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 March 21, 2011

Unemployment benefits for about 10,000 Missourians will expire Saturday for those who have reached their 79-week limit for coverage.

On Thursday, Sen. Jolly Justice, D-Kansas City, delivered an emotional rebuke against four of her colleagues who had blocked passage of a measure to authorize use of federal funds to extend benefits another 20 weeks.

"So I want you to go home this weekend and talk to those families who will no longer be able to feed themselves because we're cutting off their benefits," Justice said in a breaking voice.

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, has been the leader in a filibuster that blocked the Senate from voting on accepting the federal funds.

Lembke argued that the federal government is being reckless in spending money it has to borrow to expand the benefits.

"The states are going to have to ban together and say we're no longer going to be willing accomplices in what you're doing to our nation and to the next generation," Lembke said after Justice's rebuke.

The House had passed authorization to spend the funds by an overwhelming majority nearly two months. 

The measure is one of two bills involving federal funds that Lembke and other fiscal conservatives in the Senate have blocked from getting a vote.  Also stalled is authorization to provide $190 million of one-time federal funds to public schools.  It passed the House a month ago without a single negative vote.

The House Redistricting Committee chair presented Wednesday night a plan that effectively would eliminate the Congressional district of south St. Louis City Democrat Russ Carnahan.

Missouri will lose one of its nine districts as a result of the 2010 census.

"The city of St. Louis lost the most population over the past decade," said Rep. John Diehl, R-St. Louis County. "So it's almost impossible to justify that the city, in and of itself, maintains two congressmen."

Under Diehl's plan, the district of Democratic U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay would be expanded to include the entire city of St. Louis an a portion of north St. Louis County. Carnahan would be included in Clay's district.

Diehl said that having a single district in which St. Louis city was the dominate population center would give the city a stronger voice than if the city had its constituents split as a minor part of two separate districts.

There had been speculation from the start of the legislative session in January that the Republican-controlled legislature would target Democrat Carnahan's seat for elimination.

"Having a Democratic congressman the obvious odd man out in the discussion and having to change those borders drastically is never a fun proposition to have to deal with," said House Democratic Leader Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County.

The committee did not take immediate action on Diehl's proposal.

Two utility officials spent more than half an hour detailing the safety and backup systems in place at the Callaway County nuclear plant and a nuclear plant in Kansas that serves western Missouri customers.

The officials described for the Public Service Commission the backup and redundant systems designed to protect against a radiation accident.

After the presentation, however, Ameren Missouri's vice president, Adam Heflin, acknowledged in an interview that there are no absolutely guarantees that an incident similar to that in Japan could not happen with the Missouri plant.

"I can't assure that the unforeseen won't happen at Callaway," Heflin said. "What I can say and what folks can take some comfort in is that we're always questioning and we're always looking for ways we can be safer and more ready in case something unforeseen does happen."

The PSC chairman, Kevin Gunn, stressed that what caused the failures at the Japanese plants was not the earthquake, but the subsequent tsunami that cannot happen in land-locked Missouri.

"We obviously don't have tsunami issues here," Gunn said. "We may have seismic activities, but I'm confident that these plants have been designed to take that seismic activity into account."

Heflin said nuclear power remains the best future option for power generation.  However, legislation to allow Ameren charge utility customers for the costs of pursuing a federal permit to build a new plant remains stalled in the state legislature.

The House Economic Development committee passed a bill that would provide tax credits to international cargo shippers bringing business to St. Louis.

The tax credits include an 8 year exemption on outbound international cargo flights leaving St. Louis as well as tax breaks on facilities being built around the airport to house imports and exports.

The bill sponsor, Caleb Jones, R-California, said the tax credits would create an incentive for cargo shippers to choose St. Louis over Chicago as a place of business.

Jones said Lambert has the capacity to be a great investment for shippers.

"And if we in the Missouri Assembly do not grab this opportunity with both hands, we are going to lose it to another state," Jones said.

No one spoke in opposition to the bill, which was passed by the committee by a vote of 20-0. There was, however, discussion about whether or not the program should extend to Kansas City.

Other bill supporters included the AFL-CIO and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce.

Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, the sponsor of the Senate bill said the Chinese government supports the opportunity in St. Louis and that the economic benefit would extend throughout Missouri and stressed the need for Missouri to provide an incentive.

"If we don't act on this, other states will," Schmitt said.

The bill will go to the House Rules Committee for a final vote before proceeding to the House floor.

Extended Senate debate blocked Tuesday [March 29] a vote on a measure that would expand a ban on local governments from awarding contracts to businesses that require workers to join unions or pay union fees.

The measure's sponsor - Sen. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown -- came under stiff questioning from Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis County.

"You believe it's right for us to dictate to local political subdivisions how best to use the tax dollars," Green asked.

