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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of September 26, 2011

The House and Senate scheduled sessions for later in the week during their technical sessions this morning.

The Senate will convene on Thursday and the House will meet Tuesday for a technical session.

Thursday, October 6 will mark the 30 day point in the legislature's special session. The call gives them 60 days to vote on the issues included in the call.

A program that brings foreign investors to America in exchange for their money could be used to finance China Hub says Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia. The EB-5 visa program allows foreign investors and their families entry into the U.S. in exchange for investments of up to $500,000 or $1 million that are in place for five years. Investors could receive residency and could eventually apply for citizenship. The company that receives the investment must create 10 jobs.

However, Schaefer voiced his concerns in a Columbia Tribune article.

“...You have to be very careful to not use Missouri taxpayer money to subsidize a Chinese investment, make them more wealthy and get American citizenship without doing much for already-unemployed workers in the St. Louis area,” Schaefer said.

This visa-for-investment program was used to fund the China project Mamtek in Moberly, according to the Columbia Tribune.

The Mamtek project is currently stalled for financial reasons.

News that EB-5 visas would be added to China Hub is a reason why the bill should move slowly, Schaefer said in the article.

“What we are finding, there are so many moving parts to this thing that have not been vetted,” Schaefer said in the article.

Gov. Jay Nixon released a statement Wednesday urging legislators to pass the China Hub bill or end the special session. The session has cost approximately $170,000 according to Nixon.

Schaefer was unavailable for comment today, but Sen. Chuck Purgason and Rep. Anne Zerr both said they were unaware of the visa program.

An aggressive and noxious weed, called knapweed is spreading rapidly beyond the roadside onto private lawns and pastures.

The weed produces an herbicide within its root system that kills nearby plants.

The Missouri Transportation Department Roadside Manager Chris Shulse says knapweed reduces the available wildlife habitat and it reduces the available forage for cattle.

The department introduced two types of weevils to solve the problems. The females of the weevils can reduce the amount of the seeds the weed produces and the root-boring weevils can actually kill the weed.

Shulse says using weevils is cheaper than using herbicide because the weevils can reproduce on themselves and the department doesn't have to keep buying them every year.

Shulse also says the weevils can spread and reach the areas where it is hard to treat with herbicide. When the weevil populations increase enough to suppress the spread of the weed, it will bring the knapweed under control onto manageable level so the department can use other methods, like herbicide to control the knapweed as well. 

The weevils were first released in Missouri in 2008 and it will take a few years for their populations to increase to make a difference, but Shulse says the bugs are playing an important role in controlling the weed.

Mamtek's default raises doubts toward Chinese business partnership just as debate about a China hub bill is going on.

While some legislators call for consideration, Economic Development Committee member Craig Redmon says an individual case shouldn't affect the plan.

He says while some individuals could take advantages of international trades, the bill assures U.S. to pay out the tax credits after the products are shipped.

Redmon says he is hoping to pass the China hub bill to promote international businesses.

This resolution would cut the power of the Missouri Insurance Exchange Coordinating Committee, a committee created by Nixon.

In this resolution the committee would not be allowed to accept grants from the federal government.

The committee is also being urged to return the $21 million in health care grants to the federal government.

In the release Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis, said voters do not want to government involved in health care.

This resolution is being sent to the Governor's office, the Missouri Department of Insurance, Financial Institution and Professional Registration, and all members of the board of directors of the Missouri Health Insurance Pool.

A St. Louis firefighter told lawmakers he can't get his kids into good public schools in his appeal to the Missouri General Assembly's Joint Committee on School Accreditation on Wednesday.

St. Louis firefighters' families are locked into an unaccredited school district; they are required to live within the city limits of St. Louis as long as they are employed by the fire department. Their options are to enroll their children in the city's unaccredited district or pay tuition for private parochial schools.

Andrew Hesse has been a firefighter in St. Louis for 12-and-a-half years and said he currently pays $20,000 in tuition a year for all three of his children to go to private school.

