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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of March 31, 2014

Missourians would be able to sue federal agents for infringing on their Second Amendment rights in a measure passed by the House, Thursday April 3.

Both the Senate and House have now passed bills that seek to nullify federal gun laws. The Senate version of the measure includes the misdemeanor penalty for federal employees who enforce federal gun laws in Missouri.

Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a similar bill presented last year due to its infringement on the U.S. Constitution's Supremacy Clause, which gives precedence to federal laws over conflicting local government laws.

Rep. Doug Funderburk, R-St. Peter's, the sponsor of the vetoed bill, made adjustments to the bill presented during this session.

The bill also includes measures that would allow designated teachers to carry guns on school grounds, after completing the required training requirements set by the Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission for school protection officers.

The measure was passed by the House and will now move to the Senate.

After heated opposition from a few Missouri Democrats, the Missouri House sent the "paycheck protection" bill to the Senate.

The bill would require consent from public employees for a labor union to withhold earnings from their paychecks. It would also require the labor union to receive the consent of the employee to use dues and fees to make political contributions.

Twenty republicans opposed the bill, and not a single democrat voted yes.

After the bill's sponsor, Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, said she had spoken with three public employees about the legislation, Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-St. Louis County, said she personally spoke with at least 30 public employees who strongly oppose the bill.

A few other Democratic representatives said the bill treats public employees as if they are not intelligent enough to opt out of union dues on their own.

Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, attacked Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, and Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, because of a bill that would put limits on campaign contributions and gifts from lobbyists.

Nasheed said Missouri citizens have become cynical about the government and how it utilizes its money.

"You [Chappelle-Nadal] don't care about individuals -- the body of constituents throughout the state of Missouri becoming more cynical each day because of what they see happening here," Nasheed said.

Chappelle-Nadal said she wants to be able to give gifts from lobbyists such as baseball tickets to her students if she feels like it.

She said it makes a difference if the gifts are recorded and kept open to the public to see where money is going.

Nasheed requested the measure be laid over and put on the informal calendar to stop the heated fight from continuing on the Senate floor.

The continuing debate over Medicaid health care expansion caused a rare blowup within the Republican caucus of Missouri's Senate.

The fight was over a proposal offered by Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis County, to require statewide voter approval before the administration could implement expansion for more lower-income adults.

That raised objections from Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, who argued that flexibility should be retained for the legislature to address the issue in future years.

"I apologize for bringing it out of the lofty philosophy of sound bites and trying to fit it into actual, practical policy," Silvey told Lamping.

Silvey's comments came in response to Lamping charging that Silvey was taking the easy way out by not standing up to pressures for Medicaid expansion.

"It's time for you to take the hard stand and say no. You're taking the pragmatic stand, the easy stand," Lamping charged.

The increasingly hostile interchange ended when the Senate leadership promptly recessed the Senate one-half hour early for lunch.

The Senate took no immediate vote on Lamping's idea.

Lamping is among a group of GOP senators who have vowed repeatedly that Gov. Jay Nixon's call for Medicaid expansion for adults making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level would not pass the legislature this year.

His amendment had been offered to a broader bill that would make major structural changes in Medicaid including requiring more recipients to have health services controlled by managed care organizations.

Education leaders from across Missouri spoke against a bill that would stop the implementation of Common Core at a hearing Wednesday, April 2, that required an overflow room to accommodate attendants.

Willard District Instructional Coach Carolyn Nixon said the measure would undermine the work her district has invested to meet the educational standards under Common Core.

"I fully embrace the new standards," Nixon said. "I think we've done things the right way this time. Why should we defy the work that our teachers have done and slap them in the face?"

Missouri adopted the program's standards in 2009. They are set to be fully implemented during the 2014-2015 school year.

Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, expressed concerns regarding how each district would meet the higher standards.

"This appears to be a vast, one-size-fits-all experiment," said Emery.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill and plans to continue Common Core discussions at their next hearing.