"I believe it's right to stand up for the taxpayers in Missouri irregardless of what subdivision or political subdivision they are in," Munzlinger responded.

It is the second bill restricting union powers that has been blocked by a Senate filibuster.

Two weeks earlier, before legislators left for spring break, a filibuster blocked action on what proponents call "right to work" legislation that impose a broader ban on business from requiring workers to join unions or pay union fees -- regardless whether working for private or government contracts.

Along with Democratic opposition, that measure faced stiff opposition from fellow Republicans in the Senate.

Missouri's House voted to strip Gov. Jay Nixon of additional travel funds, as they gave first-round approval to the 2012 budget.

Shortly after he took office, Nixon began charging his travel to other state agencies instead of his own office budget. Leaders from both sides of the aisle called for an end to the governor's practice and in response House Budget Chairman, Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, gave Nixon an additional $500,000 to travel within his own office budget. Today, however, the House voted to take away the additional funds and instead take the money to a dropout prevention program.

Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, offered the amendment and said the House needed to address the problem of students dropping out of school.

"When those children that have dropped out go out in those streets, they are committing crimes in the worst way and we are the ones that have to pay for it when they go into the penal system," Nasheed said.

One Democrat, however, stood up for Nixon and criticized his colleagues.

"This is a manipulation of the governor's office and a manipulation of these kids...we should not drag the budget process into the mud and not drag these children with us," Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said.

Leaders of the St. Louis Police Officers' Association filed a lawsuit Thursday alleging ballot measures asking voters later this year or next to transfer St. Louis Police control to the city are deceptive.

The suit, filed in Cole County Circuit Court, said the measures included misleading language that inflated the estimated savings to the city.

"There's just no clear answers. They're dealing with fuzzy math here," said Jeff Roorda, a spokesman for the association. "It's a power grab by the folks across the street in City Hall to try to control the police department."

The officers' suit does not affect a bill sitting in a Senate committee that would also transfer police control to St. Louis for the first time since the Civil War. The legal challenge wouldn't matter if Missouri's legislature acts first.

Missouri's House passed the bill last month over opponents' objections.

"People here in the city of St. Louis want local control and are going to continue fighting for local control until they get it," Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, said. Nasheed is the bill's sponsor.

Gov. Jay Nixon has said he's not convinced about the measure's benefits. If the legislature and Nixon don't approve, voters would need to support one of the now-contested ballot measures.

The bill in the legislature does not include transferring control of Kansas City Police to that city, but the ballot measures do, Nasheed said.

Funeral protesting has been a highly contested issue for both national and state lawmakers. At Missouri's Capitol, legislators are attempting to place restrictions on funeral protesting...again.

Even if the legislation passes in Missouri, it may not go into effect. Just last August, a U.S. district judge declared two funeral protest laws in Missouri unconstitutional.

These protest laws weren't narrowly tailored enough or served a compelling government interest.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Ward Franz R-West Plains said this legislation is something Missouri needs.

"It's a simple idea, to allow families to mourn the loss of a loved one in peace and to give them a chance to have some closure in a very difficult time."

His bill would make it a crime to protest within 500 feet of a funeral, two hours before and two hours following the service.

His restrictions are trying to prevent groups like the Westboro Baptist Church from unfettered protesting.

According to Margie Phelps, an attorney and member of the Westboro Baptist Church, said they've protested at nearly 800 funerals since 2005.

Phelps said Westboro has been mocked numerous times in the media.

"We're an open book. So there's not any aspect of our being that hasn't been mocked and vilified. And you know what? We are all good with it, 100 percent good."

Franz said this group has the right to protest but needs limitations.

The bill got overwhelming approval in the House and needs two more votes in the Senate.

Other states like Nebraska, Iowa and Oregon are considering similar legislation.

John Aliperti sees the effects of drug use in families firsthand.

As counselor at Harris House, a drug treatment center in St. Louis, he works with individuals struggling with substance abuse.

Drug abuse puts a strain on family relationships, he says.

Missouri is one of several states considering legislation to keep drug users from receiving welfare assistance.

Under a House bill passed in January, parents on TANF, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, could be subjected to drug testing from the Department of Social Services if state workers believe they may be using drugs.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Ellen Brandom (R-Sikeston) said the bill would keep "hard earned tax dollars" from going to drug abusers.

Rep. Jeanette Oxford (D-St. Louis), an opponent of the bill, said the it is "abusive of welfare recipients" and questions whether state workers could fairly determine which welfare recipients are suspicious of drug use.

The Senate is considering similiar legislation and co-sponsor Sen. Will Kraus (R-Jackson County) says the measure would "send a message to drug users."

Jim Weible has seen the extreme consequences of texting while driving.

Earlier this year, a friend of the St. Louis county resident was driving and texting without wearing a seat belt.

