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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of January 23, 2012

Legislation was filed Thursday to address the accreditation loss of the school districts in Missouri's two largest cities -- St. Louis and Kansas City.

The legislation -- filed by Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County -- takes a substantially different approach for the two areas.

For Kansas City, Cunningham's measure effectively would eliminate the school district and divide the district up among adjoining school districts.

For St. Louis, her plan would expand charter school alternatives and provide government support for parents to send their kids to private or parochial schools.

Just before the start of the 2012 legislative session, the legislature's top leaders had made dealing with the non-accredited a "must-pass" issue.

The governor included reference to the two school districts in his State of the State address, but did not offer any specific proposals.

Missouri voters will get the chance to vote for a presidential nominee on Tuesday, Feb. 7, but the results might not mean very much.

The Secretary of State's office said the primary will cost Missouri taxpayers $7 million for what will be a non-binding vote on the Republican side. The Democratic results will count, but President Barack Obama is the only well-known candidate on the ballot.

That the state will hold a non-binding "beauty contest" primary for Republicans goes back to threats from both the Republican and Democratic national parties. They warned that Missouri would have its votes at the national political conventions cut in half if the state did not delay the primary until later in the year. The two parties argue that they want to shorten the presidential campaign season but still honor traditional early-start states such as Iowa and New Hampshire.

"This year, because of some circumstances beyond our control, some national rules and some things that happened to the General Assembly, the primary is actually more of a formality," said Jonathan Prouty, spokesman for the Missouri Republican Party.

St. Louis Attorney Ed Martin dropped his congressional bid to run for attorney general Thursday morning.

Former Gov. Matt Blunt's chief of staff will challenge incumbent Democrat Chris Koster for the position. Republicans Ann Wagner and Randy Jotte are still in the race for Missouri's second congressional district.

Martin asked voters to support him in his plans to refocus Missouri's needs. Martin said if he is elected, he will address many of the state's problems, including the drug epidemic, illegal immigration, voter fraud and no-call lists. He said his campaign also focuses on moving away from the federal health care law and federal government growth.

"We have to have an attorney general's office that is not focused on politics and is focused more on the simple fact that we have laws, we have a constitution, and we have to abide by them," Martin said.

Republicans are already lining up behind Martin, the only major Republican in the race. The state's Democratic party gave him its own welcome into the race.

"We welcome Ed to the race for however long he decides to stay," Caitlin Legacki, spokeswoman for the Missouri Democratic Party, said.

Get the text story.

Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, introduced a bill Thursday that would bar those receiving welfare from gambling activities.

The measure would put welfare reciepients on a list for riverboat casinos to check before allowing entrance to the casino floor.   

"People who are on public assistance are relying on their fellow citizens to help them through life, and if they are going to be taking taxpayer dollars because they need assistance, they don't need to be gambling with those dollars," Schaaf said.

Sen. Robin Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis City, opposes the legislation and calls the bill "self-serving."

"People who receive welfare have a life like people who do not, and they have every right to do anything that the state funds," Wright-Jones said.

Wright-Jones threatened to filibuster the bill if it reaches the Senate floor.

Get the radio story.

Lawmakers in Jefferson City are exploring options for students in low-performing and unaccredited school districts. An alternative form of public school called a charter school has become a buzzword in potential legislation as lawmakers search for a solution for the unaccredited St. Louis and Kansas City districts.

Charter schools are public schools that operate outside a traditional school district, allowing them to set their own curriculum under the supervision of their sponsor while sabiding by state testing standards. These schools have been hailed as a solution to urban public schools with low test scores; however, charter school performance varies just as much as public schools.

"It's time that we'd tried some different methods," the bill's sponsor Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, said. "What I bring is just a tool, it's just a tool in the toolbox. It's not going to be for everybody, it's not gonna be a cure-all, but I do think it will move us a little bit forward." 

The General Assembly is considering a bill that would make the standards regulating these schools more strict and allow them to be established statewide instead of only in St. Louis and Kansas City.

A Missouri House committee heard proposals for two bills Wednesday [Jan. 25] that outline a way to bring renewable energy to the Capitol as well as Missouri state parks.

The first bill, proposed by Rep. Zachary Wyatt, R-Green Castle, aims to start a program in one of Missouri's state parks. The program would test renewable energy resources, such as solar panels, to provide energy for the as-yet-unspecified state park.

