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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of May 14, 2012

Instead of ending with a bang, the 2012 Missouri legislative session fizzled to an end.

Gov. Jay Nixon held a press conference at the close of the day Friday and remarked on the successes and failures of the General Assembly.

Nixon applauded legislative efforts in regards to funding for veterans and the balancing of the state budget. He said his greatest disappointment of the session was the failure to pass the auto supplier's job bill. He said this bill would have provided a lot of jobs and he would have liked to have it as a tool.

Nixon also said the one bill he will veto is the bill that would impose a local sales tax to register a car purchased in another state. He said the passed bills will be reviewed carefully in the next few weeks.

Nixon said he believes the legislators took their time to pass good bills and that he will continue to work tirelessly to move the state forward.

The penalties for crack cocaine possession would be reduced in a measure passed in the House on Friday.

Under the measure, a person who distributes, manufactures or attempts to distribute or manufacture 8 to 24 grams of crack cocaine guilty of a Class A felony. The measure increases the quantity from 2 to 6 grams to 8 to 24 grams.

The measure would also make any individual in possession or attempting to purchase cocaine in the quantity of 8 to 24 grams guilty of a Class B felony. Any individual in possession of more than 24 grams would be guilty of a class A felony.

In a 146-0 vote, the Missouri House approved a bill that would allow judges to prohibit unlicensed childcare providers from providing daycare services while a criminal case is pending.

Bill Sponsor Rep. Linda Black, D-Bonne Terre says the legislation was sponsored by the death of Sam Pratt, who died at an unlicensed daycare center in 2009. The daycare owner continued to care for children despite the murder charges.

The Saint Louis Post Dispatch reported that from 2007 to 2010 there were 41 deaths in unlicensed and unregulated child care facilities in Missouri.

The legislation is now sent to the desk of Governor Jay Nixon for approval.

Unlicensed child care providers would be further regulated under a bill passed in the House on Friday.

The bill, known as "Pratt's Law," would prohibit individuals charged with neglect or the death of a child to provide child care services during an ongoing case.

It would also require all unlicensed providers to disclose their licensing status to the parents or guardians of the children the facility cares for.

The bill would prohibit Children's Division workers responding to a child abuse or neglect investigation from contact before a home visit.

The measure is named after Sam Pratt who died in 2009 while under the care of an unlicensed child care provider. His care provider, Martha Farris, was charged with abuse of a child and involuntary manslaughter. Farris has been released on bail and continues to provide child care services.

Alcohol sales would be allowed to start as early as 4 a.m. at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport under a measure Missouri lawmakers sent to the governor's desk Friday.

The House passed the bill by a vote of 95-55.

Currently, alcohol sales don't begin until 6 a.m.

Supporters of the bill say earlier sales would be catered to people traveling internationally and through different time zones.

Just hours after lawmakers passed a measure to restore a sales tax on auto sales, Gov. Jay Nixon issued a written statement attacking the bill that members of his own party had supported.

The bill came in response to a state Supreme Court decision that struck down a law imposing a local sales tax to register a car that had been purchased in another state.

Supporters say the law collectively would cost local communities more than $20 million in taxes and even more for school districts.

In addition, legislators have said that Missouri auto dealers have asked for the measure in fear that customers would go to adjoining states to purchase autos in order to escape the local taxes.

In his written statement, Nixon charged the bill "would bypass a vote of the people and improperly impose a tax increase."

Nixon said he was willing to work with the legislature on the issue.

But with the General Assembly facing a 6pm Friday, May 18 adjournment, the bill's sponsor said it was too late.

"I think he's pretty well staked out his position. I think his campaign staff has told him what he's going to say," said Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City.

Silvey said they would wait until the veto session in September if the governor actually vetoed the measure.

The bill had passed the Senate without a single negative vote. It cleared the House by an overwhelming margin of both Republicans and Democrats -- far more than would be needed to override a veto.

One of the issues that contributed to the end of last year's special session has reared its head with only a couple days left in this session.

The Missouri Senate passed a bill that would put a cap on the amount of tax credits available for historic buildings.

