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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of April 16, 2012

House democrats managed to defeat the legal tender bill due to a low presence of republicans present on the House floor, early Thursday afternoon. Most representatives attended a press conference at the Governor's mansion during the vote.

At first, it was defeated by a close vote of 81 to 42. Rep. Tim Meadows, D-Imperial, later called for a reconsideration, which led to the bill eventually, being passed by a vote of 95 to 37.

Speaker of the House Tim Jones asked Meadows to reconsider the bill.

The bill would allow gold and silver to be used as currency as well as add a pediatric cancer research trust fund to individual and corporate income tax forms.

The bill's Sponsor Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific, said the bill will help with inflation and create jobs.

"It allows for people to establish a clearing house in our state for a more convenient exchange of gold and silver in commerce," said Curtman.

Rep. Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County said the bill itself is embarrassing as well as the inability to pass it.

“That bill probably stands no chance at one being constitutional and two actually passing in the Senate, even in committee,” said Talboy.

The bill now moves to the Senate for further approval.

Missouri will join a coalition of energy firms to apply for a multi-million dollar federal grant that would fund several small nuclear reactors in the state, Gov. Jay Nixon announced Thursday.

Flanked by high-ranking officials from various industries, Nixon said Missouri has partnered with energy provider Ameren Missouri and international nuclear technology development firm Westinghouse Company to receive as much as $452 million from the federal Department of Energy.

"When it comes to creating jobs and transforming our economy, projects just don't get any bigger than this one," Nixon said.

Officials said funding would go toward building up to five Small Modular Nuclear Reactors, or SMRs, in Callaway Co., Missouri. These plants would generate as much as 225 megawatts of power, one-fifth of the production of normal nuclear power plants.

One these large nuclear reactors already stands in the county and debate has long waged over the creation of a new plant--known colloquially as "Callaway 2." Funding, though, has never been secured.

According to Westinghouse representative Dr. Kate Jackson, the SMRs must be built at least 24 months after federal funding is received. Just how much funding will not be known until later this summer, she said.

Missouri's Senate is set to consider the state's $24 billion budget Monday, more than one week after the Senate Appropriations Committee concluded their mark-up.

The Senate will began debate Monday on a budget freezes spending on both K-12 and higher education.

Gov. Jay Nixon had originally called for a 15 percent cut to public universities, but the House and Senate both found additional funds to reverse that proposal. The General Assembly dipped into welfare programs such as child care subsidies and health care for the blind to fund the state's public colleges at the same level as last year. A $40 million payment from a national mortgage settlement also helped.

The budget passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee is $86 million less than what passed the House last month. Most of that money came from various social services programs. The committee cut $13 million from foster care programs and another $16 million in child care subsidies.

Some conservatives in the Senate, however, said they are concerned with the amount of spending and how tax credits deprive the state revenue.

Tax credits have long been a controversial issue in Missouri's legislature. Disagreements between the House and Senate over whether existing tax credits programs should have a expiration date or "sunset" derailed last fall's special session.

In a deposition obtained by the Associated Press, MO Health Net Division Director Ian McCaslin said there's no guarantee that patients could extend their current health care policies if the new plan is blocked.

Molina Health Care of Missouri recently launched a lawsuit against the state after it was dropped as a Medicaid insurance provider.

Molina is now looking to stop all patient registration and to start the re-bidding process on the Medicaid contracts, worth 1.1 billion dollars.

The State said a reduced number of Medicaid insurance companies will save up to $56 million dollars over the next three years.

It was released that Molina came in last out of all Medicaid insurance bids in 2012.

Molina scored lowest in the categories of primary and specialty care and behavioral health.

In September of 2011, Molina was slapped with a sanction by the Missouri Department of Social Services for a failure to provide proper case management to behavioral health patients.

Molina Health Care of Missouri has declined to comment.

Two Republican Senators blocked a vote on a bill Thursday to make it harder for teachers to earn job protection tenure.

Senate Education Committee Chairman David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, and Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, blocked the measure, which would increase from five to ten years the amount of time it takes a teacher to get tenure.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, also eliminates seniority as a criteria to be considered when a school district has to lay off a teacher due to budget constraints.

The measure was not assigned to Pearce's education committee, but it was passed through Cunningham's General Laws Committee.

Pearce said it would have been nice to have a thorough vetting of the issue.

Cunningham laid her bill over and said she did not want her colleagues to have a long debate on the issue on a Thursday.

Lawmakers, lobbyists, and other Capitol employees joined forces to raise money for the Samaritan Center.

The legislators formed teams to participate in a softball tournament Wednesday night. Teams participating in the tournament not only played these softball games, but individuals also participated in a home run derby.

Legislators named their own teams, even making shirts with a team logo. The Field-a-Busters, The Gunzlingers, and Team Tilley were just a few of the team names.

A Republican amendment to a bill would require doctors providing abortion services to buy an additional $3 million in medical malpractice coverage.

The bill is meant to require research on fiscal impacts for covering chemo treatment methods and treatments for eating disorders and infertility on health insurance.

