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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of January 21, 2013

Transportation funding proponents want Missouri shoppers to pay an additional cent in their sales taxes for 10 years in an effort to fund what supporters say are desperately needed transportation improvements.

The transportation commission proposal began by stating additional funding was necessary since cuts to the department don't solve long term transportation problems.

Missouri Department of Transportation director Kevin Keith spoke on the matter earlier Thursday in support of a Senate bill and told senators that interstate updates were important for Missouri's economy.

The proposal stated that the extra funding could create thousands of jobs, safer roads, reduce traffic congestion, and improve Missouri's economy.

A chance for the public to speak on a set of Republican voter identification bills was scheduled to start at 6:45 a.m. on Tuesday. But after pressure from democrats and the media Thursday, a Republican chairwoman has opted for a later start.

The original start time would have been nearly an hour before the state Capitol building is even open to the public.

Missouri's Secretary of State, Jason Kander, blasted the original early morning start time saying it was "not open and honest government."

Rep. Sue Entlicher, R-Bolivar, is the House Election Committee chairwoman and who picked the original start time. She said her idea behind the earlier start was to give the public plenty of time to express their opinion.

"I'm an old farm wife and we get up early around our house so it just never dawned on me that people would feel a little bit displaced at 6:45 in the morning," Entlicher said, "but that's alright, we're going to go with what everybody feels best at."

Entlicher also said she's spent plenty of time up at all hours of the day as a former county clerk so the early start time didn't seem unreasonable to her.

In response to the Republican chairwoman's move to a later start time for the public hearing, Democratic Floor Leader Jacob Hummel said sometimes public pressure is "a wonderful thing."

"I'm glad that they've decided to correct their obvious voter suppression efforts," Hummel said.

Entlicher said if public hearing testimony runs beyond the full House's typical 10 a.m. start time, it will resume after the chamber adjourns, and the committee could reconvene for more public remarks the following week if necessary.

Gov. Jay Nixon exiting the state's new aircraft
Nixon refused to answer any questions from reporters as he was caught exiting the aircraft Thursday afternoon.

Nixon's spokesperson also refused to answer questions about the plane.

Legislators have complained that the plane was purchased with Highway Patrol funds without their knowledge.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said he supports the governor's need to travel, but he questioned purchasing a new plane at the time state has other budget needs.

Missouri's new $5.6 million plane

Governor Jay Nixon is breaking in the new plane in his state fleet, but that same plane has put one of his top administration officials in the hot seat.

A Senate confirmation vote on the governor's choice for Commissioner of Administration was delayed after senators voiced objections to the administrations $5.6 million plane purchase.

Senate Appropriations Chair Kurt Schaefer said lawmakers learned about the purchase just a week earlier.

Schaefer had sponsored Doug Nelson's confirmation, but echoed the objections raised by his colleagues about the purchase.

"This is an issue of essentially either failing to recognize, or simply not caring about the General Assembly's role in how the public's money is spent," Schaefer said.

The plane, paid for out of the Missouri State Highway Patrol's equipment fund and is available for use by any government agency for travel. In it's first two days of state use, only the governor was reported to have used the aircraft.

The governor's office refused any comment about the matter, refusing to even confirm the governor's use or purpose of his trips.

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The Associated Press reported Thursday that the state's Transportation Commission chairman has proposed a one-cent sales tax increase for highways.

The proposal was discussed at a conference of the state Chamber of Commerce.

Any tax increase of that size would require statewide voter approval.

Earlier in the day, the Senate Ways and Means Committee heard a broad tax bill that, among other things, includes a one-half cent sales tax for transportation.

Missouri workers who contract a disease during employment may be forced to file claims with the state instead of against their employers to see benefits under a bill moving through the Missouri Senate.

The Senate Small Business, Insurance and Industry committee sent a second injury fund bill to the full Senate that would put workers with occupational diseases under the state's workers compensation program.

The bill aims to fix the troubled fund which currently owes $28.1 million to Missouri workers that sustained a second injury while at work. During a Senate hearing earlier this week, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry discussed adding the term "occupational disease" back into the bill.

Occupational disease is defined as an identifiable disease caused by employment with or without human fault. Legislation last year tried to do the same thing but ultimately didn't pass.

Along with "occupational disease," several other items were added to the bill including a two year limit on submitting medical bills and offering a refund instead of a credit to an employer that has prepaid to the fund but goes out of business.

