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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of April 2, 2012

Representatives debated the issue that would allow public school students to attend another school in a different district, if it was closer than their current school.

The bill would allow students to apply, to the Commissioner of Education, to be reassigned to a closer school if they met certain criteria. To qualify, a student's current school must be at least 10 miles from where they live and the new school must be at least 5 miles closer.

A school does not have to allow a student to transfer if the desired class is full.

Opponents of the bill say this could lead to open enrollment.

Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-St. Louis, spoke out against the bill and raised concerns about the unpredictable consequences of the bill.

Montecillo said that she had experienced long transportation during her childhood, but she did not believe this is the best solution.

“It can ruin the entire [lower education] system,” Montecillo said.

The bill sponsor Rep. Rodney Schad, R-Versailles, said that the bill would take care of kids.

The bill passed with a close vote of 85 - 72 and now moves to the Senate.

Two days after Missouri's Senate rejected eliminating teacher tenure, they passed a measure to make it harder for teacher's to qualify for job protection.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, sponsored the measure increasing the amount of time a teacher has to work from five to ten years get tenure.

"Moving it from five to ten years means teachers will continue to grow and develop," Dempsey said.

Dempsey's amendment was tacked on a measure sponsored by Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, which eliminates the "last in, first out" principle for laying off teachers. Currently, teacher's with seniority have more protection if a school needs to cut jobs than newer ones, regardless of their job performance.

Democrats questioned to need to increase the time required to earn tenure and said they thought the issue had been dealt with earlier in the week.

"I don't know what going from five to ten years does," said Senate Minority Leader Victor Callahan, D-Jackson County.

The same day that former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky appears in a Pennsylvania courthouse, the Missouri House passes stricter mandatory reporting laws.

Rep. Marsha Haefner, R-St. Louis County sponsored the amendment and serves on the governor's task force for prevention of child sex abuse.

She said the Penn State scandal directly had an impact on this amendment.

"In working with that task force, and because of what happened with that Penn State issues, its kind of made us look at what our policies and what our laws are and we decided that we had a loophole there that needed to be fixed."

The amendment would not allow employers, that work directly with children, to prohibit employees from doing a mandated report if they suspect child abuse or neglect.

If passed in the Senate, the bill will head to the governor's desk.

Hundreds of people with disabilities as well as advocacy groups came together at the Capitol for the 2012 Disability Rights Legislative Day. The group rallied behind recognition and appreciation of their rights.

The group urged legislators to take note that they are people first and have a voice in public policy. Throughout the day the crowd chanted "Take Note: We Vote!" in the halls of the Capitol.

Many legislators spoke out in support of civil and disability rights.

The Missouri House gave first-round approval Wednesday, April 4, to a measure that would restrict lawsuits for damages as a result of the suicide of a local jail inmate or state prisoners.

The bill would require proof of gross negligence to collect damages.

The bill's sponsor said it would reduce frivolous lawsuits. But opponents argued it the bill would make it harder for bereaved parents to win awards.

Missouri Congress members Vicky Hartzler, Blaine Luetkemeyer and Todd Akin visited the state Capitol Wednesday to discuss the future of Missouri's military bases.

They talked about the possibility for a new round of Base Realignment and Closures and made clear they didn't want the process to take place. All three representatives have historically opposed the BRAC process as a whole.

But Senator Roy Blunt has publicly supported the idea of a new BRAC process. With Missouri consistently ranking in the top five states bringing in Federal defense dollars, Blunt agrees it is important to take a look at where the money is going.

Senators began their discussion on Missouri's budget two weeks after the House approved a 2013 budget plan.

Even though the process has just begun and the House and Senate will need to meet in conference to discuss differences between their budgets, Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said he would guarantee the state would have a balanced budget.

The Senate Appropriations Committee is following a House plan to keep balanced funding for higher education, offsetting the governor's proposed cuts. A House budget plan partially maintained this level funding by cutting a $28 million health care fund for blind Missourians.

The Senate committee and leadership has said they would not maintain these cuts and would find a way to keep level funding without them.

