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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of January 27, 2014

The government would need a search warrant to access messages, location, and Internet search history and other data stored on cell phones under a measure presented to the House Downsizing Government Committee Thursday, Jan. 30. Rep. Robert Cornejo, R-St. Peters, said he wants government officials to have a search warrant before accessing all that information.

Cornejo said most people would assume their cell phones would be protected under the Fourth Ammendment, but the Supreme Court has yet to weigh in on that.

He pointed out that in 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that police need a warrant before installing a GPS in a criminal's car, now police stations are able to track anyone's cell phone and determine their location without consent or proof of probable cause.

Representative Bill White, R-Joplin, thinks this bill could interfere with high speed car chases or criminal surveillance.

"I appreciate what you're doing in terms of privacy, but I want to make sure we don't hamstring law enforcement in legitimate activities," White said.

The Senate Education Committee met Wednesday, Jan. 29, to discuss a bill some lawmakers think could be the answer for failing unaccredited school districts.

Current law requires unaccredited districts to pay for transportation and tuition for students who transfer to accredited schools.

In St. Louis County's Riverview Gardens and Normandy districts, this has been the case for more than 2,000 students.

Senator David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, sponsors a measure that would form a statewide "achievement school district" overseeing under-performing schools.

Under this bill, under-performing schools within a provisionally accredited district could be placed under the achievement district's oversight.

If that district's ranking falls, it will be placed under control of the state achievement school district.

To be eligible to transfer to another district, the bill also changes current law by requiring the student's parent or guardian to provide proof of residency in the unaccredited district for at least one year.

This section of the bill addressed lawmakers' concerns about school's ability to control a growing number of transfer students and financial burdens on unaccredited districts with the 1993 transfer law.

Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, proposed a different bill on school transfers, and raised concerns about having state-level administrators manage her local districts.

"In my district, I know that my constituents don't want people from Jefferson City deciding where their local tax money is going to go and how it's used," Chappelle-Nadal said.

Pearce hoped this system will at least help stabilize Missouri school districts by offering them time to improve their ranking if they are unaccredited.

“I guess what one thing that senate bill 493 strives to do is to have intervention,” said Pearce. “It’s not a ‘gotcha’ mentality or it’s not a punitive thing it’s what are some ways, for those provisionally accredited districts, that we can help?”

The senators said they plan to propose more solutions for transfer students and unaccredited schools next week.

Multiple institution presidents testified Wednesday, Jan. 29, in front of the House Education Appropriations Committee. All touted their school's successes, but they also had a warning for the committee.

Interim Vice President for Finance and Treasurer Tom Richards represented the MU System.

He painted the overall picture for the four MU system campuses.

"We're doing a lot more with less," Richards said.

He said the system has $1.3 billion worth of repair needs in academic buildings throughout the four campuses.

Dr. Troy Paino, President of Truman State University, was the only president to talk about the student loan debt and default crisis.

He said student loan debt has surpassed the $1 trillion mark and it has also surpassed credit card debt.

"It's the middle class families that are bearing the burden," Paino said.

The presidents of Harris-Stowe, Missouri Western State, Northwest Missouri State, and Lincoln Universities also testified at the hearing.

Committee members did not debate any bills or vote on any measures.

Missouri's Emerging Issues in Agriculture Committee heard arguments Wednesday morning on a measure that would ban local ordinances from prohibiting rodeos.

"You'll see that rodeo was actually an industry, it's a business, it's a tradition, it’s a way of life and basically what we'd like to do is just be able to preserve that," said the bill sponsor,  Rep. Tom Hurst, R-Meta.

Committee member Rep. Sonya Anderson, R-Springfield, said the bill would not be needed if Missourians in the rodeo industry had not been attacked before.

Hurst said the bill is more than just a proactive measure. He said the problem is not emerging, it is happening.

Bob Baker, Executive Director of Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation testified against the bill because he is concerned about rodeos in Missouri allowing “horse tripping.”

The rodeo industry creates a close family, ethics and morals within a community according to many who testified in favor of the bill.

The bill was heard in committee and no votes were taken.

The House Budget Committee discussed Governor Nixon's plan for funding Fulton State Hospital repairs, Wednesday, Jan. 29.

Nixon proposed using supplemental bonds to fund a new state hospital facility. Nixon said he chose this method because it does not require voter approval, since the bonds are backed by appropriations out of the state's general revenue fund. The governor said it could jump-start construction and the flow of cash.

Representative Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said the Missouri constitution does not state the General Assembly can make such tax decisions without the vote of the people. Kelly also expressed concerns about using money collected in a sinking fund.

