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MPANewsBook: Statehouse News for MPA Members: 5/14/2010 - MPA NEWS : 5/14/10

On the next-to-last day of the 2010 legislative session, the Missouri General Assembly sent Gov. Jay Nixon a bill changing DWI enforcement laws.

Pending final approval by Nixon, the DWI bill would extend jail sentences for offenders and create a central repository with the Missouri State Highway Patrol to track offenses across the state.

Nixon, who had formed a task force last year to outline reforms on DWI statutes, issued a news release after the passage of the bill thanking legislators for its passage.

"Missouri's roadways will be safer as a result of this bill," Nixon said in a prepared statement issued after legislative passage Thursday night. "It will help us stop those who, despite multiple convictions, have continued to drive while drunk, posing a great danger ti innocent lives and themselves."

A bill that would require insurance companies to provide a maximum benefit of $40,000 for families with autistic children was sent to the governor's desk May 12.

The measure is substantially scaled back from the original proposal. The Insurance Department estimates that only slightly more than 25 percent of health insurance policies would be covered by the measure.

Also, small businesses would be able to opt out of autism coverage.

"It's a dramatic and positive step forward for our state," Nixon said in a statement. "It also positions us ... to turn darkness into light for a lot of families."

Missouri's General Assembly approved legislation that would impose new restrictions on adult-related industries.

The bill would ban full nudity in sexually-oriented business and require that the businesses have a buffer of 1000 feet between them and schools, libraries, churches or another sexually oriented business.

The House passed the bill 118-28, and the Senate concurred with that version -- sending the measure to the governor's office.

A similar version of the adult entertainment industry bill that was killed during a previous legislative session is part of a federal grand jury investigation into former House Speaker Rod Jetton.

The grand jury is investigating whether a connection existed between campaign contributions from the adult entertainment industry and assignment of a similar bill to an unfriendly committee when Jetton was Speaker.

Jetton has denied wrong doing.

The Missouri General Assembly has approved a measure banning a substance which mirrors the effect of marijuana.

Punishment for possession of synthetic marijuana would be similar to that of actual marijuana. Earlier in the session, some legislators wanted stricter penalties for the synthetic marijuana with Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, arguing synthetic marijuana was more akin to methamphetamines than marijuana.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Rep. Ward Franz, R-West Plains, said the spread of the synthetic marijuana is an epidemic.

Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis City, said the ban would kill jobs at small businesses who have seen sales of the marijuana-like substance skyrocket recently, the Post-Dispatch reports.

The bill will now go to Gov. Jay Nixon for his approval. If approved, Missouri will become one of the first states in the nation to ban synthetic marijuana, according to the Post-Dispatch.

The Missouri House passed a measure also approved by the Senate which places new regulations on abortion providers.

Under the bill, abortion providers would be required to provide women seeking a procedure printed materials detailing the risks associated with abortion and the opportunity to view a ultrasound at least 24-hours before an abortion is performed.

Rep. Bryan Pratt, R- Blue Springs, urged support for the measure, but lamented the loss of provisions which were contained in an earlier abortion bill he sponsored and was approved by the House earlier in the session.

Under Pratt's earlier legislation, it would become a crime to coerce someone into having an abortion. The earlier legislation would have also required doctors to report to a prosecutor anyone under the age of 18 who was seeking an abortion.

Pratt said the current bill, even without his earlier provisions would"decrease the number of abortions in the state of Missouri."

Rep. Beth Low, D-Kansas City, spoke in opposition to the measure and described the bill as a "charade."

"Abortion is going to continue," Low said, "so long as there are unwanted or unhealthy pregnancies."

The bill will now move to the desk of Gov. Jay Nixon for this approval or veto.

The Missouri House approved a resolution on May 11 to let voters decide if Missouri should participate in and be subject to the federal health care law.

Missourians will be asked on the August ballot whether or not they should allow the federal government to penalize them for not buying health insurance.

Every Republican in the Missouri House and 22 Democrats voted to approve the bill.

Since it is a referendum, it does not need to be signed by Governor Jay Nixon in order to reach the August ballot.

The following is a list of notable bills passed by Missouri's General Assembly as of 11:50 a.m. on May 14. The 2010 legislative session must end by 6:00 p.m. on May 14:

Republican House Speaker Ron Richard issued a formal statement May 11 attacking the Republican-controlled Senate for adjourning early that day to let some members play golf.

"While I am pleased that Missouri tourism will benefit from their outing, there is still a considerable amount of priority items left undone in the Senate," Richard was quoted as saying in his release.

Richard's statement prompted criticism from the Senate's top GOP leader, Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields.

"In this building, in this process, we're always better off when people talk to each other rather than about each other," Shields said.

Shields said that even with the Senate out of session, staff and committees continued work on legislation.

The attacks underscore what has been a growing divide among Republicans in the House and Senate on key issues before the 2010 legislative session.

The Missouri House voted to rename the section of Interstate 70 currently called "Mark McGwire Highway."

Under the measure sponsored by Rep. Mike Parson, R- Bolivar, the stretch of highway will be renamed after the author Mark Twain. Twain is a Missouri native.

The highway was named for Mark McGwire in 1999 a year after he hit 70 home runs, shattering the longtime home run record held by Roger Maris.

Missouri's House and Senate have agreed to create a committee of legislators and administration officials to develop plans for decreasing the size of state government.

The final version of the resolution creating the committee was adopted by the House and Senate on May 10.

The committee is charged with preparing a set of recommendations to the the legislature by the end of the current calendar year, in time for the legislative session that will begin in January of 2011.

Passage of the committee formation comes as proposals to actually consolidate state agencies have stalled in the legislature.