Currently, around $110 million is issued by the state each year on historic preservation tax credits.

Under the measure the Senate passed 28-3, those credits would be capped at $75 million.

The bill would also allow additional tax credits to issued to attract more amateur sporting events in the state.

The tax credit issues were added on to the underlying bill that would put new requirements on companies seeking economic development incentives from the state.

The bill now moves to the House. The House can either accept the Senate's changes or send the bill to a conference between the chambers.

The House sponsor later said he would not bring the bill up with a cut in the historic preservation tax credit.

Missouri representatives approved a measure that would allow health care providers to refuse to participate in certain medical practices that violate their beliefs.

Supporters of the bill say it protects the religious freedoms of health care providers and physicians since it prohibits these providers from retribution if they do not provide certain medical services, such as contraception or abortions.

Opponents of the measure say, however, that the bill would restrict access to certain types of health care.

The measure also says health care providers and employers cannot be mandated to attain medical insurance to cover abortion or sterilization procedures and that pharmacies cannot be required to supply certain medications.

The House passed the measure with a 117-37 vote Wednesday and sent it back to the Senate for reconsideration.

Cell phone users would have a new tool against telemarketers under a measure the legislature sent the governor Tuesday, May 15.

The bill would allow cell phone numbers to be included in the "no-call" list maintained by the state attorney general.

With some exceptions, including political calls, telemarketers are prohibited from calling numbers on the no-call list unless there is a pre-existing business relationship with the phone subscriber.

The measure passed by the legislature also would expand the restrictions on telemarketers to include text messaging and FAXes.

Business phone lines, however, would continued to be excluded from the restrictions.

Ironically, the bill's sponsor said he had not been subjected to a telemarketing call on his cell phone until just about two hours after his bill had cleared the legislature.

"It demonstrates that this becoming more and more prevalent," said Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff. "The telemarketers are becoming more and more aggressive about looking for cell phone numbers and putting them into their databases."

Richardson said the attorney general's office was getting hundreds of complaints per week concerning telemarketing calls to cell phones.

Richardson's bill cleared the legislature without a single dissenting vote in either the House or Senate.

Previous efforts to expand the no-call law had encountered legislative resistance for including political robo calls.

Critics of those efforts argued restricting calls for political campaigns violated the U.S. Constitution's right of free speech.

Missouri's governor will have to decide whether to sign or veto a measure to expand competition to local public schools in sub-par districts.

The House sent the governor Tuesday a measure that would expand where independent charter schools can operate and who can sponsor them.

Charter schools receive some public school funds, but operate independently of many of the regulations governing public schools.

Currently, charter schools are limited to St. Louis and Kansas City.

The measure passed by the legislature would allow a charter school to operate in any school district that is unaccredited or provisionally accredited.

In addition, more organizations could sponsor charter schools including a local school district or a special state commission created by the law.

The measure also includes provisions for expanded government review of charter schools including the right of the state auditor to audit a charter school.

Supporters argued the state has a responsibility to provide students in failing school districts with an alternative.

"We need to do something to help these kids," said Rep. Rick Stream, R-St. Louis County. "And we don't need to wait until next year or the following year or five years or ten years down the road. We need to act now to give these kids a quality education."

But critics charged the bill did nothing to address the underlying problems facing the unaccredited districts of St. Louis and Kansas City.

"This is a distraction to continue to pull resources," said Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-St. Louis, during the final House debate Tuesday. "A lot of these kids these kids are homeless in St. Louis city public schools. The homeless rate is extremely high. We have to address those concerns."

Springfield Democrat Rep. Sara Lampe warned that the bill could open the door for profit-making, out-of-state charter school companies to undercut the financial base of a local district that ran into accreditation problems.

"The only thing that this bill is needed for is to create an opportunity for expansion of a business out into the state into your community, to draw profit off your community and and take away your local community school."

The measure now goes to Gov. Jay Nixon. In his January State of the State address, Nixon urged lawmakers to impose stronger quality controls over charter schools.