"What I am asking the committee to do is to please enforce the law as it is written so my kids can have a good school to go to without paying in excess of $10,000 a year to accomplish that," said Hesse. "If that's not doable, at least provide them another solution to access high quality high schools."

Hesse said he's spoken to many potential St. Louis firefighters who won't apply to work in St. Louis because of the problems with the school system.

The law Hesse refers to requires accredited school districts to accept students from unaccredited schools, sending the bill to their old district, according to the Missouri Supreme Court's 2010 decision in Turner v. School District of Clayton. However, the case is now back in the St. Louis County Circuit Court, so districts aren't accepting new students, leaving them in the unaccredited St. Louis and soon-to-be Kansas City districts.

"I'd ask that you think of the plight of these students and parents that are kind of trapped by their zip code into these unaccredited or so-called failing schools," said Joe Knodell from the Missouri Education Reform Council, "and hopefully a solution can be found for that."

The state's charter school association suggested that expanding charter schools could be the solution to the urban education crisis at the first meeting of the Joint Interim Committee on School Accreditation.

After China-based manufacturer Mamtek defaulted on its first payment on $39 million in bonds, Moberly is doing business once more with Mamtek CEO Bruce Cole.

Cole now heads Delaware-based American Surcralose Manufacturing Inc., and on Sept. 23, he signed a deal with Moberly to take over Mamtek's failed economic development project. American Sucralose Manufacturing Inc. was formed on Sept. 19 in Delaware.

Moberly City Manager Andy Morris said he is aware that Cole is involved in the new company but is still confident about the project.

"I think we have hit a speed bump - a major speed bump - and I think that we can set this back on the straight and narrow," Morris said.

As of Tuesday, the Missouri Secretary of State's website of corporate registrations showed no company by the name of American Sucralose Manufacturing, Inc.

Gov. Jay Nixon offered an official endorsement for a health care grant to implement President Barack Obama's federal health care plan in Missouri, which lawmakers argue circumvents the legislative process.

A letter Nixon sent in June endorsed the grant Missouri requested for $21 million to begin implementing a federal health care exchange.

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, said Nixon is ignoring the legislative process and voters' rights.

"The governor has sought out this money, he wants to see us establishing the exchange, and he's ignoring the will of 71 percent of the voters in Missouri," Lembke said, referring to the primary election in August 2010 when voters propped up a ballot measure to "deny the government authority to penalize citizens for refusing to purchase private health insurance or infringe upon the right to offer or accept direct payment for lawful healthcare services."  

Lembke said he knew Nixon wanted to implement the federal health care plan in the state, but he was unaware of the endorsement for funding to kick of the process.

"We shouldn't circumvent the legislative process through executive order or rule to get there," Lembke said.

The governor's office refused to comment.

Some of Missouri’s public universities are waiving the admission requirement that students must graduate from an accredited high school — but it’s only temporary, Missouri's public higher education director said.

Kansas City School District 33 lost accreditation from the Missouri Board of Elementary and Secondary Education last week. This put Kansas City in the same boat as two unaccredited St. Louis school districts.

Brian Long, director of the Council on Public Higher Education in Missouri, said state universities have decided to waive the requirement in hopes that the high schools will work to improve their status with the board of education. In the meantime, admissions offices will evaluate students on an individual academic basis.

"As long as these high schools continue to work with our state department of elementary and secondary education and regain accredidation, the graduates from those high schools should not be negatively impacted," Long said.

Long said this won’t be a long-term change and if the school districts don’t turn around eventually, it will become a college admissions problem for students.

"When those schools are no longer working with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, in that case, students from those schools would face a real dilemma. Happily, we have not arrived at that date," Long said.

However, Missouri State University’s website states, “You will qualify for admission to Missouri State if you are (or will be) a graduate of an accredited high school.” The University of Missouri’s policy is not as strict but still limits graduates. “Graduates of high schools which are not accredited by recognized regional accrediting associations or approved by recognized state agencies are required to have a minimum ACT enhanced composite of 24.”

Governor spokesman Scott Holste said although three school districts in Missouri’s two largest cities have lost accreditation, an increasing number of their graduates are heading into higher education.