Committee chairman Rep. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, proposed the second bill, which aims to utilize renewable energy to the Capitol. Holsman hopes to use river turbines, solar panels, windmills and horizontal geothermal energy sources to generate power for the Capitol.

Both Holsman and Wyatt voiced their concerns about the financial capabilities of the projects but assured the committee that the projects had serious potential to be economically beneficial in the long-run. The committee did not vote on either of the bills.

The only licensed physician in the Missouri Senate vows to strike down a bill that would create a prescription drug monitoring program.

"If it comes to the Senate, it will pass only if they can overcome my filibuster," said, Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph.

The legislation would create an electronic log to monitor patient prescription use.

Physicians would have access to this database to view patient prescription history. The program has been created to prevent patients from getting multiple drug prescriptions from multiple physicians or pharmacies, also called "doctor shopping."

The House committee has not yet voted on the bill.

A controversial workplace bill would limit the amount of money employees could settle for in a workplace discrimination lawsuit.

Democratic senators continued to delay the vote Wednesday.

Senators say they do not want to vote on the bill without understanding all the bill's language.

The Senate Transportation Committee heard testimony Wednesday [Jan. 25] on a bill to extend the age limit on texting while driving.

The current texting-while-driving ban covers only Missouri drivers under the age of 22. A bill sponsored by Sen. Robin Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis, would ban texting while driving for all Missouri drivers.

"We've had some deaths already that have been attributed to texting while driving," Wright-Jones said. "And certainly you cannot have your eyes on your phone and on the road at the same time."

Committee chairman Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, said he's against distracted driving but would rather see the bill as a primary offense, which would allow law enforcement to pull an individual over solely for texting while driving.

"This secondary offense, I don't like it at all," Stouffer said. "It needs to be a primary offense."

Wright-Jones said she might change the bill to make the ban a primary offense, thus potentially increasing its likelihood of passage.

Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield, said the law steps too far into personal freedom. He said others have died because of distractions such as reaching for a CD or getting something out of a glovebox while driving.

The committee took no action on the bill.

Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers and Capitol Police heightened security on Wednesday after six legislators found cross-hair stickers on their doors late the previous day.

The stickers targeted Democratic Sens. Victor Callahan, Jolie Justus, Kiki Curls, all of Jackson County in the Kansas City area, and Robin Wright-Jones and Marie Chappelle-Nadal of St. Louis City. Rep. Scott Dieckhaus, R-Washington, also had a cross-hair sticker on his door. 

At the time the stickers were placed on the doors, the senators were on the chamber floor debating a bill that implements parts of President Barack Obama's health care reform bill.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol is still investigating Tuesday's incident. Senators said the troopers collected the stickers to lift prints. Legislative aides removed the first stickers, but someone replaced them with larger ones. There were no witnesses. 

Three of the six Senators are African-American women. Sen. KiKi Curls, D-Jackson County, said the act is discriminatory toward her as an individual and the group.

"You had hoped that we had gotten to a certain place and then certain things such as these happen, and you realize we hadn't had gotten as far along as we had thought," Curls said. "It's the boldness in that act, that they would come back into the Capitol and place another one, that is disturbing."

Wright-Jones said she does not feel any different walking into the Capitol because as a progressive African-American female, she is "consistently assaulted in one shape, form or fashion about my existence."

Targeted senators said incidents such as this one mean security needs to be increased at the Capitol.

Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Jackson County, said: "I was really shocked when I first came to work here in the Capitol and found out that they didn't have any metal detectors at all ... they need to reassess the security and decide if it's efficient."

The House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on Wednesday [Jan. 25] about legislation that would give adoptees more access to their medical histories.

The bill would give birth parents the option to provide contact information that their biological child could access upon turning 18. The legislation would also allow biological parents to provide a medical history that could be used for faster diagnosis of disease. Providing information would not be mandatory, but currently no such option exists for parents who are putting their child up for adoption.

Carolyn Pooler, who was adopted in the 1940s, was recently diagnosed with cancer. She said it is "horrid" that she was unable to get her medical history to help with treatment.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, expressed concern about a parent's right to privacy in reference to the bill. Its sponsor, Rep. Jeanie Lauer, R-Blue Springs, said the information would only be provided to adoptees with parental consent.

Legislation that would prohibit the Nixon administration from implementing the federal government's Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act without voter approval got preliminary approval from the Missouri Senate on Tuesday.

Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, sponsored the bill and said it is about separation of power and checks and balances on the executive branch.

"This bill goes to the people for a decision, and the people should be trusted to make the right decision at the ballot box," Schaaf said.

