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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of September 15, 2014

The Missouri Supreme Court announced Friday the execution date for a man convicted of triple-murder in 1999.

The execution by lethal injection is set for Oct. 29, 2014.

Mark Christeson was charged with the 1998 killing of a Missouri woman and her two children.

This will be the ninth execution in Missouri this year. Missouri will tie with Texas for the highest number of executions in the country following Christeson's execution.

In response to a review of the state's lottery, Gov. Jay Nixon announced four new appointments to the State Lottery Commission Thursday.

The governor ordered the review in July, noting the percentage of lottery revenues contributed to public education had decreased even as ticket sales grew.

In 2014, just 23 percent of lottery revenues went to education, the lowest percentage in a decade, according to a statement released by the governor's office.

Larger prize payouts and greater ad spending contributed to the disparity, according to the review.

"Two decades ago, Missouri voters spoke loud and clear that the proceeds from the Missouri Lottery should benefit our public schools and it's clear that the lottery has some work to do if it's going to keep delivering on that promise," Nixon was quoted as saying in the statement regarding the new commission appointments.

The four new members include a retired school district superintendent, the director of the Charter School Center at University of Missouri-Kansas City, a retiring Missouri State University official and a Drury University board member.

The Office of Administration's review found several areas for improvement and recommended that the commission realign its goals in order to increase school funding, reduce costs and review its contracting methods.

Just weeks following the chaos in Ferguson, Gov. Nixon signed an executive order creating a new office to deal with issues concerning low-income and minority communities found all across the state.

The Office of Community Engagement will help address those communities by initiating communication among Missourians and coming up with policy solutions. The Office also is responsible for developing strategies to increase prosperity and opportunity for all citizens of Missouri.

Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, previously accused Nixon of inaction in the black community during the recent veto session.

"You've been in office for decades and you've done nothing for black people," Chapelle-Nadal said.   

The Office of Community Engagement "may make recommendations to the Department of Economic Development, Missouri Community Service Commission, Missouri Housing Development Commission and other boards, commissions and agencies that administer programs designed to assist low-income individuals, urban neighborhoods, community redevelopment and similar activities," a news release about the Office said.

Nixon appointed former State Senator Maida Coleman as the office's director, and former St. Louis City Municipal Judge Marvin Teer as the deputy director and general counsel.

"Maida and Marvin will get to work immediately to listen, learn, and assess the challenges facing minority and low-income communities across the state, and help to develop specific policies to address them," Nixon said in a news release.

Teer said he is glad to be involved because he is eager to start making changes in Missouri communities.

"I'm excited because it's what government is supposed to do," Teer said. "It's government listening and learning, and rather than reacting or responding to a request from a citizen, to actually go out and engage communities to make things happen and make changes happen."

Coleman said she, too, is excited to start working with communities in Missouri.

"From small towns to big cities, every Missouri community faces its own unique challenges - and that's especially true in areas where poverty rates are high and economic opportunities are limited," Coleman said in a news release. "That is why I am excited about this opportunity to deepen our understanding of the issues confronting our communities and to help develop policies that will help all Missourians prosper and thrive."

The Office will be housed within the Office of Administration.

The Missouri legislature will investigate the safety and training of the state's Water Patrol Division in a new review committee.

The Water Patrol and State Highway Patrol merged in 2011 after legislation passed in 2010.

At the time, Gov. Jay Nixon said the merger of the two divisions will cut costs and increase effectiveness.

However, in light of recent drownings, the review committee will look into concerns about safety and training methods of Water Patrol officers.

Rep. Diane Franklin, R-Camdenton, will chair the committee along with seven other representatives.

"I think we have a really great committee to examine this issue and then come away with the best recommendation for securing the safety of folks when they're on the water," Franklin said.

The review committee comes months after the drowning of 20-year-old Brandon Ellingson on the Lake of the Ozarks in May.

An officer arrested Ellingson for boating while intoxicated and was handcuffed when he fell off of the boat and drowned.

Rep. Don Phillips, R-Kimberling City, will serve as vice-chair of the committee, adding his perspective as a former state trooper.

"There's just no visibility anymore compared to what it was when there was the water patrol agency," Phillips said. "It's more of a reactive approach now."

Franklin says the committee will hold its first public hearing in the coming weeks at the state Capitol.

Missouri taxpayers may be responsible for paying millions of dollars to have the police in Ferguson since Aug. 9.

An official for the Missouri Department of Public Safety said Governor Nixon has allocated $4 million in the budget to cover National Guard responses, which will be more than enough.

