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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of September 22, 2014

Missouri will be the home to the world's most productive Ford assembly plant under an expansion plan announced by the company Thursday, according to a news release from Gov. Jay Nixon's office. 

Ford announced an additional 1,200 jobs and a second shift in the Kansas City area plant. Missouri offered Ford a tax break package to invest in the area in 2011. Ford can receive the tax breaks if they meet a job creation and investment threshold. The governor's office did not provide specifics about the package or the amount Ford would be able to receive in tax breaks.

The Claycomo plant assembles Ford F-150 Regular, SuperCab and SuperCrew pickup trucks as part of Ford's investment. By the end of 2014, the plant claims they will employ more than 6,000 hourly workers.

Those workers on the Transit assembly line will work in two-shift patterns and those on the F-150 production line will work in three-crew shifts. The production of the new Transits will bring the manufacturing from overseas. According to Nixon's office, adding the second shift to the Transit production will allow the Claycomo plant to have more capacity to build vehicles than any other Ford plant in the world.

Nixon, along with Ford Motor Company executives and UAW leaders, made the announcement from the plant. Nixon thanked Ford for investing in Missouri.

"Surging demand for the vehicles built here in Kansas City is a credit to the hard-working Missourians whose tremendous skills, creativity and work ethic continue to drive our economy forward," Nixon said in a news release. "On behalf of six million Missourians, I thank Ford for its ongoing investment in our state, and the working men and women of this region who demonstrate each and every day the value of Missouri's exceptional workforce."

Crude oil is currently being transported throughout 34 counties in Missouri.

The Missouri Department of Transportation's Administrator of Railroads Eric Curtit says MoDOT is working with the Federal Railroad Administration to ensure the safety of all rail lines.

Republican Dave Hinson serves on the House Transportation committee and says the public should not be concerned about the transportation of crude oil by rail.

"What folks have to understand is that we have breaks in the pipeline and the containment is fairly quick," said Hinson. "I just don't see why there would be a great public outcry about this."

Democrat Joe Keaveny serves on the Consumer Protection committee and says the transportation of crude oil is still a new process and needs to be monitored.

"It's a mode of transportation that's relatively new," said Keaveny. "We're still struggling to get our arms, to get our thoughts wrapped around the best way to monitor and to regulate it."

Missouri is the fourth largest freight transporter in the country.

All 50 of Missouri's non-partisan judges have been recommended for retention by the Missouri Judicial Performance Evaluation Committees.

The committees are comprised of an equal number of lawyers and non-lawyers, who evaluate judges based on ratings from lawyers, written opinions from judges and jurors' ratings of trial judges.

"As President of the Missouri Bar, I can tell you we have an important job and we take that job very seriously," said Reuben Shelton, president of the state bar during a press conference regarding the results held Wednesday, Sept. 24. "This is the job of getting recommendations and information to the voters of Missouri."

During the conference, statewide coordinator of the committees Dale Doerhoff discussed how the merit-based appointments of the so-called Missouri Plan have set an example for other states.

"When the people of Missouri adopted the non-partisan court plan in 1940, the purpose was to free our appellate courts and metropolitan trial courts from the grip of special interests," Doerhoff said. "In the 74 years since its creation, the non-partisan court plan has achieved that purpose. In fact, it's become a model for the country adopted in over 30 states."

Missourians will vote on whether to retain these judges on Tuesday, Nov. 4.

The committee tasked with reviewing the Missouri Water Patrol merger with the Missouri State Highway Patrol will hold its first meeting next Wednesday, Oct. 1.

The committee is chaired by Rep. Diane Franklin, R-Camdenton.

According to the news release, a few of the topics to be discussed are the way the division is being managed, the training methods, and the cost-benefit analysis.

This is the first of two scheduled meetings.

Next Wednesday's hearing will take place in the state Capitol at 10 a.m. and a subsequent meeting will be held Tuesday, Oct. 14 at Osage Beach City Hall.

The hearings come after the drowning of a man who was arrested on the Lake of the Ozarks this summer.