Rep. Andrew Koenig, R-St. Louis Co., offered the amendment after Tuesday approval of his bill that would place restrictions on abortion inducing drugs.

The Senate Committee on Governmental Accountability is investigating the way the Guard handles conduct problems.

Several Guardsmen came forward Wednesday to testify in favor of the investigation. Brandon Knott and Eddie Ratliff worked under alleged neo-Nazi Nathan Wooten and testified he didn't get the punishment he deserved.

Capt. Gason Gipson also testified in the hearing. Gipson is being investigated for sexual misconduct but believes the evidence against him is false.

The Missouri House and Senate both approved bills that would strip the ability of unlicensed childcare providers to continue their services if there is a court case against them.

After the defendant is cleared of charges related to abuse, neglect or death of a child in their care, the services can continue.

The House bill would require fees up to $10,000 for unlicensed providers falsely disclosing their services as licensed.

Cole County Circuit Clerk Brenda Umstattd stepped down Wednesday after a Missouri audit found at least $14,669 in missing money.

Umstattd's resignation is effective immediately and Cole County Presiding Judge Patricia Joyce will act as appointing authority for the circuit clerk until a replacement is named.

State Auditor Tom Schweich rated the overall performance of the entity "poor."

Schweich also cited "deficiencies in internal controls" and "noncompliance with legal provisions" as problem areas.

"The state auditor's report is very serious and reflects numerous deficiencies in the operation of the clerk's office," Joyce said in a press release.

Joyce also said the clerk's poor fiscal management put at risk "hundreds of thousands of dollars."

The Senate General Laws Committee heard testimony Tuesday on a bill which would make changes to Missouri's open records law, commonly known as the Sunshine Law.

The hearing comes a month after Republican State Auditor Tom Schweich released a report showing that state and local government bodies have been routinely violating the law.

Missouri Press Association (MPA) executive director Doug Crews was at the hearing and called these changes to the Sunshine Law "taking baby steps."

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, who said the bill would affect all local and state government agencies.

Schaefer said the auditor's report showed there are still violations of the Sunshine Law throughout the state and this is an attempt to do something about it.

"The bottom line is we need more transparency in quasi governmental entities," Schaefer said.

Representative Shane Schoeller, R-Willard, the bill sponsor said the new resolution changes the language in the measure to summarize voter I.D. protection on the ballot.

The removal of the language the Cole county circuit court had rejected would be recorded in the House and Senate Journals.

Ron Berry, Director of Policy and Governmental Affairs, opposed the changes on behalf of the Secretary of State. He said, "We believe that as its current resolution, it does not have force in effect."

The bill sponsor said this measure would actually increase voter turnout because individuals' votes would be more protected.

During the public hearing he said, "When voters know their vote really counts and they don't believe there's any fraud associated with that election, they're more likely to want to show up and cast that ballot."

The House General Laws Committee heard public testimony Tuesday on Rep. Rodney Schad's, R-Versailles, bill banning pets from the state Capitol building.

Schad said only service animals with proper training and certifications should be allowed.

"There's been increasing problems in the building because of animals," said Schad.

Two witnesses testified against the bill during the hearing.

Some Missouri lawmakers are also against this bill.

Sen. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville, brings her pet dog to the Capitol building everyday.

"I don't know why he sponsored this," said Ridgeway. "There's been not one complain from anyone or the cleaning crews."

If passed, the bill will head to the House floor.

In a press conference Tuesday, Commissioner of Education Chris Nicastro said the state board of education had no choice but to close the charter schools that serve almost 4,000 St. Louis school children.

Nicastro said the academic levels of the Imagine schools were among the lowest performing in the state. The schools academic levels were well-under the St. Louis public school average and the state average.

Nicastro also called for the oversight of charter schools academically and financially.

Currently, the state board of education does not have authority over charter schools and Nicastro said this needs to change.

"We do believe that the state board of education should have the authority to intervene in chart schools just as they do other public schools," said Nicastro.

The closings will be effective at the end of the school year and the Department of Education has set up a transition office for students and their parents.

In a 116-34 vote, the Missouri House approved a bill that would place stricter restrictions on abortion-inducing drugs.

The bill requires RU-486, an abortion inducing drug, to be administered in a hospital or abortion facility. It also provides women with more information regarding the drug being administered.

The legislation requires women to have a physical exam 24 hours in advance of the drug's administration.

"I believe that life is in the womb. This is a serious procedure that should have regulation on it," said Rep. Andrew Koenig, R-St. Louis County, the bill's sponsor.

The vote did not come without opposition.

"Let's trust our women, let's trust our doctors, to know whats in the best interest of their bodies and to keep government out of that doctor's office, so they can have the same sovereignty that is extended to our businesses," said Rep. Jason Holsman, D- Jackson.

"Back off. Trust women. Let them make their own informed decisions," said Genise Montecillo, D- St. Louis City.

Koenig's legislation received some praise from female House members.

"I applaud what you are doing for the women of Missouri," said Rep. Jeanie Riddle, R-Callaway.