Schaaf also said his bill does not prevent Missouri from creating state-based health exchanges or from following federal law. He said it does prevent the executive branch from acting without the legislative branch -- all while protecting the rights of the legislature to control the purse strings of government.

Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Jackson County, opposes the bill. She said she believes there are too many unknowns and with this bill, the state might not be able to prepare for the inevitable.

"I would think that most Missourians in this state, regardless of how they feel about the Affordable Care Act, would want us to be smart enough as legislators to do the contingency planning necessary, [so] that we are not under complete federal control in the event everything goes forward in the way that the current administration in D.C. wants it to," Justus said.

The U.S. Supreme Court is currently reviewing the "Obamacare" law and is expected to conduct its hearing on the matter in March.

The bill must pass one more vote in the Senate before going to the House.

The Missouri House Higher Education Committee heard testimony on Tuesday supporting a plan to ease the process of transferring college courses throughout public universities in Missouri.

The plan would create a list of 25 lower-level classes that would be universally accepted from one public university in Missouri to another.

Rep. Mike Thomson, R-Maryville, who is also the Higher Education Committee chairman, sponsored the bill. He said the plan would make the process of earning a college degree more efficient throughout Missouri.

"Higher education is the key to an educated workforce, and we know that we are not ready in Missouri to meet the demands of the future: This is one way we begin," Thomson said.

The bill would also let students who leave public community colleges to attend public four-year universities use classes from the four-year universities toward an associate's degree. This would only be in effect for students who left a community college before receiving an associate's degree.

"There are some schools at this point in the state that actually are doing that and are making a conscious effort to do that, but it's not statewide; we would like to see this done statewide and in a more organized manner," Thomson said.

No one testified against the plan during Tuesday's [Jan. 24] hearing. The committee is scheduled to vote on the plan sometime during the first week of February.

A Missouri House committee approved tax incentives for data storage centers and amateur sporting events Tuesday after identical programs failed to pass the General Assembly last year.

The House Economic Development Committee sent two bills to the House floor to spur the growth of data storage center facilities and to attract amateur sporting events to Missouri. Similar bills failed during last year's regular session and special session. House Budget Chairman Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, sponsored the data storage initiative.  

Silvey's bill provides a state and local sales tax exemption for data storage centers spending money utilities, computers and equipment. The company would have to meet a minimum requirement of $37 million in capital investment and create 30 jobs to qualify for the tax break. The jobs created would have to pay 150 percent of the average state wage, currently at $45,000 per household, to qualify.

"If you don't meet that, you don't get it," Silvey said about the legislation's requirements.

Silvey described his bill as "anti-Mamtek," referring to the failed development project in Moberly, because the tax credits will not apply unless there is an economic benefit to the state. Silvey said his bill is a "tax rebate" rather than a tax credit because the state does not lose tax revenue unless the economic benefits of the data centers are realized.

Cross-hair stickers were placed on the doors of five Missouri senators and one Missouri House representative in the Capitol Tuesday.

Those senators included four female Democrats and one male, the Senate minority floor leader.

The stickers were placed on the name plates between noon and 1 p.m. Tuesday.

Republican Sen. Kevin Engler and targeted Sen. Shalonn "Kiki" Curls both called the act "disgusting."

The reason for the stickers' placement is unknown at this time. The Missouri State Highway Patrol is investigating the incident after Senate leadership had alerted them.

The budget cuts to higher education announced at Gov. Jay Nixon's State of the State address on Jan. 17 ran deeper than the numbers presented by the governor's budget director and reported by the media.

Although the 12.5 percent cut presented by the governor's budget director and used in many news reports are not completely inaccurate, the actual cuts in appropriations to public universities are 15.1 percent deeper from what the Missouri General Assembly approved last year. The cuts to Missouri's public universities are the deepest in at least two decades.

The more accurate figure caught the Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, by surprise. He agreed the 15.1 percent cut was the more accurate number.

Schaefer called the governor's 12.5 percent cut "not true."

The two sets of numbers come results from a difference in perspective and a spending withhold Nixon placed on the colleges last year.

The Missouri Constitution allows the governor to withhold money from a budget if state revenues fall below the expected levels. Nixon used this power in July to withhold $150 million from the 2012 budget, $10 million of which came from the universities.

In light of the Penn State scandal, one senator decided to reevaluate Missouri's law on child abuse. Lawmakers heard public testimony on a bill making it illegal for a regular citizen to witness child sexual abuse and not report it.