Shortly after a closed-door ceremony unveiling a bust of the controversial radio talk show host, Gov. Jay Nixon's office issued an administration report questioning authority of the House speaker to put any bust in the Hall of Famous Missourians.

Nixon's office released an undated report from the Office of Administration that concluded that the Board of Public Buildings has the statutory authority to determine what artifacts are placed in the Hall of Famous Missourians, located on the third floor of the Capitol rotunda.

The board is composed of the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.

The governor's spokesperson refused any comment on the matter except to issue a one-sentence written statement that the governor looked forward to working with the board on the display of busts in the Capitol.

In a locked-door session of Missouri's House guarded by at least one dozen armed police officers, Rush Limbaugh's bust was unveiled for placement in the Missouri Capitol's Hall of Famous Missourians.

The ceremony was in a House chamber surrounded by armed Highway Patrol and Capitol Security police blocking access to the chamber.

Democrats were not invited and were given notice less than an hour before the ceremony began. The door to the Democrats' side of the chamber was locked and guarded by armed police.

House Speaker Steve Tilley, who selected Limbaugh for the honor, said he was the person who asked for the armed security.

He said Democrats were not invited because they had indicated earlier disagreement with Limbaugh's selection.

House Democrats had criticized the selection haver Limbaugh had used a sexual epithet to describe a woman who had sought to testify before a congressional committee on contraception.

House Democratic Leader Mike Talboy said he was considering asking the Gov. Jay Nixon why the Highway Patrol was used to block access to the event. Talboy said he had reason to believe that Nixon's administration would not allow Limbaugh's bust to be placed in the Capitol rotunda, the location of the Hall of Famous Missourians.

The administration controls the rotunda, although the House has passed a measure to turn control of the third-floor rotunda over to the legislature.

Last Week

After weeks of gridlock, late-night filibusters and personal attacks, the Missouri House of Representatives and Senate sent the state's $24 billion budget to Gov. Jay Nixon's desk one day before deadline with higher education coming out as a big winner.

Despite starting the year with a $500 million budget shortfall, the budget holds flat funding for public universities and local school districts. Colleges were facing a 15 percent cut under Nixon's proposed budget, but House and Senate leaders said they made a policy decision to give higher education the same amount as this year.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said the downward trend in higher education funding had to stop this year.

"I am glad we put that money back in, and that is not to imply this was not an extremely tough budget year," Schaefer said. "We simply had to set the priorities where we saw the priorities should be, and that is in education."

The top House Democrat on the budget committee, Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, said she was glad the cuts were reversed, but said the current funding trends could not continue.

"With our reductions in funding every year, college and university budgets are now so lean with more cuts they will be laying off teachers, professors and researchers," she said.

Schaefer said the ride to pass the budget was "bumpy" but that he was glad to have the budget passed without raising taxes. The Senate spent many late nights debating the budget with insults and personal attacks being leveled against Schaefer and Senate leadership.

This measure would replace one of the judges on the Appellate Judicial Commission, with its fourth governor appointed member.

It would increase the number of individuals the Governor nominates for vacancies in the Supreme Court or Court of Appeals from three to four and decrease the number of lawyers to three.

Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, is the sponsor of the bill in the House. He said the bill would ensure the source of power behind the selection of judicial are Missourians.

“The member of the Supreme Court should not choice their own colleagues,” Cox said.

Rep. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, said the bill appeals to be anti-lawyers.

Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, a lawyer as well, said he supported the bill because it would allow the people of Missouri to make the decision.

Rep. Rory Ellinger, D-St. Louis County, said it could a very dangerous law.

“I do not want any one person to have that kind of authority,” Ellinger said.

House members on Thursday gave the proposal final approval with a close 84-71. It has passed the Senate last week.

Residential homes and structures built before 1978 may contain lead based paint.

John Cable, risk assessor with Triangle Environmental, said that children are most at risk because if they ingest lead dust or consume lead based paint chips.

Lead is stored in the bone and affects every organ. Lead poisoning causes a range of health issues varying from lethargy, behavioral problems, paralysis, and even death.

