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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of April 25, 2011

Missouri State Auditor's office announced it will be auditing Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder's travel reimbursements. Kinder wrote a check to the state for $52,320 on Tuesday, after reports that the state gave him more than $35,000 for hotel stays and food for his St. Louis visits.

Schweich accepted $220,000 in contributions from Kinder for his 2010 auditor campaign, and has recused himself from the audit process. Audits are not typically done by the auditor himself, but one or more of his staff members.

The Democratic Party requested an audit of how much Kinder should have to give back to the state. The auditor's office held a conference call Thursday afternoon to discuss the audit. It was led by Harry Otto, a deputy auditor who said he gave Kinder $200 in 2004 for his campagin. He added that such a small amount does not necessitate that he should recuse himself from the audit.

Otto said the audit will check the numbers on how much Kinder owes the state, and for what.

"He's indicated that he doesn't need to pay this back, but he is paying it back, and we just feel an obligation to check the calculation," Otto said.

Just weeks after a U.S. congresswoman was shot in the head, the Missouri House voted to pass a bill protecting citizens' right to purchase and possess gun ammunition.

The bill would add a specification about ammunition rights to the state Constitutional amendment right to bear arms.

Republican Warrensburg Representative Denny Hoskins says this wording is crucial in ensuring second amendment rights are not infringed upon by the government.

He said, "There is no protection to possess ammunition. You have a second amendment right to possess a firearm, but without the ammunition to go in it, our second amendment rights are worthless."

Opponents of the bill argue districts would no longer be able to ban bullets that easily can kill people.

Democratic Kansas City Representative Jean Peters-Baker questioned, "You're saying this language would prohibit any jurisdiction from putting any kind of limiting language on the amount or type of ammunition an individual can have within a jurisdiction."

Democratic St. Louis County Representative Rory Ellinger also opposes the bill.

He said, "Too many young men and women are dying of gunshot wounds. I know the U.S. Constitution, and I know the Supreme Court has upheld the second amendment, but we really need to get a grip on hand guns in America."

The bill now will go to the Senate.

In a session that ran well past midnight Wednesday night, Missouri's Senate approved a massive tax-break bill that scaled back a number of tax credit programs, but also included a large package of tax breaks to business for a "China hub."

One report from Senate staff estimated that the total the package could save more than $1.5 billion during a 15-year period by cutting back on a large number of tax credits. 

The largest cuts would involve tax credits for restoration of historic buildings and for lower income elderly renters.  The measure includes some, but not all, of the recommendations from a commission on tax credits that the governor had appointed.

The proposal also includes, however, a couple of large tax breaks for business development.  The largest would provide about $350 in tax breaks for businesses involved in an international air cargo hub at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.

The combination of scaling back or eliminating some existing tax credits while also offering new business tax breaks was offered as a compromise by one of the Senate's leading fiscal hawks, Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield.  In 2010, Purgason pursued an unsuccessful filibuster to block passage of the governor's plan to provide tax credits to Ford to remain at an auto assembly plant in the Kansas City area.

Missouri's legislature sent the governor a plan for removing one of Missouri's congressional districts -- early enough that the governor will have to act on the plan before the legislature adjourns.

The plan would eliminate one of the two congressional districts of St. Louis City.  Most of the district now represented by Cong. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis City, would be merged into the district of a fellow city Democrat, Cong. Lacy Clay.

Missouri is required to reduce the number of congressional districts from nine to eight as a result of the 2010 census.  The new districts will take effect with the 2012 elections.

The map was approved by a largely partisan vote in the GOP-controlled House and Senate. 

The GOP plan that preserved the districts of Clay and Missouri's other black congressman, Emanuel Cleaver in Kansas City, won over a few black Democratic legislators

It now goes to the Democratic governor.  The Senate passed the measure with enough votes to override a veto, but the House fell a few votes short of the two-thirds vote that would be necessary.

Some rural legislators had complained about having their constituents combined into a metropolitan congressional district or being included in a district with different economic and cultural backgrounds.

Sen. Ryan McKenna, D-Jefferson County, opposed the map and said it was unfair to his county.