The current law hasn't been modified since 1975. It states that only teachers, nurses, members of the clergy and a few other professions are legally obligated to report child abuse.

The Senate bill would make failing to report child sex abuse would be a class A misdemeanor with a punishment of up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, said the measure is about protecting kids.

"It's about bringing to prosecution the people who are sexually abusing those kids," Schmitt said. "So if this is a way, a focused way, of bringing those folks to justice, I think we ought to do it."

The Senate failed to take action Monday on a bill limiting protections for employees who file discrimination complaints. A Democrat-led debate kept the chamber from voting on the proposal.

The legislation limits protection employees receive after filing a discrimination complaint by placing a cap on punitive damages. The bill requires illegal discrimination to be a motivating factor, instead of a contributing one, for termination of employment.

"If we are really serious about growing jobs in the state then we have to change the environment we are in," the bill sponsor Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, said.

Despite its relatively quick passage through committee, the bill faced opposition from Democrats concerned about the effect of limiting damages on business accountability.  

Some lawmakers expressed concern Monday [Jan. 23] about the casino gambling fee that Gov. Jay Nixon suggested in his State of the State address, saying that an increase in the admission price could limit some of the revenue the state makes if casino-goers take their money across state borders.

Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County, said he is skeptical about the increase because it could affect casinos in the Kansas City area.

The $1 increase is predicted to generate $50 million in revenue, State Budget Director Linda Luebbering said, which would be used to increase the veterans fund and generate money to build a veterans home. She said there is a waiting list of 1,700 veterans who want to live in the existing homes. 

"We're hopeful that these can move in advance of anything else and really make it through," Luebbering said. "They are reasonable initiatives that we think there's wide support for. We don't see any reason why they can't pass."  

No legislation has been proposed to change this part of Nixon's proposed budget. The budget isn't official until it passes a majority vote in the General Assembly.

Missouri's budget director expressed frustration with the fiscal year 2013's reduction in higher education funding.

"There are reductions in this budget that we would not be recommending, and this is one of them," said Budget Director Linda Luebbering. "We would prefer to have more money for higher education. This recommendation is purely around making sure the budget's in balance."

In his 2013 budget recommendation, Gov. Jay Nixon proposed a 15 percent cut in state appropriations to public universities.

Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee said in the past three years, more than 25 percent of cuts were to higher education funding -- leaving the rate of state aid equal to what it was in 1997.

The budget isn't official until it passes a majority vote in the General Assembly.

A joint resolution was proposed in the Senate this Thursday to repeal part of the Missouri Constitution.

The resolution would allow state funding for religious institutions, with the goal of providing funding to parochial schools.

The resolution was proposed in part because of the recent loss of accredidation by certain public schools in both Kansas City and St. Louis, and aims to provide support for parochial schools in hope for a better quality of education in the Missouri school system.

Last Week

The House Government Oversight Committee heard testimony from three key witnesses on Thursday about the failure of Chinese company Mamtek's venture in Moberly.

The first witness was Jeff Wise, Mamtek's former patent lawyer since 2006. He testified via teleconference from Los Angeles and explained his knowledge of Mamtek and its factory in China. Wise told the committee he visited the factory multiple times between 2006 and 2009, but he said he didn't know when the factory was actually in production during that time.

Committee Chairman Jay Barnes, R-Cole County, said there were areas where this could have been prevented.

"The trick is finding out a policy solution that doesn't throw out good projects in the effort of preventing bad projects," Barnes said.

After the hearing, Barnes also said he thought the committee now has a general idea of all the facts and that they might not need to question Mamtek's CEO, Bruce Cole.

"Our goal as a legislative committee is to figure out what we can do to prevent this from happening in the future. I'm not sure what exactly Bruce Cole adds to that question," Barnes said.

The Missouri House of Representatives approved legislation to add an amendment to the state Constitution to cap future state spending on Thursday.

Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, sponsored the constitutional amendment, which was the first bill passed by the House for the 2012 legislative session.

If voters approve the measure later this year, there would be a cap on annual spending increases at 1.5 percent of the collected revenue from the previous year. This would be in addition to adjustments made by changes in inflation and the population, which one analyst estimates could be as much as 7 percent.

At the House Budget Committee hearing last week former House Budget Committee Chair Rep. Allen Icet, R-St. Louis County, traveled back to the Capital to support the bill, to explain why the bill would help with the booms and busts that have become common in the state budget.

