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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of March 26, 2012

A Cole County circuit judge has thrown out the ballot description of a measure aimed for the August or November ballot that would authorize the legislature to require a government-issued photo ID to vote.

The judge, Pat Joyce, held that the description used a phrase "Voter Protection Act" that does not appear in the actual proposed state constitutional amendment.

The description of the ballot language was included in the original measure approved by the legislature in 2011.

In response, the House Judiciary Committee Chair -- Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia -- filed Wednesday, March 28, a new constitutional amendment that changes the ballot description including removal of the "Voter Protection Act" phrase.

By a near party-line vote, Missouri's Senate voted to override Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of a bill that would restrict lawsuits an employers by their workers for occupational diseases.

The measure was the first of two business-backed bills passed by the legislature this year that were promptly vetoed by the governor.

The measure would include occupational diseases Workers' Compensation that pays for health and burial costs for work-related injuries and diseases. Although costs are covered, a worker receiving Workers' Compensation is restricted from filing a separate damage suit against the employer.

The only other measure approved by lawmakers before the legislature's spring break would restrict discrimination lawsuits against employers by their workers. That bill also was voted.

The Senate's override now goes to the House where faces an uncertain future. Unlike the Senate, Republicans do not enjoy a two-thirds majority in the House. And, several Republicans voted against the bill, passing the measure 22 votes short of the necessary two-thirds vote for an override.

Senate GOP Leader Tom Dempsey acknowledged to reporters the vote essentially was sending a message to the governor to begin negotiations on a compromise.

"If the governor's office will sit down and work with us on an enhanced benefit, in those cases of toxic exposure, we're willing  to accept that, a reasonable solution," Dempsey said.

Missouri's Senate passed and sent the House a measure Thursday, March 29, that would give the Conservation Commission power to suspend a hunting license for up to ten years for a hunting fatality.

Current law limits a suspension to five years for a hunting accident.

"Ready, fire, aim," the bill's sponsor told senators was what caused the hunting death of one of his constituents in 2008.

"He was shot and killed at less than 30 feet because he was mistaken for game," said Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles. "Ready, fire, aim is what happened in that situation.

The leading opponent to the measure was Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau.

"It's an accident. There's far more people that die in accidents driving a car that we do not suspend their driving privileges for," Crowell said.

The measure now goes to the House.

President Barack Obama would have provide proof of his birth in the United States to the satisfaction of Missouri state officials if Republican lawmakers get their way.

The House passed and sent the Senate a bill that would require United States Presidential candidates to prove that he or she is a natural born citizen of the United States before his or her name can appear on the Missouri ballot. Additionally, the candidates' information would be kept and maintained by the Missouri Secretary of State and would be considered public information.

The bill would require both the President and Vice President of the United States to provide proof that he or she is a natural born citizen before the candidates name cane appear on the Missouri ballot.

Several Democratic Representatives questioned the bill sponsor Republican Representative Lyle Rowland about the motivation behind his bill.

Some Democratic Representatives say they believe the bill specifically targets President Obama.

The bill faces one more House vote before going to the Senate.

The deadline for candidates to file for Missouri's general election expired Tuesday, March 27, with the biggest surprise coming from the state Supreme Court, rather than the candidates.

In a short, seven-word statement,. the chief justice announced they had upheld the House district maps.

The decision came just three hours before the deadline to file for office. The announcement gave break down of the vote among the justices nor an explanation -- except for a cryptic "Opinion to follow" note from Chief Justice Richard Teitelman.

Up until the court's announcement, candidates had to file in House districts under the assumption that the maps under contention represented final district lines.

If the court had thrown out the House map, it would have created a legal quagmire with candidates having filed for districts that did not exist.

While affirming the state House district map, the court did not issue a decision on the legislative-passed congressional district map.

A timely decision on that case is less critical because there is no district-residency requirement to run for Congress.  The only residency requirement in the U.S. Constitution is that a member of the U.S. House "be an inhabitant" of the state to be represented.

Missouri's Congressional race will pit two incumbent Democrats against each other in the August primary.  Because Missouri's population did not grow as fast as other states, the number of congressional districts in Missouri has shrunk from nine to eight.