"What matters to me is being represented by three congressional people," McKenna said.

The Missouri House passed a bill that would change how the state oversees charter schools. The bill would also allow charter schools to expand to areas of the state outside St. Louis and Kansas City to either an unaccredited school district or a provisionally unaccredited school district.

Those in favor of the bill say it will keep students in the cities and assist low preforming rural school districts.

Opponents of the bill say charter schools have not been proven to be successful. They says public schools are more effective.

The bill passed by a vote of 86-70. It now moves onto the Senate floor.

Gov. Jay Nixon signed into law two bills that alter various restrictions in November's Proposition B dog-breeding measure.

The two measures repeal the limit of 50 breeding dogs at a facility contained in the voter approved measure and removes the specific limit on breeding cycles.

The governor, argued however, that the measure was a better compromise and included provisions for stronger enforcement.

At an evening news conference, Gov. Jay Nixon attacked the organization that had led the fight for Proposition B, the Humane Society of the United States.  "I don't need somebody jetting in to tell us what to do when we can do it ourselves," Nixon said.

The Missouri director of the Humane Society expressed disappointment.  "We are really, really disappointed in the political process that has failed us thus far,"said Barbara Schmitz.

Nixon's Wednesday night news conference followed an usual day for a gubernatorial bill signing. 

First word that one of the bills had been signed came when the governor's message was read in the Senate in the morning.  The governor's office, however, initially refused to confirm the governor's action.  For several hours, the governor's Web page of legislative actions made no reference to the signing and the governor's spokesperson refused any comment after emerging from behind a locked door.

Lt. Gov Peter Kinder spoke out about the ruling Judge Rodney Sippel made about the federal health care lawsuit that is ongoing.

Kinder released his statement about Judge Sippel Wednesday saying, "Judge Sippel has slammed federal courthouse doors in the face of Missourians. His truly extreme ruling dismisses our lawful claims and the dire consequences that President Obama's health care law will have on Missouri and our citizens.

Two federal judges have declared the health care law to be unconstitutional. The federal judges who upheld the law at least ruled that citizens have standing to challenge this unprecedented mandate. Instead, Judge Sippel simply says that Missourians will not be heard in his court.

Amazingly, Judge Sippel neither cited nor even acknowledged the decisions by the other federal judges. So far in this battle, no judge anywhere has done what Judge Sippel did today. Missourians were kicked out of his court as he has refused to hear the merits of our constitutional challenge.

We will forthwith appeal, and are hopeful the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit will give our constitutional claims their first serious consideration. Because of the enormity of these issues to all Missourians, dismissed so casually by Judge Sippel, we will also request an expeditious review from the 8th Circuit.

Judge Sippel's decision further demonstrates the need for Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster to actually get involved in this issue and defend Missouri and its citizens from this health care monstrosity. Filing a "friend of the court" brief in the Eleventh Circuit Florida case has zero practical effect on how this law negatively impacts our state and its citizens. It is time for Attorney General Koster to get off the sidelines and help protect Missourians, as his oath requires, from the unconstitutional overreach of the health care law."

The Missouri legislature reconvened after Easter weekend with opening statements about the two natural disasters that have and continue to devastate parts of Missouri.

The flooding is continuing to breach the levees in the Southeast part of the state, and according to the House Speaker Steve Tilley, some colleagues were unable to meet in the Capitol Tuesday because they were back home helping through the crisis.

"Obviously we have had some very troubling days through the tornadoes and the rising of the rivers, and of course then in Butler County the levee did break and so we have colleagues back home taking care of their constituents and now let's just reflect a moment of silence and personal prayer," Tilley said.

While victims deal with the issue of potentially more rain, another controversial issue of whether to blow up the levee to alleviate the upstream pressure on the Mississippi River continues, according to a House member from the area, Rep. Steve Hodges.

Tilley gave the floor to Hodges, D-East Prairie, who warned the Representatives of a similar situation in 1937 where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers faced a dilemma similar to the current one.

"In 1937, the Corps of Engineers had to blow that river levee and it flooded everything in there and got into the town of East Prairie, where I live on the other side of town. What this will affect if this happens at the end of the week, is 126,000 to 130,000 acres of the best land in Missouri," Hodges said.

