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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of November 7, 2011

The Economic Development Department, the Division of Workforce Development and the Missouri National Guard are confident their programs will help returning troops find employment.

Communication Director John Fougere of Economic Development said one program makes businesses take a pledge to give first priority to veterans when hiring.

Since the Show Me Heroes program began in 2010, 1,400 businesses have taken the pledge and 300 veterans have been hired.

Lieutenant Colonel Alan Rohlfing works with the Division of Workforce Development to also help veterans with the Show Me Heroes program.

Rohlfing is confident the program will give job seekers the attention and help they need to guarantee employment.

Economic Development also has 43 career centers that Rohlfing and Workforce Development closely work with.

The centers assist troops by matching them with jobs where they can apply their specific skills, supplying regular seminars and workshops and maintaining a veteran staff that eases the connection between job seeker and available jobs.

Speaker of the House Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, will no longer seek to be the next Lieutenant Governor of Missouri.

Citing family reasons, he suddenly dropped out of the race Thursday.

"It was a personal decision that I just didn't have the fire in the belly that I wanted to. It's been a decision I've been struggling with for about five months," said Tilley.

The 40-year-old Tilley says he has no plans to run for public office again, but will finish out his term as speaker of the house, which ends next session.

"I'm going to be just a normal private citizen. And I look forward to it," said Tilley.

Tilley also said he wants to spend more time with his two daughters who are 15 and 17.

One member of his caucus, Republican Anne Zerr, supports his decision.

"He thinks it's the right thing for him. It's kind of a life decision. He does want to spend time with his kids and I have to respect that. I didn't run for this office until my kids were grown. And I did that by design," said Zerr.

House President Pro Tem Republican Shane Schoeller echoes that sentiment.

"I think for Speaker Tilley and his family that he's made the right decision. Certainly, I'm going to miss having him being on the ticket. We were looking forward to his leadership in that candidacy for Lieutenant Governor, but you always have to put family first. He's done that today and I admire him for doing it," said Schoeller.

Tilley said he looks forward to returning to his optometry practice.

It still isn't known what he will do with the nearly $600,000 he's collected for his campaign.

Missouri's Health Department director dodged legislator's questions Thursday on what her department is doing to assure home health care for the state's elderly.

Health Department Director Margaret Donnelly acknowledged to a House Committee that more than 1,000 Missouri critical needs patients are still awaiting their Medicare services since the state's split with Syncare.  

Yet, the state is considering contracting another third party assessor to get rid of the backlog.

Lobbyist for the Missouri Council for In-Home Services Scott Penman disagrees with the proposal.

"The concept is not workable. I don't think we need another trial balloon affecting our senior citizens and disabled population who are trying to stay at home to maybe see if another company just doesn't screw it up as badly," Penman said.

House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan Silvey stormed out of the hearing in frustration after Donnelly dodged 11 of his repeated questions on what penalty was imposed on the state's former third party assessor.

"SynCare didn't perform as promised," Donnelly said.

Following the hearing, Donnelly refused to answer Missouri Digital News' questions.

The Missouri Department of Transportation is proposing to put tolls on I70 to improve the highways.

Chief engineer, David Nichols said it's more than maintenance of the highways but to fund additional projects, like an additional lane dedicated for trucks or even an additional lane for all cars.

The Transportation Department has been planning this proposal for a couple of years, but plans to present it in January for the regular legislative session.

House Representative, Timothy Jones, R-St. Louis County said this issue will be brought to the table because it is a major issue.

The major issue according to MoDot is highway congestion.

Nichols said the current budget covers road maintenance on the existing roads.

Missouri cities and counties have borrowed more than 10 billion dollars to support new businesses in last 7 years, yet risks of Municipal bonds were not considered as a serious issue until Mamtek failed to pay back.

Moberly borrowed $39 million municipal bonds for Mamtek. Now that the project failed, the Moberly City Council voted not to pay the $ 3.2 million missed payment for Mamtek.

Stuart Haynes, Missouri Municipal League Member Services Associate, said Mamtek is the first failure to his knowledge.

"That's a pretty unusual situation to where the bonds were not get paid back," Haynes said.

Although the debt is not the city's legal obligation, default on the municipal bonds could lower the city's credit rating and increase future borrowing costs. Mamtek's situation has degraded Moberly's credit rating from A minus to double C, which could increase future borrowing costs.

Get the radio story.

Get the Columbia Daily Tribune story.