"The Governor put $4 million into his budget for this fiscal year to handle Guard deployment and activations, and there's $3.4 million in appropriated for the state agency expenditures in response to disasters in this current fiscal year, so that's where the money will come from and we believe that will be absolutely plenty of money to cover it," the official said.

As for Ferguson, and St. Louis City and County expenditures, the spokesperson said the state is not responsible for picking up that cost.

"Those are handled themselves, the state doesn't pay for those," the official said.

Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro announced Monday she will step down at the end of 2014.

Nicastro has been in charge of the state's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education since 2009.  

During her time as commissioner, the State Board of Education and DESE launched the program Top 10 by 20, which aimed to make Missouri one of the nation's top ten states for education by 2020.

Her tenure was not without controversy, however.

She faced criticism from many lawmakers over her handling of the unaccredited Normandy and Kansas City Public Schools districts.

Nicastro's harshest critic was Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County.

"Congratulations, Missouri! Chris Nicastro is GONE!", Chappelle-Nadal tweeted after the resignation annoucement.

Chappelle-Nadal introduced a resolution in the Senate in January urging Nicastro to resign.

The resolution read in part, "Dr. Nicastro has repeatedly demonstrated a failed leadership style, been less than truthful with members of the education community and Legislature, and acted with blatant disregard for the inherent responsibilities of her position."

The resolution did not receive a hearing during the regular legislative session.  

Despite the harsh criticism, Nicastro denied anybody but her husband asked her to step aside.

"I just think it's the right time," Nicastro said. "Every organization needs a change in leadership at the appropriate time. I think this is the right time for that to occur."

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, who has also come under fire for the unaccredited schools problem, released a statement praising Nicastro's work at the department.

“The progress Missouri’s public schools have made during her tenure as Commissioner is a testament to her unwavering commitment to providing every Missouri child with a high quality education that prepares them to meet the demands of the global economy,” Gov. Jay Nixon said in a statement. 

Nicastro said she will work closely with the state to ensure a smooth transition after she leaves.

Get the radio story

Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander certified the results of the controversial Right to Farm Amendment Monday morning.

The proposed constitutional amendment was approved by voters in the August primary election by 2,490 votes.

The final results gave proponents of the amendment a 2,375 vote victory.

Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst released a statement praising the victory soon after the results were certified.

"Although the recount was unnecessary and costly to Missouri taxpayers, we are pleased with the results upholding the passage of Amendment #1," Hurst said in the statement.

Last Week

Gov. Jay Nixon's office issued a short announcement Friday afternoon that he had blocked funding for all of the 57 vetoes that the legislature had voted to override just two days earlier.

The blocked funds involve programs for child abuse and rape investigations, abortion alternative programs, school safety and heart defibrillators for the Highway Patrol.

Nixon provided a one-sentence explanation in the announcement emailed to reporters Friday. The email said the spending ban was "in order to prevent the growth of government beyond available revenues and ensure a balanced budget."

Even as they were debating the overrides Wednesday, legislators acknowledged Nixon likely would block funding the veto overrides.

There is little or nothing the legislature can do. In a case two years ago, the state Supreme Court granted the governor broad powers to control state spending.

A constitutional amendment on the November ballot would give the legislature power to repeal funding restrictions by the governor.

But even if that provision had been in effect, it would have had no immediate affect since the legislature will not be back in session until January when the budget year is half over.

Missouri legislators overturned just two out of ten vetoed tax-cut bills during Wednesday's veto session. Gov. Jay Nixon had threatened to withhold more than $140 million in education funding if legislators didn't sustain his vetoes.

Although lawmakers overturned two vetoes, Nixon announced that he would release the withheld funds Thursday.

"The resources I'm announcing today are possible because legislators of both parties came together and agreed that it's time invest in our schools," Nixon said in a statement.

The tax cut bills, also known as "Friday Favors," would have given tax exemptions to manufactured homes and graphing calculators, among other things.

The two tax bills overturned by the legislature Wednesday would exempt farmers' markets from sales tax and gives the Revenue Department the burden of proof in tax liability cases against all companies. In total, these bills will cost the state an estimated $3.1 million.

The Missouri Supreme Court handed down a decision Tuesday arguing that the state's statutory cap on punitive damages is unconstitutional.

The court said the cap violated the plaintiff's right to a trial by jury, a decision influenced in part by the court's 2012 decision banning caps on medical malpractice damages.