The tax bills of Missouri businesses and business owners could change dramatically under two bills set to be considered by a Senate tax committee this morning.

Republican Sens. Eric Schmitt and Will Kraus have each put forth proposals that would reduce the state's corporate income tax over the next five years and would allow business owners to deduct more of their business income from their tax bill.

The measure sponsored by Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, would cut the corporate tax rate from the current 6.25 percent to 3.125 percent by 2017 and would allow business owners to deduct half of their business income.

The proposal from Kraus, R-Lee's Summit, would allow a 25 percent deduction and would reduce the corporate rate to 3.25 percent by 2017.

Official estimates with each bill say those actions would cut state revenue by tens of millions of dollars each year.

Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, has proposed a bill that would create an offense for failing to prevent an illegal firearm possession or for the failure to safely store a firearm. The bill also would require a parent or guardian with a child enrolled in a school to notify the school district -- or the governing body of a private or charter school -- that the parent or guardian owns a firearm.

Under the bill, an offense would be a Class A misdemeanor unless death or injury results, making the offense a Class D felony.

"This bill is very important to me because in urban cities across the nation, we experience gun violence every single day and usually our type of gun violence deals with people who live in high poverty areas, areas where there aren't enough resources," Chappelle-Nadal said.

Sen. Brian Munzlinger R-Williamstown, who proposed a bill last week that would declare certain federal firearm laws unenforceable, said he believes Chappelle-Nadal's bill is a step above and beyond what would make anyone safer.

Munzlinger, however, believes programs such as the NRA's Eddie Eagle Program should be instituted in schools.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol has purchased a new multi-million dollar plane without the prior approval of state legislators, granting Gov. Jay Nixon and state officials access to another aircraft.

This picture of the new state Highway Patrol plane was tweeted by Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, on Wednesday.

Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, said the plane is in the hangar at the Jefferson City airport and Gov. Nixon will fly to St. Louis in it on Wednesday.

The $5.6 million purchase earned the ire of many lawmakers including those on the Senate Gubernatorial Appointments Committee.

Committee members questioned Acting Commissioner of Administration Doug Nelson about the purchase, who said there was nothing he could have done to stop it. Nixon appointed Nelson to the position last year, but his nomination still requires approval by the state Senate.

Originally, committee members decided to reject Nelson's nomination for Commissioner of Administration. After discussion, members decided to accept the nomination, with plans to discuss it later on the Senate floor. Senate President Pro Tem and committee chair Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County, discussed a possibility of a debate on the nomination on Thursday.

"I'm okay voting him out today and then having some conversations with senators," Dempsey said.

While Nelson's appointment may be in jeopardy, the committee showed support for other appointees including two for the Public Service Commission.

Chief Justice Richard Teitelman gave his State of the Judiciary address Wednesday before a joint session of Missouri's General Assembly.

Teitelman's speech paid tribute to some of the improvements made in the court system throughout recent years and addressed plans for further growth. He said he plans to improve court experiences for people with disabilities.

"We in the judiciary are doing what we can to create more opportunities for people in Missouri to gain access to our courts," Teitelman said.

Grant funding is allowing the Supreme Court to provide interpreters, closed-captioning services and informational brochures written in Braille and audio files in all court cases.

Teitelman also paid tribute to the work done by Missouri's drug courts and the court's recent expansion to aid military veterans. After creating one of the first drug courts nationwide, Teitelman said that Missouri now stands as a national leader in drug courts. Missouri now has treatment court divisions treating all but two of Missouri's 45 judicial courts.

"With a graduation rate exceeding 50 percent, Missouri now has more than 12,000 graduates who successfully have completed treatment in court programs," Teitelman said. "In addition, nearly 600 drug-free babies hae been born to treatment court participants."

Uncertainty over whether the governor has the power to fill a vacancy in the lieutenant governor's office by appointment would be laid to rest under a bill approved by the Missouri House.

The proposal would permit the governor to appoint an acting officeholder until the office could be filled during the next general election. The House passed the bill Wednesday by a vote of 115-45.

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon has previously said that he has the authority to appoint someone in the instance of a vacancy in the lieutenant governor's office. Republicans, however, have said a special election would be required to fill the post.

The House approved the bill the day after Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson formally resigned from her U.S. House seat. Nixon announced that the special election for that seat will be held June 4.

The election bill now heads to the Senate.

The Senate Gubernatorial Appointments Committee approved the appointment of former democratic senator Stephen Stoll to the state’s utility regulatory commission.