The Missouri Senate rejected an effort Tuesday to eliminate the state teacher tenure system.

The Senate voted 17-15 to keep the state's current system for employing and evaluating teachers by approving an amendment to block a bill from Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County.

Cunningham's measure would have completely eliminated the current tenure system and allowed local school districts to establish their own systems for teacher pay.

"People want to have reform and we can't just walk away from this," Cunningham said.

Senate Education Committee Chairman David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, offered the amendment which eliminated all of Cunningham's bill and established a task force to study teacher pay going forward.

Pearce said the process to eliminate tenure was moving too fast and needed more consideration than Tuesday's debate on the Senate floor.

"This has long term ramifications for the future of Missouri," Pearce said.

Cunningham said she was "surprised" by the vote and described it as "terribly disappointing."

"The colleagues in the Senate put government employees ahead of students," Cunningham said when asked about the vote.

Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, is sponsoring a bill to prohibit beer distributors from buying wholesalers.

Two beer wholesalers testified in favor of the bill saying the bill would protect customers and give the consumer more options.

This is because third party wholesalers are not only promoting a single distributor.

Currently, no distributors own any wholesalers in Missouri.

Many people spoke in opposition to the bill, including representatives from Anheuser Busch and Miller brewing companies.

If passed through the committee, the bill will head to the full Senate.

Missouri senators blocked a vote on a tax credit aimed at bringing amateur sporting events to Missouri and challenged the state's existing tax incentives.

Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, and Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield, blocked the proposed new tax credit and said they were frustrated with Missouri's current economic incentives.

"We have always used tax credits in the past to create jobs and stimulate the economy. We have now back slided so far that now we have to pass tax credit bills just to keep the jobs we have," Purgason said.

Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, sponsored the amateur sporting events tax credit, which was a part of the economic development package that failed in a special session last year.

"This one [tax credit] is soundly based on actually what people will spend and the revenue that is generated for this state," Schmitt said.

The bill would award a $5 tax credit per ticket sold at an amateur sporting event. The credit would be capped at $3 million a year.

In his effort to block the new tax credit, Crowell criticized the state's tax incentives and Gov. Jay Nixon's jobs record.

"I would love to see any kind of studies to compare all of the press releases jobs Jay Nixon has announced since he has become governor to the real jobs that have been created," Crowell said.

Nixon's spokesperson Scott Holste said they generally do not comment on things that are said on the floor of either legislative chamber, but the state's declining unemployment rate since Nixon took office speaks for itself.

University of Missouri alumni and members of the Board of Curators gathered at the Capitol for the UM System Legislative Day to thank legislators for their support and to advocate for future support of the university.

Attorney General Chris Koster and Timothy Wolfe, president of University of Missouri System, spoke to advocate higher education founding under current budget cuts.

Wolfe said the UM system currently has a $35 million gap, and many associated programs and researches were cut because of it. He said government’s support is crucial.

Koster said higher education is crucial for a successful future career. However, he said education is become less accessible to the children of Missouri’s working families.

The House debated a bill that would prevent teens under the age of 18 from going to a tanning salon, without parental consent.

Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, said he supports the bill, after surviving Melanoma himself. He proposed an amendment that would make tanning illegal for minors younger than 15-years-old. Businesses that allow the use of tanning devices for anyone younger than 15 would be fined $250 for the first offense and $500 for subsequent offenses. The amendment was approved by the House on Tuesday.

After the amendment was approved, several representatives withdrew their support and spoke against the bill.

“I supported the bill. I cannot support it any longer because of the underlying amendment. I do not believe the government has a right to come in and tell us what we are doing with our children,” said Rep. Ray Weter, R-Christian.

Barnes, however, said there is no reason a 13-year-old should be using a tanning bed.

“The long term harms caused by that behavior is not anywhere near the short term gains they might benefit from going to a tanning bed,” Barnes said.

Sponsor of the bill Rep. Gary Cross, R-Jackson, said he sent the bill to the Rules Committee in order to separate the amendment from the bill.

He said this will help the bill receive more support.

Representatives debated the issue which would limit worker compensation for occupational diseases.