Groups assigned to review and rewrite Missouri's learning standards begin their work just days after Missouri’s Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro announced her retirement.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released the dates in which the groups are supposed to meet. The teams of parents and educators first met on Sept. 22 and 23 in Jefferson City. Four more dates have been set for team meetings: Oct. 2, 3, 20 and 21. The work groups have until Oct. 1, 2015 to deliver their academic standards recommendations.

House Speaker Tim Jones is just one of the legislative Republicans who have taken lead on the issue. He said it's important to put educational standards in the hands of those who have the best interest at heart.

"Our goal with the workgroups is to vest decision making authority in Missouri parents and teachers who have the best interests of our young people at heart," Jones said, as quoted in a news release. "The people of this state have made it absolutely clear they oppose the Common Core standards and that they want Missouri citizens and educators, not government bureaucrats, making the decisions that will impact the educational future of out children."

Common Core supporters expect the work groups will find that the work the schools have already done while adapting their curriculum's to Common Core to be sufficient.

Brent Ghan, spokesman for the Missouri School Boards' Association, said the Missouri School Boards' Association, a supporter of Common Core, supports the review of the education standards by the work groups but stands by the learning standards set by Common Core.

"We have supported the current Missouri learning standards that are in place that we feel like they are rigorous and will set high expectations for student performance in our state," Ghan said. "We have not been opposed to reviewing those standards as the legislation calls for it in establishing the work groups and we're certainly open to reviewing it and I think the school board members who are serving on the work groups are going into this with an open mind and are very willing to review the standards, but we generally have been pleased with standards that have been in place."

Gov. Jay Nixon directed the state auditor Monday afternoon to perform an audit of the St. Louis City Recorder of Deeds office.

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City welcomed the news.

"There have been allegations surrounding the Recorder of Deeds mismanagement and I think that this audit would really bring everything to light in terms of what has been happening there for the last 10 years," Nasheed said.

Nasheed sent Nixon a letter in July asking him to order the audit.

"My goal is for the people of St. Louis to have the most efficient city government possible, free of corruption and lawlessness," Nasheed's letter read in part.

Among the violations the previous Recorder of Deeds committed according to Nasheed's letter was hiring a relative, which is a violation of the state's nepotism law.

State Auditor spokeswoman Vanessa Chandler said they received Nixon's letter.

"We read the letter and plan to move forward with the audit as requested," Chandler said.

The Democratic nominee in the Missouri 4th Congressional district in northern Missouri announced Monday, Sept. 22 his endorsement of clemency for a convicted repeat drug offender -- Jeff Mizanskey.

Mizanskey was sentenced to life in prison without parole for marijuana possession in 1993.

The sentence came under the Missouri "prior and persistent" drug offender law after Mizanskey was arrested two previous times for marijuana offenses.

In April, a clemency petition was delivered to Gov. Jay Nixon's office with more than 360,000 signatures.

At a news conference outside the statehouse, Congressional Candidate Nate Irvin asked Nixon to grant Mizanskey clemency in this case.

"Jeff Mizanskey has been in prison for 21 years for marijuana possession without a chance of parole," Irvin said. "To me, that just defies all common sense."

Mizanskey's brother Mike also spoke, saying his brother has missed many family milestones.

"Some of the events are his sons graduating from high school and growing into very good men, the birth of his grandchildren, the marriage of his son and countless marriages of family members," Mizanskey said.

Show-Me Cannabis Director of Research Aaron Malin said Mizanskey has already served enough time for his crime.

"Mr. Mizanskey is in prison for violating the law, and I think the question that's before us today is whether or not the punishment that he was given is deserved for the law that was broken," Malin said.

Nixon's press secretary Scott Holste said the clemency petition continues to be under review.

The Missouri chapter of the AFL-CIO officially endorsed current Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster for governor Monday.

The endorsement came after Koster spoke to convention delegates.

According to the news release, Koster finished his remarks and a delegate made the motion to endorse Koster's 2016 gubernatorial campaign.

Missouri AFL-CIO president Mike Louis said Koster's record speaks for itself.

"His record has shown his commitment to improve the lives of working families and to bring economic justice to the workplace and social justice to Missouri," Louis said in the news release.

Koster is the only major Democrat to announce his intentions to run for governor in 2016.

Last Week

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.

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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.