Key Missouri lawmakers question whether the salary for Gov. Jay Nixon's personal travel aide violated state budget restrictions, the Associated Press reports.

State records show Nixon's aide Jeff Gettys as an employee in the governor's office beginning last month. But state flight records obtained by The Associated Press show he regularly traveled with the governor as early as last July. During this time, Gettys was still on the Department of Economic Development's payroll.

Some lawmakers say this arrangement violates Missouri budget restrictions that prohibit state agencies from paying the governor's travel or staffing costs.

But Scott Holste, a spokesman for the Nixon administration, said Wednesday that he didn't believe that Gettys employment violated state budget law.

"That period before he came on the payroll when he was traveling with the governor, I would best describe that as a period of transition -- of moving him into the governor's office and doing some of the logistical and operational support," Holste told the Associated Press.

Last year, lawmakers imposed restrictions on the governor's budget after it was revealed Nixon had billed other agencies for his state airplane flights and the salaries of some aids.

House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, told the Associated Press this is "another instance of the governor trying to hide staff." 

Gettys traveled with Nixon on 34 of 40 flights from July 6 to Oct. 12, according to state flight records. These records make no mention of the Department of Economic Development for many of the flights.

Department of Economic Development spokesman John Fougere said that Gettys traveled with Nixon because his work "related to inter-departmental efforts on a variety of issues."

A U.S. congresswoman heard pleas from homeowners to stop the federal government from destroying their homes and vacation resorts.

Pleas came at a hearing at the Lake of the Ozarks where a federal map has identified 1,200 homes and docks as being built on federal land.

Residents of Lake Valley Condominiums and nearby landowners shared stories with Hartzler of friends and neighbors losing their homes to this battle with the feds.

Although the federal government has not taken the land back, residents of an area effected by this map said that buyers are already being warned not to purchase these condos.

Betty Beal, resident of Lake Valley Condominiums, says the banks will start taking the land before the government does because no one is willing to move there.

If the government does take over this land, current landowners would not be compensated for the property .

The congresswoman pointed out that Missouri is not the only state having this issue.

Hartzler vowed to continue working alongside residents to protect their rights.

Hartzler urged residents to send her pictures of their homes so she can show Congress that real people are being effected.

Two initiative petitions have been approved by Secretary of State Robin Carnahan to gather signatures to put them on the 2012 ballot.

One of the advocates gathering the required 150,000 signatures will be Dan Viets. He's the lead man for Columbia-based Show-Me-Cannabis.

"People are very happy to know that this effort is underway. We've gotten calls from people all over the state - people we've never heard from before. So there's a great deal of enthusiasm," said Viets.

Not sharing the enthusiasm is House Crime Committee Member, Brent Lasater (R-Independence). He said Viets' initiatives can not pass.

"Well when it comes to drugs, I don't think we need to be playing with fire. And that's exactly what we'd be doing. No matter how innocent it looks," said Lasater.

Viets fired back and said they didn't need the legislature's approval and they're going straight to the voters.

"Well we don't need the legislature. We're going around the legislature... They have a conservative legislative body. We're tired of dealing with those guys. They have been absolutely worthless in making any progressive changes," said Viets.

Lasater said going around a law-making body isn't the best way to make a law.

"It's wrong. You need to go through the process that was put there for a reason," said Lasater.

The initiatives aim to legalize pot for all individuals 21 or older and would make medicinal marijuana available to those under 21.

The public testimony will be held at 11 a.m. at Lindenwood University in St. Charles Thursday.

St. Louis City Senator Joe Keaveny said the role of the public testimony is to determine whether the state wants to set up its own exchange or lets the federal government do it.

Keaveny said it is a good way to let the committee members know what people want.

"The other senators on that committee need to know that there are some people in the St. Louis area that feel very strongly that we need to set up a state-run health insurance exchange," Keaveny said.

He also said although some committee members don't want to see the state move forward, he advocates for a state exchange.

Keaveny said he thinks the exchange would benefit people in the state by making it easier and more affordable for people to afford health insurance.

There will be another public testimony in Springfield later.

After the testimony, the committee will recommend whether the state should create a health insurance exchange or allow the federal government to do it.

Now that Mizzou is leaving the Big 12, someone has to pay the exit fees which the Associated Press previously reported could reach $26 million.

During an event on Monday, Gov. Jay Nixon refused to comment on the issue, and directed all questions to his spokesman, Scott Holste, who also refused to answer questions.

Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, said he hopes the university will pay for the exit fees through alumni donations and sources of revenue other than taxpayer dollars.