Weible's friend, Bond Rho, had been driving alone through north St. Louis County when he veered off the road, hit a pole, and was thrown from the car and killed instantly.

"The fact that something like this could happen to a guy that young, a guy I had known that long, you know, it made the statistics you see on the news a lot more real," said Weible.

According to a study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, drivers take their eyes off the road for five seconds on average to send a text.

Driving at 55 m.p.h., that's traveling beyond the length of a football field without looking at the road.

Although some Legislators, including Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield, said people need to make these decisions on their own.

Sen. Ryan McKenna, D-Jefferson County, said he disagrees with Purgason and sponsors a bill to expand Missouri's ban to include all drivers.

"My example is when I first started driving, after I passed the driving test, somebody gave me a miniature typewriter and told me to start typing on it while I drive the car, you would have thought I was crazy," commented McKenna.

McKenna said his bill is currently stuck in the state's legislative process and a similar bill is proposed in the House.  

Since 2009, it has been illegal in Missouri for anyone under the age of 21 to be texting while driving.

Captain Tim Hull is the spokesperson for the Missouri State Highway Patrol and said the age-restriction makes it difficult for officers to enforce.

However, Hull said drivers who text typically make visible mistakes that get them pulled over by officers, such as veering into another lane of traffic or driving too slow.

From Aug. 2009 to Dec. 2010, the Highway Patrol issued more than 80 tickets for violating the texting while driving ban.

Under Missouri's current law, Bond Rho's texting was illegal, but if it was one year later, he would have been 22 and legally allowed to text and drive.

Charter schools are schools that receive public money, are sponsored by an outside organization, and attended by choice.

Charter schools are operated by outside organizations rather than the state, so the schools can set some of their own rules and regulations.

Shearwater High School is a charter school that helps homeless children get back into school.

Shearwater President Stephanie Krauss says homeless children that move from shelter to shelter have a hard time joining a school because of their ever-changing addresses.

St. Louis City Representative Tishaura Jones sponsors a bill that would allow charter schools anywhere in the state and expand who is eligible to sponsor a charter school.

"Parents need options," said Jones. "When we go to a restaurant and we don't like the food, we use the choice of our dollar to go somewhere else. Why should we have to accept the education system as it is?"

St. Louis City Representative Joe Keaveny also sponsors a bill that would allow charter schools to adjust graduation requirements for their specific schools.

Western Michigan University education professor Gary Miron has been studying school choice programs in Europe and the United States for more than two decades.

He says he's an opponent to charter schools with negative results.

Through his research, he's found that most cases throughout the country have led to some schools not integrating students.

For example, having only poor-black students attend a specif school or high-income schools with only high-income students.

Education is currently a very important issue in Missouri.

President Obama signed a declaration Wednesday declaring Missouri's February snow storm a major disaster. The declaration will make federal funding available to local governments to help finance costs within the 59 counties hit by the storm.

This comes the day after President Obama approved $64 million in aid to cover the costs incurred during Illinois' winter storm. The amount of aid Missouri will receive is unknown, though their original request was for $14 million.

Missouri's lawmakers introduced a bill that would eliminate teacher tenure and change the way teachers are evaluated and paid.

Currently, it takes a Missouri teacher five years to gain tenure, which is longer than any other state.

Once a teacher is given tenure, they cannot be removed from a school district without a legitimate reason for termination. According to teachers and administrators, teacher tenure provides greater protection for teachers.

Republican Representative Scott Dieckhaus sponsored the bill that would ultimately eliminate teacher tenure in Missouri.

Dieckhaus and the bill's supporters say this bill would prevent districts from having to keep ineffective teachers in their schools because of tenure.

According to the spokesperson for Missouri State Teacher's Association, Todd Fuller, the five-year period before a teacher gains tenure is crucial. He says during this period, administrators are to evaluate teachers and then determine whether or not they should be given tenure in that district.

“What happens in that process or during that time is teachers have already, number one decided if want to stay in that particular district or number two they and the administration has decided if that district is a good fit for that particular teacher,” he said.

Another major change under this bill is the way teachers are evaluated. Student performance would determine 50 percent of their evaluation score, and their pay would change accordingly.

Russell Smithson, from Warrensburg has been a third grade teacher for 12 years. He says basing pay on student scores stifles teacher collaboration.

Smithson said,“If their pay is going to be based off of that, Susie down the hall is not going to share with Jim across the hall what she’s doing in her classroom that works really well.”

Missouri lawmakers are to continue this debate over education reform throughout the legislative session.

Childhood obesity has nearly tripled in the past 30 years. Obesity in children can lead to many health problems as adults. These include heart disease, asthma, and diabetes.

When Dori Lingle was concerned about her daughters weight she looked to the internet to find an answer.

Lingle discovered Camp Jump Start in Imperial, Missouri.