The Missouri Senate Governmental Accountability Committee has been approved to investigate the China-based company Mamtek's failed economic development project in Moberly.

The committee will examine the process used to determine which programs the government chooses as investments for the taxpayer's money, said Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, the committee's chairman.

Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, was appointed to the committee after he requested to be involved in investigating the possibility that state officials misled local leaders when they presented the deal to city leaders. Schaefer's district includes Moberly.

"Each day more and more information is unfolding when it comes to how this deal started and how it failed," Schaefer said in a press release. "It is extremely important for everyone across our state to learn what happened here so we may prevent other communities from falling victim to similar scenarios."

The company has been under a magnifying glass recently; legislative leaders said Mamtek's failure was one of the reasons the General Assembly has prevented the bill to create a trade hub with China in St. Louis from moving forward during the special session. Last year, Gov. Jay Nixon touted the benefits of the deal between Moberly and Mamtek, which was finalized in 73 days rather than the usual six months. Questions have been raised regarding Nixon's support of the Mamtek project, accusing the governor of announcing the project before doing the necessary research.

"We've got to find out: Why the fast track? What shortcuts did we take?" Lembke said. "And did that have any effect on not being able to find out everything we needed to know about this deal and why it was a bad deal for the citizens of Moberly and the taxpayers of Missouri?"

The national Republican and Democratic parties have said if Missouri does not pass a bill to change the primary date from February to March, the number of seats for Missouri delegates at the National Convention will be cut in half.

Republican Elections Committee Chairman Tony Dugger said if Missouri does not pass the bill, there will be two major consequences.

"One, that we stand the chance of losing half of our delegates to be seated at the national convention," Dugger said. "And if that happens, then two, I don't see very many presidential candidates paying attention to Missouri."

But Senate Majority Leader Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, is skeptical that the national parties will really take seats away from Missouri delegates if the bill doesn't pass.

"Four years ago, a threat was made to penalize the state and take away delegates," Dempsey said. "We did not follow through four years ago. Other states didn't as well, and I know there are a number of states that are keeping their primary dates the same as well."

A new, unverified company has promised to repay the City of Moberly for Mamtek's missed bond payment. After Mamtek, a sucralose manufacturing company, defaulted on its first biannual payment, the money was taken from Moberly's Debt Service Reserve Fund, according to a press release from the Industrial Development Authority.

The company, American Sucralose Manufacturing Inc., offered the city a written commitment but according to the Secretary of State's office is not even registered. According to the press release, the city is pursuing alternatives and does not expect Mamtek to resolve their financial deficiencies. The Debt Service Reserve has adequate funds to pay bondholders and the agreement with American Sucralose Manufacturing Inc. is meant to restore the funds and complete the Mamtek project.

A criminal investigation into Mamtek was announced last week by Randolph County Prosecuting Attorney Mike Fusselman, with the assistance of Attorney General Chris Koster.

"What it comes down to is we're looking at the types of representations that were made to people to convince them to part with the money to invest in the project and whether the representations made were accurate or whether they were misleading," said Fusselman.

Last Week

The Missouri General Assembly effectively ended its work for the special session on Friday [Sept. 23] afternoon, but left the door open to continue if the two chambers manage to compromise on the China cargo hub/tax break bill that has divided them.

The legislature adjourned and agreed to set technical sessions, which few members are required to attend, to simply keep the session going in case they strike a deal, but leaders have said chances that will happen are slim. The special session effectively ended without the legislature passing many of the major issues presented to lawmakers by the governor.

Gov. Jay Nixon issued a blistering attack of the legislature shortly after it called it quits in a statement that reflected the clear understanding by the governor that the special session effectively was over.

"Today, quite frankly, the General Assembly is letting real opportunities to move our state pass us by," Nixon told a news conference. "When it comes to job creation, the General Assembly has missed opportunities to position Missouri for competition in the global economy and the emerging technology of the future."

In the morning, the House passed and sent the governor two measures - a fix to the restriction on school staff using social media, like Facebook, to communicate with students and a bill providing tax breaks to businesses involved with science, health and technology.

