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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of May 2, 2011

A deal on local control is working its way through Missouri's legislature, contingent on approval from the St. Louis police union that's so far opposed it. Missouri's House has approved the deal, sending it back to the Senate.

The bill won't move forward until the police union gets the collective bargaining rights it wants, said Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, an advocate for local control.

The Senate is scheduled to vote Monday to confirm a new police board member who supports giving the union collective bargaining rights. Appointee Tom Irwin would tip the board in favor of a collective bargaining deal.

Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, who's opposed previous versions of the bill, said the police union's OK is needed to get the bill through.

Economic Development Chairwoman Anne Zerr, R-St. Charles, says the late push was necessary to bring the various tax credits to the House floor before the end of the legislative session.

One of those tax credits involves low-income housing. The substitute calls for placing a cap at 110 million dollars.

Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, says she thinks this is bad news for her constituents.

"I think they're pulling from the tax credits that impact the quality of life for low-income people," Nasheed said.

Zerr says it's necessary to bring the various tax credits to the House floor before the end of the legislative session.

"It really wouldn't be reducing it, it's putting a cap on it. So, there's some certainty that way, the state knows that this is what the limit will be," Zerr said.

The substitute is expected to go to the House floor Tuesday.

Missouri's legislature approved a $23.2 billion operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The bill provides about $140 million more than the governor had proposed to lawmakers in January. Some of the bigger increases in the governor's recommendations cover education and higher education.

Both would suffer cuts under the legislature's plan -- 1.8 percent for education and 6.2 percent for higher education. But those reductions are lower than the plan presented by Gov. Jay Nixon.

The budget plan continues funding for in-home care services for low-income residents with disabilities, as well as the Missouri Rx Plan, a prescription drug program for low-income seniors. 

The budget plan also prevents the governor and other statewide elected officials from using agency budgets for their own travel or staffing.

That ban was initiated by the House Budget Committee chair after he got documents from the administration indicating the governor had charged other agencies almost $400 thousand and his airplane trips.

As more consumers are buying online, the Missouri legislature is looking for a way to start collecting the millions of dollars in sales tax. The bill would have Missouri join the coalition under which out-of-state businesses collect taxes for online purchases by Missourians.

Twenty-four other states are already part of this group, and St. Louis County Representative Margo McNeil wants Missouri to join them.

"This will allow the state of Missouri to collect the taxes that are owed on out-of-state Internet companies," McNeil said.

Under Missouri law, online consumers are supposed to report their online sales tax on their income tax returns. Federal Tax Authority, a company that offers services to help businesses collect taxes, says this rarely happens.

Federal Tax Authority's Chief Executive Officer David Campbell said this is causing a major tax revenue loss for the entire nation.

"Approximately 23 billion dollars of sales tax goes uncollected each year. That includes both e-commerce as well as other remote retail, for instance mail-order catalogs or television sales."

Just for Missouri, Campbell said loss estimates for 2010 are about 160 million dollars per year.

If Missouri joins the Streamline Coalition, more than fourteen-hundred companies from around the country would immediately start collecting tax revenue from Missourians purchasing their products online.

The sponsor of the bill to start collecting the tax is St. Charles County Representative Doug Funderburk. He said this will be an important revenue source for local governments.

"And without that revenue, local services are going to diminish. We're going to see our infrastructure supports lose their funding, local law enforcement lose its funding, local fire services."

Along with supporting local governments, the tax supports Missouri retailers, McNeil said. McNeil said this bill is essential for small businesses who don’t have online sales.

"This levels the playing field for our Missouri businesses."

While many small businesses are rallying behind the bill, some big online retailers are fighting against it. National Tax Union’s Executive Vice President Pete Sepp said some big retailers are having problems with the bill because it is anything but simple.

"There are many complexity issues and there are many competitiveness issues."

Retailers like Amazon, Ebay, and Overstock are against the bill. President Jonathan Johnson says it would be a lot of work to manage so many different state tax collections.

Besides the difficulty for large companies, National Tax Union’s Sepp says that it would be costly to small businesses.National Retailer's Federation spokeswoman of Government and Industry Relations Maureen Rhiel said there is a plan to deal with this.

"A lot of the critics that say it would be costly actually don't understand what the plan is, and the plan is that there be a cost reimbursement, or that you can outsource it."

While there is a plan for small businesses, many medium-size businesses are concerned with the responsibility for collecting the different taxes for so many states. National Direct Marketing Association's Senior Vice President for Government Affairs Jerry Cerasale said that duty creates a new burden.

"The liability portion on the marketer is huge. These marketers don't have a huge profit margin and this can be a problem."

With states starting to regulate collection within, opponents say it takes away competition between states to keep taxes low. The National Tax Union's Sepp said that it could lead to higher rates.