Her daughter lost 50 pounds after spending two summers at the camp.

Camp Jump Start was founded and is directed by Jean Huelsing.

She says the camp approaches weight loss as simply as "less calories in, more calories out".

Huelsing says the camp teaches kids how to shop for groceries, pick out food at restaurants, and label read.

She also says every camper she has ever had has lost weight.

Huelsing believes schools need to offer more healthy options for students.

The Columbia Public School District offers various nutrition and exercise programs for students.

Laina Fullum is the director of nutritional services for the district. She says they offer fruits and veggies in every cafeteria.

Fullum has also implemented Tasty Tuesday, a program that allows students to sample healthy menu items.

K-5 curriculum coordinator Patty Cornell says they also have exercise clubs. Some schools have monthly PTA clubs where students and parents learn about living healthy.

Angela Gourley and her son Carter are fighting for recognition of integrated education and its benefits.

Carter, who is 6 years old, was born with the neurological disability called hydrocephalus.

Hydrocephalus can cause, but is not limited to, cerebral palsy and asperger's disease, a form of autism.

Angela Gourley also lobbies for the Arc of Missouri, an advocate of community living for people with mental disabilities.

Representative Craig Redmon, R-1st District, co-sponsors HB 421.

He says integration into communities will allow them to become a productive part of society.

Carter Gourley is a prime example of what inclusive education provides.

According to the State Emergency Management Agency, 64 Missouri counties requested a total of 14 million dollars in Federal disaster aid on March 1, and have yet to hear anything back from the Federal Government.

Mike O'Connell, a spokesman for the state Emergency Management Agency, said it could be any day that the President makes a decision on if he's going to declare a disaster, which would qualify Missouri for aid dollars. He said 52 of the 64 counties that applied for aid saw record or near record snowfall during the storm.

Illinois reported on Tuesday that 60 counties applied for aid, and received a total of 64 million dollars.

According to a release from Illinois, aid money will go to repay local governments for costs related to overtime hours, repairing damages to roads and buildings and debris removal.

Across the Midwest, farmland prices are higher than ever before.

The high costs of crop products and increased competition for land has driven this sudden boom, said Estil Fretwell, a spokesperson for the Missouri Farmers Bureau.

The surge in land prices will discourage the next generation of farmers, said Fretwell.

Boonville real estate agent, Mitch Leonard, says its farmland is no longer affordable for many in his community.

"It's pretty much impossible for a young farmer to start [a farm]." said Leonard.

Rep. Tom Loehner, R-Koeltztown, is sponsoring a bill to help young farmers lease farmland at reasonable prices from the state.

There was no opposition to the bill in it's committee.

Missouri Transportation Department reports traffic related fatalities are down by 12% from last year, but a cut of nearly half its budget could affect this statistic.

The Department has used up all the federal funds for roads, bridges and highways.

MoDot's previous highway budget was $1.2 billion, and was cut to an estimated $662 million.

Chairman of Commission for MoDot is Grace Nichols, who is seeking additional aid for the lack of highway funds.

Nichols said, "Whether it's legislation or whether it is turning to the private industry for help or looking very hard at our entire organization and see if there are ways to cut funding."

MoDot has already cut a total of 300 employees to adjust to the slimmer budget, but other measures will be taken also.

Former Chairman of the Missouri Transportation Department said safety amenities will be less kept up.

MoDot reported in 2009 road-related fatalities went from 1250 to 830.

"That's you know 400 people that got home to their families that evening that may not have without these safety things going on," said former Chairman Bill Mckenna.

McKenna also said the federal money was used for safety precautions like reflective stripping on roads and rumble strips.

He said, if the money is not donated or given then roads will begin to deteriorate. 

The U.S. Treasury Department and Gov. Jay Nixon announced on Tuesday Missouri’s application for State Small Business Credit Initiative funds were approved.

Missouri will have access to nearly 27 million dollars for small business lending loans beginning next month.

This program helps to create jobs and stimulate small business growth.

Nixon said funds will create more than 270 million dollars in additional small business lending. Missouri's plan dedicates nearly 17 million dollars to promote the formation and growth of high-tech businesses and the remaining 10 million for industrial, agricultural and recreational programs.

The Deputy District Direction of the U.S. Small Business Administration in Kansas City, David Ross, said this funding program will stimulate Missouri’s economy and create jobs.

“It’s going to flow right back to small business and create jobs. We’re all in favor of anything that is going to help us in that direction.”

Missouri businesses with fewer than 500 employees can begin applying for the loans on April 8.

The SSBCI is part of President Obama’s Small Business Jobs Act of 2010.

The State Supreme Court appointed St. Louis County Circuit Judge Richard Bresnahan to a case against Montgomery County prosecutor Lee Elliott.

Elliott is accused of defending a man facing a misdemeanor speeding ticket.

