From Missouri Digital News:
MDN Menu

MDN Home

Journalist's Creed


MDN Help

MDN.ORG: Missouri Digital News
MDN Menu

MDN Home

Journalist's Creed


MDN Help

MDN.ORG Mo. Digital News Missouri Digital News MDN.ORG: Mo. Digital News MDN.ORG: Missouri Digital News
Lobbyist Money Help  
NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of January 10, 2011

The Springfield News-Leader reported Friday that Gov. Jay Nixon's office was transferring more than $35,000 of office funds to Missouri State University for the services of a university faculty member.

At the same time, the newspaper reports that the faculty member already was getting $160,000 in annual compensation.

The faculty member is the former Missouri State University president, Mike Nietzel. After his retirement, Nietzel returned to the faculty.

The Springfield News-Leader quoted a member of Nixon's own party of Missouri questioning the arrangement. "Why wouldn't you just hire him, put it in your budget and be transparent about it," the newspaper quoted Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, as asking.

"You may have to go back to that day when the James gang held up their first train on Gad's Hill to witness such a shameless attempt at plundering the innocent," one of the five members of the state's utility regulating commission told the Senate Rules Committee Thursday (Jan. 13).

Jeff Davis urged the committee to reject a rule adopted by his Public Service Commission that would require electric utilities use only Missouri-generated renewable energy to comply with a 2008 voter-approved renewable energy requirement.

Davis charged that would lead to higher electric bills because it would deny utilities the ability to meet their renewable energy requirements from cheaper non-Missouri sources.

David told the Senate panel that the rule was being pushed by a small group of Missouri renewable energy investors whom he equated to members of the Jesse James gang.

"Only this time, the victims aren't train passengers, they are your constituents. They are the utility customers who are getting a lug put on their monthly electric bill to pay for someone else's largess."

Davis was one of two members on the five-member PSC to vote against the Missouri-only requirement.

The commission chairman, Robert Clayton, said that Proposition C requires Missouri-only renewable power.

And he told the Senate committee that approach benefited the state.

"I ask you whether that really is the will of the voters to create renewable energy in Arizona or Texas or Florida or South America or Africa or Europe. Or did they intend for development in Missouri?"

The commission's legal counsel told the Senate committee the voter-approved measure was clear and left the commission with no choice but to require Missouri-only renewable energy.

The Senate committee took no immediate action on the resolution to reject the PSC rule. Under state law, an administrative regulation can be struck down by a resolution adopted by both the House and Senate.

A measure to require drug testing of welfare recipients is one of the two first bills before the Missouri House when it returns on Tuesday (Jan. 18).

The measure would require drug testing of either a recipient or an applicant of "Temporary Assistance to Needy Families" TANF whom the department suspects of being an illegal drug user.

Legislative staff estimate the requirement would cost the state more than $2 million in the first full year of implementation based largely on the estimated costs of conducting the tests.

A positive test would result in a one-year ban in TANF benefits.

A similar measure cleared the House in 2010, but stalled in the Senate Health Committee.

The Missouri House rejected Thursday (Jan. 13) a ban on smoking in House member offices, but they voted to ban smoking in a private area for House members in the back of the House chamber.

This smoking policy only applies to areas of the Capitol building under House control.

Areas of the Capitol controlled by the administration are smoke free, except for a designated smoking area.

Smoking in hallways throughout the Capitol is prohibited, even outside entrances to the building -- although government employees and visitors often violate the ban on smoking just outside the entrances.

Like the House, the Senate allows smoking in member offices. Years ago, the Senate adopted a resolution designating the state's senior lobbyist, a WWII veteran who had lobbied for the tobacco industry, as a walking designated smoking area.

The Transportation Commission has approved a set of requirements local communities must meet to use automatic cameras that monitor both speeding and red light violations on state highways.

The requirements apply only to state highways in communities that have automatic enforcement systems.

Under the new rules, only a law enforcement official can determine that an actual violation as occurred. Sights must be posted in advance warning that cameras are monitoring the intersection. And local governments must provide an annual report to the Transportation Department on the number of violations.

While imposing restrictions, the department gave the automatic enforcement approach an endorsement. "We believe automated enforcement is a good tool for keeping motorists safe," said the department's director, Kevin Keith. The department cited studies which found a 45 percent reduction in right-angle serious-injury crashes at intersections with red-light camera enforcement.

Automatic traffic enforcement systems that catch violators by camera has generated stiff opposition from the state legislature. But efforts to ban the systems have not won legislative approval.

One of the leading legislative opponents said the restrictions adopted by the commission has not addressed his opposition.

The Senate's budget-writing committee chair now belongs to the senator from the district with the largest single government institution in the state.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, who represents the district housing the center of operations for the University of Missouri, will chair the Senate Appropriations Committee.

"I intend to make it a priority to do everything I can for K-12 education and higher education," Schaefer said. "I do think that in this economic climate, it would be a victory to be able to hold funding steady for both K-12 and higher ed. compared to last year."

In his inaugural speech last week, Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, who makes committee appointments, made reference to the importance of higher education in his life. When he suddenly lost his first job of 12 years, he was able to begin a new career by finishing his education then attending law school at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Mayer said he and Schaefer have talked about his obligation to his district and the university.

Roger Wilson was the last Columbia senator to chair the Appropriations Committee, from 1986-1992. He said although the chairman must deny roughly two-thirds of the budget requests even in good times, the position can help protect the university from cuts.

On his third day on the job, State Auditor Tom Schweich unveiled his top management team that includes three who had worked for the former Democratic auditor, Susan Montee, whom Schweich had defeated.