"That could spell difficulty not only for the small businesses collecting the taxes, but the individuals making the purchases."

He also said the estimated tax losses are probably not as large as quoted. National Retailer Federation's Rheil said the new revenue will not only help the businesses, but states.

"It's a good thing for businesses in that state and its certainly a necessity for balancing the budget, which every state has a constitutional requirement to do."

With two weeks left in the legislative session, the bill is dead for this year. Bill sponsor Funderburk said the bill will be a two to three year process.

The Missouri Transportation Department proposed a plan to cut one of every five positions and close more than 100 facilities throughout Missouri. The plan also would sell 740 pieces of equipment.

MoDOT Commission Chairwoman Grace Nichols says the plan is necessary for the department's survival but will leave some without work.

"We will be pumping money into the economy but we will also be causing economic hardships for those people who will no longer be with us."

At Missouri's capitol, Rep. Charlie Denison R-Greene also says the cuts are necessary to improve the state's roads and bridges.

Denison is the Chair of the House Transportation Committee.

"Putting things in a picture of trying to improve the financial situation of the state it was a must and they saw that and they made the right move."

MoDOT says these cuts and closings will save more than half a billion over five years.

Becky Baltz is MoDOT's District Engineer in Joplin. Her office is one that would be closed if the plan went through.

"You know, it's not what we want to do but it's what we have to do with the funding crisis."

Baltz's says MoDOT doesn't need as many workers since its construction budget is being cut in half from $1.2 billion to $600 million.

The Missouri Transportation and Highway commission will vote on the plan June 8.

In a 99-52 vote, Missouri’s controversial voter ID bill was passed with amendments by the Missouri House of Representatives on Wednesday.

The bill will make it a requirement for voters to present a non-expired, government-issued photo ID upon entrance to their polling place.

Rep. John Diehl, R-St. Louis County, is handling the bill in the House. He said the bill will cut down on voter fraud.

“It's to make it easier to vote and harder to cheat,” said Diehl. “It makes sure the person who presents themselves at the polling place is the person that they say that they are.”

Opponents to the bill argue that the requirement of a photo ID targets constituents without means or ability to obtain an ID, such as immigrants and elderly persons.

Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis County, opposes the bill and said it does nothing to curtail voter-registration fraud.

“The only thing this bill does, representative, is to make sure that we have current registered voters who are no longer able to vote,” said Newman. “I find it disgusting. This is not democracy; this is voter MoDOT proposes plan to cuts jobs, shuts down offices to save moneyintimidation, voter suppression.”

The bill will now return to the Senate for approval before it heads to the governor.

Missouri's legislature overrode the governor's veto of their congressional redistricting map -- putting into law a plan that effectively eliminates the district of St. Louis City Democrat Russ Carnahan.

Wednesday morning, the House overrode the veto by 109 -- precisely the number needed for a two-thirds majority.

A few hours later in the Senate, the governor's veto was overridden by a much larger margin of 28-26 -- well above the 23 votes needed.

There was no debate on the issue in the Senate and only a brief debate in the House.

It is only the seventh time in the past century the legislature had overridden a governor's veto.

Democrat Jay Nixon had vetoed the plan during the weekend with only a one-sentence explanation.

The plan eliminates one of Missouri's nine congressional districts as a result of the 2010 census. The new map will take effect with the 2012 elections.

Democrats had fought to retain three Democratically competitive districts. But Republicans had argued the population loss in St. Louis City was so large that it was impossible to draw a map that preserved two districts for the city.

MoDOT will eliminate 1,200 positions through attrition and transfers, but layoffs are a last step, the department said in a news release. It will shutter offices in Macon, Joplin and Willow Springs, and will cut its equipment inventory by 740 pieces. The cuts are expected to save $512 million over five years that will go to maintaining the state's roads and bridges. The plan requires the approval of the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission.

The moves come as MoDOT leaders say the department's construction budget will shrink to $600 million from $1.2 billion over five years. The cuts are necessary in the face of a "transportation funding crisis," Director Kevin Keith said.

""We don't like having to do this, and we aren't proposing these changes lightly, because we know they will be personal and painful for many people, but heading in this direction is the right thing to do. It's what we have to do to survive," Keith said. "Without these actions, Missouri would lose millions of dollars in federal funds for transportation."

Last year, MoDOT announced a less severe cost-reduction plan, that included eliminating 400 positions and focusing its efforts on simply maintaining the state's current infrastructure. State bond money is running out, gas tax revenue is faltering as Missourians drive more fuel-efficient cars, and federal funding is at risk. Upon reassessing the budget, last year's cuts weren't enough, Keith said.

The cost-savings plan is a natural response to the funding crisis, said Bill McKenna, a spokesman for the Missouri Transportation Alliance, an organization that advocates for increased funding for infrastructure projects.