"When the state of Missouri has good years from a revenue standpoint that there is a limitation put in place so that the General Assembly simply cannot spend every dime knowing full well if nothing else that is simply not sustainable," Icet said.

Rep. Jeanette Oxford, D-St. Louis City, added "Let's not constantly amend the Constitution to try to solve future problems, but instead elect good people to make good decisions about the future, when the future gets here."

The bill passed 105 - 54 and the issue now moves to the Senate and as of the bill's passage through the House, no Senator had been identified as the Senate handler.

If the Senate passes the bill, Missouri voters would see the issue on the 2012 ballot.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee considered legislation Thursday to scale back Missouri's tax credits, after the issue derailed September's Special Session.

Four bills were presented to the committee that would pear down tax credits in Missouri. Supporters of tax credit reduction said their measures would save the state money and free up revenue for other programs. In 2013, the state is expected to redeem $685 million in tax credits.

During last year's special session, changes to the state's tax credits failed to pass as the House and Senate could not agree on the program's sunsets, or expiration dates for programs unless the legislature reauthorizes them. Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County, sponsored one of the bills heard Thursday.

Kraus's bill would eliminate certain tax credits and apply the savings from the programs to lower the corporate income tax rate. Kraus said he hoped their would be enough additional revenue to get rid of the corporate income tax all together.

"This would make Missouri a much more business friendly place for businesses to come. It eliminates the picking of winners and losers by different tax credits," Kraus said.

The measure would lower the low income housing and historic preservation tax credits to 25 percent of their current value by 2016. The low income housing credit costs the state $60 million a year, while the historic preservation costs $140 million.

Members of the Senate Governmental Accountability Committee questioned representatives of the Department of Economic Development Wednesday in a continued investigation of the failed Mamtek Moberly project.

Chairman Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, said it is necessary to look at the Mamtek project and create a mechanism to stop the same situation from reoccurring.

"The bottom line, for me, is, how do we keep this from happening to another community," Lembke said.

Sallie Hemenway, Business and Community Services Director, said the department carried out due diligence throughout the process of vetting the China-based company, and continued to work with Moberly, even after the community moved forward and accepted Mamtek's proposal.

Lembke said he will move quickly with the committee's investigation and plans to hold additional hearings and discussions with the DED.

"I'm not satisfied the DED has enough protections for citizens and there seems to be a lot of circular arguments and pointing of fingers," Lembke said. "I want them to be frank and honest with us, if they made a mistake."

The day after Gov. Nixon proposed major budget cuts to balance the state's budget, lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a resolution to reign in state government spending.

The resolution will head to the voters if the Senate passes it.

"This bill is really about, in good years, when we have a budget surplus, let's put that money aside," said Republican Representative Eric Burlison, who sponsored the resolution.

In fiscal years when the state's revenue is more than 1.5% of the state's expenses, the resolution would require any excess money to be put toward debt reduction and into reserve funds.

The formula used to calculate the money given to public schools is incredibly complicated; balancing enrollment, local tax revenue and benchmark wealth to determine each district's funding. The House Education Committee delayed a vote to give members time to further study and understand the formula and the challenges it is facing.

The problem being addressed is that the current statute doesn't include how to deal with a lack of significant funding increases.

Senate Education Committee Chairman David Pearce, R-Warrensberg, and House Education Committee Chairman Mike Thomson, R-Maryville, are sponsoring separate bills to determine how funds would be distributed when the government does not have enough money to meet the formula's appropriation increase requirements.

Legislators are under a time crunch to pass a provision to this formula because of concerns that drastic changes in funding could occur in the beginning of the next fiscal year.

The House committee will meet again in two weeks for executive session. The Senate committee has not set a date to vote.

Due to a funding cut to the Missouri Department of Transportation, lawmakers are discussing on how to fund the repair of I-70, an interstate that is long overdue for major repairs. One proposal to produce the necessary funds is to add a tollway along I-70 between Kansas City and St. Louis.

Ron Leone was speaking on behalf of gas stations, convenience stores and truck stops in Missouri including those located along I-70. Leone said that he acknowledges the need for a better road system, but he believes that a tollway is both a bad idea and bad public policy.

"First and foremost, it must, must go to a vote of the people," Leone said. "You can not use PPPs (public-private partnerships) as a loophole to avoid a vote of the people."

Leone explained that a public-private partnership would allow private companies to earn a profit on public assets, something he believes to be bad public policy.