"I've sent some questions to the university folks and have been looking into whether or not alumni could be made to cover the costs," Silvey said.

Silvey also said he would be disappointed if the burden of paying the exit fees falls on the students.

The Columbia Daily Tribune reports that UMB Bank filed a federal lawsuit against the Mamtek Corporation on Friday alleging "probable" fraud involved with the Moberly factory deal.

The lawsuit requested that the federal courts appoint an emergency receiver to manage any assets that remain.

The Tribune also reported that Columbia-based Septagon Construction Co. Inc. filed a separate case in Randolph county on Friday to enforce its $1.4 million construction lien against the factory. Septagon filed its lawsuit against the city of Moberly, the Moberly Industrial Development Authority, Mamtek and UMB bank.

The planned artificial sweetener factory in Moberly collapsed after Mamtek missed an August 1 bond payment.

The author of Missouri's constitutional amendment restricting the growth of state taxes died Sunday.

In 1980, the late Mel Hancock organized and led a statewide campaign to add to the state's constitution a restriction on the financial growth of state government.

Mr. Hancock's amendment was approved by state voters in November of 1980. It imposes a limit on the growth of state revenues and prohibits the state from imposing new financial obligations on local government without compensation.

In 1988, he was elected to Congress for the first of four terms -- he vowed not to serve more than four terms.

In the late 1990s, Missouri returned millions of dollars to taxpayers as a result of his "Hancock lid."

While factors in the Hancock amendment setting that lid have made it unlikely it will trigger special refunds anytime in the future, his restriction on imposing additional financial obligations on local government continues to be a constraint on the state.

In honor of Veteran's Day, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon awarded four veterans from Jefferson City the Silver Star certificate and banner in honor of their service.

The four recipients are:

Wilburn Rowden, who served as a radio operator aboard a B-17 flying fortress during WWII. His plane was shot down over Germany and Rowden was held as a prisoner of war for more than a year.

Don Hentges, a rifleman in the Army 101st airborne division during the Vietnam War. He was wounded when a booby trap exploded and killed another soldier.

David Mauldin served in the Army as a driver during Vietnam, where he injured his knee requiring several months of hospitalization.

Roger Stottlemyre was wounded by a grenade when serving in the U.S. Marine Corps during Vietnam.

"From the flak-filled skies above Nazi Germany, to the steaming jungles of Vietnam," Nixon said. "The veterans we honor today have made that sacrifice over a period of more than 65 years on behalf of our country and to protect our freedom."

Last Week

The Missouri Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case over bargaining rights for one St. Louis suburb's police department.

Attorneys for the University City Police Department argued that the police department should control bargaining rights.

This is something that currently is in the hands of University City.

Supreme Court justices said they did not know if they should be making a decision in this case because it is something the legislature should decide.

Both sides of the case now wait for the Court to make a decision.

Get the radio story.

The state still owes the federal government for it's share of FEMA's help in clearing debris in Joplin. State budget director Linda Luebbering said she's not sure how much the state will end up paying. She also says she's unsure how the state will balance the budget.

"We've already done some expenditure restrictions. We announced those in June. That was for a combination of reasons including revenue concerns. Where we end up ultimately is not yet determined," said Luebbering.

The $15 million the state has paid so far isn't close to the final amount the state will eventually pay.

"Our obligation is much higher than that, we just don't know what it is yet," said Luebbering.

All of the money has come out of the state's general fund and Luebbering said it's too early to consider tapping into the state's rainy day fund.

Out of 110 social service workers 40 called in "sick" at the St. Louis office due to under staffing issues.

The Missouri Department of Social Services has yet to give more than a quote about the skipping state workers.

Director of Communications for the Department, Seth Bundy, said “On Tuesday, we had more than 40 staff members at the Choteau office serving any and every client that that came in for services. Our priority continues to be helping struggling families succeed by providing the resources they need as they work towards self sufficiency.”

The Department took severe cuts in its budget and has been consolidating its regional offices.

The DSS handles a variety of programs such as applying for food stamps, children services, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and a Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program provides aid for families who cannot afford electricity bills, and with winter approaching and lack of staff, this could pose a problem.

More than 200 Family Support Division positions have been unfilled since 2009, according to FOX news.

Over the weekend, groups from Springfield, Kansas City, St. Louis and Kirksville brought up issues occurring from reduced staff and budget cuts to advocacy groups on a video conference in Columbia.