"If the state defaulted on a debt like this, the credit rating of Missouri would drop like a rock," Kelly said.

Representatives from the Office of Administration testified at the hearing. The House Budget Committee took no immediate action.

Missouri lawmakers present at the annual transportation report hearing heard how the abandonment of gas guzzling vehicles is costing MoDoT.

The director of the Missouri Department of Transportation, David Nichols, said the fuel tax revenue, which serves as the bulk of transportation funds, will run out by the end of the fiscal year.

The department has come up with two ways in which to downsize spending. The first being to cease the addition of any new projects for the next five years, and the second is the elimination of the cost share program.

Only under questioning did Nichols refer to the temporary one percent sales tax increase to aid transportation funding, which is proposed for the statewide ballot for 2014.

Get the print story.

Advocates for a state immunization registry heard concerns about privacy and security of medical information from the state's health care community.

The House Committee on Health Insurance debated legislation, Tuesday, Jan. 28,  proposing a database of immunizations Missourians have received, to improve efficiency in the state. Bill Sponsor Rep. Chuck Gatschenberger, R-Lake St. Louis, gave an informal testimony and said the system may improve inefficiency with the Missouri health care system and protect the health of residents.

He said those providing immunizations are authorized to update and keep record of vaccines. Other registry users, such as doctors and nurses, would only be able to read files in the database. Patients would be allowed to opt out of the database program, with no requirement for mandatory immunizations.

Representative Donna Lichtenegger, R-Jackson, raised concerns about security of the system.

She and other members on the committee questioned whether the database can protect those that may use the system.

Missouri Senators passed a bill that would ultimately make it a crime for federal officials to enforce laws restricting 2nd Amendment rights.

During Senate General Laws Committee hearing, Senators discussed how the bill would lower the age for a concealed carry permit from 21 to 19.

Opponents worry that lowering the age could be dangerous.

"There are indeed states that have younger concealed carry permit ages," Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, said. "What we don't know yet is whether or not it has made a difference."

Nieves says they will do further research to show whether the lower concealed carry age has had an impact on crime rates in other states.

A similar bill was vetoed by Nixon last year.

The Senate will debate the bill further in the coming weeks .

Missouri joined a short list of states that are attempting to legally nullify the federal health care act.

The Senate Small Business, Insurance and Industry Committee met Tuesday, Jan. 28, to discuss a bill that would effectively prohibit the federal health care act within the state of Missouri.

If passed, it would be a state right for people to choose to have or not have health insurance.

Opponents of the bill urged lawmakers to hold off on a hasty decision until lawsuits in Oklahoma relating to the federal health care act reach their respective verdicts.

The committee did not take action on any of the bills.

The chair of the Senate General Laws Committee banned video coverage of the final debate and vote of his committee approving a bill that seeks to declare Missouri exempt from some federal gun laws.

Earlier, a reporter for an NBC affiliated television station had his camera physically removed by a Senate staffer from the committee on the a second day of hearings on the bill.

The committee chair, Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Franklin County, had warned TV reporters the week before that he would ban cameras on tripods and restrict access to areas where it would be impossible to get a full view of anyone testifying before the committee.

Only the Senate's official photographer was allowed to use a tripod at the committee hearing. One reporter holding a camera by hand behind the committee witnesses also was permitted to record video.

After witnesses had finished testifying, however, Nieves announced that any further video recording was prohibited during the committee's executive session to debate and vote on the bill.

The reporter for Columbia-based KOMU-TV had placed a tripod with his camera in one of the two locations were TV news reporters traditionally have been allowed to photograph committee hearings without objections. When Tuesday's meeting began, however, a Senate staffer was ordered to remove the camera.

Missouri's Senate Judiciary Committee spent more than an hour Monday night hearing arguments on a measure that would extend the required waiting period for an abortion from 24 to 72 hours.

"I want the patients to have plenty of time to be able to have an understanding of what they are going to have done in the elective surgery," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville.

Under the bill, Missouri would become the third state, along with South Dakota and Utah, to impose a 72 hour waiting period after a woman requests an abortion.

The measure also would extend from 24 hours to 72 hours the time before an abortion that the physician would be required to offer an opportunity to view an ultrasound of the fetus.

Opposing the measure was the Senate's Democratic leader, Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City.

"This is the only statute that we have on the books that interferes with how a doctor and a patient make decisions," she said

Representatives from both abortion rights organizations and opponents testified on the measure. 

As is common when a bill is first heard, the committee did not take an immediate vote in the measure.