In a State of the Judiciary Address to lawmakers Wednesday, Chief Justice Richard Teitelman voiced support for legislative efforts to reduce or eliminate prison sentences for some first-time, non-violent offenders.

"I support your efforts to help make sentencing practices more cost-effective, helping Missouri to become...both tough and smart on crime," Teitelman said in his speech to a joint session of the General Assembly.

For the last few years, chief justices have urged lawmakers to revise Missouri's sentencing laws.

On Tuesday, those efforts won the endorsement of Republican House Speaker Steve Tilley.

"Many time you put non-violent offenders in jail, they become violent by the time they leave," Tilley said.

"I think community service, I think ankle bracelet type monitoring is a much better use of taxpayer dollars."

The legislative panel reviewing criminal sentences is expected to deliver its recommendations later this month.

The Senate General Laws Committee heard public testimony on two similar bills that would make it illegal for employees to be forced to join unions.

One of the bills is sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, who said he doesn't feel like it's a waste of legislation.

"I believe this is the single most important piece of legislation that we, the General Assembly, could pass to put Missouri on a solid path to economic recovery.

The other bill is sponsored by Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield.

The largest difference between the two bills is that Mayer's bill would require voter approval while Purgason's would require the Governor's final approval.

Public supporters say employees shouldn't be forced to pay money to a union that supports ideals they don't support.

Opponents of the plan say there is no evidence that proves the state would see any economic growth through this plan.

Public universities would bare the brunt of Missouri's budget shortfall under Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's 2013 budget proposal presented Tuesday during his State of the State address.

Nixon's budget would cut all funding for four year institutions by 15.1 percent from last year's budget. It would be the largest percentage cut to Missouri's public universities in the past two decades. Senate Appropriations Chair Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, called the cuts "unacceptable."

"Can public universities survive with that kind of cut?" Schaefer asked.

A top Democrat on the House Budget Committee Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, said she was concerned about the universities. Lampe said she did not know how the colleges would be able to survive such a cut without raising tuition.

In an hour long speech Nixon made only one brief reference to the higher education cuts.

"I am calling on our colleges and universities to continue to look for more ways to cut overhead administrative costs and run smarter, more efficient operations. And while leaner more efficient operations are essential, higher education must continue to adapt to the modern economy," Nixon said.

MoDOT director Kevin Keith told the Joint Transportation Committee that the 60-year old I-70 would become a "gravel parking lot" if nothing is done to address the road's aging infrastructure.

Under MoDOT's plan a group of private companies would put forward the initial funding for the project and would be paid back by way of tolls paid by I-70 users.

"The option to do nothing with 70 is not there," Keith said.

The proposed toll could reach ten to 15 cents per mile for cars traveling along the highway and double that amount for trucks. The toll would cost about $30 for a car traveling across the state. It would affect all I-70 users except use in urban St. Louis and Kansas City, where MoDOT is not currently planning repairs. The project would be completed in six to eight years under MoDOT's estimate.

Keith said the plan to repair I-70 would create thousands of jobs across the state, estimating that if $2 billion were invested in the highway that 6,000 jobs would be created per year.

Some lawmakers, however, said the toll road could end up costing the state jobs particularly in the trucking industry. Rep. Tim Meadows, D-Imperial, said the increased user cost on I-70 would force companies to consolidate their shipments and take away trucking jobs.

"Those are the guys that are going to be taking it on the chin," said Meadows, a former truck driver.

Missouri's Supreme Court has rejected validating the redistricting maps for this year's congressional and state Senate elections.

With the congressional maps, the state high court ordered a lower court to hold further hearings on a challenge that the map violate a requirement for compactness. In an unanimous decision, the court gave the lower court until February 3 to make a decision -- in order to give the legislature time to come up with a new congressional district layout, if necessary.

The plan, approved by a Republican-controlled legislature over the Democratic governor's veto, effectively eliminates the district of Democratic Rep. Russ Carnahan in St. Louis in order to meet the requirement for the state to eliminate one of its districts.

With the state Senate map, the court completely rejected the pending plan.

Without a dissenting vote, the Supreme Court threw out the state Senate map that had been drawn by a panel of appeals court judges.

The panel actually issued two maps. The first, the court found, violated the constitution's restriction on splitting counties between state Senate districts.

The appeals court panel had filed a second map to address that problem. But the Supreme Court ruled the panel had now power to rescind its original map.

The court's decision throws the issue back to a several-month process that could extend beyond the August primary.

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