"Our state's transportation infrastructure will quickly fall short of Missourians' expectations," McKenna said. "The cuts highlight the urgent need to resolve Missouri's transportation funding shortfall."

Pete Rahn, MoDOT's former director, advocated for toll roads and a state sales tax dedicated to transportation before he left his job last April. Rahn, who took a job with Kansas City-based engineering firm HNTB, oversaw a large increasing in spending on roads and bridges — including MoDOT's ongoing "Safe and Sound" program to repair 800 bridges across the state.

Keith replaced Rahn, first as interim director before taking the position permenantly last fall. At that time, he did not name a specific funding source he wanted to see tapped to increase MoDOT's budget.

Without a vote to spare, the Missouri House voted to override Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of a bill that creates new congressional districts, eliminating a St. Louis U.S. Representative's seat.

Led by House Republicans, representatives approved the override with a 109-44. Republicans needed to pick up four Democratic votes in order to obtain the two-thirds majority required to override the governor's veto — and they got exactly four Democrats and every single Republican.

The General Assembly is required to lower the state's congressional districts from nine to eight after 2010 census results revealed the state's population did not grow as fast when compared to other states.

An all-night filibuster ended at 6 a.m. Wednesday morning after the Senate agreed to cut an energy-efficiency project out an appropriations bill for federal stimulus funds.

The bill would re-appropriate federal stimulus money for the next budget year that had been appropriated for this year, but had not yet been spent.

Four fiscal conservatives had filibustered the bill since Tuesday afternoon arguing the state should refuse the federal money because the federal government was broke.

Earlier, Senate leaders had promised to try to find $250 million in the bill that would be cut in return for agreement to allow passage of a bill adding extra weeks to unemployment compensation that was funded by federal funds.

Those cuts, however, were not included in the budget bill that came before the Senate on Tuesday. The filibuster began when the Senate rejected the first amendment offered to strip funds from the bill.

The amendment that ended the filibuster would cut more than $14 million in spending of federal stimulus funds.  Most of the cut would be in grants to lower income residents for home weatherization.  A smaller cut would be made in funding for a couple of state studies on health care.

The stimulus appropriations bill now goes back to the House. The constitutional deadline for the legislature to finish the budget is Friday.

The the federal stimulus bill includes funding for a variety of projects including Internet broadband expansion in rural areas, transportation projects, economic development projects, school district grants and law enforcement.

Four Republican senators filibustered a bill to distribute federal stimulus money late into Tuesday night.

The four senators are Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis, Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee's Summit, and Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington.

These are the same four senators who earlier in the session filibustered the bill to extend unemployment benefits.

They ended that filibuster when Republican leaders agreed to look at cutting $250 million in stimulus funding.

About $41 million in federal funding has not yet been contracted and the four senators would want to see that money cut.

They said they are concerned that spending this stimulus money will contribute to the federal deficit.

The man who assured the St. Louis Rams a Super Bowl championship in 2000 came before the Missouri Senate Health Committee to urge passage of a bill that would impose standards on schools to handle concussions by student athletes.

The legislation would require the Health Department to provide educational guidelines for coaches, students and parents with information about risks of brain concussions. Also under the bill, athletes suspected of having sustained concussion or brain injury would have to be removed from the competition and could not return until evaluated by a licensed health-care provider.

Testifying in favor of the bill, former St. Louis Rams linebacker Mike Jones said he believed young people tend to underestimate the significance of their injuries and many times simply need to be told to leave the game for their own good. "If you have brain injury, you have to let that calm down: a swollen ankle is something totally different than a swollen brain," Jones remarked.

In the last play of the 2000 Super Bowel, Jones tackled a Titans receiver just short of what would have been a game-winning touchdown.

Struggling sawmills could find relief under a bill passed by the Missouri House, which would reclassify more than 400 sawmills as agricultural properties rather than commercial ones.

Rep. David Day, R-Dixon, sponsored the bill and said high taxes are killing the industry and hurting state revenue.

"Twelve percent of a business with its doors open is heck of a lot more than 32 percent of a business that's closed," Day said.

The tax cuts will save sawmills about four million dollars each year, he said.

Steve Jarvis, the executive director of the Missouri Forest Products Association, said the tax cuts would help both state and local economies.

"You're either working at the sawmill or your business is supported by people who work at the sawmill," Jarvis said. "They realized losing out a little revenue was better than having the mill close up and move to China."

Not everyone agrees that reducing property taxes is best for Missourians. Rep. Joe Aull, R-Marshall, said the bill will reduce revenue for public schools.

"In tough financial times like we're going through now, I just don't think we can be lowering revenue and giving away potential state money," Aull said.

Similar legislation passed in 2009, but Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed it. Nixon has a decision again this year whether to approve it. A spokesman for the governor did not return a message seeking comment.