The House Crime Committee discussed a bill, Monday, Jan. 27, that would criminalize sexual exploitation of or by a clergy person.

The bill would prohibit romantic interactions between a parishioner and their religious leader within the first 120 days of the parishioner seeking religious counsel.

"It wouldn't say that two people that fell in love couldn't be together,” said Rep. Kathie Conway, R-St. Charles.

Instead, she said, the bill would protect people from being unduly influenced during times of vulnerability.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

Attorney General Chris Koster announced Monday, Jan. 27, an investigation into consumer complaints indicated propane prices had increased from less than $2 per gallon to $5 in recent days.

"Missourians are justifiably concerned about the dramatic increase in propane prices, affecting their ability to heat their homes and care for Missouri-based livestock," Koster was quoted as saying in his office statement.

During a Senate debate on the issue later in the day, a senator who had worked as an lawyer in the attorney general's office said the attorney general has broad powers to levy hefty fines against merchants who price gouge.

The attorney general had used that law to go after gasoline suppliers who had boosted prices during a projected petroleum shortage.

One senator warned the higher propane prices could lead to higher food prices because of the rising cost of heating buildings housing livestock like chickens.

"You let those chickens, those turkeys or those pigs that's on a growing floor run out of heat for about three hours and they're all dead," said Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla and the Senate's only veterinarian. "So this is going to be a huge cost. It may double the cost of chicken breasts. It may double the cost of a pork chop."

Other legislators warned there was a human-safety danger because the higher propane prices were causing rural residents to use space heaters that could cause electrical fires.

Koster's release noted other reports indicating there has been a sharp increase in the export of propane to other countries.

"They shipped products overseas and they left us hanging, is what they did. They left Missourian's hanging," said Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar. Parson had called for the attorney general's investigation. On the same day Koster announced his investigation, Parson introduced a Senate resolution that would have the legislature calling for federal investigation by the U.S. Justice Department.

A story by The Associated Press Monday, Jan. 27, reported the unaccredited, and cash-strapped Normandy school district is spending nearly six figures lobbying the legislature.

Normandy has had to pay for students to transfer from their unaccredited school district to an accredited school district and they have asked the legislature to provide $5 million by the start of spring.

Republican Rep. Andrew Koenig, R-St. Louis County, said he would not vote to fund the Normandy school district.

Koenig said the district's focus is where it shouldn't be.

"I think the school district of Normandy needs to be focused on its kids and not lobbying the legislature," Koenig said.

The $5 million appropriation is subject to the legislature's approval.

Secretary of State Jason Kander announced his disapproval on Monday, Jan. 27, for a bill that would require voters to obtain a government issued photo ID before casting their vote.

The Senate bill requires voters to show a government issued photo ID, but if for whatever reason someone is unable to obtain a photo ID they are allowed to vote on a provisional ballot.

A provisional ballot is used when the voter’s eligibility is in question. The voter casts their vote, puts it in an envelope and signs the outside. The signature is then verified by the elections authority.

Democratic lawmakers drilled Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson Country, in a committee meeting on Monday.

“People do start voting when they are 18, what do we do when they turn 55 years old?” Sen. Joseph Keaveny, D-St. Louis City, said on the issue of verifying signatures.

Kander said in a statement that 220,000 registered voters could be helpless with the passage of the bill.

“As the state’s chief elections officer, it is my job to make sure that only eligible voters vote, but also that every eligible voter has the opportunity to vote,” Kander said in a statement. “This proposed legislation could keep hundreds of thousands of current Missouri voters from voting, which is not only just wrong, but unconstitutional.”

The bill requires the state of Missouri to provide one free form of identification for voters.

Provisional ballots are available at all elections expect absentee elections.

Last Week

The Senate Ways and Means Committee approved Thursday, Jan. 23, a measure to phase in a major reduction in the state's income tax, eventually dropping the top rate from six percent to five percent of taxable income.

The committee vote, 7-2 with one voting present, came after a brief committee discussion and no debate.

The reductions would not take effect until 2015 and would take at least ten years to take full effect. No reduction would occur in any year unless there had been at least a $100 million increase in tax collections in one of the prior three years.

The bill includes a similar phased-in exemption of business income from the income tax, ultimately exempting one half of business income from the personal income tax.

The measure also would provide an extra $1,000 personal income tax deduction for persons with taxable incomes below $20,000.

Legislative staff estimate that when fully implemented, the bill would cost the state more than $900 million in state revenue.

The committee's vote came just two days after Republican legislative efforts to cut taxes had been attacked by Gov. Jay Nixon in his State of the State address.