Gov. Jay Nixon nominated Stoll for a spot on the Public Service Commission before, but dropped the nomination in February of last year. At Wednesday’s committee hearing Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, said he has watched this process very closely and has worked to find a Republican to work with Stoll.

The Republican-controlled Senate would not approve Stoll’s nomination without a Republican nomination to the commission as well, so when Nixon dropped Stoll’s nomination in 2012 before the acceptance deadline, it allowed Nixon to appoint Stoll again this year.

“From a person who has watched and been a part of this process very deeply as we’ve worked to find a Republican to work with Steve, there’s many of us who have high hopes for what’s going to happen over there,” Lager said.

Nixon nominated Republican Bill Kenney, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder’s former chief of staff, to the commission along with Stoll this year. During Wednesday’s committee hearing the members voted unanimously to approve both nominations.

The Senate itself still has to approve these appointments.

Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, announced the creation of a special committee chaired by Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, to decide on the details of a $950 million bond issue.

Kelly has worked with Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, on a bill Schaefer pre-filed in the Senate. That bill, which would be a constitutional amendment like previous bond issues, would provide funding for construction at college campuses, state buildings, and parks.

"Where it goes is going to be an organic process," Kelly said.

Jones indicated the bond issue could contain some funds for transportation infrastructure but did not give any specifics.

"(The committee) will be the ones that will dive into the weeds," Jones said. "The specifics will be ironed out by the committee and with the Senate."

As speculation grows that Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder might be leaving his post for a run at southeast Missouri's vacant Congressional seat, the state House endorsed a bill Tuesday that would require a statewide special election to fill his seat.

The House voted just hours before the resignation of Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson, which became effective just before midnight Tuesday.

Gov. Jay Nixon has announced that the special election for her seat will be held June.

Nixon, a Democrat, has said he has authority to appoint someone to fill the rest of Kinder's term if he leaves.

But, Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, is sponsoring legislation that would allow the governor to appoint a temporary replacement, but would require a state vote to select a permanent replacement.

The House is expected to have a final vote on the measure Wednesday and send it to the Senate.

A Columbia Democrat in the Republican-dominated Missouri legislature will be the leading force behind the one of the biggest financial projects in recent memory--a near $1 billion bond issue.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, is the chair of the Infrastructure and Job Creation Appropriations Committee that will work on the proposed $950 million bond issue. Kelly said his bipartisan nature will help him succeed in a Republican-dominated state legislature.

"I think that the challenges are more perceptual than real," Kelly said. "In the last legislature I was the chair of an appropriation committee, and everyone on that committee will tell you I behaved in a very bipartisan manner," Kelly said.

House Speaker Tim Jones said he created this committee specifically for the bond issue, and Kelly's bipartisan work in the past was a big reason he was chosen to work on the issue.

Thousands of Missouri workers see reduced state benefits if Missouri lawmakers pass a bill moving through the Senate about the troubled Second Injury Fund.

But bill supporters said that without a solution, Missouri workers might not see any money at all.

The Second Injury Fund pays benefits to Missouri workers who have a preexisting condition and then sustain a second injury while at work.

Those benefits are paid for by the state's businesses as part of their workers compensation insurance. But the fund now has more benefit claims coming in then there is money to give out.

As of Jan. 1, the Second Injury Fund was $28 million in debt and 30,000 workers compensation cases are still pending, according to the state Attorney General's office.

Seven members of the St. Louis City school board could take back control of the district they have been elected to run for the first time in six years, under legislation moving through the Missouri Senate.

The district lost accreditation in 2007 and has since been under the control of a state-appointed school board. After regaining provisional accreditation last October, Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, wants to give control back to the elected seven-member school board.

Currently, Gov. Jay Nixon, Mayor Francis Slay and the Lewis Reed, the President of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen are those responsible for appointed the board's three members.

Nasheed said publicly elected officials would represent the views of the people better than those appointed by other politicians.

"I'm going to begin to talk to those that are in support of it and those that are in opposition to it to see if we can find common ground to make this bill a bill that everyone in the city of St. Louis will be willing to support," Nasheed said. "But I'm a firm believer that democracy should rule."

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Just steps away from the bust of arguably Missouri's best baseball player, two St. Louis County senators filed legislation Tuesday afternoon to name the new Mississippi River bridge after Stan "The Man" Musial. This comes less than a week after the St. Louis Cardinals legend died at the age of 92.