The House did not even take up the main issue of the session: the package of business tax breaks for a China air cargo transport hub and cuts in existing tax credits.

The House had resisted cuts as deep as the Senate had passed in tax credits for developers, lower income Missourians and special activities like adoptions. The Senate rejected the largest portion of tax breaks for the China air cargo transport hub in St. Louis pushed by the House.

The two measures the legislature passed face an uncertain future. The technology tax breaks bill includes a provision that it will not take effect unless the legislature passes the China hub bill.

The "Facebook fix" goes beyond the governor's call to the legislature. Missouri's constitution restricts the legislature to the specific recommendations of the governor. At his news conference, Nixon would not say whether he would sign the bill nor whether he would expand his call to remove any legal questions about the "Facebook fix."

Special session requests by the governor that did not clear the legislature are:

Without passage of the China hub/tax credit bill, it will be only the third time in the past half century that the General Assembly has failed to pass the main issue for which the governor called a special session.

Top Senate sources say the Senate will adjourn the special session when it meets this afternoon without taking action on most of the major issues presented by the governor.

Legislative leaders had set Friday as a self-imposed deadline to reach an agreement on the China hub bill that could couple tax breaks for an international air cargo center in St. Louis with other business tax breaks and restrictions in tax credits.

But the House Economic Development Committee adjourned without acting on the bill Thursday night, assuring the Friday deadline could not be met.

In both the House and Senate, Republican leaders have acknowledged strong opposition among members of their own party -- particularly after published reports that another economic development program with China had failed.

If the legislative session does end without action on the bill, it would be only the third time in the past half century that the General Assembly has failed to approve the main issue for which the governor called a special session.

Missouri's House approved and sent the governor a measure to assure that school districts can allow their staff and teachers to communicate with students through social media like Facebook.

The bill amends a law passed by the regular session of the legislature earlier this year that critics charged banned social media communication.

A state court has enjoyed enforcement of that provision.

The revision approved by the legislature requires that school districts adopt policies for using social media.

The legislative measure exceeds the governor's special session call that limited lawmakers to simply repealing the provision. The state constitution restricts special sessions from going beyond the specific recommendations of the governor.

At a Friday afternoon news conference, Gov. Jay Nixon would not say if he would sign the bill nor whether he would expand the legislature's call to remove any legal questions about the measure.

The Facebook fix is the first, and likely the only bill to be passed by a special session that began September 6.

House Republicans ended a two-hour closed-door caucus with no decision announced on whether to continue efforts to pass a package of tax breaks for a China air cargo transport hub in St. Louis.

House Speaker Steve Tilley told reporters his GOP members had agreed to have their leadership make the determination of what to do next.

"The leadership team is going to talk about it, determine whether we feel we can bridge the gap. If we can, I think we're going to continue to try. If the consensus is they don't we can, then we won't," Tilley said.

The House speaker said the House definitely would not take up the China hub measure on Friday -- assuring that if the issue remains alive, it pushes the special session into another week.

The special session of the legislature could near its end with little to show for itself after two weeks. If representatives and senators cannot come to an agreement on the China hub bill by Friday, the special session will be dead.

"I don't want to spend any more taxpayer dollars than I have to," Republican House economic development committee chair Anne Zerr.

The House committee passed the Missouri Science and Innovation Reinvestment Act on to House floor debate but the Senate will not discuss it on Friday if the China hub bill is killed.

This decision stemmed from a series of meetings throughout the day.

Senators called a press conference at 1 p.m. to outline taxpayer protections in Senate Bill 8 for the House to consider.

House economic development committee hearing met at 2 p.m. and after roll call immediately adjourned. Various Republican representatives and senators convened in Republican Senate Leader Rob Mayer's office.

Mayer said the House and Senate leaders discussed provisions they had differences with to see if they could conjure some sort of a compromise to move the bill forward.

When asked if the special session would be a failure if leaders did not find a compromise, Mayer responded, "We're still working and channeling our energy to try to get this completed and get it done."

However, House members felt differently when asked who or what would be the blame if the special session fails.