The Republican Party is closer to choosing a city to host its next presidential nominating convention and one Missouri city is a finalist.

Kansas City is still in the running to host the 2016 convention after the Republican National Committee (RNC) reduced the field from eight to six cities.

The City of Fountains joins Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver and Las Vegas as finalists.

The RNC detailed what steps are next for those cities.

"A small team of RNC staff will visit the six cities for a more in-depth and technical look at financing, convention venues, media workspace, and hotels," Site Selection Committee (SSC) chairman Enid Mickelson said in a statement.

Phoenix and Columbus, Ohio were eliminated from contention today.

The House gave initial approval to a bill Wednesday, April 2, that gives students in public schools the right to exercise their religious beliefs in school.

Known as the Missouri Student Religious Liberties Act, the measure prohibits public schools from discriminating against any student based on any religious viewpoint.

Rep. Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, urged the House to approve the proposal so Missouri can catch up with other states and "send a clear message about what rights our schoolchildren have."

He also said this would provide a uniform standard for schools to follow.

"What we're trying to do here is basically give the school districts a clear guide as to what they can do and what they must allow the schoolchildren [to do]," Haahr said.

Rep. Judy Morgan, D-Jackson County, voted against the bill because she says the bill is redundant.

"I just really don't think there's a need for it," Morgan said. "I think these rights are already guaranteed in our Constitution."

The bill has two other noteworthy provisions.

First, it allows students to express their religious beliefs in their homework assignments and other assignments and the measure prohibits school districts from punishing or awarding points on that assignment based solely on the student's religious viewpoint.

Second, the measure allows students to wear clothing or jewelry that conveys a religious message.

The bill was given initial approval by a bipartisan majority of 128 representatives. 20 voted against it.

The Senate General Laws Committee heard passionate testimony Tuesday, April 1, in support of a bill that would allow the use of marijuana to alleviate dire medical conditions.

The bill would change Missouri law and require those in possession of marijuana to have a registry identification card such as qualified patients and primary care givers. To qualify, a person must have a debilitating condition and must use marijuana within their home.

The measure also stipulates that voter approval would be required before the measure became law.

Delores Selvan a registered nurse passionately expressed her outrage over the state not allowing marijuana usage.

"I realize Missouri is a conservative state, but we are also the show-me state." Selvan said. "We can be the first state to produce Charlotte's web on a massive scale and save these children."

Charlotte's Web is a strain of marijuana used for relieving painful symptoms of epilepsy and cancer. Many that testified endorsed Charlotte's web saying it could help their family member's condition.

No direct opposition was voiced, but a representative of one medical association voiced concerns that marijuana had not been tested for treatment by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

  • Get the bill, SB 951
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  • By a straight party-line vote, Senate Republicans passed an income tax bill that legislative staff estimate ultimately would cost the state $621 million per year in lost tax revenues.

    The bill's sponsor -- Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County -- had sought to work out a deal with Gov. Jay Nixon on a bill Nixon would sign.

    The original compromise Kraus presented to the Senate included Nixon's demands for major education funding increases and cuts in tax breaks for real estate developers before the income tax cuts would take effect.

    But faced with opposition from fellow Republicans in the Senate, Kraus abandoned his compromise package and went back to a straight income tax reduction without the governor's provisions.

    While praising Kraus' efforts to work out a bi-partisan package, a couple of Senate Democrats attacked the no-compromise alternative.

    "Now is not the time to be giving 620 - 650 [million dollars], whatever the final tab for this bill ends up being, to lose this revenue when we already cannot fund the obligations we have. It's not wise fiscal policy," said Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City.

    But Kraus argued each year of the phased-in tax cut would not occur unless there had been a significant growth in tax collections in a prior year.

    "This bill is a people's tax cut. This is a bill that sends taxpayer dollars back to the people, put more into the economy and will grow the economy," Kraus told the Senate.