Musial was inducted into the Hall of Famous Missourians, located on the state Capitol's third floor, in September 2000.

Sens. Eric Schmitt and John Lamping have each filed a bill to name the bridge after the legendary outfielder. Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, praised Musial's accomplishments on and off the field.

"He was an outstanding example of what it meant to care for people, to treat everyone the same and that rarest of commodities now, especially people who reached his level of excellence, humility; and there's a lot we can all learn from Stan 'The Man' Musial," Schmitt said.

He also described Musial as being truly one of a kind.

"In an era and in a time where there are so many disappointments with people we hold up as heroes on the athletic field, and those examples were on center stage even the week he past away, Stan Musial stood for something better than that," Schmitt said.

The Missouri Senate also held a moment of silence Tuesday in honor of Musial's memory.

Over in the House, Rep. Rick Stream, R-St. Louis County, described Stan "The Man" as probably the last American sports hero.

"Stan was one of the very best ballplayers to ever play the game, but he was unquestionably the best person that ever played the game of baseball," Stream said.

Last Week

Gov. Jay Nixon has scheduled the special elections to fill two House vacancies -- one in a St. Louis district and the other in a southwest Missouri district -- for April 2.

Democrat Chris Carter was originally supposed to hold the 76th House District seat, but left the St. Louis seat vacant when he resigned to become a member on the St. Louis Board of Aldermen.

Earlier this year, Nixon appointed Republican Don Ruzicka to the Board of Probation and Parole creating a vacancy in the 157th House District, which represents most of Lawrence County.

The Republican and Democratic party committees now have two weeks to nominate candidates to run for each seat.

Republicans currently hold veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate, so long as each GOP lawmaker toes the party line in the instance of a veto override. While Republicans hold 24 of 34 seats in the Senate, they only hold 109 of 163 in the House, giving them the exact number of lawmakers required to meet the two-thirds quota needed for a veto override.

President Barack Obama issued an executive order Wednesday asking Congress to take action to prohibit military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. The president's action comes in the wake of the incidents in Newtown, Conn. and Aurora, Colo.

Before the president was even able to speak, however, one Republican senator called on his colleagues to uphold "the rule of law" and be wary of any action coming from the federal government in regards to the Second Amendment.

"Everyone in this room, everyone in this building, in this state, in this country should watch with great anticipation and skepticism about what comes out of that process," Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said.

Schaefer's speech came after Sen. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown, introduced a bill that would make it a felony to enforce any executive order or federal law that bans the possession of a semiautomatic firearm. A similar bill nullifying any future federal gun laws was introduced in the House on Tuesday.

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, said she commends the president for his action on military weapons, the discussion over guns should be expanded to handguns, as well.

"Throughout this country, you have more people dying from handguns than military weapons," Nasheed said. "In my neighborhood, we don't see the AK-47s. We see the 9 mms, the .380s, and those are guns that are actually inflicting death and destruction in our communities."

The chairman of Missouri's head utility regulatory commission said he is resigning from his post later this year.

Kevin Gunn, who was first appointed to the Missouri Public Service Commission in 2008, said Wednesday that he is stepping down as the commission's chairman on March 1. Gunn has served on the commission since his appointment by former Gov. Matt Blunt and was appointed the panel's chairman by Gov. Jay Nixon in 2011.

"I'm very proud of what we have accomplished on the Commission," Gunn said in a statement. "However, every organization can benefit from the energy and perspective of new leadership."

The Public Service Commission is responsible for regulating investor-owned utility companies that provide electric, steam, natural gas, water and sewer, and telephone services.

A Democratic motion to prohibit smoking in the offices of Missouri House members went up in flames Wednesday after a full chamber vote by the Republican-controlled chamber.

The smoking ban was defeated without a single Republican voting in favor of it. Instead the House amended the chamber's rules to allow the majority and minority caucuses to adopt their own policies regarding smoking for their individual members. Last week House Democrats announced they were adopting a policy that prohibits smoking in all offices held by the minority party.

Rep. Kimberly Gardner, D-St. Louis, proposed the smoking-ban measure as an amendment to the House rules. Gardner cited health concerns and said the ban would make the state Capitol a safe, healthy place for lawmakers and constituents.

"The only way to completely protect non-smokers is to completely eliminate smoking from indoor spaces," Gardner said.

Gardner presented the same measure before the House Rules Committee on Tuesday, but it was defeated by an 8-4 vote along party lines.