His team also includes a couple of top staffers for Republicans like the former Senate GOP leader, lieutenant governor and former governor Matt Blunt.

When asked, at his news conference, Schweich vowed to keep politics out of auditing.

"I'm not going to be a partisan auditor. I'm going to call them exactly like I see them," Schweich said in response to whether he would use his office to go after the Democratic governor who will be up for re-election in less than two years.

"That's an insult to the people of Missouri. It's an abrogation of the responsibilities of the office. It's a discredit to the career people that here ... if I used this as some sort of political tool. It's not going to happen, ever."

Schweich also said he did not plan to seek policy changes with audits, as a few auditors had sought in past years.

"I am not trying to make policy. I'm not trying to take over the governor's job or the legislature's job. They've got plenty to do and I've got plenty to do without doing that," Schweich said.

"What I see it as is the taxpayer watchdog, the person that is responsible for going in and letting the people of Missouri know if their government is functioning effectively."

The approach of trying to affect public policy was started by the late George Lehr who became auditor in 1975. He used his office to push for legislative action in areas such as consumer protection and the property tax system.

By a near party-line vote, Missouri's House voted to call upon both the state's governor and attorney general to join a lawsuit by 20 other states challenging the federal health care law passed by Congress last year.

"[If] the provisions of this act are determined to be unconstitutional, then the citizens of Missouri will not have an unfair and penalizing mandate forced upon them and states' rights will be preserved," said the resolution sponsor -- Rep. Ward Franz, R-West Plains.

But Rep. Jean Peters-Baker, D-Kansas City, argued the resolution has no legal effect -- except for a cost to the state of helping pay for lawsuit against the federal government.

"So while we are here in this chamber today, we are not creating a job, we are not impacting unemployment. We are voting on a resolution that is legally non-binding and that has an actual, real cost to taxpayers."

The measure passed the House 115-46. No Republican voted against the resolution. Democrats split by a margin of four-to-one against.

In August, Missourians overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure declaring that no law can require Missourians to have health insurance.

Convicted murderer Richard Clay escaped his death sentence with an excusal from Gov. Jay Nixon Monday afternoon.

"Having looked at this matter in its entirety and after significant thought and counsel, I have concluded, however, to exercise my constitutional authority and commute Richard Clay’s sentence to life without the possibility of parole," the governor was quoted as saying in a written statement.

Neither Nixon nor his office provided any further details as to his reason. His statement did state that he is "convinced of Richard Clay's involvement in the senseless murder of Randy Martindale and find that the evidence clearly supports the jury's verdict of murder in the first degree."

Clay was found guilty of the 1994 murder of a southeast Missouri man. He was scheduled to be executed Wednesday, Jan. 12.

Just a week before his scheduled execution, Clay's supporters gathered at the Capitol and appealed to the governor to grant clemency. Clay's son, Kiefer Clay made a tearful plea for the governor to spare his father's life.

Clay's attorney had charged that former Congressman Kenny Hulshof had withheld evidence in the case when Hulshof was an assistant attorney general handling the case appeal. Hulshof has been accused of improper actions in two other criminal cases.

At a news conference in the St. Louis area later, Nixon did not explain his decision -- except to say that neither the controversy involving Hulshof nor reports the state has a shortage of chemicals used in executions played a role in his decision.

A deadly shooting in Arizona that ended with six people dead and 14 injured, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., has sparked a conversation between Missouri legislators over their security and the power of words to incite action.

Sen. Robin Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis County, expressed concern over incendiary images and words used by the media, politicians and citizens and said the negative rhetoric impacts the way people behave.

"I don't know what spurred this man to do such a thing, but we are going to have to be very careful about the messages and the images we put out in the press," Wright-Jones said. "It could take anyone on the fringes and force them into a situation like this that puts us all in danger."

Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, reiterated the effect of using powerful language.

"It isn't about freedom of speech, it is about the words we choose that either incite or calm or make a point," Lampe said.

House Democratic Floor Leader Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County, said the shooting might bring a better tone to debate in the legislature this session.

Wright-Jones called the shooting a "tragedy of major proportion" and said she expects a copy-cat incident to occur.

"I'm sure someone else has embraced that as the answer to his or her own set of issues," said Wright-Jones.

The shooting brings the safety of legislators and political events into consideration. Lampe said for the legislators, however, the risk is part of the job — and for her, she said it is a risk worth taking to preserve democracy.

"You are either going to make yourself accessible or not," said Lampe. "The whole idea of America is that it is about citizen legislature and is about citizens contacting citizens."

The legislators said they did not expect the shooting to affect conceal and carry laws in Missouri.

Republican Tom Schweich, 50, was sworn in as the new Missouri auditor Monday, Jan. 11 at noon in the Capitol's rotunda.

"It is highly likely that he will drive all of you in state government nuts. But then, it's the job of a good auditor to drive people nuts," former-U.S. Sen. John Danforth said at Schweich's inaugural ceremony, according to The Associated Press.

Danforth and Schweich met at Bryan Cave Law Firm in St. Louis where Schweich has worked as an attorney for the past twenty years. The pair later worked together on the Waco investigation in 1999. Danforth was a key supporter in Schweich's bid for office.

It is the auditor's job to inspect state agencies and departments to ensure the government is running efficiently, effectively and without monetary waste.

This is Schweich's first foray into elected politics. He defeated incumbent Democratic auditor Susan Montee for the position in the November mid-term election.

Schweich graduated from Clayton High School in St. Louis, then went to school on the East Coast where he graduated with a bachelor's in history from Yale in 1982 and a law degree from Harvard three ye