    A day before the Senate vote, Nixon attacked the bill in language similar to that he used in defending his veto of a similar tax cut bill in 2013.

    "Once again, the choice facing member of the General Assembly is clear: they can invest in good schools and create good jobs or they an support reckless fiscal experiments, but they cannot do both," Nixon was quoted as saying in a statement emailed from his office.

    The bill now goes to the House.

    The Senate approved a measure that would give them access to alcohol at special events in the Capitol.

    Opponents argued that selling alcohol would send a negative message to Missourians about their government.

    Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, said the bill would allow for a wider variety of personal choices in the way citizens celebrate.

    "I don't believe that the government needs to tell people whether they can have another beer or wine if they come to a 100th anniversary celebration event," Kehoe said.

    The bill was approved in the Senate and now moves to the House.

    Tax increases on productive land values would be capped at 2 percent under a measure heard by Missouri lawmakers.

    The House Agricultural Policy committee heard the measure Tuesday, April 1, that would change the occurrence of land productivity assessments from every two years to every four years, as well as cap the rate of a tax increase on agriculture land productivity values at 2 percent over the current values that are in effect.

    Currently, land productivity is graded on a 8 point scale, with 1 being the highest productivity land and 8 being the lowest. These values are based on soil surveys, soil productivity indexes, production costs, and crop yields.

    In 2014,  Hampton said the tax on agricultural land productivity values increased to about 5 percent for the best grade and about 4.6 percent for the lowest grade.  

    The tax increases can be prevented by the legislature if both houses act within the first 60 days of the year. This year, however, they failed to do so, resulting in the increase.

    The measure would also prohibit an increase in the tax when 25 percent or more of all counties within the state have been declared by the President or the governor to be affected by a natural disaster in the preceding four years.

    The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

    Missouri's House gave first-round approval to a measure Tuesday, April 1, that declares invalid any federal law infringing on constitutional rights regarding firearms.

    The House removed a provision in the original bill that would have made it a crime for a federal government employee to enforce a law or regulation that interfered with Second Amendment firearms rights. The bill, however, would allow civil lawsuits against government workers seeking to enforce firearms restrictions.

    The bill passed with 112 representatives voting in favor of the bill and 41 voting in opposition.

    Ameren Missouri wants permission to expand a coal-waste landfill in Franklin County.

    The utility company argues building an expansion to the current facility would cost consumers less. Without the expansion, Ameren Missouri would have to send their coal ash elsewhere, and all costs associated with outsourcing the waste would fall on ratepayers.

    Attorneys for the Labadie Environmental Organization and Sierra Club said in a statement the landfill could contaminate nearby ground water. They also said Ameren Missouri had not examined any alternate sites for the waste facility.

    Ameren Missouri's statement said the site is designed within EPA standards and would not cause environmental contamination.

    A Republican legislator sponsored a bill to expand purchasing powers for welfare recipients while a Democrat voiced opposition.

    The bill would allow people to use welfare cards to buy food in some liquor or convenient stores, but prohibits the purchase of alcohol, lottery tickets, tobacco products and adult material.

    Bill sponsor, Rep. Wanda Brown, R-Lincoln, said this bill gives people living in food deserts more purchasing power.

    "I have three counties, 2,100 square miles, with only six towns that have grocery stores," Brown said. "This lets them buy food at their local liquor store or convenience store."

    Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Jefferson County, said he is concerned about potential abuse and misuse of welfare cards in liquor stores.

    "Before we were keeping these folks out of here and away from the temptation, which is kind of what I thought the original purpose was," Roorda said. "If a liquor store wants to carry bread, for instance, and then ring up your bottle of Jack Daniels as bread, then the lines kind of blur."

    Brown responded that liquor store employees would break the law if they rang up banned purchases like alcohol as food.

    The measure was approved, with 118 representatives voting in favor of the bill and 35 voting in opposition. The bill now moves to the Senate.