Smoking is already banned in House and Senate chambers, as well as the Capitol's hallways. Lawmakers, however, are allowed to smoke or permit smoking in their offices if they choose.

Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, has filed a bill to grant tax credits to sports commissions, cities and counties in order to attract more amateur sporting events to Missouri.

The tax credit would be the lesser of $5 per admission ticket or 100 percent of eligible expenses incurred while attempting to attract the events. There is a $3 million yearly limit to the tax credits.

A similar bill failed to pass in the General Assembly the last two years. However, Chuck Purgason and Jason Crowell, two former Senators who were instrumental to blocking the bill last year, have termed out.

Schmitt said the current version of the bill is an improvement over the previous versions.

"It gets at what we're really trying to get at. Bringing these events to our state, to generate revenue, not just for the state, but also those businesses that support these kind of events," Schmitt said.

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, said bringing these events back to Missouri is one of the major priorities of this legislative session.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate have both said cutting back on tax credits is a goal for this legislative session.

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With speculation heating up that Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder could soon be headed to Congress, Democrats joined Republicans on Tuesday to advance a measure that would require a special election to replace any statewide official who vacates their office.

Kinder is one of 17 candidates who has expressed interest in running to replace U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, a Republican who represents southeastern Missouri. Just weeks after she was re-elected in November, Emerson announced that she will resign from the House of Representatives to head the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Republican lawmakers insist that state law already would require the governor to call for a special election to replace Kinder. But Nixon has said that the state Constitution gives him the authority to appoint someone to fill out the rest of Kinder's current term, which officially began on Monday.

Members of a House elections panel voted 11-1 on Tuesday to move forward a bill that seems to be a middle ground between the two positions. The bill could debated by the full House as soon as next week.

President Barack Obama is expected to ask Congress to tighten federal gun laws after last month's deadly school shooting in Connecticut. But at least one state lawmaker says those new rules shouldn't apply to Missouri.

State Rep. Casey Guernsey, R-Bethany, has filed legislation that would make it a felony for any government official to enforce federal gun laws restricting semi-automatic weapons and ammunition.

"We've seen a lot of discussion over the last few months about the possibility of banning both guns and ammunition on the part of the federal government," Guernsey said Tuesday. "And this puts Missouri in a great position to defend ourselves as a state against the coming encroachment of that Second Amendment to keep and bear arms."

House Minority Leader Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis, said he opposes Guernsey's bill. He said Missouri should instead. increase background checks on gun buyers.

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon was officially sworn in for his second term Monday, using his second inaugural address to call for cooperation among state lawmakers.

Nixon's relatively short speech focused more on Missouri's past and less on his legislative plans for the next four years, earning him the ire of one Republican senator.

Before Nixon had finished his speech, Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis, criticized the speech by tweeting: "Say nothing speech from a do nothing Governor; business as usual in Jefferson City."

"I think my tweet says it all," Lamping said later in an interview. "The Senate is ready to go. So we're looking to step forward and move quickly and decisively ... that wasn't exactly a rousing sendoff in that direction."

Not all Republicans found Nixon's speech to be short on substance, however. Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey said he thinks Nixon will use his State of the State address on Jan. 28 to present a more issue-focused speech.

"I think (the inaugural address) was putting his best foot forward, reaching his hand out and recognizing that there's a Republican majority and we need to work together," Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said.

Last week, Missouri's Chief Supreme Court Justice Richard Teitleman gave House members the wrong oath of office.

Teitleman told members to swear support the government instead of the Constitution.

House Speaker Pro Tem Jason Smith, R-Salem, said it was a simple mistake but an important one to correct.

"When you swear to government it's bureaucracy and all of the different laws," Smith said. "The Constitution is what the people made, and what founded our country and founded our state."

Smith said the change was only ceremonial because the documents the House members signed contained the correct language.

Although he's just finished his first day in office, Missouri's new Secretary of State said he already has big plans.

Democrat Jason Kander, who was sworn in Monday, said he wants to clean up the state's elections and make it easier for Missourians to cast ballots.

"There's a lot of things we can do in this state," Kander said. "Whether it be banning those gifts from lobbyists to legislators or getting rid of the money laundering process that exists in state politics by political action committees being able to wash money back and forth."

Kander said the state should have "no excuse" absentee voting, allowing people to vote absentee for any reason -- or no reason at all -- could shorten lines on Election Day and make it easier to cast a ballot.