It is illegal for a prosecutor to represent anyone but the state in criminal cases under Missouri law.

Attorney General Chris Koster filed court documents to remove Elliott from office last week.

Elliott will be suspended from his duties until a decision is made about whether he should be removed from office.

Federal Judge Larry Burns issued an order Monday for charged Tuscon shooter Jared Loughner to be transferred to a Springfield, Missouri facility for mental evaluation by April 29.

Burns announced the Bureau of Prisons in Springfield is the most accommodating mental health unit to evaluate Loughner on whether he was sane at the time of the shooting, and whether he is sound enough to stand trial.

Loughner's public defender, Judy Clarke, issued a court filing saying moving Loughner could make his mental state worse, as he would have no contact with his defense during his stay in Missouri.

A spokeswoman for the Springfield facility said the facility's mental health unit treats around 300 of the 1,100 inmates who are at the facility or are transferred there.

Springfield Republican Representative Charlie Denison said the transferring of prisoners to Springfield is not unusual.

He said, "It is a hospital, as well as a prison, where a lot of those prisoners are ill...and the evaluation of prisoners is done there quite often."

The Federal Bureau of Prisons declined to comment on the transferring of Loughner.

Spokesmen for Burns and Clarke did not return calls.

Loughner is charged with 49 counts, including the murders of a federal judge and five others, as well as the attempted assassination of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Last Week

Pro-gun sentiments surrounded Missouri's House as they passed a package of six bills relaxing regulations on firearms.

One of the most debated bills would lower the legal age to carry a concealed firearm from 23 to 21.

St. Louis County Democrat Jill Schupp opposes legislation that puts more guns in the public's hands.

"Why we think 21 year olds should not be able to serve on the board of curators and yet, we think it is okay for them to carry a gun with them makes no sense to me."

Another part of package would allow non-elected staff members to carry concealed weapons in the state Capitol. Elected officials already have this right.

Callaway County Republican Representative Jeannie Riddle sponsored the bills. She says staff members should have the same rights as the lawmakers they work for.

"This bill deals with law abiding citizens to protect their God-given, constitution-guaranteed right."

The bills now move to the senate.

23,000 Missourians still don't know whether they will see an unemployment check after April 3rd.

The senate adjourned for break without voting on a plan to accept $81 Million in federal money to extend benefits from 79 to 99 weeks.

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, says he will continue to fillibuster the bill if it is brought back up because he says it is wrong for the federal government to send borrowed money to the states.

He says he's been getting more calls from people in other states than in Missouri.

"They're afraid that their state legislatures, you know, might get the same idea and it would affect them. My office responding to them is saying, well what the senator is doing in Missouri doesn't affect you in Pennsylvania," Lembke said.

Republican Senate leader Rob Mayer says he would have liked to see a vote on the plan before the break.

"A few senators shouldn't hold up the progress of what's going on here and so if we have to use stronger measures we'll use stronger measures," Mayer said.

The House Retirement Committee heard a bill that would increase the amount St. Louis police officers pay to their pensions. The increase would be two percent, for a total of nine percent of salaries.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mike Leara R-St. Louis said this bill keeps the formula for pension the same, but increase the amount police department members pay to their retirement plans. Lear says police officers and political parties are in somewhat of an agreement with this bill, but the process will take time.

“I would like to say that we wanted to begin this process, we didn’t expect to complete this today, we just wanted to begin this and hear what the Police Board had to say.”

Executive Director Steve Olish of St Louis’ Police Retirement System said the pension needs to be sustained, seeing as members of the police department do not receive social security.

“ I think it is important to understand that St. Louis police officers are not covered by social security. They have their pension and that’s it.

Olish says some member organizations, such as the Police Officers Association and the Police Leadership, came together to agree on this bill.

David McKracken, a registered lobbyist for St. Louis Police Officers Association said he needs to see a financial statement of this bill before a decision is reached.

“We have not taken official position on this bill yet, we may or may not.”

The bill needs committee approval before it goes to the House.

According to a bill passed by the Missouri House, women no longer would be able to get an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy unless a second doctor approves the procedure.

Additionally, doctors may be fined if they perform the late-term procedure without a second opinion.

Republican Majority Floor Leader and bill sponsor Tim Jones said a fetus is viable at 20 weeks of pregnancy.

He said, "And it is a child, it's not a fetus, it's not a section of cells, it's a life. If we're going to start talking about the health and the welfare of the mother and all that, let's talk about the health and the welfare of the other life."

Republican representative John McCaherty said it is important to remember the restrictions of the bill apply only to women who are over 20 weeks pregnant.

"At five months, my goodness, if you can't make a decision in five months, then there's more of a problem there than just the will to have an abortion," McCaherty said.

