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

The Western Missouri District Court has ordered the Jackson County Recorder of Deeds Department to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Judge Ortrie Smith held that the ban on gay marriages passed by Missouri voters violates both the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The judge wrote that there was "no real reason for the State's decision to dictate that people of the same gender cannot be married."

The case had been brought by two same-sex couples who had been denied marriage licenses, one a male couple and the other a female couple.

"Sharing this news will be almost as exciting as when we got engaged," Angela Curtis was quoted as saying in a release issued by the Missouri branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The federal court decision follows a similar state circuit court decision two days earlier -- Wednesday, Nov. 5 -- authorizing the St. Louis City Recorder of Deeds office to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couple.

Like the federal district court decision, State Circuit Judge Rex Burlison held that the ban approved by Missouri voters in 2004 violated the U.S. Constitution.

The St. Louis case had been initiated the state attorney general's office which sought an order by the court to stop the St. Louis Recorder of Deeds from issuing licenses to gay couples.

The attorney general's lawyer filed an immediate appeal. Chris Koster's office said they also will appeal the Kansas City decision.

Last month, Koster announced he would not appeal a Jackson County circuit court decision requiring Missouri to recognize same-sex marriage licenses issued in other states.

Attorney General Chris Koster had sought an immediate stop

The Missouri Department of Transportation said it will begin preparing for winter with a statewide drill on Nov. 12.

MoDOT will spend six hours running snow plows throughout the state to practice snow removal, despite the lack of snow on the ground.

"It gives our drivers the opportunity to drive their routes and get familiar," said MoDOT Customer Relations Coordinator Linda Wilson Horn.

Horn said MoDOT spends $46 million on average "to treat and clear roads" throughout the winter.

Weeks before the legislative session is set to begin, two St. Louis Democrats were chosen as minority leaders in Missouri's House and Senate.

Senate Democrats elected Sen. Joseph Keaveny, D-St. Louis, to be the chamber's minority leader. Keaveny said Ferguson will be among the top issues in the Senate.

"I'm expecting to have a very in-depth conversation not only about Ferguson. Ferguson happens to be the flash point. Those are some pretty entrenched issues we need to have a very frank discussion about. I hope to have it in the Senate," Keaveny said.

Rep. Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis, was voted to continue as the House minority leader. Despite losing eight seats after the election, Hummel says they will continue to stand for the things they believe in.

"We're still not going to violate our principles. We're still going to stand for the things we stood for -- Medicaid expansion, raising the minimum wage, issues that effect Missouri citizens daily lives," Hummel said.

Hummel said he doesn't think they will have to change their strategy in the House in order to pass legislation.

Rep. Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, issued a statement Thursday morning that he has decided to drop his campaign for attorney general.

In the emailed statement, Jones cited family concerns.

"My daughters are growing up fast, and if I were to campaign for another two years, as I have for the past fifteen, that would be two more years I could not replace," Jones wrote in his statement.

"There are three reasons that I have decided to suspend campaign activities - Katie, Abby, and Suzanne."

Jones leaves the race with nearly $1 million in his campaign war chest -- nearly $994,000 as of October 23.

Jones becomes the second House speaker in a row to drop a statewide race after raising large amounts of funds in campaign donations.

In 2011, Steve Tilley dropped his campaign for lieutenant governor after amassing a $1.5 million campaign war chest.

Tilley subsequently came under criticism for contributing money from his fund to legislators who turned around and hired Tilley as a campaign consultant.

His last campaign finance report indicated his campaign fund had shrunk to slightly more than $675,000.

Missouri law  does not require a person who drops out of a race to return unspent funds to contributors, Although the law does not allow the money to be spent for personal purposes, a withdrawn candidate is free to transfer the funds to other candidates or causes.

Rep. John Diehl

"I think we need a bigger room," said Missouri House GOP leader John Diehl after emerging from an afternoon-long meeting of the larger Republican caucus that had grown by nine vote thanks to Tuesday's election and the subsequent party switch of a House Democrat.

House Republicans formally selected the St. Louis County Republican to be their candidate for House Speaker -- a position that will be elected by the full House when it meets in January.

Diehl's selection was not a surprise. He had been picked by his to be the nominee back in September 2013.