    During his absence from the legislature, Rep. Rory Ellinger's measure to allow women to breastfeed while on jury duty has become law.

    Ellinger, D-St. Louis County, has been absent for the last few weeks as he continues to battle liver cancer. Rep. Judy Mordan, D-Jackson County, presented his bill to the Missouri House in his place Monday, March 31.

    The measure was signed by the governor Wednesday, April 3, making it state law.

    Ellinger proposed the measure after women in the Jackson County court house were fined for breastfeeding while on jury duty.

    A measure that would require voters to show photo identification prior to voting moved to the Missouri Senate following approval in the House.

    The bill was heard by the Senate Elections committee Monday, March 31.

    Adolphus Pruitt, from Missouri's branch of the NAACP, objected to the bill and said a report by the United States Accountability Office removed voter impersonation and voter fraud from its report due to lack of data.

    "Whether it's an intention to suppress minority voters and women voters, or whether it's unintentional the consequences are the same," Pruitt said.

    Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County, said he believes this is the only way to prevent voter fraud.

    The bill stipulates that student IDs, expired driver's license or non-active military IDs would not be acceptable forms of ID because they do not contain enough information.

    The measure would also exempt people 65 years or older from needing to show a photo ID.

    The House approved the bill earlier in the session. If approved in the Senate, the measure would be placed on a state-wide ballot for citizen vote.

    Sen. Mike Cunningham, R-Rogersville, is sponsoring a bill that would allow employers to look at a searchable database of employees who have filed workers' compensation claimsin previous jobs.

    The bill was presented to the House Workforce Development and Workplace Safety Committee on Monday, March 31.

    Under the measure, employers would be able to access the database in the pre hire process.

    Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a similar measure in 2013. But Cunningham said he believes he addressed the issues the governor had with the previous bill.

    Rep. Michael Frame, D-Jefferson County, asked if future employees could see the past workers’ compensation claims for a company. But, Cunningham said no.

    The bill was approved in the Senate with 24 Republicans in support and 9 Democrats in opposition. No action was taken on the bill in the House committee.

    Last Week

    Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County, shelved his effort for Senate passage of a compromise income tax cut bill that would meet demands by Gov. Jay Nixon to avoid a veto.

    On Wednesday, March 26, Kraus withdrew his compromise proposal and offered a reduced tax-cut bill that does not include provisions sought by the governor.

    That plan won quick first-round approval in the Senate.

    After extensive discussions with the governor's office, Kraus had presented to the Senate a plan that would have delayed income tax cuts until the state could meet the legal requirements for minimum amount lawmakers are supposed to be appropriating for local public schools.

    Because of flat tax collections, state appropriations now are more than $500 million below that minimum legal requirement.

    Kraus' plan also included the governor's demand for cuts in tax breaks for real estate developers.

    But the compromise approach met immediate opposition when it was presented to the Senate in early March.

    Republicans argued Jay Nixon would veto the bill anyway and that the Senate should pass what it thinks is the best tax policy.

    With solid Democratic opposition along with resistance from his own party, it was not clear if Kraus had the votes to get his compromise plan passed or if it even could come to a vote.

    The plan approved Wednesday by the Senate drops the provisions making income tax cuts contingent upon large education funding increases and real estate developer tax break reductions.

    The Senate plan also is only about one-half the size in tax cuts as Kraus's original bill.

    Legislative staff estimate the new bill would cost the state more than $600 million per year in lost taxes when fully implemented. The original bill had a price tag of nearly $1 billion.

    Like the original bill, the plan given first-round approval by the Senate would phase in income tax reductions with a one-tenth of one percentage point drop in the income tax rate each year there had been significant tax collection increase above prior years.

    When fully implemented, the measure would drop the tax rate for the highest level from six percent to 5.5 percent.

    The bill also contains a partial exemption of business income from the personal income tax.