Nixon had vetoed a similar measure last year. An override effort failed in the House where 15 GOP legislators, mostly rural, voted to sustain the veto.

Some said they were concerned about the impact of the tax cuts on funding for local public schools.

Nixon issue a statement within hours repeating his warning that the tax cuts would hurt education.

"The General Assembly can get serious about fully funding our schools, or they can undertake fiscally irresponsible experiments wit our tax code -- the cannot do both," Nixon was quoted in a release as saying.

But Krause argued that because the measure would not implement tax cuts without increases in tax collections, it would not cut budgets.

"We're not taking anything out of core budgets," Krause said. "We're doing this out of the growth of government grows and revenue increases, we taking some of that and returning it to the taxpayers."

The Senate bill now goes to the full Senate.

Five St. Louis area senators brought up identical proposals Wednesday to change student transfer laws.

Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, Gina Walsch, D-St. Louis County, Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County, John Lamping, R-St. Louis County, and Scott Sifton, D-St. Louis County, introduced the bills in front of a packed Senate Education Committee hearing.

Schmitt highlighted a few points of the proposal. For one, it allows for the individual assessment of schools. This meaning that within an unaccredited district, each individual school could be evaluated as accredited or unaccredited.

The proposal also allows the receiving school districts the establish criteria as to how much space they have available in their schools for transfers.

It also makes a longer school day or year a possibility for some at-risk, unaccredited schools.

Schmitt says longer school days and years have improved conditions at other schools in at-risk communities across the county.

Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, a former transfer student who says she is extremely passionate about the issue, questioned if districts like Normandy who already face going bankrupt soon, could afford longer days.

"When you're at zero, you're at zero, there's nothing left in the bank, senator. How many checks are we writing out that's leaving a Normandy school distrcit or Riverview Gardens school district?" Nadal asked.

Chappelle-Nadal along with a few others have also introduced student transfer law bills this session.

The bill's sponsors say it is a long road ahead in formulating a bill that can potentially pass through the legislature and nab the Governor's signature.

Walsh admits even the five sponsors don't agree on everything inside the twin bills.

“This bill has a lot of things in it. We don't all agree with all of it, and this is why it's a beginning," Walsh said.

The 41st anniversay of Roe v. Wade finds Missouri legislators proposing abortion bills that would delay the procedure and notify minors' parents ahead of time.

Currently, a Missouri woman can receive an abortion 24 hours after her first consultation. Two proposed bills would extend the mandatory waiting period to 72 hours.

Minors in Missouri can also receive abortions without clinics notifying the children's parents ahead of time. But one bill aims to require that parents be notified of abortions before the procedure is performed on their child.

Health Care Policy Chairman Rep. Keith Frederick, R-Rolla, said these bills enable women to consider all their options.

"This does not make it illegal, it doesn't restrict access," Frederick said. "It simply says we want additional time to be reflective of all of the information and all of the decision process."

Missouri ACLU Executive Director Jeffrey Mittman said the bills have nothing to do with giving women time.

"This law mandates a uniform standard that has nothing to do with a woman's decision-making process or the decision-making process of a doctor," Mittman said. "Forcing a woman who needs a procedure to delay her abortion without medical reason is dangerous and cruel."

Missouri is one of 30 states with a 24-hour delay between first meetings and appointments. Should the bills pass, Missouri would become the third state to mandate a 72-hour waiting period.

The House Special Standing Committee on Small Business heard a bill Wednesday that would require all stores and shops selling retail items to close on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter Sunday.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce said they do not approve of the bill.

"According to members of the Missouri Chamber, retailers do not have any problem finding workers who want to work the holidays, often earning more than average wages," the Missouri Chamber said in released statement.

Rep. Keith English, D-St. Louis County, sponsored the bill and said the hearing was a downhill spiral.

"Today's debate brought up some great ideas and some things that I'll consider, but the competition is a big thing that I didn't really think about," English said.

English said shoppers near state borders could go across the border and buy their items in the neighboring state, which would lead to a loss of tax revenue for Missouri.

"The legislation is also an infringement on free enterprise, eliminating an opportunity to add to our state's economy," the Chamber said in a statement.

English said his main concerns are restoring family values and protecting minimum wage workers forced to work on the holidays.

He said another way to solve his concern is to raise minimum wage across the state, or implement a pay and a half system for the workers during these holidays.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, chastised Gov. Jay Nixon's budget proposal for 2015 during a meeting on Wednesday. He likened Nixon's Jefferson City budget to a place Republicans love to criticize.