House Republicans elected Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, as the House Republican leader.

For Richardson, it's a family affair.

His father, Mark Richardson, was House GOP leader in 1995 through mid-1997 when Democrats controlled the chamber.

At the post-caucus news conference, Diehl cited helping business, education and cutting the size of government as among the top priorities for House Republicans. 

He gave little chance for expansion of Medicaid that has been promoted by the Democratic governor.

Instead, Diehl said the system needed to be changed.

"There's no doubt that the Medicaid system that we have now to implement the low eligibility, the lower threshold of eligibility right now, is broken. They can't process people now who are eligible for Medicaid." Diehl said. "That has to be fixed, it wastes money, it doesn't provide the medical services that are needed to those  people in need."

Less than 24 hours after being reelected to the Missouri House as a Democrat, Rep. Linda Black laid out her reasoning for switching her party allegiance to the Republicans.

In doing so, she pointed to the 2013 Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act and said that was the ultimate decider.

"Since the federal Supreme Court ruling and then Missouri looking like we're not going to defend our constitution was probably the tipping point that made me decide I no longer can identify with the Democrat Party," Black said.

She made the announcement of switching parties early Wednesday afternoon in Speaker-elect John Diehl's office surrounded by Diehl and House Speaker Pro Tem Denny Hoskins.

Black laid out one further reason she switched parties.

"There were times I felt isolated from my party," Black said. "I felt like I didn't have a voice within the Democrat Party at the time."

Did she entertain taking any favors from Diehl or any other House leaders for switching parties?

"Absolutely not," Black said. "Nor would I entertain any ideas or thoughts about any perks."

House Democratic Leader Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis City, said Black deceived her constituents.

"[Black] went to the polls knowing that she was lying to her voters and did it with a straight face and I think that's disgusting," Hummel said. 

Black switching parties gives Republicans 118 seats in the House, the most either party has had since 1965.

Gov. Jay Nixon

One day after historic defeats for Democratic legislative candidates, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon said he won't change his tactics or agenda.

In a press conference Wednesday, Nixon said his administration is already on a path to success and Tuesday's election didn't change that.

"Just 'cause a couple of different people got elected didn't mean Missouri dramatically changed yesterday," Nixon said. "I know the state pretty well and I think I'm in a unique opportunity here with two years to go to push extra hard to get things done, and I will."

Republicans now hold veto-proof majorities in both chambers, with the second largest number of seats ever held by one party in the House since 1965.

Nixon announced a new Department of Revenue director and his new chief of staff as well.

Nixon named Nia Ray as the new Department of Revenue director. Ray is the current Division of Employment Security director at the Department of Labor.

John Mollenkamp, who served as acting director for the Department of Revenue, will resume his position as deputy director under Ray.

Nixon appointed Chris Pieper, senior legal and policy adviser, as his new chief of staff, replacing John Watson, who served as Nixon's chief of staff for six years. Watson will now work as Nixon's senior adviser.

Nixon also defended barring agency officials from talking to the press, specifically on public health issues such as Ebola.

"We're gonna keep the same rules of engagement we've had before," Nixon said. "Maybe the state epidemiologist is working, not sitting there waiting for somebody to call. We make information available."

The House committee investigating the 2011 merger of the State Highway and Water Patrols held its third hearing in the state Capitol Wednesday.

Water Patrol Captain Matt Walz spoke at the hearing about his experience managing a Water Patrol troop before and after the merger.

As a member of the Water Patrol for 24 years, Walz said he has some problems with the effects the merger has had on the management of the patrol.

"Unless the patrol recommits Water Patrol officers to their primary mission, our status in marine law enforcement will be diminished," Walz said.

Walz also said there has been a lack of focus on the Water Patrol since the merge.

Table Rock Lake area representative and former state trooper Don Phillips, R-Kimberling City, said he agrees with Walz.

"You hit the nail on the head, absolutely hit it on the head when you said if the Missouri State Highway Patrol took the same pride in providing the service and protection that they do on the highways to the water, we wouldn't be having this meeting," Phillips said. "We just wouldn't."

The next hearing will be held on Nov. 19 in Hollister, Mo.

Rep. Linda Black

Just hours after the polls closed, Missouri House Republicans announced they had gained another member -- a person just elected as a Democrat, but switched to the GOP.