Gov. Jay Nixon and Attorney General Chris Koster openly stated their opposition to this action, but according to Hodges, the federal Army Corps of Engineers is following a protocol that be changed only by presidential action.

While the flooding continues to rise like an overfilled coffee mug, the Army Corps of Engineers are making plans to plant fuse plugs with explosives along the Mississippi, while the Attorney General is filing an injunction to prohibit blowing up the damns.

According to CNN, the chief spokesman in the Corps', James Pogue said, "The breaking of the levee in Birds Point is a "safety valve" to the flooding situation."

Hodges also spoke on a more personal note about his own neighbors being affected by the flood. "A man who is going to be 70 tomorrow, he has built his home 35 years ago, and he said, 'Steve, this is it. I'm not coming back.' Beautiful home, moved all his belongings out." Hodges also said other people are dealing with the same situation.

The final decision about the levee break will be made Wednesday.

While in the Senate, Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, spoke about another natural disaster that swept over Missouri the past weekend.

"If they would have not gotten into their basement, they would have been gone," said Chappelle-Nadal about one family hit by the F-4 tornadoes in Bridgeton and St. Ann, Missouri.

Chappelle-Nadal not only recapped about the devastation but also thanked citizens who contributed to helping, "It was an enormous effort on behalf of so many people to make a difference and try to put the lives back together of the people who were victimized this weekend."

In a Senate Transportation Committee hearing MODOT's director Kevin Keith announced the savings will go back into roads and bridges as well as help Missouri maximize federal matching dollars.

MODOT will continue to cut personnel in offices around the state, but are trying to leave maintenance staff alone.

Other cuts will include equipment cost and less mowing around highways.

MODOT is one year into their 5 year direction to become a smaller agency and has already cut over 300 jobs.

The next step is to present a more detailed plan to the Missouri Transportation Highway Commission on May 4th.

Police have arrested one of the men responsible for the theft of the lieutenant governor's car Monday.

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder was speaking at a naturalization ceremony in his hometown of Cape Girardeau when he left the keys in his car.

Cape Girardeau police said two men drove the car to a local gun store, Shooter's Gun Shop, and attempted to break in by ramming it into the entrance.

According to a police report, after the car had become stuck in the mud, the suspects set fire to it on the side of a county road.

Police have identified the two men as Adam D. Cromer, 21, and Jacob Shepard, 19, both of Cape Girardeau. Police took Cromer into custody early Monday morning, but are still looking for Shepard. Both men will be charged with stealing of a motor vehicle, tampering and attempted burglary.

According to a statement filed by Cape Girardeau police, Cromer admitted that he was responsible for stealing the car and that it was his intention to "Rob Shooters."

Shooter's Gun Shop owner, David Lange, said Kinder came to the store the next day to talk with store management.

"We were told what happened from Peter Kinder himself. We know him. He happens to be a customer of the store," Lange said.

Lange said he estimates the cost of the repairs for the interior of his shop will be several thousand dollars. He said after performing an inventory, he found nothing to be missing from the store.

The car, a 2009 Ford Flex, was registered to the "Friends of Peter Kinder." The car was purchased in November 2009 for $26,800.

The Senate has held up a House bill that would ensure welfare recipients aren't abusing illegal drugs.

Sen. Maria Chapelle-Nadal (D-St. Louis) proposed an amendment that would have required state lawmakers to get drug tested every two years.

She says lawmakers should be compared to welfare recipients in terms of their reliance on state funds.

"As office holders, we also get money from the state by virtue of our jobs," Chappelle-Nadal said.

Sen. Jack Goodman (R-Lawrence County) struck down the amendment.

He says the amendment's subject was too far reaching and out of the scope of the bill.

After passing the House, the Senate adopted a substitute revised plan for drug testing. The bill goes to a committee before a final vote on the Senate floor.

To get the radio stories, click here.

A week after a bill pushing for an early site permit for a second nuclear power plant in Callaway County, Representative Chris Kelly (D-Columbia) requested a special session to further discuss the bill.