"I think it's a failure in the governor's leadership and the governor inserting himself into this process and convincing a few senators to send us a bill that the house has never supported in the form of Compete Missouri," Republican House representative Timothy Jones said.

The House rejoined at 4:30 p.m. and again adjourned without discussing the China hub bill. Mayer stressed that Friday is a tight deadline.

UMSL and the Missouri University of Science and Technology are preparing to build a new campus and offer a variety of courses in Sichuan Province in China.

University of Missouri-St. Louis Chancellor, Thomas George said the project is a good cultural exchange between China and the US.

American students can study at the new campus for one semester and Chinese students can also choose to transfer to the University of Missouri system after studying at the new campus for two years.

Director of Communications at Missouri S&T, Andrew Careaga said two campuses will work together with Tian Fu College in China to contribute to creating curriculum and hiring teachers.

The new campus will be an English-language university and it is being built now.

The project is waiting for final approval from the Chinese Ministry of Education later this fall.

House and Senate Republican leaders emerged from an hour-long closed door session Thursday afternoon without an agreement on the governor's proposal to award tax breaks to businesses to develop an air cargo transport hub with China in St. Louis.

"We're still talking" was the response from one leader. Another said they need to poll their members.

They're facing a Friday self-imposed deadline to resolve their differences on the business tax break bill or call it quits for the special session.

Earlier today, the two top House leaders acknowledged that there's a near majority within the House Republican caucus that would like to just adjourn and go home.

Earlier this week, the Senate's top Republic leader reported the same sentiment from his own caucus.

The merging of Missouri's Water and Highway patrols was supposed to save money, but now will cost the state almost one-point-eight million dollars.

After the merger, many Water Patrol workers switched to Highway Patrol due to its better retirement policy.

Deputy State Auditor Harry Otto says the consolidation of the two agencies did provide more manpower for responding to the Joplin tornado.

But he says he's still not sure the benefits outweigh the costs.

"They couldn't have done that had they been two separate organizations, but combining themselves into one organization they were more easily able to react. But we don't know how to put a dollar value on that," said Otto.

Otto also says the state and agencies should have been more careful in calculating the costs of this decision.

In a state audit released Wednesday, the auditor's office faults Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder's involvement in two potentially conflicting groups.

In 2009, Kinder served as chairman of the state's Tourism Commission. He voted to send $2.5 million in taxpayer money to Tour of Missouri, a non-profit. Kinder, however, was chairman of that company at the time.

Deputy State Auditor Harry Otto said this created a possible conflict of interest.

It should have been disclosed and a refusal should have occured," said Otto.

In a press release, Kinder's office called this "accidental failure" and noted that Kinder had no financial interest in Tour of Missouri.

House members drafted a substitute bill regarding the China trading hub at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.

But when senators met, they still hadn't received a copy of the bill, and were unable to discuss the compromise.

House Economic Development Committee Chair Ann Zerr was hesitant to answer questions regarding the substitute bill.

"Well, and see that would be going into the details and my committee doesn't even have the details yet. I want to get the actual sub to my committee before I go public with it," Zerr said.

House members say they will go home without a signed bill before letting the special session drag on past Friday.

The top leader of the Missouri Senate emerged a Republican caucus Wednesday afternoon, saying a majority of his members favor simply ending the special session without passing the governor's tax bill.

Earlier in the day, Republican leaders in the Missouri House of Representatives announced what they termed a compromise plan for providing tax breaks for a China air cargo transport hub in St. Louis.

But Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer told the Senate he had not been given a copy of the plan nor had he been involved in any discussions.

Mayer said the House version is not acceptable to the Senate because, among other things, it does not make deep enough cuts in special interest tax credits that cost the state more than $500 million per year in lost tax revenue.

The Senate has recessed until 7 p.m. Wednesday. Mayer said he plans to talk with the governor and House leaders before a final decision is made on whether to adjourn the special session without taking action.

While the China air cargo hub legislation is under fierce debate, a group of activists are showing graphic paintings depicting Chinese repression and brutality toward a peaceful spiritual group.