"The simple truth is there are just too many issues on which I no longer agree with the Democratic Party," Linda Black announced in a statement during a brief news conference at which no time was made available for questions.

Black represents a rural district south of the St. Louis area.

Black has been a conservative ally with Republicans since her first election to the House in 2008. Two years after her election, the GOP House speaker named her chair of the House Corrections Committee.

House committee chairs normally are reserved to the party in control of the chamber.

Black's switch gives Republicans a net gain of nine seats coming out of the November elections -- at total of 118 or a total of nine votes that would be needed to override a veto by the governor.

It will be the second largest number of seats held by one party in the House since the Missouri's House was expanded to its current size of 163 members.

In 1965, Democrats held 123 seats.

Black is serving her final two years in the House before term limits will prevent her from running again.

Black initially was elected as Linda Fischer under the last name of her husband.

Two years later in 2010, running for re-election as Linda Black, she decisively defeated her husband John Fischer who had run as Republican for her House seat.

In 2014, she voted for GOP-sponsored bills on gun rights, rights for students to pray in school and abortion restrictions.

In a statement, House Democratic Leader Jacob Hummel chastised Black's decision.

"If Rep. Black had wanted to become a Republican, she should have run on the Republican ticket instead of pulling a deceptive bait and switch on St. Francois County voters," Hummel said.

Missouri voters expanded the Republican veto-proof majorities in the state's House and Senate on Tuesday.

In the House, Republicans picked up eight additional seats, giving them a majority 117 seats when the General Assembly convenes in January -- eight votes more than the two-thirds vote of 109 required to override a governor's veto.

The Democratic side in the House will shrink to 46.

In the Senate, Republicans gained an additional vote -- giving them a 25-9 majority. A two-thirds veto override vote requires 23 votes in the Senate.

The only GOP Senate seat lost Tuesday was a normally solid Republican district in St. Louis County that had been sought by John Ashcroft -- the son of former U.S. Senator and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.

But Republicans picked up Senate seats in central Missouri and in Gov. Jay Nixon's county of Jefferson south of St. Louis -- traditionally a Democratic county.

In addition, Missouri voters handed Nixon a defeat on a ballot issue, passing a constitutional amendment to give the legislature power to overturn the governor's budget withholding by a two-thirds vote.

Just two months ago, Nixon blocked release of funds for spending items he vetoed but which the legislature voted to override in September.

On other ballot issues, Missouri voters approved allowing evidence of past sex-offense charges to be used in cases against child sex offenders, rejected elimination of teacher tenure and rejected a measure to allow limited early voting in elections.

The teacher tenure measure was defeated decisively. The proposal's organizers dropped their efforts earlier in the year offering little explanation for their decision except to say the timing for the issue was not right.

Republican Auditor Tom Schweich also won a second term. Schweich faced two challengers-- one Libertarian and one from the Constitution Party-- but no Democratic opponent.   

Later this week, lawmakers will caucus to formally select their leaders for the next two years of the Missouri General Assembly.

No contest is expected among Republicans in either the House or Senate.

Original Tweet
Linked Photo emailed to MDN from a Texas reporter

On election day, Gov. Jay Nixon went to the voting booth to cast his ballot and it was well documented on Twitter -- with a picture from his office showing him sitting beside a woman's partially uncovered behind.

The photo, which appeared on Jay Nixon's official Twitter account, was amended within 15 minutes of its posting.

But that was not fast enough to stop the photo of the uncovered crack going viral across the country and the world on the Internet. A new picture was chosen to be tagged with the same encouraging message to citizens to get out and vote.

One reporter from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, attributed responsibility for the photo to "the crack staff running Nixon's Twitter account."

Staff from the governor's office were not available to respond to questions as to the person responsible for taking the photograph, the person responsible for posting the photo on Twitter or whether any apology had been offered to the woman whose photograph had become an international viral sensation on the Internet.

During the last legislative session, a measure was proposed to expand the current state law which makes it a crime to photograph and then distribute a partially nude photograph of a person without the person's consent -- if there was  reasonable expectation of privacy in the location where the photograph was taken.