Under the proposed plan, workers diagnosed with occupation-related diseases would only be eligible to receive a maximum compensation of $5,000 from their employer.

Rep. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, is the bill sponsor. He said, "It also has the ability to address the out of control problem that we have, the second injury fund."

Employers would also be protected from lawsuits based on matters of worker compensation. Workers would not be able to sue their employer directly for overexposure to toxic chemicals, fumes, vapors, and other substances that would lead to injury or death. Instead, workers would have to file a lawsuit against the manufacturer of these toxic substances.

Rep. Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis City, spoke against the bill and said, "They should have recourse in the courts for someone destroying their lives."

Despite a large education bill stalling in the House, the Senate perfected one education bill Monday.

This bill would change accreditation laws for areas with failing schools.

The House currently has one large bill they are trying to push through for education reform, but that bill stalled in the House for the past few weeks.

The Senate has a number of bills for education reform this session.

Senator Tom Dempsey says he's happy the Senate is working together to reform education in the state.

In response to previous contraception legislature, female legislators want to limit a man's access to vasectomies by making it a felony to receive one unless there is a life threatening condition.

According to the bill, any person who performs a vasectomy or any person permitting a vasectomy to be performed on him would be guilty of a felony. The bill also states that a vasectomy would only be performed to prevent the death of a man or prevent a serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the man.

She said this bill was also in response to a bill sponsored by Rep. Tim Jones, R-Eureka, that passed last week in the House. The bill would not require a medical professional or health care institution to perform or participate in any medical procedures that contradict their conscience. This includes providing abortion, abortion-inducing drugs, contraception or sterilization.

The bill was presented to the House Committee on Governmental Affairs on Monday.

The committee has not taken any action on the bill.

Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, sponsors two opposite bills for the future of Missouri Employers Mutual.

This time last month the state conducted an audit on the Worker's Compensation company and found excessive spending on vacations and golf trips.

Also donations to the Missouri Democratic Party, which in turn triggered an FBI investigation.

Now the Missouri House Government Oversight Committee is responsible for conducting research and deciding what action to take against the company.

Multiple insurance companies testified at the hearing for informational purposes urging the committee to deeply consider their options and to take their time deciding MEM's fate.

University of Missouri researcher Wayne Bailey says the early arrival of warm weather is bringing bugs out three weeks earlier than normal.

The bugs are expected to create problems for farmers growing corn, as worms could eat up to twenty percent of the crop.

Farmers could lose money as crops become less readily available to sell.

Bailey also says there is already an increase in the amount of mosquitoes and ticks.

The House Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee heard testimony on a new attempt to ban texting while driving for Missourians of all ages.

Missouri Highway Patrol Superintendent Ron Replogle testified the current law is hard to enforce, because it may be hard to tell a driver's age. He said there have been instances when drivers over 21 were distracted by their phones, but could not pull them over because of their age.

Opponents say the law would be hard to enforce, because there is no way of knowing for sure whether or not the driver is texting or dialing.

Rep. Brandon Ellington, D-Kansas City, said he is concerned the bill would lead to discrimination and profiling from some officers.

Committee Chairman Rodney Schad, R-Versailles, said he is uncertain of the bill's future but would like to see it debated on the House floor.

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:

  • Phase out automatic tenure for public school teachers.

  • Provide tax credits to parents in unaccredited districts who send their children to private or parochial schools. In the past, that proposal has met strong opposition from some rural Republicans.

  • Change the formula that allocates state funds to public schools. The proposal would reduce state funding to wealthier districts to provide extras to under-funded schools. A filibuster in the Senate by members whose districts would lose state funds blocked last year a similar plan to fix the School Foundation Formula.

  • Establish grounds by which an accredited district can refuse transfer of a student from an unaccredited district. It's called the "Turner Fix" in reference to a state Supreme Court decision holding that students in unaccredited districts have a legal right to attend an accredited districts. Some districts in St. Louis County have argued they lack facilities to handle all the students that might want to transfer from the unaccredited St. Louis City school district.

  • Expand who can sponsor alternative charter schools and where they can be located.

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.

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