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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of October 29, 2012

Missouri Task Force One left Columbia on Tuesday.

With 80 Missourians and over 100,000 pounds of equipment, the group began going door to door in Long Island surveying structural damage and offering assistance when needed.

The task force began in 1996 as a response to the Oklahoma City bombing, and first deployed to respond to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Task Force Manager Chuck Leake has been a member since 1996 and said the group functions as a way of showing people from all across the nation that when disaster strikes, they are not alone.

"The kind of people that are here right now are those that are that less than two percent that are willing to step up and volunteer their time," Leake said. "We do our job because we care about people."

With less than a week until the election, the tour marks the last bit of campaigning before the election.

The candidates each gave last minute speeches on their plans for office.

Two important candidates missing from the event included U.S senatorial candidate Todd Akin and lieutenant governor candidate Peter Kinder.

Isaac Wright, spokesman for the Missouri Democratic Party, said the Democratic candidates are not having a bus tour, but they are campaigning individually throughout the state.

Missouri Task Force One, Ameren Electric and The American Red Cross of Greater St. Louis currently have nearly 500 volunteers stationed along the East Coast providing aid and comfort in response to the deadly hurricane.

Task Force Spokesman, Gale Blomenkamp, said the team has a great deal of experience when it comes to helping during a disaster.

"The very first deployment of this team was on September 11th 2001 to the World Trade Center. And so from that point forward we have been obviously a federally funded team by FEMA and have been deployed multiple times across the country," Blomenkamp said.

Blomenkamp said the team was prepared to conduct water searches and rescues.

Hurricane Sandy left 68 dead in the U.S. and the amount of damage is estimated to be in the billions. Thousands of people continue to be without power.

The Missouri Department of Transportation practiced state wide snow removal Tuesday despite there being no snow anywhere in the state.

They spent an estimated $70,000 on fuel according to State Maintenance Engineer Beth Wright.

MoDOT sent plows on their usual routes to become familiar with the routes and practice radio communication.

Wright said Missouri has the seventh largest highway system in the U.S. and that MoDOT vehicles traveled around 117,000 miles Tuesday.

"I think it's a great investment in the training of our staff so that we can safely remove snow and do our winter operations," Wright said.

Wright said the event was planned over a month ago and was in response to Missouri's snow removal issues over the last couple of years.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Dave Spence visited the site of the Mamtek factory in Moberly Wednesday and attacked his Democratic opponent Gov. Jay Nixon for the failure of the plant as an economic development project.

"I think this project is emblematic of the Nixon administration, a lot of show and no go," Spence said. "They raced through with all kind of sirens blaring off and flares going off that this wasn't financially viable and they couldn't wait to get it going."

Mamtek, a proposed artificial sweetener factory, received $39 million in industrial development bonds from Moberly and was set to receive about $17 million of state incentives. But the project never received any state money after the company missed a payment on the Moberly bonds in August 2011.

Speaking in Columbia later Wednesday, Nixon emphasized the state lost no money over Mamtek. He quickly pivoted to attack Spence's record as a board member for Reliance Bank in St. Louis, repeating an attack saying Spence voted not to continue repayment of $40 million in TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) funds.

"As far as that particular project the state paid zero," Nixon said. "Much different than what the taxpayers had to pay when he voted not to pay the taxpayers back when he was on a bank."

More than three million Missourians will cast ballots in next week's election, an increase from four years ago, the Secretary of State's office predicted Tuesday.

Based on projections from county clerks and election boards around Missouri, state officials estimate that some 72 percent of registered voters will cast ballots in the state. That would be a higher rate of participation than in 2008, when 69 percent of registered voters cast ballots.

Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. next Tuesday.

Sen. Claire McCaskill's campaign announced the senator's mother, Betty Anne, died in St. Louis Monday.

"I am very sad to announce today the passing of my mother, Betty Anne McCaskill. For some time, mom's health has not been good, and our family takes comfort that she is now at rest," McCaskill said in a statement.

McCaskill's opponent in the November election, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, also released a statement expressing condolences to the senator and her family.

Betty Anne McCaskill was the first woman elected to the Columbia City Council in 1971 and was a fixture on her daughter's campaigns.

She was 84.

Linda Spence is a 63-year-old full-time student at University of Missouri-Kansas City. After losing her job as a Program Director on the campus of UMKC, she has no health insurance because she does not qualify for Medicaid.

After the US Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional for the federal government to force states into expanding their Medicaid coverage, Missouri now has a choice of whether or not to expand Medicaid for people like Linda Spence.

The Federal government will pay 100 percent of the financial burden imposed by Medicaid expansion for the first three years, but starting after the initial grace period, Missouri would start to become responsible for some of the cost. Starting in 2017, Missouri would be responsible for five percent of the cost in 2017 and 10 percent starting in 2022, according to state officials and advocacy groups.

Spence said she takes advantage of a discount at Truman Hospital for people with lower incomes. She said not many people know about this discount, and people who want it must apply for it. Spence also said without this discount, she would have no way of obtaining any kind of regular health care. She also said that not having insurance can affect the quality of health care she is able to receive.

"If I were able to qualify for something like Medicaid, granted I would have to qualify for it, but at least I would know it was something a little bit more guaranteed. I might have access to other physicians other than going through Truman. Maybe I would be able to choose my own doctor, for example. Go to specialists of my choosing, instead of just specialist that are available," said Spence.

A major concern legislators have with expansion is that it could take away a lot of funding from other areas of the budget, namely education.

"When you're looking at increases of potentially 100 or 200 million dollars that you have to find because of expansion, there is only one place where there is a pot of money big enough to take that, and that is public education," said Senate Appropriations Chair Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia.