Representative Dwight Scharnhorst, R-St.Louis County, sponsors a bill that prohibits the Department of Health and Senior Services from enacting or regulating lead abatement laws that are stricter than federal laws. He said, "I think we're fully aware of the repercussions of it and the problems that we have with it."

Dr. Jennifer Lowry, medical toxicologist and pediatrician at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, said we've neglected an entire generation of physicians regarding the education of lead poisoning and high lead levels in blood.

Currently, Missouri has implemented a Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program which increases education of lead risks and prevention. It requires universal testing annually for children until they are six years of age.

There have been several protests to prevent Republican House Speaker Steve Tilley's decision to induct Rush Limbaugh into the Hall of Famous Missourians.

However, Tilley has yet to say when he plans to formally induct Limbaugh.

On the House floor, the bust of Dred Scott was unveiled for induction. Tilley said Scott represents one of the most famous figures in American history.

Governor Nixon has not responded to requests to ban the induction of Rush Limbaugh into the Hall of Famous Missourians.

Missouri House Representatives gave first round of approval for a provision that would allow lawmakers to have control of the state Capitol rotunda. 

A few hours after a compromise was brokered by state senators, a House-Senate conference committee finalized negotiations over Missouri's budget.

Senate Budget Chair Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said the budget was balanced and $50 million less than the governor's proposed budget.

The $24 billion operating budget:

House Budget Chair Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, said the House and Senate should vote on the budget Thursday, beating the constitutionally-mandated Friday deadline.

A budget gridlock that blocked the Senate from work for two straight days came to an end Wednesday afternoon.

After a series of backroom negotiations, the Senate approved a complicated deal to silence a few senators whose filibusters had stalled the Senate.

Under the deal, the legislature would:

Adoption of the compromises increases the chances lawmakers can meet the 6pm Friday deadline for passing the budget.

Left out of the compromise bill were demands to eliminate the Sue Shear Institute at the University of Missouri's St. Louis campus.

The Senate met briefly three times Tuesday without taking up a single bill, finally calling it quits around 4 p.m. They adjourned for the day approximately 12 hours after a day long filibuster which blocked any action on Monday went into early Tuesday morning.

Passing the state budget is the only thing the Missouri Constitution requires the General Assembly to accomplish during the session. The legislature is facing a Friday 6 p.m. deadline to send the budget to Gov. Jay Nixon. The budget must be sent to Gov. Jay Nixon's desk by May 11 at 6 p.m.

Sen. Majority Leader Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said an appropriation to Southeast Missouri State University remains a sticking point in the budget debate but there might be a possibility of a way through that. Dempsey wouldn't elaborate but said ideas were being discussed to resolve the issue.

During Monday's debate, Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, vowed to block votes on the budget and every other piece of legislation unless there are several changes in the budget including $2 million increase passed by the House for SEMO.

While no action was taken on the Senate floor, work on the budget continues behind the scenes.

"I'm allowing other avenues to try to reach an agreement and allow other senators to maybe see if they can bridge the divide that we have, and we're getting closer," Dempsey said. He said the next time the Senate convenes it will take up another point of contention on the budget, increased funding for veterans' homes.

While the House third read a Senate Militia bill, Rep. Sue Allen, R-St. Louis County, added an amendment regarding a child care rating system.

The measure would prohibit any rating or evaluation system for early childhood care providers.

Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, said children should be rated at the very early level of life.

Rep. Margo McNeil, D-St. Louis County, said she is concerned the measure will make it harder for schools to measure whether children meet the pre-requirements for admission.

Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County sponsored a similar version of bill in the Senate.

The amendment was added to the bill, which then passed through the House. The bill now must go back to the Senate for approval.

Missouri will bring 35 new elks from a Kentucky capture site to Peck Ranch Conservation Area in West Plains to restore the state's elk herd population.

A spokesman for the Kentucky Conservation Department, Mark Marracini, said Missouri's tourism industry will shoot up as a result.

"Elk are a tremendous tool for tourism and they're a great addition to the nature," Marracini said.

Chairman of the MU Anthropology Department, Lee Lyman, said he disagrees with Marracini.