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder said the court's decision was "another blow" to the state's tort reform efforts. Kinder oversaw the Senate's tort reform process in 2003 and 2004. The General Assembly passed tort reform legislation in 2005.

Get the print story here.

Missouri House during the veto session
Sen. Will Kraus during the veto session

State lawmakers handed the state's governor the largest number of veto overrides in any year in the state's history.

In total, 47 budget cuts were overridden along with overrides of 10 non-budget bill vetoes during a one-day veto session Wednesday, Sept. 10. The income-tax bill veto had been overridden during the regular session last spring.

The 58 overrides far exceed the previous annual record of 12 veto overrides in 1833.

Legislators of both parties said the Jay Nixon's defeats were an indication of a governor disengaged with the legislators and the legislative process.

"The reports of his disengagement have reached lengendary status," said GOP Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County. "It's time to be an active participant instead of making a policy statement and then disappearing for five months and then reappearing for the next six while we're out of session."

While the bulk of the governor's veto overrides involved budget cuts, many of his tax-cut vetoes he had championed were sustained.

Only two of the vetoed tax bills he had attacked as special interest tax breaks were overridden. And they did not carry large price tags. The administration put the price tag for the two at $3.1 million per year for state and local governments out of the $514.7 million for all ten bills.

Among the non-budget vetoes were some of the most controversial issues before the legislature involving guns and abortion.

The gun bill would let schools authorize teachers to carry firearms on school grounds after training. It also would ban housing authorities from prohibiting guns in tenant residences and ban cities from prohibiting those with concealed weapons from openly carrying their firearms.

The abortion measure would extend the current waiting period for an abortion after contacting a doctor from 24 hours to 72 hours. The vote came as small protests on both sides of the issue rallied at the statehouse earlier in the day.

The Senate vote on the abortion override required approval of a rare motion to shut off a Democratic filibuster around Wednesday's midnight hour.

There was an historic irony to the vote. The last time the Senate voted to shutdown a filibuster was in 2007.

That too involved an abortion-related bill. It was sponsored by Sen. Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City, whose son, Todd Scott, now serves as the chief aid to the Senate's president pro tem and helped in laying the groundwork for the 2014 motion.

Except for measures with a delayed effective date, an overridden vetoed bill takes effect 30 days after he legislative override vote.

Non-budget veto overrides:

House members put the finishing touches on completely overriding Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of a controversial gun bill early Thursday morning.

Just before 2 a.m., the House put their bipartisan stamp of approval on the bill with a 117-39 vote.

Speaking against the bill, Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis County, said the bill is not about making the streets safer.

"Today, you are big government," Newman said. "This bill is about you."

Rep. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, disagreed.

"The 2nd Amendment is for the populous to defend themselves," Brattin said.

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the bill in July and took issue with the provision that arms teachers and administrators if they pass specialized training.

"I have consistently opposed the arming of teachers as a means to keep schools safe," Nixon wrote. "It is simply the wrong approach, and one that I do not support."

The bill also lowers the conceal-carry age from 21 to 19 and prohibits cities from banning open-carry laws, even if they already have such laws.

The Senate overrode the veto on Wednesday on a straight party-line vote of 23-8.

Senate Republicans took the unusual step of voting to shut off debate in order to force a vote on the abortion restriction bill.

It was the first time the Senate took the unusual step of shutting off debate since 2007.

The measure now made law would expand the waiting period for an abortion after contacting a doctor from 24 hours to 72 hours.

"We just witnessed the majority party shut off debate," charged Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City.

"I believe we just changed the nature of this chamber," Holsman said.

Ironically, legislation on abortion clinics and sex education was one of the bills for which debate was shut off in May of 2007.

The sponsor of that bill was Sen. Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City.

His son, Todd Scott, is the top aide for the Senate's president pro tem and helped in staff work leading to Wednesday night's previous question vote.

The Missouri House voted to override Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of a bill that lengthened the mandated abortion wait time from 24 to 72 hours with bipartisan support.

Members spent 90 minutes debating over the bill. Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-St. Louis County, spoke against the override of the bill.

"This is really about not trusting women." Montecillo said. She went on to say that she has "no right" to tell somebody what to do about their medical decisions.

In response to Montecillo, Rep. Jeanne Kirkton, D-St. Louis County, fought back tears to read stories of women who have been sexually assaulted over a period of years.

With the override of the bill, women must wait 72 hours after their initial consultation with a physician to proceed with an abortion.

Missouri would be the third state to have a 72 hour abortion waiting period.

The Missouri House overturned every budget veto considered on a range of issues, including abortion alternatives and substance abuse treatment.