    The bill faces one final, roll-call vote in the Senate before going to the House.

    About a thousand labor union workers rallied at the Capitol to pressure legislators not to pass what supporters call right-to-work legislation.

    Several state government officials spoke about the importance of not making Missouri a right-to-work state, including Governor Jay Nixon.

    "This latest attempt to make Missouri a right-to-work state is unnecessary and misguided," said Nixon.

    Right-to-work legislation would remove the requirement for workers to pay union fees, or belong to a union in order to keep their employment.

    "Right-to-work is wrong and it would move our state backwards," Nixon said.

    While right-to-work legislation has been sponsored by Republican legislators, but not all Republicans agree.

    Another speaker at the rally, Rep. Anne Zerr, R-St. Charles County, said she is also against passing right-to-work legislation.

    "As chair of the Economic Development Committee and as a Republican and pro-business you might think that I would be anti-labor. But you know what? Working with labor is good business," said Zerr.

    There are several right-to-work bills that have been filed for this legislative session.

    Supporters of right-to-work say it would give workers more freedom of choice in their employment expenses and that it would make Missouri more competitive with right-to-work states.

    Jeffrey Ferguson became the fifth person in the past five months to be executed in Missouri.

    Ferguson was put to death shortly after midnight Wednesday morning, March 26. He had been convicted of the murder, rape and kidnapping of a teenage girl in St. Louis in 1989.

    Five hours before the execution, Gov. Jay Nixon issued a statement that he had Ferguson's clemency petition.

    "Kelli Hall was only 17 when she was abducted from her workplace, raped and brutally murdered. Her life, so full of promise, was brutally taken from her and her family," Nixon was quoted as saying in a written statement.

    The pace of Missouri's executions has accelerated after the state switched the drug used for executions. Demands by the European manufacturer of the previous drug used in a three-drug method had demanded the state stop using its chemical for executions.

    Some legislators and attorneys for condemned inmates have criticized the refusal of the Corrections Department to disclose the name of the company or person producing the execution drug.

    They argue that by keeping the producer secrete, there is no assurance that the drug does not contain chemicals that could cause pain and suffering.

    The original source of pentobarbital stopped providing it to the state after sources revealed the company's name.

    By a straight party-line vote, Missouri's House rejected Tuesday, March 25, a budget proposal to expand Medicaid coverage for more lower-income adult Missourians.

    The vote came just one day after a group of GOP senators vowed they would block any effort in the Senate to raise eligibility of Medicaid to adults earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

    The House vote came on an amendment to the Social Services Department's budget to had authorization for the agency to spend $1.6 billion in federal funds that are available to finance the expansion.

    The amendment was defeated 50-98.

    Supporters argue expanding Medicaid would provide coverage for about 300,000 Missourians with the federal government picking up most of the cost.

    However, Republican critics have warned there is no guarantee that Congress might in the future require a higher contribution by states that had expanded Medicaid coverage.

    The Medicaid program is part of a $26 billion budget for the budget year beginning July 1 that was given first-round approval by the House Tuesday.

    The budget includes Gov. Jay Nixon's proposal for a $278 increase in the School Foundation Program that provides state funds to local public schools, but with a catch.

    Republican legislative budget leaders have argued the governor's education funding increase is based on an unrealistically high prediction of tax collection growth.

    So, the House-passed plan would make $156 million of the education funding increase contingent upon the state actually experiencing higher revenue collections than legislative budget leaders have predicted.

    One change in the House Budget Committee plan made by the House would prohibit the Education Department from spending any federal or private grant funds to implement or support Common Core Standards.

    Critics have charged the effort to establish national standards for primary and secondary education interferes with local control over public schools.

    The chair of the Education Appropriations Committee - Rep. Mike Lair, R-Chillicothe -- charged that the House amendment was simply an effort to send a political message because, "there are no grant funds associated with Common Core coming to the state."