The audit by Republican State Auditor Tom Schweich gives the state's bidding, procurement and monitoring of 183 contract license offices in Missouri a "fair" grade.  

Schweich said he found several concerns including extremely long contract procurement cycles, not providing bidders with the details of what they would be evaluated on, inconsistent application of the contract award point system and not creating written criteria for evaluating bidders' responses.

He also found that the state Office of Administration a accepted late proposal and allowed a non-for-profit bidder Alternative Opportunities to operate and rebid for a contract despite a violation of their current contract.

Schweich said the Department of Revenue and Office of Administration need to improve their policies, procedures and enforcement.

"We have no evidence that anyone was gearing the procurements toward alternative opportunities...but we do know that the process was modified and altered in a way that advantaged that company. This creates an appearance of impropriety that concerns us," Schweich said.

He said this does not necessarily mean that there is an impropriety. Under the system initiated in 2009, the goal was to eliminate political bias in these contracts. Schweich said he is hopeful that if the process is improved, politics will be eliminated from the process.  

A bill that would attempt to remove the requirement of employers to provide medical coverage for birth control has been heavily debated by the Missouri legislature this session.

The proposed measure would remove the requirement of employers to provide medical coverage for birth control, if it is against their religious beliefs.

The action is in response to Obama's contraceptive mandate, which would provide women with birth control free of charge from their employer or insurance company.

The bill sponsor Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis County, said he intends to give more religious freedom to employers so they don't drop health care coverage all together.

Lamping's legislation would also allow the Attorney General to make civil claims in a lawsuit, if the employer is forced to provide coverage.

Senate Minority Leader Victor Callahan, D-Independence, said the bill moves the responsibility of insurance companies to individual employers.

"This isn't a very good bill because you're extending this authority to employees that can have any basic objections to a plan and now they have civil claims paid for by the Attorney General," Callahan said.

If the bill passes, it would be in conflict with the Affordable Care Act and the federal government. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on the health care law in June.

Lamping's bill has already passed the Senate and a similar bill has already passed the House. It needs one more vote in either chamber to be sent to Gov. Jay Nixon's desk.

Missouri lawmakers gave the first round approval to bill making a it a crime to enforce the Affordable Care Act, known by critics as "Obamacare."

The penalty for anyone trying to enforce President Barack Obama's health care plan would be charged with a class A misdemeanor.

The bill sponsor Rep. Kurt Bahr, R-St. Charles, said it is the state's job to recognize what is and is not constitutional.

"The Federal government does not have the power to tell us what we have to purchase," Bahr said.

Democrats said the U.S. Supreme Court has the power to determine what is and is not constitutional and this type of measure should wait until the Court has ruled.

The Supreme Court is expected to deliver their ruling on the law in late June.

Senate Education Committee Chair David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, and House Higher Education Committee Chair Mike Thomson, R-Maryville, worked together on legislation designed to make it easier to transfer credits.

Pearce said this bill would make the process more efficient.

"It is a proven fact, that time is the far as it’s going to the school. The longer it takes the more debt the student incurs, and also the more likely the student may not finished," Thomson said.

Rep. Steve Webber, D-Columbia said he opposed the bill.

"If the goal is just to pass out degrees, we can get everybody a degree. The goal should be declare quality education. We seem to concern more about the number of degrees we handed out than the quality of the degree represents," Webber said.

The Senate passed the measure without opposition, and the House passed it with only three "no" votes.

Both measures need one more vote in the other chamber before they are sent to the governor's desk.

Missouri's state auditor said Monday that he will appeal a court ruling made last week about a ballot issue to repeal the state's income tax.

The ruling, issued by Cole County Circuit Court Judge Patricia Joyce, said the auditor's financial analysis of the ballot issue was "insufficient."

Schweich said he was appealing the ruling because his office believed the original analysis provided an "accurate range of possible impacts" that was the best they could provide with the information given to the auditor's office.

A Missouri Senate bill to make disruption of a house of worship a crime resulted in a continued discussion of first amendment rights in a House committee hearing Monday.

The bill, sponsored by President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, covers any house of worship, including any public or private structure used for any religious purpose. It would also bar individuals from injuring, threatening or interfering with any person's attempt to practice their religion or enter a house of worship.

The bill, which was already passed by the Senate, received a hearing in the House. Jeremy LaFaver, on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri, came to testify in opposition to the bill. LaFaver said that although he understands the intent of the bill, there are constitutional issues with the bill that could interfere with people's freedom of speech.

"People don't have the right to be right, but they do have the right to be heard." LaFaver said.

The House Workforce Development Committee approved another bill Monday that would alter laws concerning whistle blower protection.

The Committee passed the measure by removing the original provisions in the bill that would have limited employee lawsuit damages and substituting in the new language. The same committee passed a bill last week that exactly mirrors the one passed Monday.

Originally the bills required modifying state statute to require discrimination to be a motivating factor instead of contributing one. Removal of this language in both bills was prompted by Gov. Jay Nixon vetoing the bills two times before, including once earlier this legislative session.

Last Week

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.