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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of April 9, 2012

A bill passed in the Senate would assist parents on welfare with their child care.

As the legislation stands now, parents have their child care revoked if they make over a certain amount of pay.

Sen. Robert Schaaf, R-Buchanan, sponsors the bill, which would take away only a portion of the child care assistance as a parent earned more money.

Audrey Johanns, the owner of the local CafÚ Via Roma, got involved with the bill when one of her employees refused a raise so she did not exceed the benchmark.

The employee, Sarah Bonner, has a young son who needed day care while she worked. If she made over the benchmark salary, she lost double in assistance the amount she made over the benchmark.

Hundreds of members of Missourians to End Poverty gathered at the Capitol to advocate for the poor.

They are asking legislators to reduce poverty by raising the minimum wage, placing a cap on payday loans and creating more jobs.

Advocates signed initiative petitions to raise the minimum wage and cap payday loans.

A similar petition to limit payday loans was struck down by Cole County Circuit Judge Dan Green. However, the attorney general's office said Wednesday that it would appeal that decision. Green said the summary did not specify short-term loan limits.

25 organizations from across Missouri are involved with Missourians to End Poverty. They say the solution to ending poverty includes four pillars: health care, education, job creation and worker's rights.

Pearl Burks is a grandmother living on social security with three of her grandchildren in St. Louis.

"I would like to see the food stamp program changed. I would like to see the Medicaid program changed...I need to be able to get food stamps for them, but they tell me with my income, it doesn't go very far, I'm not eligible," said Burks.

Elaine Shulte, executive director of Missouri Association for Community Action, said more than 15 percent of Missourians are living in poverty.

"When we say there is over 15 percent living in poverty that doesn't even begin to cover it, we've probably got about 30 percent of the population in really desperate need, living on the edge," Shulte said.

Missourians to End Poverty say they hope to reduce this number by meeting with legislatures, raising awareness and signing initiative petitions.

A former Missouri governor was indicted today for his involvement in a state-subsidized insurance company.

Roger Wilson was indicted by a grand jury late Wednesday night for misappropriation of funds while he was the CEO of Missouri Employers Mutual. He was indicted on a charge of misappropriating $5,000 from the Missouri Employers Mutual Company.

Wilson was a former CEO of MEM but he stepped down amid allegations of charging the company to pay for campaign contributions to the Missouri Democratic Party. An investigation within the company found the contributions totaled $8,000, with Wilson charging $5,000 to the company.

Before the indictment was handed down, two lawmakers in charge of presenting legislation to deal with MEM both said they were not concerned with the federal indictment. Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, and Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, both said the public firm should become a private company, a move that could potentially hurt MEM's future profits.

Missouri's $24 billion budget is sent to the Senate floor Thursday with level funding for public education.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said this was probably the most difficult budget year ever. The budget in the Senate is $86 million below what the House had passed last month, but freezes funding for K-12 and higher education.

Colleges and universities were facing a 15 percent cut under a proposal from Gov. Jay Nixon, but were spared when the House passed their budget last month. The House was able to fund public universities at the same level as last year through a $40 million boost from a national settlement against mortgage companies and cuts to a $28 million health care program for the blind.

Schaefer's committee also endorsed the House plan to keep funding stable for K-12 education, including a $5 million increase recommended by Nixon. Despite the small increase, the formula for funding local school districts is still below the recommended amount in law. The lack of adequate funding means the rural schools without a large local tax base will continue to lose funds disproportionately to suburban schools with higher local revenue.

The Senate Appropriations Committee kept funding for higher education equal to last year, but they did not go along with the House's cut to the blind. Schaefer proposed a new plan to fund the 2,800 people who do not qualify for Medicaid benefits.

The Senate plan would have those people pay an $111 premium and $600 deductible for insurance coverage. Those figures come from the amount paid by active state employees. The proposal would also require people on the program to apply for Medicaid benefits before receiving the supplemental coverage.

With several education issues making progress in the current session, two issues impacting thousands of Missourians are still on the table.

The formula to determine state funding for public schools is at risk of widening the gap between the amount of funding schools will be receiving next year. Bills have been proposed to adjust the formula, but they have made little progress.

Former Supreme Court Justice Mike Wolff said the formula was fundamentally unfair because it relief on local property taxes, which vary widely from county to county.

The other issue impacts families living in the unaccredited St. Louis public school district. The legislature is trying to fund a solution to the Turner v. School District of Clayton case that would allow students to transfer without overloading the county schools.

The bill would expand who is allowed to sponsor a charter school, allowing them to be sponsored in areas other than St. Louis and Kansas City and impose stricter accountability guidelines.