The original bill allowed Ameren to charge its customers $2 in order to raise capital for the early site permit.

Senator Jason Crowell (R-Cape Girardeau) said the rate hike would be ruled unconstitutional, even if it passes through the House.

Crowell raised a point of order last week, citing the rate increase, and Pro Tem Robert Mayer agreed to the order, effectively ending discussion on the bill.

Around 500 homes in Butler County have been under a mandatory evacuation order since yesterday, with over 1,000 people already evacuated due to severe flooding.

Black River in Poplar Bluff is expected to crest soon, but officials say flash flooding continues to be a problem, and more rain could be on the way.

Republican Poplar Bluff Representative Todd Richardson said the state and local officials will try to address the county's 100-year-old faulty levees, as this is the second time in three years the river has caused major flooding damage. 

He said, "Our levee system, which is almost 100 years old and does a great job in a lot of areas, obviously has some weak spots. and everyone at the state level is looking to improve our levee systems to try to prevent this in the future."

Richardson said vast amounts of farmland and crops have been destroyed, and a major manufacturing base is shut down.

"We're very hopeful that by tomorrow, we'll start seeing some improvement, but this is an event that's going to be affecting people for some time in the future. Even once the water goes down, there's a significant amount of cleanup that's going to happen. People are going to be displaced from their homes for a good period of time," said Richardson. 

Richardson currently is in Poplar Bluff assisting the Missouri National Guard with sandbagging efforts and coordinating shelter areas.

Get the radio stories here.

Gov. Jay Nixon activated the Missouri National Guard on Monday in response to the flooding of the Black River near Poplar Bluff, Mo. The executive order came just three days after the governor declared a state of emergency from the tornado that tore through St. Louis last Friday.

"Maj. Gen. Stephen Danner has mobilized 200 citizen soldiers and airmen to report initially to the Poplar Bluff area to assist with flood relief there," said Maj. Tammy Spicer, public affairs officer for the Missouri National Guard.

Governor spokesman Scott Holste said the National Guard's missions will include helping with traffic control, making sure residents have appropriate power and evacuating people from flooded areas. Spicer added that their missions will be standard for flood response and would include door-to-door safety checks and sandbagging.

Because flooding of the Black River happens in many cases of bad weather, DeGaris said there will be post-flood evaluations taking place in Poplar Bluff to make plans for the future.

"We'll reevaluate and see if there's anything we can do to improve in preparation for — God forbid — another one," he said. "Anything that could make the citizens in our districts and our area safer, we'll take whatever precautions we can to make that feasible."

The executive order would allow the director of the Department of Natural resources to relax some of the rules and regulations for debris clean up and removal.

The Governor's spokesmen Scott Holste says it will allow the clean up process to go much faster.

The Governor issues an order similar to this after tornado's in St. Louis in January.

The order expires on May 23.

Last Week

Negotiations broke off at 2:30am Friday after nearly eight hours of efforts to reach agreement between the House and Senate versions of congressional redistricting.

Republican legislative leaders were attempting to meet what they said was a Friday deadline to pass a bill early enough that they would be able to take up a possible veto by the governor this spring rather than having to wait for a veto session in the fall.

How to divide up the St. Louis area region was the center of the disagreement between the two bodies -- specifically how to split the counties of St. Charles, Jefferson and Franklin.

Each side accused the other of refusing to compromise.

"It's Good Friday now, an Easter holiday.  We tried and it's time to send everyone home," said the Senate conference chair -- Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles shortly after the Senate adjourned for the weekend.

Only briefly did the negotiators meet publically together.  For most of the evening into the early morning hours, House and Senate conferees huddled behind closed doors in offices on separate sides of the building.

The conference chairs defended their approach. "I don't any of the members of the House or Senate need to have a stream of consciousness with every thought that flows through their head is spoken out in public," Rupp said.

"You expect us to come in and have negotations out in the hallway? There are lot of people who have to be talked to on this stuff," said the House chair -- Rep. John Diehl, R-St. Louis County.

Sen. Jason Crowell's, R-Cape Girardeau, upcoming marriage was a topic of interest on the Senate floor.