    State Auditor Tom Schweich reported Tuesday, March 25, that tax credits for development of historic buildings had cost the state $1.1 billion in the past decade.

    Currently, the tax credit program is capped at $140 million per year. But even if that were cut nearly in half, Missouri still would be the top state in the country in tax breaks for renovating historic buildings.

    Schweich's audit suggested capping tax credits awarded for expensive projects that likely would have been pursued without tax credits.

    The audit cited one applicant who got tax credits for renovation of a single apartment residence that included a private elevator, a roof-top garden and a movie theater.

    "If the purpose of a tax credit is to give somebody incentive to do something they wouldn't otherwise do, we question that motive when you're talking about high-end residential property," Schweich said. "Most of the people who are renovating these probably would do it anyway."

    But one of the legislature's leading defender of tax credits for historic preservation said the program should not be changed.

    "The tax credit, especially in the area I represent, is working wonders," said Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis. "We have situations where vacant abandoned buildings occur block to block. Now we have nice, affordable homes where people can live in and I think at the end of the day it changes the face of communities throughout not just the city of St. Louis, but throughout the state."

    Schweich, however, stressed he was not calling for elimination of the tax credits for historic preservation.

    "Without this program there would be hundreds of buildings either vacant or demolished that are now functional," he said.

    But the state auditor said the program needed to have more oversight by the state.

    Gov. Jay Nixon repeatedly has urged legislators to cut back on tax credits for real estate development during the past few years. His proposals, however, have died in the legislature where Nixon's ideas have met stiff opposition in the House.

    The filing deadline for the August primary closed at 5pm Tuesday, March 25, without a single Democrat filing to challenge the re-election of GOP State Auditor Tom Schweich.

    It is not entirely a free pass. Candidates for both the Libertarian Party and the Constitution Party filed for the office.

    Schweich is seeking his second term as state auditor.

    The other major development in the last day for candidate filing was not a complete surprise.

    House Speaker Tim Jones did not, as he had announced earlier, file for the eastern Missouri Senate Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Franklin County.

    Nieves had withdrawn his candidacy filing earlier amid speculation that Jones would step in.

    But in the meantime, Rep. Dave Schatz, R-Franklin County, filed for the seat and promptly contributed $250,000 to his own campaign followed 11 days later by another $100,000 contribution to his own campaign.

    Jones, R-St. Louis County, has proclaimed his interest in running for a statewide office in 2016 -- either attorney general or secretary of state. But because of legislative term limits, he cannot run for his current House seat.

    With the filing deadline now passed, Jones will be out of state office for the nearly two-year period leading into the 2016 elections.

    A group of five GOP senators proclaimed Monday, March 24, that they will block any efforts to expand eligibility for Medicaid coverage for lower-income adults in the remaining weeks of the 2014 legislative session.

    "This is done. It's not happening. Go find something else to do," said Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis County.

    The announcement rejecting Gov. Jay Nixon's proposal was not a complete surprise. In early February, the Senate had defeated the Medicaid-expansion plan on a straight party-line vote with not one Republican supporting the measure.

    The Feb. 5 vote was on an amendment to a bill that would restructure the Medicaid system. The amendment would have implemented the governor's call to expand eligibility for Medicaid health care coverage to adults earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

    Last year, efforts to expand Medicaid coverage were shelved after Senate GOP leaders said the issue would not pass their chamber.

    Opponents to the expansion have argued there is no guarantee the federal government would stick to its promise to require only a small match in funding from the states in future years.

    In the House, that chamber's Governmental Oversight Committee chair -- Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City -- has been pursuing a plan that would combine Medicaid expansion along with other Medicaid structural changes pushed by Republicans including co-pays, privatization of some services and penalties for unnecessary use of medical services such as emergency rooms.

    On Tuesday, March 25, the House rejected a Democratic amendment to the budget to provide funds for the Medicaid expansion without any of the structural changes pushed by some Republican lawmakers.