Last year, the state legislature voted effectively to eliminate the district of Russ Carnahan in St. Louis.  Carnahan has since filed to challenge renomination Rep. Bill Clay.

More than 550 candidates have filed for state office since the filing period opened in late February. More than 370 of those candidates had filed to run in state House districts. Filing for a few of the offices are still open until March 30 because of late candidate withdrawals.

Thousands of Missourians converged on Missouri's statehouse Tuesday to rally for religious rights, union rights and against federal health care mandates.

As religious groups convened inside the Capitol to protest President Barack Obama's federal health care mandate, hundreds of members of statewide labor unions rallied on the Capitol lawn to protest bills affecting workers put forth by Republican lawmakers.

Members of the rally inside the Capitol said Obama's health care mandate was a violation of their freedom to religion, while union members protested heavily against right-to-work bills and legislation that would alter the state's prevailing wage in regards to public works projects.

In one rally,  protesters charged President Obama's health care law prohibits the free exercise of religion.

Missouri's Senate gave first-round approval Tuesday, March 27, to a measure designed to prohibit requiring employers to provide health insurance coverage for abortion, contraception or sterilization.

The measure also would give an employee a right to demand an insurance policy that does not cover those procedures.

Senate action came as hundreds of protesters converged on the Capitol to rally against the insurance mandates in the federal health care law now before the U.S. Supreme Court.

"You're trying to tell me what I can do with my own body. It is anti-woman" charged Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis.

"Nope," responded the sponsor, Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis County. "This is about freedom of an employer."

The measure is one of several in the legislature that seeks to restrict federal laws over Missourians.

The Missouri House GOP leader told reporters Monday, March 26, that House debate would not start until next week on the education issue that legislative leaders had cited as a top priority for the year.

Rep. Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, acknowledged they were still trying to work out differences in their own caucus.

"We have a lot differences of opinion on that bill is what the hangup is," Jones said.

"There's folks that, for whatever reasons, have differences of opinion as to the components of that bill. We're trying to identify where there's the most heartburn and where there's the most agreement."

The House Education Committee has approved an omnibus education package that includes a number of controversial issues:

The legislative session adjourns May 18.  Some of the provisions in the House bill are pending before the full Senate.

Missouri's Supreme Court has yet to rule two of three state district maps, but candidates only have a day left to file for state office.

House Republican Floor Leader Tim Jones said the passage of the filing date without finalized maps was "unprecedented" and "historic."

Over 500 candidates have filed for office since the filing period opened at the end of February. Without a final decision from the Supreme Court, candidates are operating under the assumption that the maps being debated represent the final district lines.

The Supreme Court could still throw out the maps, which would require lawmakers to put a plan in place that would allow candidates to refile under new maps.

Democratic Floor Leader Mike Talboy said if the Court threw out the maps, his caucus would spend the time to deal with the issue then.

A short filibuster Monday in Missouri's Senate blocked a measure that would require registration with the Department of Agriculture to own a great ape such as a gorilla or baboon.

"I'm still trying to figure out where the big gorilla problem is across the state that requires us to come in and give the Department of Ag more liability, more things to do when we're cutting their budget," said Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield.

The bill's sponsor -- Sen. Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis -- cited one incident of from 2010 when an escaped chimpanzee had caused damage and a commotion in Kansas City.

"We don't know how big the problem is because we don't require them to permit, we don't require them to register," Keaveny.

"We don't know how big the problem is, but we need a piece of legislation that's going to cost over #100,0000 to go solve it," Purgason quickly asked.

After Purgason kept asking questions, Keaveny eventually gave up and put the bill aside -- at least for the time being.

A Senate committee reviews a bill to create a drug monitoring program to prevent people from 'doctor shopping' and abusing prescription drugs.

According to the bill, both in-state and out-of-state doctors, pharmacists and local, state and federal law enforcement officials will have access to the individuals medical documents.

The Senate committee did not vote on the bill.

A similar measure before the Senate this year has been stalled by the Senate's only licensed physician.

Last Week

The House passed the state budget Thursday including a bill to allot funds to early education literacy programs.

The budget gives $392,000 to these programs, which is three times the amount allotted last year.

Debate quickly turned to St. Louis public schools, which have been unaccredited for the past few years.

Rep. Karla May, D-St. Louis, said the schools need more funds.

