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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of February 3, 2014

Missouri lawmakers rejected a governor-appointed commissioner nomination, thereby banning him from serving for life.

During a Senate hearing on Thursday afternoon, Missouri senators voted to ban Tim Dollar, from ever leading the Missouri Conservation Commission by a 16-14 vote. Dollar was appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon to head the state Conservation Commission in December of last year, but awaited confirmation by the Senate.

"It's been over 35 years since we've had a commissioner on the conservation commission from northeast Missouri," Sen. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown, said. "And the agreement last year was that the next one would be from northeast Missouri." 

Although Nixon broke his promise to the representatives from Missouri's northeastern districts, many senators did not believe imposing a lifetime ban on Dollar was an ethically sound alternative.

Shortly after eight republican lawmakers signed onto a filing for impeachment of Gov. Jay Nixon, Rep. Jake Hummel, D-St. Louis, said in a statement that the "crazy wing" of the House Republican Caucus had "taken over."

The House Resolution calling for impeachment of Nixon refers to his executive order to allow same-sex couples to file for a joint federal tax return.

"If House Republicans insist on embarrassing themselves with sham election-year impeachment proceedings, then, by all means, they should have at it," Hummel said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

Republican House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, released a statement responding to the resolution and said he takes the allegations "very seriously."

"The allegations against the governor regarding his repeated violations of the Missouri Constitution are ones I take very seriously and that certainly merit thorough discussion and investigation," Jones said. "At the same time the act of impeachment is something that should be utilized sparingly and only in response to an egregious abuse of the laws of our state."

A few days after Gov. Jay Nixon announced he will double available funding for low-income propane users, one Democratic lawmaker said the decision is unacceptable.

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, said the governor's plan will result in a decrease in funding for low-income, non-propane users in Kansas City and St. Louis.

People on the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program receive subsidies for their heating systems whether they use propane, natural gas or electric furnaces.

Nixon announced on Monday that the state had received $14.9 million from the federal government for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and that he would be using the money to increase financial assistance for low-income propane users due to increased propane prices.

According to Nasheed, cities like St. Louis and Kansas City rely the least on propane usage. The Missouri Department of Social Services was unable to verify that at this time.

Nasheed said low income households in St. Louis and Kansas City need the funding just as much as the low income households in rural areas.

Get the print story here.

By a straight party-line 9-23 vote, Missouri's Senate voted down the governor's proposal to expand Medicaid to adults making below 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

The proposed amendment was sponsored by Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence. Before entering the Senate, LeVota had been the House Democratic leader.

Supporters argue that more than 300,000 Missourians would be added to the health-care program with federal government paying the complete cost in the first few years.

"It brings in money to our state," LeVota said. "It expands the number of people who are covered and is the right thing to do."

But the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, Sen. Kurt Shaefer, R-Columbia, promptly rose to warn that eventually the state would be required to match federal funds and that money would end up getting taken out of the education budget.

"Does anyone really think that you can add three to four hundred thousand more people on welfare and it not cost you any more or save you money," Schaefer asked and then promptly answered his question, "That alone is an absurd argument."

The amendment was offered Wednesday, Feb. 5, to a measure that would require Medicaid recipients throughout the state receive their services through managed care systems.

The president of Missouri's Chamber of Commerce blamed defeat on failure to connect Medicaid expansion with broader changes in the system. "Pure Medicaid expansion without responsible reforms is not a solution and will be a non-starter with Republican lawmakers," Dan Mehan said in a written statement.

A package of changes in Medicaid was recommended by a Senate Medicaid interim committee, but that recommendation did not include Gov. Jay Nixon's expansion call.

In the 2013 legislative session, there had been an effort by a House Republican -- Rep. Jay Barnes, D-Jefferson City -- to incorporate Medicaid expansion with a number of structural changes in the welfare program.

That approach, however, never got to a legislative vote after Senate leaders called the idea dead in their chamber.

Missouri's legislature worked as if it were business as usual while upwards of 6 inches or more of snow began piling up around the statehouse Tuesday, Feb. 4.

The Senate cleared a bill designed to facilitate wireless phone companies using government-owned poles and facilities for wireless transmitters.

One of the provisions would restrict when a municipality could deny a wireless company access to a pole to reasons of safety or reliability, or if there is insufficient capacity.

The measure's sponsor, Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, said the state's current laws were hampering wireless expansion.

As the snow continued to fall, House and Senate staff were sent home early. But some legislative committee hearings continued to be held.

The disruption caused by the weather was far less than in February of 2011 when more than a foot of snow blocked more than 100 persons from getting out of the Capitol building.

Staffers, lobbyists and legislators spent the night playing cards and sleeping with blankets brought in by state emergency workers.

Getting out of the building was made impossible by winds that created drifts more than two feet high.

The Senate Judiciary Committee discussed bills, Monday Feb. 3, that would modify whistle blower protection and require all impeachments be tried by Senate.

Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, is sponsoring the whistle blower bill and says it reverses interpretation changes made 10 years ago.

“With this bill, in order for there to be a whistle blower protection, there actually has to be a finding of something wrong happening,” Lager said.

Republican Sen. Ed Emery , of Lamar, sponsored the impeachment bill that would have impeachments tried by the Senate instead of the Missouri Supreme Court.

“There is no other state in the country that does impeachments like Missouri now does,” Emery said. “Prior to the 1945 constitution, we were just like the federal government. Now, we’re unlike any other state in the union.”

The committee took no immediate action on the bills.

Gov. Jay Nixon announced Monday, Jan. 3, that he was doubling the amount lower-income Missourians can receive in assistance for propane purchases.

"No hard-working Missouri family should have to choose between putting food on the table and staying warm," Nixon said.

The amount a person could receive, which previously had varied from $264 to $450 per year, will increase to $528 to $900 per year.

As part of the increase, Nixon announced the state had received $14.9 million more in federal funds for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

Nixon's announcement was criticized by Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City. She said expanding benefits for rural Missourians who heat with propane would deny increases for lower-income residents in St. Louis and Kansas City who also are dealing with higher heating bills due to the unusually cold winter.

Propane prices have nearly doubled, or more, in the past month because of shortages blamed on growing exports of propane to foreign countries.

Nixon's announced said about 10 percent of Missouri households -- 245,000 -- rely on propane for heating.

Also Monday, House Speaker Tim Jones announced he was putting on a fast track a resolution calling on the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the price increase.

The resolution cleared a House Committee Wednesday, Feb. 5, and is scheduled for House debate the following week.

A similar resolution calling for a federal investigation was introduced in the Senate.

The state attorney general has announced he is conducting his own investigation.

Across Missouri, several court cases are dealing with the constitutionality of red-light enforcement cameras.

In a packed hearing room Wednesday evening, Missouri representatives sought to solve some issues and streamline the camera's enforcement.

Rep. Robert Cornejo, R-St. Charles, questioned the constitutionality of the bill.

The measure would not add points to a person's license if the only evidence of a traffic violation came from an automated traffic enforcement system.

"If it’s a moving violation, whether it’s issued by a police officer standing there or by a red-light camera it doesn't matter," Cornejo said. "If it’s a moving violation, you need to asses points. If it’s a non moving violation, then you know, points don’t need to be assessed."

Bus and train operators would be protected from assault under legislation heard by a House committee Monday, Feb. 3.

The legislation, heard by the Missouri House Committee on Urban Issues, would allow first-degree assault charges to be given to a person who attacks a mass transit worker.

"An attack on the transit worker is putting all passengers at risk as well as the general public" Ken Menges said, the director of United Transportation Union.

The measure made its way to the governor's desk in the last session, only to be vetoed due to an added controversial amendment.

The committee also heard legislation that would grant business licenses for community improvement needs.

Radio story

The director of Missouri's Public Defender Commission testified in front of a House funding committee Monday to ask for more money to hire more lawyers.

Director Cat Kelly would use increased funding to help protect children and teens who don't have legal representation and to alleviate the workload of public defenders.

Kelly raised questions about the constitutionality of 4,000 juveniles going without legal representation.

“There are so many areas where there are people going either unrepresented or underrepresented cause there’s a lawyer standing besides them,” said Kelly. “But a lawyer who hasn’t had the time to actually do what they need to do on the case, which doesn’t require the constitutional requirement either.”

Kelly also focused on getting funding from the state to relieve public defenders' work load.

She gave the committee three solutions for addressing case loads. They include contracting cases out, adding staff, increasing funding or a combination of all three.

Kelly said she would like to see 51 lawyers added to the system by the next fiscal year.

Funding would be given to the system so they could hire private lawyers for cases outside a public defender's main jurisdiction. Kelly said public defenders drove about two million miles last year to represent cases outside their jurisdiction.

Kelly said if lawmakers were to only do one thing this year, she would like to see cases contracted out.

There were few comments from the committee, but Rep. Kathie Conway, R-St. Charles, expressed her feelings on issues involving underrepresented juveniles.

“When I first heard about this problem with the juveniles and some of them not even given the opportunity to have counsel, [it] disturbed me a great deal,” said Conway. “And so I think this is something I can’t impress on the committee enough. We need to address this.”

Gov. Jay Nixon on Friday called for special elections for three vacant Missouri House seats.

Nixon scheduled the special elections for Tuesday, Aug. 5.

The districts without a state representative are the 67th, 120th, and 151st districts.

The 67th district is vacant because Rep. Steve Webb, D-St. Louis County, resigned in December 2013 after being accused of stealing campaign funds.

The 120th district has been vacant since Jason Smith, R-Salem, resigned in June 2013 after being elected to the U.S. Congress in Missouri's 8th Congressional District.

The 151st district is vacant because state Rep. Dennis Fowler, R-Advance,  resigned in December to accept Nixon's appointment to Board of Probation and Parole.

Last Week

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.