"I'm concerned that traffic hazards will go up," Lyman said. "My understanding is that they're in a fenced area at the moment, but the plan is to remove the fence and the elk will be able to go anywhere they want to go."

The new elk herd population will arrive in Missouri on May 18.

The Senate filibustered a bill that would direct up to $30 million to Missouri veteran's nursing homes. Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, said he has issues with the budget - such as $2 million directed to Southeast Missouri State University - that need to be acted on first. Others participated in the filibuster for the same motives. Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, said state funds going to Sue Shear foundation or any other entity promoting political action should cease.

The money would be shifted within a casino entrance fee fund from early childhood education and put forward the homes. While this awaits a vote in the Senate, Bill Fairbairn, of Stover, is on a hunger strike. Today is his sixth day of the hunger strike.

House leaders have said they will not act on the budget, due May 11, until the Senate passes the bill.

Several bail bondsmen testified in favor of a bill cracking down on unlicensed child care providers. However, they testified in favor of a provision added on to the bill - not on the main language of the bill.

One amendment to the bill would require a court to take, in lieu of a cash only bond, a guarantee in compliance with the general laws regulating bail bondsmen.

Proposed by Rep. Charlie Denison, R-Greene, the amendment would provide for people who could not afford a cash-only bond to get out of jail.

While there were two witnesses who testified in favor of the child care component of the bill, three people testified in favor of the bail bonds portion of the bill. Witnesses agreed that the amendment was a good idea.

However, the bill's sponsor, Rep. Linda Black, D-St. Francois, thinks the bail bonds issue could stand on its own.

"It (the amendment) didn't fit very well within the scope of the bill," Black said. "It may be questionable as to whether or not it should stay in the bill."

When asked about the amendment's connection to the bill, Denison stumbled over his words before replying that the amendment and the bill were linked because they both addressed criminal activity.

The main body of the bill is known as Sam Pratt's Law. It would regulate child care providers by creating higher fines for unlicensed childcare providers. Any child care provider who lies about their licensure would be fined $200 a day, up to $10,000.

Another condition would allow judges to determine whether or not a provider could continue providing child care services for pay in a case involving neglect, abuse, or death of a child.

The bill is named after Sam Pratt, a baby who died while in the care of an unlicensed child care provider. The provider was charged with involuntary manslaughter and child abuse resulting in Sam's death.

The bill made its way through several hearings throughout the session, alongside a similar bill also known as Nathan's Law. Nathan's Law was named after Nathan Blecha, an infant who died June 26, 2007 in the care of his unlicensed child care provider. He was placed face down in a crib and accidentally suffocated.

The committee did not take a vote on the bill, which awaits executive session.

The top leaders of Missouri's Senate came under blistering attacking during an all-night filibuster that lasted until the early morning hours Tuesday that blocked the chamber from taking any action.

Leading the filibuster was Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, who essentially called his Senate leaders liars.

"It used to mean something when someone said the word of a senator. It actually used to mean something. But this leadership team has so destroy that concept that a word of a senator means nothing," Crowell charged during his filibuster.

"Their words don't matter, their commitments don't matter, honor doesn't matter. It's all about the pursuit of power, the pursuit of the next higher office, the pursuit of the campaign contributions."

Crowell and a few other senators were demanding a number of separate concessions on the budget including eliminating an Education Department employee's salary, shutting down a women's study program at the University of Missouri and cutting a House-passed budget increase for Southeast Missouri State University.

Later Tuesday morning, Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer said Crowell had apologized.  Mayer acknowledged the Senate was in a stalemate on the budget.

One senior Republican charged the group were "terrorists" who were holding the state's budget hostage for their own agenda.

The Senate gave up shortly after 3am Tuesday, May 8, ending a filibuster that had run more than ten straight hours.

The Senate gridlock threatens the legislature being able to meet the 6pm Friday, May 11, deadline to pass the state's budget.

Failure to pass a budget would force Gov. Jay Nixon to call lawmakers into an immediate special session to work on the budget.

One of the filibustering senators said he welcomed the possibility of a special session.