Although Moberly's partnership with the Chinese artificial sucralose Mamtek failed, the city has not given up the effort in developing international businesses.

Moberly Area Economic Development Corporation Vice President David Gaines said they are working on other international projects to help business communities find new places and customers. The non-profit organization brought Mamtek project to Moberly.

"The work on the Mamtek project has been going on around the clock, but so is all the other work," Gaines said. "We didn't stop working just because Mamtek had problems. We keep on talking to people about why it is still a good place to be to do business."

Gaines said Moberly's international partners include the Danish manufacturing Vest Fiber, as well as potential partners from Canada, Korea and Germany.

Early this week, the City Council says in a press release that Moberly won't use the city funds to pay for Mamtek bonds.

Get the radio story

House Speaker Pro Tem Shane Schoeller, R-Willard, proposed a package of election changes that he is calling the Missouri Fair Elections Act. The package includes requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls, creating new commissions to handle redistricting, changes in passing ballot initiatives and ballot language.

Requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls  is legislation that has already been passed by lawmakers, but recent language was vetoed by Governor Nixon.

A February Riverfront Times Editorial says Sen. Tim Green, D-Spanish Lake, and other Democrats suggested newer technology than photo I.D.s - fingerprint or retina scanners for polling places.

But now Schoeller says he has not heard anything about beyond photo identification.

“The conversation has clearly been about photo I.D. for some time...but if they want to make those proposals they are certainly welcome to file them and put them forth too,” he said.

Schoeller's proposal also includes creating new commissions to handle redistricting.

There are currently two redistricting commissions made up of an equal amount of Republicans and Democrats. Schoeller says for some time these two groups have not been able to agree, which sends redistricting decisions to appellate courts.

"The goal we’re trying to fulfill here is to create a commission where we don’t continually have to go to the courts to get a map drawn," he said.

Schoeller says he plans to file his proposal as a bill in the regular session in January.

General Motors announced Thursday it will expand its Wentzville plant, doubling the plant's employment over the next three years.

GM will expand the Wentzville plant after closing down its plant in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Wentzville Mayor Paul Lambi says he believes the expansion will not only create jobs but will have a major effect on the community.

"This could have a billion dollar impact over the next three years in the region. That’s why its such big news. It's not specifically those assembly line jobs, it’s what they create," Lambi said.

The plant will add a second shift of workers and will begin building GM's Colorado midsize pickup.

Wentzville GM Personnel Director Ranae Tallon says the plant has waited nearly two years for the agreement.

"The momentum is still building. Then today with the announcement of the new product, people are excited [and] people are enthusiastic. We're a happy plant," Tallon said.

The expansion will take about fifteen months to complete.

The right of those harmed by doctors to collect high-dollar damages came before the seven justices of the Missouri Supreme Court on Wednesday.

When Ronald Sanders' wife died of brain damage in 2005, he sued.

He sued a whole slew of doctors for wrongful death and medical malpractice, and he dismissed or settled with all but one, neurologist Iftekhar Ahmed. At the end of the trial, the jury awarded Sanders and his daughters nearly $1 million to pay back medical bills as well as $9.2 million in non-economic damages, those that aren't related to medical or monetary costs.

There was just one problem: The doctor's attorneys whipped out a state statute that caps the non-economic damages a jury can award in medical malpractice lawsuits. That statute knocked down Sanders' non-economic awards to $1.2 million; his attorneys responded that the statute was unconstitutional. The case was appealed and cross-appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court.

Judges in the state's high court heard arguments Wednesday from the attorneys on whether the legislature's cap on non-economic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits violates the Missouri Constitution.

The legislature first imposed limits on non-economic damage awards in an effort to hold down the rise in medical malpractice insurance rates.

The attorneys focused on the arguments from the plaintiff's appeal, which said that the reduced damages are unconstitutional because the statute capping the awards denies a legitimate trial by jury and violates the separation of powers between branches of the government.

Gov. Jay Nixon presented eight Missouri law enforcement officers with the Medal of Valor at the state Capitol Wednesday.

Joseph Haman, an officer with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, was one of the award recipients. During a routine traffic stop in May 2010, Haman was shot more than half a dozen times.

"You don't really think about it and once everything happened it was just reacting. I wasn't thinking about anything. I was just trying to take out the situation and save my life", said Haman.

Gov. Nixon said the eight men are "true heroes."

"If you ask any of them about what they did, I'm certain they would say I was just doing my job."