"Do you realize I'm learning? I'm learning Senator that I am supposed to spend hundreds of dollars on throw pillows that we can never lay on," Crowell said.

Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, said he's been married for 24 years and advised Crowell on what to expect.

"You ain't even begun to learn what you're about to learn," Nieves said.

The Senators discussed everything from bed skirts to hand towels.

The Senate now sends to the House a bill that would eliminate 60 state Representatives after the next census.

The bill would cut the number of Missouri Representatives from 163 to 103.

According to bill sponsor and St. Louis County Republican Senator Jim Lembke, Missouri has the fourth-largest House in the country.

Lembke said, "This is about having a manageable statehouse, and across state government, making changes that would save taxpayers money. This would save taxpayers about five million dollars a year."

Opponents of the bill say cutting Representatives would cause leaders to be less in touch with their constituents.

Republican Clay Senator Luann Ridgeway said, "In this time of term limits, we need to keep our representatives as close to the people as possible. By diluting the number of Representatives and increasing the number of people they would represent, it is of necessity that it would be harder to stay in touch with the people."

If the House passes the bill, it would go into effect after the next census, when current Representatives already have been term-limited out of office.

The idea of cutting the size of the house has been around for years, but legislation typically is halted in the House.

Dog-breeding legislation stemming from last November's Proposition B brought advocates on both sides of the debate to Missouri's Capitol Wednesday to voice their opinions on the both the restriction-repealing legislation and the recent compromise proposed by Gov. Jay Nixon.

The governor called his compromise the "Missouri solution," which he backed in response to legislation that would repeal parts of Proposition B. The governor has yet to take any action on the repeal bill lawmakers sent to his desk last week.

About a hundred members of animal advocacy groups, such as the Humane Society of the United States and the Best Friends Animal Society, met outside the Governor's Mansion to protest Nixon's compromise. During the rally, the protesters chanted up and down the street, shouting "Veto 113" and "Keep your paws off our laws."

While the animal welfare advocates met down the street, a group several times the size of the dog breeders and agriculture advocates, assembled on the Capitol's steps to show their support for the compromise.

As the Missouri Senate passed the 2012 budget Wednesday, some senators were already worried about a potential budget gap for next year.

Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, said the use of one-time federal funds in this year's budget will create a gap that must soon be addressed by the General Assembly.

"We are going to have to come to terms with what we are going to go with what I would call a hole in our budget when the federal money runs out," Crowell said.

Senate Appropriations Chairman, Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, agreed with Crowell, but said the funding problem should be addressed next year rather than letting it affect this year's budget.

"There will be a hole, but ... we are better off waiting until we have more accurate information to see what that amount is," Schaefer said.

Witnesses testified before a Senate committee Wednesday about a House proposal to give businesses up to $480 million in tax breaks for helping to develop an international air cargo hub in St. Louis.

The Senate Jobs Committee heard support from business interest representatives as well as the Director of Lambert-St. Louis International Airport, Rhonda Hamm-Niebruegge. Hamm-Niebruegge said the amount of revenue Lambert generates from cargo, which is about 2 percent of $170 million a year, is "pathetic" when compared to similar sized airports .

"It became clear that we had to look at alternative forms of revenue if we wanted to Lambert to be sustainable for the state," Hamm-Niebruegge said.

Representatives from the Show-Me Institute testified against the bill and said the tax credits in the bill were to expensive and would cost the state too much money.

Committee Chairman Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, who sponsored a similar bill in the Senate, disagreed with the Institute's representatives and said that the cargo hub would be beneficial to all Missourians.

"Being critical of a new idea that's bold isn't anything new and isn't anything unique," Schmitt said. "I'm sure the steamboat captains of the late 1800s thought that the railroad were something that threatened their interests."

Schmitt also said the bill was important enough not to ignore and that criticizing the opportunity could lead the state to forgo potential revenue gains.

After years of warnings that the Second Injury Fund would go bankrupt, lawmakers say it is now in that financial crisis.

The Second Injury Fund is subsidized from a surcharge placed on all Missouri employers workers' compensation premiums. Currently, all employers pay a 3 percent surcharge with no fluctuation or cost of living increases.