The difference between metropolitan, suburban and rural districts has been central to education policy issues such as regulation of charter schools, school funding and allowing students to transfer from unaccredited districts.

Democratic Sen. Maria Chapelle-Nadal represents a St. Louis County district that stretches from University City to Hazelwood. She spoke against the bill in question saying that, while several St. Louis city senators were in favor of the legislation, it would negatively impact her district.

Despite Chapelle-Nadal's claims that the bill would be harmful to her district, it passed first round approval in the Senate. The issues brought up during the debate, however, are far from over. They will continue to be part of the discussion surrounding the other education policy changes.

There was not any opposition to the amendment would to change the amount of crack cocaine necessary to be penalized with a class A felony.

The current Missouri statute requires a possession of two grams of crack cocaine to receive a class A felony.

The new amendment increases that amount to 28 grams.

Missouri veterans homes welcome any veteran, regardless of income, disability or time served. But those veterans homes would be hit the hardest if lawmakers don't agree on a new source for funding.

Lawmakers are working on a bill that would bring more money into the veterans fund through the Missouri Lottery. It's made it through the House, now it's up to the Senate to send it on to the Governor.

April is National Child Abuse Awareness Month, and Missouri KidsFirst held its third annual rally on the south lawn of the state Capitol.

Children, lawmakers and Missouri KidsFirst members gathered for lunch and speakers on the issue of child abuse.

Missouri KidsFirst also lobbys for legislation. Emily van Schenkhof, Deputy Director, said she is content with the Missouri General Assembly's legislative action on child abuse, given the current economic state.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has reversed a $28 million cut to a health care program for the blind by requiring them to pay premiums for medical coverage.

The plan put forward by committee chairman Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, would require people who are blind and who do not qualify for Medicaid to pay a $111 premium and a $600 deductible to receive state medical coverage. Those costs are based off the average amount paid by a state employee. 

Schaefer's proposal comes as the state House eliminated the $28 million special health care program for the blind.

The current system serves 2,800 blind residents who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid. Those individuals would now have to pay an insurance premium and deductible.

Missouri blind residents also receive an additional $707 a month from a fund paid for by the only statewide property tax. Schaefer's plan would not affect that money.

The Missouri House approved a joint resolution which would establish a constitutional right to possess and purchase ammunition.

Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, said this legislation perpetuates crime.

"The only thing that you get out of a piece of legislation like this is death and destruction," Nasheed said.

Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific, said the bill protects fundamental rights of Americans.

"It creates a positive reinforcement for something that we already have, a natural right that we all already have to protect or God given liberties, our right to life even," Curtman said.

The bill will require voter approval, if it passes in the Senate.

Rep. Diane Franklin, R-Camdenton, sponsors a resolution which would ask Missouri school districts to make trapshooting a recognized school sport.

During Tuesday's hearing, Franklin, who is one of only five women on Missouri's state trapshooting team, told the committee trapshooting has a number of benefits for students such as scholarship and leadership opportunities.

Franklin also addressed safety concerns associated with trapshooting. "We found in our research that there are one percent injury nationally and no fatalities, so it's a very safe sport," Franklin said.

Members of the Amateur Trapshooting Association and Missouri Youth Sports Shooting Alliance testified in favor of the resolution.

No one testified against the resolution during the hearing.

The House Workforce Development Committee considered a bill that would change whistle blower protection laws.

The measure would make it illegal for an employer to fire an employee who reports to proper authorities about unlawful activities of the employer in addition to placing caps on punitive damages against businesses.

The whistle blower language will take the place of the worker discrimination bill vetoed twice by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.   

"We attempt to pass the same legislation without seeing where somebody had serious problems with the bill. What you've done is say hey, look, I know that this portion, if we do this, there is a possibility that we can get this deal done," said Rep. Sylvester Taylor, D-St. Louis County.

Taylor said he still has some reservations about the bill.

Elmer said the bill protects people who report to the proper authority about employers who participate in illegal activities.

Two lawyers testified against the bill saying that current law already allows for protection of whistle blowers and that this legislation would limit the protections that are already in place.

If the bill is approved by the committee, it will move to the House.

Lawmakers want to protect the rights of mothers and allow an adoption of the child to take place without the father's consent.

A bill presented in the House would allow the adoption of a child to take place without the consent of the father, if he has not previously developed a consistent and substantial relationship with the child.

Unless actively thwarted from doing so by the mother, the father must provide:

The bill was passed in the House 126 to 15. It has been read in the Senate, and referred to the Senate's Health Committee.

Last Week

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.

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