"This is a Washington D.C. budget," Schaefer said.

Nixon's budget relies on a 5.2 percent increase in general revenue in the fiscal year 2015, whereas House and Senate economists agreed on 4.2 percent revenue growth.

Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, didn't understand how Nixon came up with 5.2 percent revenue growth and said Nixon refused to explain why.

"The governor's office wouldn't give (House and Senate economists) any data," Schaaf said.

Among Nixon's proposals are $1.2 billion for Medicaid expansion, $278 million for the K-12 foundation formula, and $42.1 million for colleges and universities based on their performance.

Schaefer took aim at the governor's budget while questioning Luebbering, calling it "an absolute political fiction," Schaefer said.

Last year, Republicans blocked multiple attempts at Medicaid expansion. That includes a proposal from Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City.

Get the radio story

  Proposed bill could help small businesses avoid "fine print"Legislation to protect business from credit card services comes before a committee. 01/22/2014

Credit card service companies would be required to create more transparent contracts for small businesses under a proposed bill. 

The House Financial Institutions Committee heard the bill Wednesday, and bill sponsor Rep. Bill Lant, R-Pineville, said requiring a certain font size could help business owners be more aware of the deals they enter into.

"I've had several of the small businesses in our area that have come to me complaining that they entered into a contract that they didn't understand and are trying to get out of the contract," Lant said.

Lant said the complaints come from high monthly service and cancellation fees. 

The bill co-sponsor Rep. Bill Reiboldt, R-Neosho, said the credit card service companies rent the credit card machines to businesses instead of giving them an option to buy it, which can lead to higher costs for the businesses.

A similar bill was presented last year but did not make it out of committee.

Following the annual State of the State address Tuesday evening, Missouri GOP leadership voiced concerns over increased funding to education and Medicaid expansion outlined in Gov. Jay Nixon's proposed budget.

"I thought there was a bit of rhetoric in parts of his speech, and to a degree maybe a condescending tone," Senate President Pro Tem, Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County, said following the address.

Nixon's proposed budget focuses heavily on education funding, primarily higher education and K-12. He proposes allocating an additional $493 million towards education, from preschool to graduate school, in the state.

The budget proposes $278 million increase in funding to the K-12 foundation formula, half of the amount needed for full funding.

For higher education, Nixon's budget adds additional funding to Missouri scholarships such as Access Missouri, Bright Flight and the A-Plus Program. He also said he has called on four-year institutions to freeze tuition rates for undergraduates.

Funding for colleges and universities within the state will be awarded based on performance.

As Nixon announced his education funding proposals GOP members remained seated amid Democrats standing and loud applause.

Following the address, Speaker of the House Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, said he would prefer Nixon propose legislation to improve the education system rather than "throw more money at the problem."

Nixon also addressed the expansion of Medicaid in the state. He said the most significant improvement that could be made to the wellbeing of the state is Medicaid, and he called on the General Assembly to pass Medicaid expansion this year.

He labeled the implementation of the federal health care act "abysmal," which received loud applause from the GOP side of the chamber. Nixon continued, however, and said rejecting Medicaid would not fix the problems.

A House hearing scheduled to discuss the current execution protocol in Missouri was canceled Tuesday, Jan. 21, after the director of the Department of Corrections, George Lombardi, told the committee chair he would not attend.

There was no explanation from the department which did not returned repeated reporter calls.

House Committee Chairman Jay Barnes said he canceled the hearing, hoping that Lombardi would be able to attend at a later date. Barnes said the issue would not go away. He said the committee would wait until Lombardi was available to testify.

"This committee has never held a one sided hearing and we aren't going to get in that practice if we can avoid it," he said.

The committee hearing was set to address concerns that have been raised over an execution drug being used from a pharmacy not licensed in Missouri.

A couple of days later, the Senate's Democratic Leader, Jolie Justus, told the Senate Thursday, Jan 23, that she would sponsor legislation imposing a moratorium on the death penalty until a commission can adopt procedures for conducting an execution.

Justus attacked the department's decision to keep secret the name of the company manufacturing the chemical used for lethal injections.

"It's time, that whether we agree with the death penalty or not, that we all have a conversation about how we are executing individuals in the state of Missouri," Justus told her colleagues. "We have no idea where these drugs are coming from...we have no idea how we even investigate this protocol because it's under this veil of secrecy."

Justus later said the bill would be prepared for introduction on Monday, Jan. 27 -- just days before Missouri's next scheduled execution for Jan. 29.

A similar measure had been filed earlier in the House.