Rep. Barney Fisher, R-Richards, said the capped surcharge has driven workers' compensation premiums down, which has ultimately brought in less money to the Second Injury Fund.

Proposals aiming to fix the fund have been introduced this legislative session, but so far no solutions have been agreed upon.

Michael Simpson, a recipient of Second Injury Fund benefits, said he is concerned about the future of the fund and that he is afraid people who need benefits in the future will not get them.

The Missouri Senate passed the 2012 education budget Wednesday after finding additional funding for colleges and universities.

The Senate adopted the budget plans proposed by Appropriations Chairman, Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, after agreeing to send an extra $20 million to all of Missouri's public colleges and universities.

"The university presidents are working in good faith to reduce costs," Schaefer said after his proposal passed the budget committee last week.

The $20 million will cut the core reduction for universities to 4.8 percent from the 7 percent cut proposed by Gov. Nixon. MU spokesman Christian Basi said he could not comment on how the budget changes would affect the university since they do not comment on pending legislation.

There were 41 accidents at railroad crossings in Missouri last year, up from the 32 in 2009.

The Missouri Department of Transportation and the Highway Patrol are teaming up next week for Rail Safety Week. They'll be promoting safety and, according to MoDot, trying to reduce the number of accidents.

Spokesperson for MoDot Rod Massman said they'll be doing what he calls "Positive Reinforcements."

“Safety personnel either from MoDot, the highway patrol who will basically stop the person for a few seconds and just remind them that it’s Rail Safety Week and give then them a brochure about crossing safety,” Massman said.

These checks will take place at various locations throughout Missouri such as St. Louis, Jefferson City, and Lee's Summit.

This legislation is preemptive since it isn't any different from current Missouri law.

The bill's sponsor Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee's Summit, says Congress could try to eliminate secret ballot votes and replace them with a majority card sign up.

"They assure me that we would survive a National Labor Relations Board change. Now if the Federal law goes into effect I think it would preempt our law." said Cierpiot.

Republicans say all Americans have the right to vote by secret ballot.

Democrats and labor unions say this legislation is unnecessary.

The bill has been passed in the House and now will go to the Senate floor.

Sen. Jason Crowell R-Cape Girardeau raised a point of order after nearly two hours of debate saying some additions to the bill go beyond the scope of the underlying version of the bill. The Pro Tem agreed, which ended the debate.

Crowell said the adjustments to the origin bill, such as billing customers for the early site permit would be ruled unconstitutional even if it passed in the Senate.

"What Sen. Mayer has done is taken a very strong position to say, 'While I'm Pro Tem we're only going to pass constitutional laws, we're not going to have these declared unconstitutional.' And that is what we did here."

Rep. Jeanie Riddle, R-Callaway County originally sponsored the bill when it was in the House.

Riddle said she is disappointed with the outcome of the bill.

"Everybody who uses electricity in this state will be affected, so it is very disappointed to me. I'm curious why they waited so long into the debate if it was going to have a point of order on it to begin with."

Riddle, and other supporters said this bill will bring jobs to Missouri and keep Missouri's future energy options open.

While Riddle sponsored the original House bill, Sen. Robin Wright-Jones D-St. Louis City sponsored the underlying Senate bill minus all the additions.

Jones said she thinks her underlying bill is going to pass. But, Jones said she has some concerns about the Republican agendas in both the House and the Senate.

"We have seen the run of the Republican agenda in both chambers very seriously. And we are here now in our last four weeks and I don't know if we are going to get anything out but there agenda."

Senators got rid of all parts of the bill that deal with the nuclear site permit, the Senate ended up giving first round approval to the scraps of the bill remaining.

The Missouri House of Representatives gave first round approval Tuesday to a bill that would prevent state courts from making decisions based on foreign law.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Paul Curtman (R-Pacific), says the measure would ensure courts uphold the fundamental rights of citizens.

Yet opponents of the bill questioned whether such a measure is even necessary. They pointed out that the U.S. Constitution already trumps foreign laws.