Falun Gong activist Sara Effner said she wants lawmakers to think a little harder about the bill.

"I think China's human rights record is definitely something to take into consideration," Effner said. "I don't see why they wouldn't take that into consideration."

Rep. Barney Fisher, R-Richards, declined to speak about China specifically but did say he wouldn't want to do business with governments that "trample human rights."

$21 Million was nearly voted on by a health care board last week. The health care exchange would be the first step in implementing Obama's federal health care plan in Missouri.

Senator Jane Cunningham expressed absolute concern over the implementation process because voters struck down "Obamacare" last year in Proposition C.

Cunningham also said she felt that the legislative process was completely ignored and that senators had no idea about this exchange.

The room of the original House meeting for the proposed China Hub trade bill was empty Tuesday morning and the big "canceled" notice outside told legislators the meeting had been canceled.

Sen. Anne Zerr, R-St. Charles, the chair of the committee said the members of the committee need more time to digest everything they heard at the Committee hearing on Monday night.

Sen. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific, said there were more people to testify during the meeting than they originally thought, so the members have a lot of things to consider.

The committee will hold a meeting on Wednesday for further discussion and voting.

The Missouri State Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to pull the Kansas City school district's accreditation.

For the state of Missouri, this means unaccredited schools in its two largest cities.

This not the first time the Kansas City school district have been unaccredited. The school district also passed as unaccredited in 1999, which took affect in 2000.

Then in 2006, the school district was improved to a provisionally accredited status.

The Missouri School Improvement Program, also known as MSIP, recommended this downgrade to the board after the school district failed to meet state progress and assessment standards.

The loss of accreditation puts Kansas City schools on a two-year probation where the district will work closely with the state board of education.

According to Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro, this is the best action for students and children of the school district. Nicastro says she hopes that it will in fact galvanize some definitive action on the part of the district, the community and the department.

Out of the 18 school districts reviewed at the hearing, Kansas City was the only district to lose its accreditation.

The school district will officially become unaccredited January 1, 2012.

A Western Missouri kindergarten student drew nation-wide attention by bringing his mom's crack pipe and drugs to school for a class assignment.

The Sweet Springs Elementary school faculty found a crack pipe and an estimated value of $3,000 of methamphetamine in the boy's backpack before he presented it to the class on Sept. 6 and informed the Sweet Springs Police Department about the situation.

"I've been doing this for all my career and I have never had a Show and Tell; not like this," Chief of Police Richard Downing said. "You don't expect something like this from a kindergartner."

The boy's mother, Michelle Cheatum, was charged with child endangerment and possession in Saline County Circuit Court on Sept. 12.  

The local police department will continue to conduct two yearly canine inspections throughout the kindergarten to high school building.

Superintendent Donna Wright said she currently does not know if the student was bringing the paraphernalia in place of the picture assignment or not.   

"This is a situation where you have a child who, in my opinion, had no idea what he had," Wright said.  

A vote on the China hub bill has been further delayed by the House Economic Development Committee canceled the planned executive session.

The Associated Press quoted the House bill handler as warning that the House might adjourn without passing a bill unless a consensus can be reached on the measure.

House leaders and the Senate have taken different approaches on how to award tax credits to businesses for building the infrastructure to attract a Chinese air cargo shipper, like warehouses.  House leaders argue the Senate's approach would give the governor's administration too much power to pick winners and losers in awarding business tax breaks.

After four hours of testimony in favor of the China hub Monday night, Bob Wood from Glasgow, Mo. was the first to speak in opposition.

"I don't represent anybody but myself," said Wood. He said he spent the last 20 years using a St. Louis warehouse to house Chinese goods and opposed giving tax credits to developers for the same thing.

"There's a lot of money going to people who maybe don't need that help," said Wood.

Another witness, Ron Calzone, compared the government handing out tax credits as Mercantilism similar to the colonial Tea Act of 1778. Calzone and other witnesses asserted that tax credits were unconstitutional and did not treat people as equals. Several witnesses that identified as members of the Tea Party wanted government to step aside using models such as John Locke's Wealth of Nations.