The state governor awards the Medal of Valor annually to firefighters, law enforcement officers and emergy personnel.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster and dozens of state attorneys general are requesting $15.8 million in federal funding to fight human and sex trafficking.

Deputy Attorney General Joe Dandurand says Missouri’s central location makes the state vulnerable to human and sex trafficking.

"Missouri is an easy place for this to be a breeding ground, the St. Louis and Kansas City areas especially with the major interstates that go through them," Dandurand said.

If the U.S. House and Senate Appropriations Committee accepts the request, the Department of Justice will distribute funds to federal task forces across the country to aid anti-slavery programs and victim services.

A Missouri group is challenging a petition, originally proposed by a controversial conservative billionaire, which would eliminate the state's income tax and raise sales taxes.

Leaders from the organization, known as the "Coalition for Missouri's Future," said the end of the state's income tax would create increased hardships for Missourians--accusing the petition's main backer, billionaire Rex Sinquefield, of protecting personal interests.

However, Travis Brown, a lobbyist in Jefferson City on behalf of the Sinquefield-funded group "Let Voters Decide," argued the end of a state-wide income tax will lead to roughly $3.5 billion in revenue for Missouri.

As officials in Missouri rid the state of its methamphetamines, another- and some say more dangerous- drug has traveled to the forefront: heroin.

According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, meth labs in Missouri have decreased from 1,960 labs in 2010 to 1,112 in 2011. However, almost 2,000 state residents are now entering Missouri drug rehab for heroin addiction every year.

"We are seeing the same trend with this heroin as we did with the meth," Detective Corey Mitchell of the Poplar Bluff police department said. "Every time we step up enforcement for one illicit drug and it declines, another illicit drug will take its place. It's predominantly in the major metropolitan areas on the east and west coast and it's slowly working its way into the center of the United States."

Mitchell said his department has seen 20 heroin cases this year and the age group varies from teenagers to adults in their 40s and 50s. This new heroin replaces the stigma of "shooting up" with easier forms such as inhalants or pills, attracting a younger demographic.

The effects of heroin remain in the body for one to three hours. After this time, the user goes into a violent withdrawal period, vomiting and shaking for up to five hours. Mitchell said the fear of withdrawal side effects is why heroin has been in such high demand.

To stop this possible epidemic, Mitchell said Poplar Bluff police department's first step is public awareness, primarily the education of parents and teenagers. Mitchell said the department also has ongoing investigations and are working with the FBI to find people and make arrests.

Get the Radio Story

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The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy ranked Missouri as one of the worst states in energy efficiency.

Ameren Missouri Vice President Warren Wood said the study is beneficial in raising an awareness. However, Wood also said efficiency rates were not enough to represent the state's performance in energy space.

"You are highlighting one piece of the puzzle, and really if you want to talk about the entire energy space, you need to look broader than just efficiency rates," Wood said.

Ameren Missouri did a similar study on energy efficiency in January 2010. The two studies differ in several areas.

Wood said they were looking at the state's potential and progress.

Get the Radio Story

House Speaker Steve Tilley wrote a letter asking State Auditor Tom Schwiech to audit the city of Moberly, which is now facing a $40 million debt after Mamtek failed to pay bondholders.

Tilley said that action must be taken immediately to see what other projects have failed, besides Mamtek, and what the cost to the taxpayers will be.

The audit can only take place if a petition is signed by Moberly residents or if the governor gives his approval.

But Scott Holste, Gov. Jay Nixon's spokesman, refused to say what the governor's plan of action will be.

"I don't even know that we've received the speaker's letter yet -- I think we've read about it. But we just don't have a comment on it," Holste said.

Schweich has not issued a response to the letter either.

Attorneys for Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon and Republican Auditor Tom Schweich faced off in court Monday in the auditor's challenge to Nixon's spending cuts to the legislature's budget.

Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem didn't immediate rule on the case after hearing the arguments, The Associated Press reported.

Nixon's attorneys said Nixon is authorized to make the cuts under a section of the state constitution; Schweich's attorneys said the governor is only allowed to reduce expenditures when actual revenues fall below projections, the AP reported. Nixon's attorneys said the cuts are temporary; Schweich's said they're permanent, the AP said.

Over the summer, Nixon pulled funding from the General Assembly's approved budget and reallocated it for disaster relief in areas such as Joplin.

Schweich audited the action and contended that Nixon has no constitutional authority to withhold funds from the budget regardless of unforeseen emergencies. He then filed the lawsuit against Nixon on Aug. 26, charging that the governor violated the state constitution.