"I think we should continue to fund education, even though we are underfunding it. We need to find a way to fund it and if that way is increasing revenue, then, yes," said May.

Majority Floor Leader Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, said the funds won't make a difference.

"Spending more money and education results have no correlation," Jones said.

The debate lasted for over an hour.

House Budget Chairman Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, said that not one of the representatives who argued schools need more money suggested any amendments that would do so.

The bill passed by a vote of 133 to 22.

Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the request for $100,000 of education funds last year.

The Senate's only licensed physician filibustered a bill Thursday that would loosen licensure and inspection provisions in Missouri hospitals.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Dan Brown,R-Rolla, states only the Department of Health and Senior Services will be able to license and inspect Missouri hospitals and would eliminate all other regulatory agencies.

"It's designed to help save some health care costs and do it more efficiently," said Brown.

Sen. Rob Schaaf,R-Buchanan, blocked the legislation, saying altering the number of hospital regulatory bodies makes them less safe for patients.

"This eliminates what they call 'duplicative' inspections. Well, what's duplicative about it? If there are two inspections, how do you know they are looking at the same exact things?" said Schaaf.

Less than a month after the introduction of a bill to audit the actual cost of the death penalty, the House Corrections Committee voted against a bill to repeal the death penalty.

Vera Thomas, the mother of death row inmate Reggie Clemons, testified in support of the bill. Kevin Green, who served 16 years in a California prison after being wrongfully accused of the murder of his daughter, also came to testify in support. Greene spoke of his own experience, and his belief that life in prison is far worse than death.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Penny Hubbard, D-St. Louis City, said that she believes the system is flawed, and that changes need to be made in order to rectify the system.

Although no one came to speak in opposition, the committee decided to vote down not only Hubbard's bill but a similar bill sponsored by Rep. Mike McGhee, R-Odessa, as well.

After the hearing, Hubbard said that as long as she is in office, she will continue to introduce this bill.

Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, said Wednesday he would block anything that would generate a one-time money for the budget.

He said lawmakers were simply "patching" the budget and leaving the problems for future generations.

"I have had it with us not doing the right thing by setting up and addressing how we structurally fit these things," said Crowell.

Crowell also said there needs to be major changes to several state systems including tax credits.

State health officials would have stronger powers over persons infected with tuberculosis under a measure before Missouri's legislature.

The targeted testing program is a screening process that would identify individuals who have a much higher risk of spreading tuberculosis.

The bill would grant local public health authorities or departments the power to require individuals they suspect are infected with TB to get treatment. The bill deems any individual knowingly infected with TB, who acts in a reckless manner or violates the requirements of treatment, guilty of a class C felony.

DOT would require a member of the health care team to watch the patient take the medication. Frederick said this alternative is cheaper to the state than inpatient care. Frederick said he plans to create an amendment that would only require DOT for non-compliant patients.

The bill would require all faculty and students of universities to participate in the targeted testing program and to identify high risk populations.

After a lengthy debate, the Missouri House passed a bill prohibiting businesses from not allowing firearms on their property.

The bill would only allow business owners to regulate firearms in their company vehicles.

Some representatives voiced their concerns about the bill. Rep. Mary Nichols, D-St. Louis County, said she was concerned about the combination of guns and alcohol.

"And we all know alcohol and guns do not mix as well as emotion and gun carrying do not mix," Nichols said.

The bill awaits a final vote in the House before moving to the Senate.

Once a topic of debate in the Missouri Capitol, open enrollment has taken a backseat.

But, the Turner v. Clayton Schools case in St. Louis County has brought back the issue. This time, focusing on the situation involving students in the unaccredited St. Louis City school district. The case would determine whether or not students in unaccredited Missouri public school districts can attend any accredited district in an adjoining county.

One major alternative is the "Passport Scholarship Program" as apart of the omnibus education bill.

The bill would allow students in unaccredited school districts to accept scholarships with partial state funding for enrollment in private schools.

A House committee approved a bill Wednesday that would eliminate the sales tax exemption for newspapers. Revenue from collection of the taxes would be used to fund health care programs for the blind.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, is a part of the state's ongoing budget process. Silvey, the House budget chair, put forth the proposal as a means to counteract budget cuts for programs for the blind, with those cuts being put into Silvey's budget as a way to counteract Gov. Jay Nixon's proposed cuts to higher education.