"Unfortunately the world has changed and it seems like working hard and doing the right thing isn't enough," Rep. Michael Brown, D- Kansas City, said. Brown engaged in heated conversations with multiple witnesses, saying the free market approach would not work in "undesirable" areas like his district.

"Where I come from, if you have a chain and there's a weak link in the chain, the smartest thing to do is support the weak link," said Brown. "So that the overall chain is strengthened. And I think that's what we're trying to do."

Specific opposition arose regarding cuts to the low-income housing and historic preservation tax credits. A representative from Places for People, Francie Roderick, said that low-income housing credits are needed to develop special needs housing.

The House Economic Development Committee did not vote on the bill. Committee chairwoman Anne Zerr said they need more time to consider everyone's testimony.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay testified that if the bill is not passed, China will lose interest in trade with Missouri. Slay said that China is also looking at other cities like Cincinatti, some of which are also preparing incentives. The deal could open trade to other areas like Brazil, South America and Africa. China wants to use the Midwest to open trade with other countries, Slay said.

The first Chinese flight will be landing at Lambert International Airport this weekend, with flights once a week to test if exports can match flight activity, Slay said.

"If some reasonable form of this does not pass then my prediction is that we will lost the opportunity and they will go someplace else," Slay said.

The Missouri House Education Committee unanimously approved a bill to make changes in restrictions on school teachers using social media to communicate with students.   

As opposed to current law that critics charge prohibits use of social media, the bill would require school districts to adopt a policy regarding electronic communication between teachers and students that fits their values. Each school district will be responsible for implementing the policy.

The measure easily had cleared the Senate earlier in the legislature's special session.

"I, myself, favor local control for two reasons, well, for three reasons," said Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia. "One, it's good public policy to govern as close to home as possible. Second, Chillicothe may do it right and West Plains may do it wrong and the rest of the districts will learn from Chillicothe. Third, Columbia may do it right, and Springfield may do it right, both constitutional, but different. Reflecting the different values of the two communities."

Changes in the law's language focus on prohibiting improper communication instead of all electronic communication, a complaint made by teachers the original law was adopted by the legislature's regular session earlier this year. Representatives from the Missouri State Teacher's Association, Missouri National Education Association and Missouri School Board Association spoke in favor of the bill's new wording.

Representatives said the biggest objections to the bill were because the original wording was taken out of context. The restriction was intended to prevent inappropriate communication and protect teachers and students, supporters said.

The bill will now go to the full House for a vote.

The current restriction, was signed into law by Gov. Jay Nixon in July, but a Cole County judge blocked the law from taking effect at the end of August due to concerns about free speech violations. 

The legislature's version exceeds the governor's agenda he set for the special session. Nixon's agenda for the special session limited the legislature to simply repealing that provision of the law; he did not specify that legislators could make changes to the law's language.

Although the St. Louis air cargo hub has been the center of attention during legislature's special session, another part of the bill seeks to boost economic development by putting Missouri on the map as center for digital data storage.

These data centers are warehouses storing computer servers storing digital information.

The data center tax credits would create incentives already in place in neighboring states in hopes of luring a data center to Missouri. The bill is based on a prediction that the center would bring up to $600 million in revenue over 25 years and create thousands of construction jobs.

The national technology industry is expected to invest $12 billion in the next three years, said Karen Buschmann of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce.

A site in Columbia, Ewing Industrial park, is being advertised as ideal for a data center. The location has access to various forms of power, a newly expanded water main and underground Internet cables. The utilities could be a large source of revenue for the city, commercial properties are taxed 33 percent.

"The potential tax revenue from that site is literally mind-boggling, if we should be lucky enough in our wildest dreams to land one of these sites," said Dave Griggs, chair of Regional Economic Development Inc. Griggs said Columbia's exact revenue from a data center can't be determined until they know the size of the investment.

Companies have been looking for locations for data centers for several years, but no company has come forward to commit to Columbia. The exact benefits of a new data center cannot be determined until the amount invested is known.