Schaefer said that there is no way around public education funding taking a hit with the Medicaid expansion, and if the true cost is too detrimental to education, then he would not be in favor of expansion.

Last Week

University of Missouri Athletic Department Video Director Michael Schumacher tried to dispute university credit card charges to a strip club after attending a professional conference in Las Vegas in May of 2011.

He charged $7,600 to a university purchasing card, and tried to dispute $6,400 that was charged at the strip club.

According to an audit report, further investigation by the bank concluded the charges were legitimate, and they were repaid by Schumacher.

The University has since tightened it's restrictions on purchasing cards.

"It's not a legitimate use of a university purchasing card," said athletic department spokesman Chad Moller. "It's pretty simple."

Legal Clinic Director at St. Louis University Law School John Ammann said there is likely to be no further action taken outside of the University, but he thinks not enough internal action was taken.

"What an insult to the students," Ammann said. "What an insult to the students who work hard in their classes and their jobs to get a good education, and somebody in a position of trust uses school resources in this way."

Schumacher was unavailable for comment on both his home and office phones.

Multiple state lawmakers have said Missouri's college campuses, mental health facilities, the state Capitol building and highways are in need of improvements. These same legislators have proposed using bond issues to pay for these infrastructure improvements.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said capital improvements will be a major theme in the next legislative session. He and Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, are working on a nearly $1 billion bonding bill to make improvements to the state's college campuses, mental health facilities, the state Capitol building and other infrastructure areas.

Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, said any options that allow more funding for highways and bridges should also be considered. Kehoe is the chair of the Senate Transportation Committee.

He said a bond issue should also be considered for a transportation project such as the rebuilding of bridges, or Interstate 70, which the state's transportation department has said is in need of vital repairs.

According to a university-sponsored audit, MU Athletic Department Director of Video Operations Michael Schumacher repaid more than $7,600 he charged at a Las Vegas strip club in May of 2011 while at a professional conference.

Athletic Department Spokesman Chad Moller said that Schumacher was the only University of Missouri representative at the conference.

"It's a good reminder that there are to be no purchases made of personal items or for personal services on a university purchasing card," Moller said. "Even when you repay all the charges back, it's just not supposed to happen that way."

Moller said that disciplinary actions were taken, and Schumacher is still currently working for the university.

Missouri education policymakers and university officials alike agree performance based funding should be integral in the new higher education funding formula the Joint Committee on Education must develop by December 31, 2013.

Witnesses testified at a hearing Tuesday at the University of Central Missouri. It was the second of three hearings the committee is holding to receive input for its new formula. Brian Long of the Council on Public Higher Education said the council agrees with the Coordinating Board for Higher Education's suggestion that half of any new appropriations to colleges and universities should be allocated based on performance.

"We strongly support performance funding as a way to achieve goals," Long said.

Long said performance measures are common measures that universities, the state, and students should agree to work on.

Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, the committees' chair, said the goal of the hearings is to gain insight into the diverse goals and missions of the states' institutions.

"What we need to do is to come up with a system where we are looking at certain things that are somewhat standard across the board, and the institutions can basically compare their own progress against themselves to see how they are doing," Pearce said.

University of Central Missouri President Chuck Ambrose said he values job placement coupled with affordability.

Cheryl Riley, the Faculty Senate President at the University of Central Missouri said "increased access and degree completion is important to the economic well-being of our state."

Riley said the number of Missourians served, years to a degree, tuition rates, and job placement into degree fields could serve as metrics.

An auction to sell Bruce Cole's unused land and equipment is taking place in Moberly on Wednesday.

The auction follows after a failed international business venture. Gov. Jay Nixon and Cole announced the factory project in 2010.

Cole faces charges of theft and fraud after lying to the city of Moberly about where their money was going. He said the money would go toward operating and building a sucralose factory in Moberly. He is also accused of transferring $204,167 from the project into his wife's bank account.  

Managing partner Kirk Dove of the Heritage Global Partners corporation said he expects a small local audience and a large online audience at the auction. Spokesman Daniel Abbatoy said the auction will start off big and end small. He said local biodiesel plants have already demonstrated interest.

The auction will take place on Wednesday at 10:00 a.m. 

18 school buildings closed early Tuesday due to a water main break. The schools were dismissed three and a half hours after classes began.

The school sent out an automated message to parents telling them schools were closing, as well as posting on their Facebook page and Twitter.

David Luther is an assistant superintendent for Jefferson City Public Schools. He said the schools normally provide after school programs for students. However, since there are no facilities to hold the programs, they will not be offered which makes it difficult for parents who count on a place for their kids to go.

Rosa Stone has children at South Elementary School. Stone said it is very inconvenient to leave work and find someone to watch her kids for the rest of the day.

Stone said she does not know what she will do if the problems persist tomorrow. "They won't be at school which means I have to be at home which means I have to miss out on work again," Stone said.

Administrators at South Elementary School said they were too busy dealing with the chaos to answer questions.

The superintendent has not decided yet if the schools will have to make up the hours missed.

A water pipe burst inside of the high service pumps Tuesday morning at about 8 a.m.

The Missouri-American Water Company has shut down all water pipes while employees repair the broken pipe.

Jefferson City schools will have early dismissal on Tuesday due to the mainline break.

The company will be using water from the 1st and 2nd District, which are located on the East and West areas of the city.

All areas of Jefferson City will have either a little bit of pressure or no pressure coming from their water source.

Missouri-American officials said the water will not be back until this afternoon at the earliest.

"Best-case scenario, we'll be back on this afternoon with a boil-order advisory," said Missouri-American Water Company employee Gilbert Cole.

Currently, employees are trying to isolate the break and shut off all of the water lines.

From there, they will be making the repairs and turning the water back on.