Silvey said his proposal was not retaliation against Missouri newspapers, many of which have published editorials about how the state could fix its budget shortfall, but rather a response.

"It has occurred to me that if we were (to do away with corporate welfare)....why wouldn't we start with the corporate welfare and corporate giveaway that goes to the people who are suggesting we get rid of them," Silvey said. "If they think we should raise taxes and get rid of corporate welfare, they should be the first in line."

The Director of the Missouri Press Association, Doug Crews, said there was a "historic background" on why newspapers, along with other manufacturers, had tax exemptions.

"I don't consider this corporate welfare, I consider this as we are a manufacturer, just like any other manufacturer in Missouri," Crews said.

The House gave first-round approval to the budget on Tuesday, maintaining level funding to higher education while cutting the blind health care programs.

Missouri's House gave initial approval to the state's $24 billion operating budget Tuesday with level funding for higher education and cuts to health care for the blind.

House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, said the House should be proud of the budget they passed.

"We have produced another balanced budget for the state of Missouri," Silvey said.

Missouri started the budget process with a $500 million shortfall from last year due to the expiration of federal stimulus funds and a decrease in the federal government's reimbursement rate for Medicaid costs.

The cuts caused by a budget shortfall left some Democrats calling for more revenue as the budget was debated.

Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, said this budget reflected a choice between higher education and social services programs caused by a reluctance to raise taxes.

"We are making false choices because we have not addressed the revenue stream," Lampe said.

Silvey said the House did the best they good with a certain amount of money.

"A lot of people in this chamber wish we had more money, but the fact of the matter is that we don't ... we have to deal with the now," Silvey said.

On Tuesday, Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, continued to delay a vote on a plan to create a statewide database to monitor prescription drug use.

Schaaf said the plan infringes on the liberties of Missourians. He also said it would create roadblocks that would be in the way of patients getting the true medication they really need.

Sen. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville, also spoke against the legislation. She says the plan assumes everyone is a crook who is going to abuse the prescription pad. "We're making government for 100% of the people to address the 10% or the 8% or the 2% of the people who are the problem," Ridgeway said.

Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, is the bill sponsor. He said the state already keeps track of prescriptions bought using insurance or through Medicaid. "The only one is ones that pay cash, the ones that are selling them primarily in the secondary market do we not keep track," Engler said.

Earlier this year, a similar bill passed overwhelmingly in the House by a vote of 143 yes to 6 no.

Missouri House Transportation committee discussed a joint resolution that would prohibit the Missouri Department of Transportation to operate toll roads unless the decision is voted on by the people.

Resolution sponsor Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, said, according to some of MoDOT’s proposals of turning I-70 into a toll road, the cost is unbelievably expensive, and it will cause disruption to Missourians.

“My whole goal of it is to make sure, if we do have toll roads in the state of Missouri that the people will decide. I don’t believe that it should ever be decided by just the general assembly, or whether just implemented by MoDOT,” Smith said.

Three Missouri lobbyists spoke in favor of the resolution during the committee hearing, while no one spoke against the resolution.

MoDOT did not testify during the hearing. Jay Wundderlich, Governmental Relations Director of MoDOT, said they have no opinion the resolution.

The committee has not voted on the resolution.

The Senate Rules and Ethics Committee heard a bill that would place a cap on campaign contributions.

It would place limits on both individuals and committees. Surcharges would also be imposed upon committees who accept or give contributions that exceed the contribution limit.

Sponsor of the bill Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Howell County, said this is an issue of ethics, because certain individuals are gaining too much control of the government.

"The one area where everyone seems to agree is this exact issue. It's something that I think people in Missouri and across the country are interested in reforming," said Sen. Jolie Justus, D-St. Louis County.

Missouri removed limits on campaign contributions in 2008.

The bill will need to be heard by the committee a second time before being voted on.

A bill to increase security at the Missouri Capitol was debated in the Senate Tuesday.

The bill sponsor Sen. Robin Wright-Jones, D-St.Louis City, said the measure was created in direct response to cross-hair stickers appearing on some senator's doors this January.