Some opponents of the bill argued it may be difficult for women of rural areas to access a second doctor, especially in the event of a medical emergency.

Others, like Democratic Representative Tishuara Jones, spoke in opposition of any government control over a woman's decision.

"Get your hands out of my belly. Get them out, because this bill criminalizes the doctor-patient relationship, and it tells women what to do with their bodies and their children," she said.

Because the bill and its substitute passed with majority votes, the measure now will go to Senate committees for debate.

Two bills introduced in a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday could decide whether or not Missouri will have a Second Injury Fund under the state's workers' compensation system.

The Second Injury Fund is a state program that provides benefits to an injured worker when a current work-related injury combines with a prior disability to create an increased combined disability.

If the program ended tomorrow, the state would still have $920 million in obligations to people who have qualified to receive the benefits.

"We are faced with a scenario where these obligations will need to be met," said sponsor of the two bills, Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter. "This is a very real, very pressing and time sensitive issue that requires a solution. Senate bills 430 and 420 offer two possible solutions to this problem."

One proposed solution, SB 420, would completely dissolve the Second Injury Fund. A different solution, proposed in SB 430, would institute a different funding policy to help bolster the system. The proposed bills would make employers pay an increased premium.

Richard Moore spoke on behalf of Missouri's Chamber of Commerce. Moore cited that 28,000 cases have been filed in the Second Injury Fund, and 700 more cases are filed every month.

"The Second Injury Fund is a broken system. As a result of that broken system, the fund is bankrupt," Moore said.

Moore said this would not be an easy decision for the Chamber, and that it wouldn't be a popular one among Missouri employers.

"I am confident that if the Legislature does not act this year, the awards that have been adjudicated will be ordered to be paid for by employers," Moore said.

A resounding theme during the hearing was that something needs to be done to fix the fund. Witnesses differed was on whether or not to completely eliminate the fund, or to align it with the surcharges.

"There are no good solutions to this," Moore said. Moore also said that closing the fund would not likely be politically feasible.

Phil Hess testified on behalf of Missouri Trials Attorneys and supported SB 430 and the fiscal fix it offers.

"If you terminate the fund tomorrow, they are broke today," Hess said. "There is still not enough money to deal with the 27,000. The only way out is a fiscal fix."

Ray McCarty from Associated Industries of Missouri, however, said the fund should be closed. McCarty said the solutions were still a bit premature, but does not support any new assessments.

A bill that would tighten rate regulations and add consumer protections to the state's payday loan industry defeated a similar, but more restrictive bill, in a House committee Wednesday.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Ellen Brandom, R-Sikeston, developed the legislation in a bipartisan committee last summer. The other bill was drawn up by Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia, but her bill was defeated by a 11-5 vote in the House Financial Institutions Committee.

The stark difference between the bills is that Still's would cut the annual percentage rate charged by payday loan companies to 36 percent, which is less than a tenth of the current average, while Brandom's bill would cap it at 1,564 percent.

The current average APR for the loans in Missouri is 444.61 percent, according to a report by the Missouri Division of Finance.

Brandem's bill was passed out of committee by a 13-3 vote. It will move next to the House Rules Committee

JEFFERSON CITY -- With signs reading "Keep your paws off our laws" and "When did Missouri stop being a democracy?" Proposition B supporters rallied at the state Capitol Wednesday to ensure their voices are being heard.

The protest and petition came in response to efforts under way in the Senate and House to repeal some of the mandates included in November's controversial "Puppy Mill Initiative."

On March 10, the Senate endorsed the legislation with a vote of 20-14 that would lift the 50-dog restriction and larger cage requirements imposed by the initiative.

Lawmakers who support the bill maintain that voters were confused about the effects the proposition would have on dog breeders.

According to Senate bill sponsor, Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, it left a lot to be desired. He said his piece of legislation would protect the rights of breeding dogs within shelters.

Lawmakers who support the bill maintain that voters were confused about the effects the proposition would have on dog breeders.

Opponents of the bill, including the Humane Society of the United States and Missourians for the Protection of Dogs, argue that voters expressed their views at the polls.

With Republican support, the House Downsizing State Government Committee passed a bill that would grant the state auditor additional fund to conduct a comparative audit over Missouri's top spending agencies. The committee approved the bill in a 9-5 vote, with every Democrat present voting against the proposal.

At a press conference last month, State Auditor Tom Schweich, backed by Republicans in both the House and Senate, proposed the legislation and said the audit would be used to analyze the "best practices" of each agency and spread these efficiencies to the other agencies in the audit. Schweich also said any money spent on the audit would be recouped from government savings once the new practices were in place.

"We will look at the best practices of up to 10 of the biggest state agencies, determine what those best practices are...and then issue a report on recommendations of how agencies can comport to these recommendations," Schweich said at the press conference. "We hope that this will save the state, literally, millions of dollars."