The House and Senate spent much of the day considering dozens of budget items during Wednesday's veto session.

In total, the overturned budget items will cost the state more than $50 million, although some lawmakers said Gov. Nixon might withhold funding.

By bi-partisan majorities in both the House and Senate, the veto session of Missouri's General Assembly has begun passing a series of budget overrides.

The first override came just a few hours after the session had started and quickly was followed by a continuing series of votes against Gov. Jay Nixon's vetoes.

Legislative budget leaders have a list of 50 budget item reductions or eliminations they plan to present before legislators.

In the Senate, the votes began after an hour-long attack by black legislators of Nixon's actions in Ferguson and his delayed response.

The first item overrode by the legislature is a $1 million appropriation for a private, non-profit organization to establish two pilot education programs for troubled juveniles.

In the Senate, only one of the chamber's nine Democrats voted to support the Democratic governor's vetoes on several of the budget items.

At one point during the debate, the SenateAppropriations chair acknowledged advice from a lawyer with the attorney general's office that a veto session may not actually have power to override budget vetoes, as opposed to non-budget bills. Also, the governor has expansive powers to simply block spending of budget items.

The Senate's majority leader has vowed to keep the Senate in session for however long it takes to finish. The governor has gotten more Democratic support in the House, but still has met with 

Business owners questioned the Department of Revenue about sales tax collection and the lack of communication between legislators and Missouri businesses.

Consistency and efficiency were high in demand at the meeting of an interim Senate committee on tax issues.

"Improved communication and improved access to information, which would help us make sure that we're getting the sales tax we're supposed to get, and we're getting all the businesses that are registering with the state," Director of finance for the city of Creve Coeur, Dan smith said.

Smith also recommended was to improve communication and how to come up with ideas to provide additional information.

In a letter to the Senate's top leader, a legal staffer with the state attorney general has advised that Missouri lawmakers may not have legal power to override the governor's line-item budget vetoes in the veto session.

"If the governor acts when the legislature is not in session, the plain reading of the Constitution...provides no authority for the general assembly to reconsider line-item vetoes," wrote James Layton, the solicitor general for the attorney general.

Layton wrote that the section dealing with the legislature's veto session did not explicitly include appropriation line-item vetos in the measures lawmakers could consider.

However, Layton added that it has been the custom and the history of the General Assembly to allow consideration of budget vetoes.

Nixon has vetoed about 140 separate sections in the budget under a constitutional provision that allows the governor to reduce or eliminate individual sections of the budget bills passed by the legislature.

Also on Tuesday, the top budget leaders said they had identified about 50 items then want to bring before the legislature to reconsider constituting about $40 million in spending cuts.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, attacked the governor for spending more than $500,000 on his state airplane while cutting funding for Water Patrol debibrillators and exams of abused children.

"These are programs people need," Schaefer said.

Schaefer acknowledged the advice from attorney general's office along with the power of the governor to simply block spending of an appropriation item even if the governor's veto is overridden.

But the Senate's budget leader said overriding the vetoes would send a message.

Just a couple of days before the legislature will take up the governor's budget vetoes, State Auditor Tom Schweich issued a critical audit of the governor's withholding of program funding approved by the legislature.

Missouri law lets the governor block release of appropriations if state tax collections and revenues are falling below original expectations.

In a 2013 decision, the state Supreme Court granted the governor extensive budget restriction powers concluding that the governor can control the rate of expenditures.

The court held that the lawsuit filed by Schweich was filed too soon because the budget year had not yet concluded.

In his latest audit released well after that budget year had concluded, the state auditor argues that the final revenue collections did not justify the governor's budget withholdings from appropriations approved by the legislature.

The audit also makes reference to a November ballot issue that would give the legislature power to overturn budget restrictions by the governor.

Less than 48 hours before the Missouri General Assembly votes to override Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of a bill dealing with the sale of alcohol in the Capitol, people will fill the House chamber Monday night to take part in a wine tasting.

The event costs $500 per person and includes wine seminar and an "after-hours art experience."

As of Monday afternoon, the desks of House members were outfitted with five wine glasses.

The event occurs less than two days before the legislature attempts to override Nixon's veto of a bill giving the Capitol Commission sole authority to enter into contracts for the sale of alcohol in the Capitol.

The bill also allows for alcohol sales at events at the Missouri state penitentiary.

The House website indicates the resolution authorizing the use of the House chamber for the event was offered on June 26 when the House was not in session.

If Nixon's veto is overridden, the bill would be in effect until December 31, 2024.