Others, including Rep. Jamilah Nasheed (D-St. Louis) say the bill unfairly targets Islamic Law, known as Sharia.

Nasheed said the bill is "insensitive" to Muslims.

She added that debating the bill was a waste of time and that it would not be upheld in court.

The House approved the bill by a vote of 99-53. With only three weeks left in session, it must get a final vote in the House before reaching the Senate.

This is the fourth year in a row the legislation to allow prayer in public schools and government buildings has made it to the Senate floor, but died there.

Bill's sponsor Mike McGhee, R-Odessa, said the bill is good legislation and he is optimistic the Senate will pass it.

Robin Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis City, is another supporter of the bill and said she doesn't mind people praying anywhere and thinks it has a good chance of passing in the Senate.

"There's just the eight of us and two of us voted for it. I think the others are Roman Catholic men so I don't think they would have a problem, but I don't know for sure."

The bill now awaits to appear on the Senate floor.

The Senate took no action on the plan that would give telephone companies more flexibility when it comes to landline placement in St. Louis and Jackson County.

Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, says lobbyists clearly didn't do their jobs well enough on this issue because lawmakers have only 3 weeks left to debate bills.

"So, I'm going to put this bill on the informal calendar and if they don't do their job, we're just going to let this bill die and deal with it next year," Lager said.

Lager says we've evolved beyond the out of date process of landline requirements we use today.

A House committee heard testimony on a bill that would change the way presidents are elected.

Right now, Missouri awards it's electoral votes to the candidate receiving the state's popular vote. This bill would allow Missouri's votes to reflect how the country voted as a whole.

The legislation is part of a national movement to weaken the electoral college.

Springfield Republican Representative Lincoln Hough is the bill's sponsor. He says it encourages candidates to pay more attention to smaller states.

"In my opinion, it's what does the country as a whole get out of it. And I think we get a theoretically more definitive process for electing our president," says Hough.

On the other hand, Kansas City-area Republican Representative Myron Neth is concerned about changing the election process.

House Elections Committee chairman Tony Dugger says it is unlikely the bill will move forward this session. Even if it did, about half the country would have to adopt the legislation before it could be enacted. At least 270 electoral votes must be secured first.

"I really disagree with their argument that it would make Missouri or the smaller states more valid. I see just the opposite. We will become less important," says Neth.

Currently political action committees can only accept contributions from a corporation, association or partnership.

Kansas City Senator KiKi Curls said that the current wording doesn’t allow elected officials to go to PAC sponsored events.

"We are prohibited from participating in advertising in any those booklets, in participating from purchasing meal tickets,or anything associated in those events, even for constituencies," she said.

There was controversy with the first wording of the bill, that would prohibit elected officials from wracking up any educational expenses from a PAC.

Cape Girardeau Senator Jason Crowell didn't want PACS to pay for educational expenses.

Crowell worked with Curls on an amendment to change the wording. It still allows for candidate committees to still purchase tickets to PAC events, but takes out the questionable wording.

After adopting the amendment, the bill unanimously passed.

The Senate passed a bill that allows for several new license plates to be available. There are special plates for Cass County, for Missourians who have a combat badge, Nixa Education Foundation members, and a license plate that says “Don’t Tread on Me,” in place of “Show Me State.”

Franklin County Senator Nieves Brian said "When I looked at these I said 'Holy Toledo! Those are some good license plates."

St. Louis County Senator Tim Green said he doesn’t like “Don’t Tread on Me” on license plates. He didn't like taking out the "Show Me State" slogan for the new words.

"It just brings a combative connotation to the state of Missouri. I personally think we got enough friction in society, we don't need to put in on our license plates," said Green.

Green was the only one to vote no.

The Missouri House of Representatives sent a bill to the Senate that would tighten regulations on payday loans and increase loan awareness for customers.

The measure would restrict loan renewals from six to three and cap the annual percentage rate at 1564%.

Republican Texas County Representative Don Wells says these restrictions help consumers prevent impulsive spending.

"In this bill, there is a one day cooling off period. You cannot go in, pay off a loan, and immediately get another loan. This is a person's time to assess whether they really need another loan...consumer protection, again," said Wells.