Buchanan County Senator Rob Schaaf said that some counties do not have good locations for new jails within the county seat, and this will allow them to look elsewhere.

Schaaf said Clinton and Caldwell counties are two examples of counties that this bill can help.

Clay County Senator Luann Ridgeway said this bill will allow jails to be built in small towns or unincorporated areas, "It can dramatically influence land values and it can dramatically influence the safety of the surrounding homes."

Ridgeway said it is also easier for transportation to the courthouse if the jail is nearby.

The bill went back to the house. If Governor Nixon signs the bill, it will go into effect immediately.

State Auditor Tom Schweich issued subpoenas to the Missouri Division of Finance to force it to turn over its records that were not provided during his audit.

Schweich said that his office will immediately begin a new audit of the division, which is required to hand over the missing records by May 17.

"They're not immune from oversight; no one is immune from oversight," Schweich said. "All they've been doing is trying to obstruct our investigation."

The Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration were all given an "incomplete" status due to the missing records from Division of Finance.

The finance division's said turning over the records would violate the law. The Division of Finance communications director released a statement that said the Division of Finance is "bound under oath to keep secret all facts and information obtained in the course of all examinations."

Department of Insurance, Financial Institutions and Professional Registration's Communications Director Travis Ford refused to speak in a recorded interview and did not ask the division's director for a comment or interview.

Missouri's auditor said he is aware of the law that prohibits the release of banking records, but that there is an exception. 

"What they're worried about is that we already found stuff in, what we looked at, and they're worried about is finding more stuff," Schweich said. "That's what's going on here and nothing else."

The main responsibilities of the Division of Finance are to regulate state-chartered banks, trust companies, consumer credit facilities, mortgage brokers and loan institutions.

The records that have been turned over during the audit were from banks the division has closed; however, records about banks still in operation were withheld, Schweich said. Auditors have analyzed the documents that have been received from the finance division that show an overcharge of an estimated $1.5 million from the division. Along with the overcharge, the division was late when examining the institutions nearly 47 percent of the time.

This is not the first time the division has refused to turn over banking records. The auditor's office encountered a similar problem in 1990 during the last audit of the Division of Finance.

The auditor's main concern is not for the banks themselves but to see if the division is following proper procedures, Schweich said.

Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich is remaining tight-lipped about the 9 subpoenas and 2 letters his office delivered to Patrick Henry Downtown Academy in St. Louis.

Schweich says he won't comment on the investigation until they reach a conclusion.

"We are not saying that these are meritorious or unmeritorious allegations. What we are saying is the level of credibility of the allegations was such that we felt we needed to activate the rapid response team," Schweich said.

According to the school district's statement, officials will cooperate with the auditor's office.

Schweich says the investigation could lead to a clean bill of health, an audit, or a referral to prosecutors.

Noodling, grabbling, hogging - whatever you call it, in Missouri the sport of hand-fishing is illegal.

In much of the state, noodling is a family tradition, regardless of its legal-status. Generation after generation of hand-fishermen have waded into the muddiest water they can find, blindly casting their arms into holes, in the hope of snagging a catfish.

The fact that it's been illegal since 1919 seems to do little to phase the sport's dedicated fans.

Case in point: Gary Webb.

Gary Webb has been noodling his entire life. And now, after decades of escaping arrest in Missouri's backwoods, he and the other members of Noodlers Anonymous, a hand-fishing activist group, have taken their struggle over the sport's legalization to Jefferson City and straight to the steps of the Capitol building.

The bill now returns to the senate for their approval.

St. Louis County Representative Tommie Pierson opposes the voter-id bill.

"We have no money, so why are we trying to pass legislation for something that people already have in the first place," said Pierson.

Also, St. Louis County Representative Stacey Newman spoke against the bill and condemned all the females in the room.

"Every single women in this room should be ashamed if they are thinking of voting for this bill. Every single women should remember how hard it was for our gender to have the right to vote.", said Newman.

Far fewer Missourians have collected the extended unemployment benefits than Gov. Jay Nixon and his administration had identified when promoting the legislation.

Nixon had said that roughly 10,000 people were waiting to receive the benefits that had been stalled by the legislature.

More than a week later, however, the Labor Department said only about 4,000 payments had been issued in those first days after the governor's signature. As of April 23, the department reports only about 8,500 payments have been made under the new extension.

The department was unable to identify how many of the 10,000 persons cited in earlier arguments are actually still unemployed and have received the extended benefits.

Former head of Al Qaeda Osama bin Laden was killed Sunday night in a raid by American military.

Bin Laden was the leader of the attacks on September 11, 2001 in New York and Washington D.C.

He has been on the run in the Middle East since those attacks.

Missouri legislators spoke about their feelings on his death and what it means for both the military and for the war on terror.

For the radio story click here.

Last Week

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.

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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.

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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.