Missouri's representatives passed a measure Monday that would defund the Sue Shear Institute and bar any public institution from taking part in political activity.

The institute, which provides training for women interested in entering politics, is based out of the University of Missouri-St. Louis and is named after a former St. Louis representative who was originally elected to the state House of Representatives in 1972.

The House approved the measure with a 93-59 vote after contentious debate between mostly Democratic and Republican women about the institute's importance. While Democrats argued that the institute is a vital organization for women interested in joining the world of politics, Republicans said the organization participates in political activity, which they said should not be allowed.

The House passed the provision during a Republican-led filibuster in the Senate about the same issue. Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, began the filibuster earlier in the afternoon after a similar amendment to defund the institute was not added to a bill that would determine funding for veterans' homes.

Cunningham was assisted in her effort to hold the floor by numerous other senators, including Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, who was leading the filibuster at the time of the House vote.

The measure was put forth by Rep. Sue Allen, R-St. Louis County, and was attached to a bill that had the original intention of modifying the duties of the Coordinating Board of Higher Education to include creating a listing of courses that could be transferred between all public universities.

The House passed the overall bill, as amended, with a vote of 95-56, while the Senate filibuster continued.

Missouri voters in the St. Louis area might be asked to decide whether to raise the local sales tax to help fund improvements of the Gateway Arch grounds.

The Missouri House of Representatives gave final passage to the bill that would create the ballot issue and sent it to the governor's desk on Monday.

The bill would authorize a local election on a 3/16 percent sales tax. Part of the money would go to the Gateway Arch grounds and the other part to local parks.

Proponents said the sales tax would fund $120 million in bonds to put toward the $553 million plan to improve the grounds around the Arch.

As the Missouri House of Representatives and Senate continue negotiations about the state's $24 billion operating budget, a filibuster in the Senate has stalled debate about funding for veterans' homes.

The original bill would prohibit cities from restricting non-profit organizations from selling donated items, but a House amendment sets aside $35 million from a tobacco settlement for early childhood programs and to create an investment fund for the Veterans Commission.

The House has demanded the Senate pass this bill in order for budget negotiations to continue.

Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, led the filibuster because an amendment to the bill did not include a provision that would defund the Sue Shear Institute for Women in Public Life. The institute is an organization based at the University of Missouri-St. Louis that provides training for women interested in entering politics.

Cunningham said the institute was a "cesspool" because it influences women to join the Democratic side of the aisle and takes part in campaigns.

During the filibuster in the Senate, the House became caught up in the same issue when a representative offered an amendment dealing with transfers of college credit that would also defund the institute.

Rep. Tishaura Jones, D-St. Louis City, who spoke in favor of keeping the funding, said the amendment would eliminate opportunities for women and force them to stay at home.

"Why not just have women stay home, barefoot and pregnant, and stay in the kitchen?" Jones said. "Because that's exactly what this amendment does."

The House bill was laid over for future debate while the Senate filibuster continued.

The Missouri House of Representatives and Senate entered the last few days to finalize the state budget on Monday having resolved most of their differences, but a dispute on health care for veterans has put another health program in jeopardy.

Among the top issues ironed out between the House and Senate is a 2 percent pay raise for state employees making less than $70,000 a year. The raise would affect 54,000 state employees, which is 97 percent of the workforce.

The pay raise has not been without controversy; the Senate narrowly defeated an effort to eliminate the increase when they passed the budget two weeks ago.

Despite coming to an agreement on the pay plan and other areas of the budget, the fate of a special health care program for the blind has become attached to a decision funding the state's veterans' nursing homes.

The House has put forth a plan to raise $31 million for the veterans' homes by switching casino revenue away from early childhood programs. The early childhood programs would then be funded with money from a national settlement with tobacco companies. The Senate, however, has yet to pass the House plan — an action that has stalled negotiations and endangered the program for the blind, according to House Budget Chairman Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City.

Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, has not brought the veteran's bill to a vote, leaving Silvey to question whether more budget cuts will be necessary.  

"Senate leadership has not had a real good track record of following through," Silvey said.