Jefferson County Republican Representative John McCaherty addressed questions about whether the bill really would protect consumers.

"If we really want people to understand, if we want them to understand the laws, the fees they're going to pay, if we want them to understand the bills...then vote for the bill, pass the bill, and if it's not as much reform as you'd like, then introduce a new bill," McCaherty said.

Columbia Democratic Representative Mary Still introduced a similar bill earlier in the session. She says the current bill does nothing to aid those receiving the loans.

"The only change in this bill is a change which helps the industry, protects the industry and hurts the consumer," Still said.

Missouri's unemployment rate fell to 9.1 percent in March as the state added thousands of jobs in the economic recovery.

About 13,000 more Missourians were employed in March, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data released Tuesday. The labor force grew by 4,000 people, meaning Missourians felt more confident about finding a job and started looking again.

The jobless rate was 9.4 percent in February.

The Missouri Senate approved $189 million in federal money for local school districts, ending a near two month-long standoff with the House.

The House passed the bill unanimously on Feb. 24 but the Senate had not taken up the measure until Monday.

Bill supporters said not passing the legislation would be an unfair burden to local school districts. Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Chris Belcher said failure to pass the money would cost the school district $3 million.

The chairman of the Senate appropriations committee, Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said it was important to pass the bill now since the funds expire on June 30 and must be spent solely on education.

"Our commitment was to keep funding for K-12 the same in 2012 as it was in 2011," Schaefer said.

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, opposed the bill and said this money is not being spent to increase education funding but to plug holes in other parts of the budget.

"We are filling a budget hole somewhere else in our budget. We are funding other programs so we don't have to make hard decisions and make cuts," Lembke said.

Republican U.S. representatives held a closed door meeting Monday with their fellow Republicans in Missouri's Senate and House to go over plans to eliminate one of Missouri's nine congressional districts.

U.S. Reps. Blaine Luetkemeyer, Todd Akin and Jo Ann Emerson met with state Republicans behind closed doors at the Missouri Republican Party headquarters to discuss the redistricting process. At least one other congressional member joined in by conference call.

"We were just getting briefed on what's going on with the redistricting maps as the House and Senate both take them up," Luetkemeyer said. "It's obviously important to us so we are letting the legislators work their will."

Participants were tight-lipped, except to confirm that that no immediate agreement was reached among the parties in what appears to be a disagreement between the GOP congressional delegation and the Republican-controlled state Senate.

The strongest indication of a disagreement came after the meeting from the state Senate Redistricting Committee chair, Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles.

"We're not here to please the Congress people, we're here to do what is right for the people," Rupp said.

The governor has backed new dog-breeding legislation with the help of the invested organizations just days after the Missouri legislature approved a bill to repeal several measures of November's voter-approved Proposition B.

Rather than addressing the bill already approved by both chambers and ready for action from Gov. Jay Nixon, he instead released an altered version of the Senate bill that strove to repeal many of the regulations imposed by Proposition B.

"The agreement that was signed today upholds the intent of the voters, protects dogs and ensures that Missouri agriculture will continue to grow," Nixon stated in a press release. "I look forward to continuing to work with these leaders as we move this proposal through the legislative process as swiftly and efficiently as possible."

With gas prices on the rise, some Missouri RV owners are changing their travel plans. According to the Missouri Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds, park owners throughout Missouri are noticing these changes.

As the owner of Mari-Osa-Delta RV Park and Campground in Jefferson City, Harold Taylor sees hundreds of travelers every summer. This year will be a little different, "We had some come in a couple weeks ago and they ended up staying another two weeks," he said.

Extended stays in a campground will mean less time on the road, and less money spent on gas.

President of the Missouri Association of R-V Parks and Campgrounds Larry Helms said park owners across the state are seeing this trend in their guest's travel plans.

"They’re looking to stay closer to home and they’re also looking to stay, they’re wanting to stay an extra day or two or maybe sometimes a week," Helms said.

For travelers, saving on fuel is essential. One RV owner said he pays almost 500 dollars per fill-up.

According to Helms, Missouri RV Park owners will be monitoring this trend throughout the traveling season.