Democratic Floor Leader Rep. Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County, who has questioned the auditor's motives for the request in the past, said he believes the auditor's office already has the power to conduct the audit and is therefore only asking for the funds because of budget cuts.

"The fact of the matter is, as legislators we have to determine what to spend the money on," Talboy said. "If you have the ability to do [the audit] already then there is only one reason for the legislation, and it's to get the money that they've spent knowing they were going to get cut."

If the General Assembly passes the bill, Schweich would have to finish the audit and report his findings to the assembly by Aug. 28, 2013.

Protesters walked through the halls of the Capitol Wednesday, in protest of SB 113. The bill, sponsored by Senator Mike Parson, would repeal some of the provision of prop B.

The protesters want the results of the November election to be upheld. They say the bill gives dog breeders too much power.

Parson says the bill would not endanger animals, instead he says the bill actually improves upon prop B.

The protesters talked to several lawmakers, hoping to encourage them to vote against the bill.

Public voices support for expanding charter schools geographically and academically in Missouri.

The Senate Education Committee hears testimony for the expansion of charter school programs throughout the state. Currently, charter schools can only be started in St. Louis City and Kansas City school districts. Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, sponsored a bill, which would allow local school districts to sponsor charter schools across the state.

"This gives districts a lot more flexibility," Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, said.

Pearce's bill also has provisions for greater accountability for charter schools amid concerns that these schools are not performing in St. Louis.

"We like the accountability for public money," Mike Reid of Missouri School Board's Association said.

The Highway Patrol would be forced to check the citizenship status of sexual offenders under a bill given first-round approval by Missouri's House.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Mark Parkinson, R-St. Charles, requires the Highway Patrol to check citizenship status for people on the official sexual offender registry. Under the bill, if the sexual offender is determined to be an illegal immigrant then the Highway Patrol must turn them over to the federal government to begin a deportation process.

Currently, there is no statute in place requiring the state police to check the citizenship status of a sexual offender.

"We are telling the Highway Patrol how to do their job," Parkinson said.

Opponents said the bill is redundant.

Rep. Jean Peters-Baker, D-Kansas City, a former prosecutor, said local law enforcement agencies in Kansas City already determine citizenship status for sexual offenders on the official registry.

Missouri lawmakers and Ameren Missouri have not given up their plans to pursue building a second nuclear power plant in Callaway County, despite recent problems at a Japanese nuclear power plant.

Last week, a Senate committee heard testimony from both supporters and opponents of the proposed second Callaway plant just two days prior to a 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit Japan, causing three reactor explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Even though these explosions have spotlighted potential problems with nuclear plants, Ameren, the state's main utility provider, and its legislative supporters have not changed their stance on legislation dealing with plans for another nuclear plant.

Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, the sponsor of the bill, agreed with Eastman and said Missouri's energy future cannot be influenced by international events and that the option for nuclear power has to be left open.

"We have to continue to talk about what sources of energy we are going to get for this state," Kehoe said. "The unfortunate incident in Japan has not changed the fact that coal is a very expensive source that is under attack from various groups from A to Z, so the way we produce power in this state is, unfortunately, not going to be changed by what happens globally, and the demand for power in this state is going to continue to be there and continue to be a need that we need to address."

So far the Fukushima plant in Japan has suffered from three explosions, which have severely damaged three reactors and caused a fire in a fourth. Following last Friday's earthquake and subsequent tsunami, the Fukushima plant's cooling systems failed, causing spent fuel rods to spike in temperature, cracking the casings around the rods. Once the casings around the rods became damaged, Japanese officials believe that the rods, after coming into contact with the steam released hydrogen gas, which was then vented out of the reactors and caused the explosions.

The House heard and passed amendments to a bill that would repeal Prop B.

Then, Republican House leaders decided not to vote on the bill.

The amendments made the bill look like the one passed in the Senate last Thursday.

The sponsor of the House bill Sedalia Republican Stanley Cox says he is in favor of the senate bill and would not mind if it passed instead.

The Senate bill is now going to a House Committee which is scheduled to meet on March 29.

The Senate gave first-round approval to the bill.

That's after it approved an ammendment, which means working Missourians will no longer need to return workers' compensation benefits to employers if they sue third parties.

Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, says it only covers Missourians who have a disease caused by toxic exposure in the workplace.

"I want to within the workers' compensation system, narrow this gap between what it costs to just pay for your employees in workers' compensation and what it costs to provide a safer work environment," Crowell said.

Crowell and the bill's Republican sponsor spent more than an hour compromising on the amendment with hardly anyone else in the chamber.

The final vote on the bill could happen as early as Thursday.

In the middle of working through its calendar of bills, Missouri's House stopped after a St. Louis County Democrat began experiencing "chest pains."