The bill would establish security cameras to monitor all public spaces inside the Capitol. It would also authorize the Office of Administration to allow armed security guards separate from the Capitol police to patrol the Capitol and other state-owned facilities.

Wright-Jones called upon all of the senators targeted by the cross hair stickers during the bill's discussion, including Democratic Senators Kiki Curls, Maria Chapelle-Nadal, and Victor Callahan.

In addition, Wright-Jones cited the U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords shooting in Arizona as a reason for heightened security.

"We have a Capital that is open to the public and I think that is a wonderful thing, it belongs to the people. But I also think the state needs to be prudent in how it takes care of its visitors," Wright-Jones said.

Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis County, voiced opposition to the bill's language regarding licensing outside security firms.

"Why do we want to have a private security firm when we already have Capitol police?" said Green.

Missouri organic farmers are facing problems with the trespass of Monsanto’s bio-engineered seeds.

Pollen from corn can travel through the wind and land on an organic farmer’s land.

“Our biggest challenge right now is just keeping old corn varieties free from contamination,” said Jere Gettle, a farmer who grows organic seeds at Baker Creek Heirlooms in Mansfield.

Most farmers in Missouri, however, choose to grow biologically engineered crops.

Monsanto said farmers choose to use the genetically modified seeds because of economic benefits.

“Some of the benefits of biotechnology crops include increased yields and lower production costs as well as an increase in the adoption of soil tillage practices and that reduces soil erosion,” said Sara Miller, Monsanto corporate communications affairs manager.

Members of the state chapter of the National Organization for Women delivered 504 rolls to the office of the Speaker of the House as a part of their "Flush Rush" campaign. The campaign was designed to protest the Speaker's choice to place a bust of Rush Limbaugh in the Hall.

Earlier this month the Speaker, Rep. Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, said he would induct Limbaugh into the Hall despite recent controversial comments Limbaugh made about, law student Sandra Fluke. Limbaugh called Fluke a "slut" on his nationally broadcasted show after she spoke in support of the president's birth control mandate.

Tilley said he would donate however many rolls were sent to his office and he hoped people would continue to exercise their right to protest so that his office could continue to donate goods.

House Democratic Caucus is pressuring the legislature's Republican leadership to reform ethics laws in Missouri.

The caucus said during a press conference Monday, they hope to reform ethical standards in Missouri's state government.

Republican Senate leadership said they do not believe this bill will go anywhere in the next two months of session, which ends May 18.

The bill would cap the amount of a single contribution at $5,000. A donation exceeding $2,000 must be disclosed electronically to the commission within 48 hours of receipt.

The bill would also:

Earlier in the year, the Missouri Supreme Court reversed an ethics law passed in 2010.

Missouri House Representatives passed a bill that prohibits tax credits in order to prevent business relocation from Missouri to Kansas.

Kansas has yet to draft similar legislation.

However, House Minority Floor leader Rep. Mike Talboy says he thinks it is important to begin the process.

A top aide to the mayor of St. Louis urged lawmakers to keep their hands off the city's firefighter pension fund.

Sam Dotson, operations director to the Mayor in St. Louis, said the city is wasting millions more dollars each year on maintaining the pension system and needs a comprehensive reform.

But a representative for Lewis Reed, president of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, said he supports the state legislation.

The House Retirement Committee could vote on the bill later this week.

The proposed closed primary system would force voters to vote for the party they registered under.

The restriction would make it a crime to cast a vote for a different party ballot.

Republican Senator Jane Cunningham told bill sponsor Senator Jay Wasson the bill is unfair for independent voters.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

Unrelated to the recent cuts proposed to deaf and hard of hearing services in the state budget, the House Committee on Disability Services heard testimony on a House concurrent resolution to establish a "Deaf and Hard of Hearing Children's Bill of Rights."

The resolution would endorse guidelines to provide services for a equal and quality education to deaf and hard of hearing students.

The House Committee on Disability Services heard testimony on a bill that would increase the fees collected on citations issued outside city limits in Missouri.

Currently, there is a $2 surcharge on the fees. The bill would increase the surcharge to $10.

The bill would also set up a 10-member committee with members from state organizations and groups to meet annually to determine funding regulations.

Also, the state Department of Health and Senior Services would be required to seek waivers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to use funds for the cause out of Missouri HealthNet program.

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