholdings from employers as signs of potential growth.

But House Budget Chairman Allen Icet, R-Wildwood, said he's not convinced the state will meet Gov. Jay Nixon's revenue projections for the year and thinks Nixon should begin planning potential cuts to the current budget and announce them no later than mid-May.

Luebbering said her office doesn't think more cuts will be needed this year. Her office is projecting revenue will improve slightly over the next two months and finish down 10 percent for the entire fiscal year, which will be enough to balance the budget.

State revenue is down almost 12 percent total for the fiscal year to date and April numbers were bolstered by a one-day payment of $120 million on April 20, without which Luebbering said April revenue would have been down more than 15 percent.

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The House General Laws Committee approved a bill augmenting informed consent for women seeking abortion. No changes were made to the bill which passed out of the Senate two weeks ago.

The bill would require physicians to present informational materials about the fetus and alternatives. One of these would be a Department of Health and Senior Service-created pamphlet stating: "The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being."

In addition to the pamphlet, the doctor would be mandated to offer an ultrasound of the unborn child, its age, and an opportunity to listen to the heartbeat. A woman receiving an abortion would also be required to sign off that she received information on rape, domestic abuse, available medical assistance and the father's financial liability. The physician must present these materials in person at least 24 hours prior to the procedure.

The committee passed the bill out by a vote of 8-5, with the five opposing votes coming from the committee's five Democrats.

The bill can now move to the full House for debate.

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A House committee passed a bill that would extend state universities' ability to sell parts of land without General Assembly approval.

The law that currently permits the sale of university land without legislative approval is set to expire in 2011. Under the proposed legislation that expiration would be pushed back to August 2017.

The bill, approved May 3 by the House Public Institutions Committee, also deals with other land owned by the state, which can be sold by the governor.

Many times the state is gifted land to use for a particular purpose, such as to be used as a park or for high school athletics. However, when the land is sold, there is a question of whether these agreements need to be upheld.

Committee members also discussed the possibility of using the revenue from state-owned land to fund programs hurt by cuts in the state's budget, but took no action on the idea.

The bill now goes to the House Rules Committee.

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Opposition emerged in the House Higher Education Committee to a Senate-passed plan to merge the state's two education departments.

Democratic representatives on the committee expressed their concerns with the consolidation plan proposed by Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, which would combine the Higher Education and Elementary and Secondary Education departments.

"My concern is the loss of expertise," Rep. Sue Schoemehl, D-St. Louis, said, referring to the elimination of the current board members for a smaller board. "I want to make sure when we do this combination that we don't lose valuable people."

Under the proposal passed by the Senate, the new Education Board would consist of six members -- nominated by the governor -- who each would serve staggered six-year terms.

Currently, the Education Department is governed by an eight-member board and the Higher Education Department by a nine-member board.

Rep. Jill Schupp, D-St. Louis County, said she was concerned that the joint resolution didn't require the six members to have background in education or administration.

Shields said he didn't think the governor would nominated someone without adequate experience, but that the Senate could vote against nominee deemed ill-suited when the person was up for confirmation.

As of May 6, the House Committee had taken no action on the measure.

Get the full story here;

The Missouri House narrowly approved an amendment that would prohibit embryonic stem-cell research from being funded by University of Missouri System grants.

The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Therese Sander, R-Moberly, was attached to a bill which would increase the amount of money UM curators can grant for research on spinal cord injuries from $50,000 to $250,000.

The 77-73 vote on the amendment split across party lines, with a number of mostly rural Democrats supporting the amendment and many Republicans voting no, including bill sponsor Steve Hobbs, R-Mexico, and House Speaker Ron Richard, R-Joplin.

While Hobbs opposed the amendment, he said he didn't think it would be enough to hamper the main effects of the bill, which passed overwhelmingly 150-3. Hobbs said it would be a major economic boon to research facilities, namely in Columbia. The region's representatives spoke strongly in favor of the bill, saying it is a boon for MU researchers.

The Senate and the House must hold a conference committee next to work out a compromise on such differences between their versions of the bill.

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The Senate General Laws Committee passed a bill that gave legislators and their employees the right to carry firearms into the Missouri Capitol building.

In the same year that two House members appeared to be restrained from charging each other on the House floor, the committee heard no opposition over the expansion.

Prosecuting attorneys, circuit attorneys and their assistants would also receive the right to carry and conceal under the language.

Sen. Dan Clemens, R-Marshfield, said the biggest challenge in passing this bill will be working past a provision that lowers the minimum age for the firearm concealment program to 21 from 23. Proponents of lowering the age say those who join the military after high school are not allowed to carry concealed weapons under current law.

"The people that enter the military young have formal training and should be able to carry," Clemens said.

The bill also allows Missourians to purchase and sell rifles and shotguns outside of its border states and expands the right to kill unwanted intruders on a resident's property. Current law allows Missourians to kill intruders that enter the building itself.

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Four ballot initiatives beat Missouri's May 2 deadline and will come before voters the Associated Press reports.

Groups obtained enough signatures to bring measures relating to dog breeding, judicial selection, and St. Louis and Kansas City's earning taxes to Missouri Voters, bypassing the General Assembly.

The dog-breeding measure would limit owners to 50 dogs and require the dogs to be fed twice daily, the Associated Press reports. Under the proposed measure, owners would also face new restrictions on dog living spaces, provide annual veterinary care and not breed animals more than twice every 18 months.

According to the Associated Press, the new laws would apply to people with at least 10 female dogs for breeding. Those found in violation of the law could be charged with a misdemeanor, face 15 days in jail and be required to pay $300 fine.

Missouri's Senate has passed and sent the House a measure that would put on the August primary ballot a proposed law to give Missourians the right to refuse to purchase health insurance.

Senate Democrats reached a compromise with Republicans to not block a vote on the measure if it were placed on the primary ballot rather than the November general election ballot.

Supporters argued the federal health care law requirement violates personal freedom.

But opponents questioned whether the state could establish a legal right to ignore a federal requirement, even if approved by Missouri voters.

Get the roll-call vote here:

Missouri's budget director announced that lowered mileage reimbursement for some state employees will pay for Truman's Day, after the state legislature failed to to pass a measure eliminating the holiday and potentially saving the state millions of dollars.

State Budget Director Linda Luebbering said the state would offset the cost of the holiday by lowering the mileage reimbursement rate for travel by state employees.

The Office of Administration estimates that each holiday costs the state $1.5 million in overtime expenses from state jobs that must be filled during holidays, such as staffing prisons and health-care facilities. Employees required to work during a holiday are paid an overtime rate.

Luebbering said the state's revenue estimates had been calculated based on the assumption that a bill to eliminate two state holidays, Lincoln's Birthday and Truman's Day, would pass prior to this week.

When that assumption proved false, however, the state was forced to compensate for the shortfall.

That meant announcing on Monday a five-cent-per-mile reduction in reimbursement for state travel expenses. The cut will remain in effect through at least the next fiscal year, Luebbering said, until the state has regained the sum of the revenue lost on Truman's Day.

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