Rep. Sylvester Taylor, D-St. Louis County, began having the chest pains around 5:20 p.m., and the House stood at ease for about 15 minutes. Emergency responders wheeled Taylor out of the House lounge on a stretcher, but the lawmaker was sitting up.

Rep. Mike Talboy, the Democratic minority leader, announced to the full House that Taylor was "stable and conscious" and was being taken to a Jefferson City hospital.

The House came back in session briefly, but adjourned until Wednesday without taking up another bill.

The House Budget Committee ended debate in record time on Missouri's 2012 budget after a mark-up session Tuesday.

This year's mark-up lasted only one hour compared to last year's which took nearly three days. Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, credited the hard work of the Budget chairman, Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, and the fair process this year as the reasons the mark-up was historically brief.

"He was very professional, efficient, effective, bi-partisan and worked with people," Kelly said.

Missouri's amended $23.2 billion budget represents an overall 2.5 percent decrease from last year's budget and includes a 7 percent reduction in funds for higher education. Last year over 300 amendments were offered, but this year only 18 were brought before the committee.

The ranking member on the budget committee, Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, said "There simply is no more money" to make amendments.

A bill heard in the Senate Health Committee would implement a transition plan for people to move from habilitation institutions to community homes and apartments with caregivers.

Under the bill, habilitation institutions would be closed by the year 2018.

Parent Jackie Swinnie supports community living for all residents, even for those with severe disabilities.

Swinnie's son moved to an apartment with 24-hour care, where he lived out his 23 years.

Swinnie said, "It was like night and day. I just felt so secure, my son was so well taken care of and happy and loved all his roommates."

Despite Swinnie's support, parent Theresa Barnes disagrees that this type of setting is best for all residents. She said an institution is the only place that can handle some severe behavioral and violence problems.

Barnes said, "To me, I think of (my son) Henry, and I think of attrition, and I think of this abrupt change that he cannot handle...and he will disintegrate, and he will die."

St. Louis Republican Senator John Lamping says a plan to move residents into the community would help everyone.

He said, "What a benefit to society by getting the community involved in understanding the lives of these people, and how rewarding that would be to people in the community. It'd make it a better place to live."

The bill sponsor said average daily costs of a resident living in a community setting is far less than average daily costs of those living in institutions.

The House floor discussed a similar bill, but has not yet voted on the measure.

Missouri senators debated a measure that would change Missouri's collective bargaining rights.

The measure, termed by supporters as "right to work," would prohibit agreements between unions and employers. It would prohibit making membership or payment of union dues or fees a requirement on the basis of employment.

The debate was heard in the Senate with a full gallery of union members watching.

Democratic Representative Mike Colona presented a bill to the House Insurance Policy Committee that would allow an employee to choose a health care provider under workers' comp.

Under the current program, the employer makes that decision.

Business interest representatives spoke one after another at the hearing to demonstrate their opposition to the bill.

Colona says the bill will give employees peace of mind and add more integrity to the workers' comp program.

In the long run, he says the bill would save the workers' comp program money.

But House Insurance Policy Committee Chair Bob Nance disagrees and says he has a problem with the bill.

A Republican-backed bill is mustering yet another effort to exempt Missouri from President Barack Obama's federal health-care reforms. 

The House Rules Committee voted Monday to pass a bill to the House floor that would add Missouri to the multi-state Health Care Compact, which is pushing for state regulation of health-care. 

Regulating health-care is too complex for the federal government and should be under state jurisdiction, according to the compact.

Republican Floor Leader Tim Jones supports the bill to repeal the federal health-care reform.

"I think the states are best positioned to be in charge of their own health-care needs for their health-care populations versus the federal government doing it on a one-size-fits-all model," Jones said.

Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, voted against sending the bill to be discussed in the House.

"Last time I checked, we're still supposed to abide by federal mandate," Colona said. "If the members of the state of Missouri don't want to comply with the federal mandate, then perhaps we need to elect some new congressmen, new senators and change the president; there's nothing we can do about that in Missouri General Assembly."

Missouri's House passed a bill preventing late-term abortions Monday.

The bill sponsored by Republican Floor Leader, Tim Jones, would place restrictions on physicians trying to abort a 20-week old fetus.

The bill passed by a vote of 120-37 and it now moves to the Senate.

Representative Vicki Schneider brought a bill before the House Committee on Crime Prevention and Public Safety that would make it a crime to practice medicine while under the influence of alcohol.

Paul Passanante, a medical malpractice attorney in St.Louis, supports the bill. He said, "If it's illegal to drive while intoxicated it sure ought to be illegal to perform something like surgery."

Opponent of the bill, Jeff Howell with the Missouri State Medical Association, called this particular bill "unworkable" and asked the committee to consider other options for solving this problem.

Committee chair Rep. Rodney Schad said the bill will be discussed in upcoming meetings.