The bill died in committee, although the current law remains in effect imposing criminal penalties for a person to take a photograph of a partially nude person and then distribute it without consent.

According to Secretary of State Jason Kander, only two out of five Missourians are predicted head to the polls on election day.

The Secretary of State's office estimates 39.81 percent of Missouri voters will actually turn out to vote, based on estimated voter turnouts provided from each county.

The individual counties use past election turnout percentages and absentee ballots to predict how many voters will cast a ballot.

But the controversy surrounding ballot items also impacts the estimates provided by each county and the state.

According to University of Missouri Political Science Professor Marvin Overby, this year's election doesn't have enough hot-button issues to draw voters to the polls.

"If you don't have those campaigns going on, voters just tend to be much more disengaged because there are not offices on the ballot that they care that much about," Overby said. "And there are not names on the ballot that they know that much about."

Election day is Tuesday, Nov. 4.

Missouri Republican Party Executive Director Matt Wills said he believes the party has an outstanding chance to maintain their super-majority in the Missouri House following the election.

He said that this majority would allow the party to push a legislative agenda against the Democratic Party and Gov. Jay Nixon in the upcoming session.

"I think it sends a very clear message to the governor that, you know, we're going to continue to hold you accountable for your actions and we're going to continue to call you out when you're telling mistruths about certain legislation like he has the propensity to do," Wills said.

He also said the party continued to campaign throughout the day before the election.

"We're continuing to work feverishly through today and through tomorrow to control what we can control but there remains that one constant we can't control of who votes for who when they go in the voter's booth," Wills said. "All we can do is give them the best information possible."

The Missouri Democratic Party did not respond for comment.

Last Week

House Speaker Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, said he will create a special committee to investigate alleged bribes to Attorney General Chris Koster's office after a New York Times report.

The New York Times report accused Koster of dropping the investigations of several companies in return for campaign contributions. Koster said in a statement Wednesday the contributions to his campaign did not influence his decisions to pull out of the investigations. Koster, a Democrat, is expected to run for governor in 2016.

"This Attorney General’s office has consistently protected Missouri consumers from fraud, regardless of the identity of those responsible," Koster stated in the news release.

Koster blasted The New York Times article in the release, saying that it, "misrepresents the facts, distorting events to create an appearance of impropriety where none exists."

Despite numerous attempts to reach out to Koster's office, it has given no comment on the story.

The New York Times reported Koster directed his office to halt further actions into the investigation of 5-Hour Energy because of deceptive advertising. The lawyer for 5-Hour Energy approached Koster about dropping the lawsuit in exchange for political contributions, according to The New York Times article.

Missouri's attorney general issued a statement late Wednesday in reaction to a New York Times story connecting campaign contributions with Koster's decisions to drop investigations involving the contributors.

Earlier in the day, House Speaker Tim Jones told MDN he would appoint a special committee to investigate the allegations.

The Times' story examined financial contributions funneled to various state attorneys general by companies that were under investigation or litigation by the states.

Koster charged The New York Times story  "missrepresents the facts, distorting events to create an appearance of impropriety where none exists."

The newspaper's story made Koster a major figure in a national investigation into the campaign contributions and other financial benefits provided by companies to the chief legal officials of various states involved in litigation or potential litigation against the companies.

Except for issuing a prepared statement, Koster did not return calls for a response.

While studying to become a veterinarian, all students learn about Ebola in various settings, said David Kirkpatrick, a spokesman for the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Kirkpatrick said it's part of the curriculum.

"Veterinarians receive extensive knowledge in veterinary school about zoonotic diseases," Kirkpatrick said. "Of which Ebola is one."

This means that it can be transferred to people from animals.

"Their educational level regarding zoonotic diseases certainly makes them experts," Kirkpatrick said.

Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla said he learned about Ebola when he was in vet school.

"When I was in veterinary school we did a study on Ebola and its transmission," Brown said.

House Speaker Tim Jones said Wednesday he will use his remaining two months in office to form and start the process of investigating what he calls the "pay-to-play scheme" involving Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster.

This comes after the New York Times published a story late Tuesday night featuring Koster and other Attorneys General in a lengthy report on lobbying spending for chief lawyers of the states that have issues with the way the energy drink company Five Hour Energy was advertising their product.

The report says the lawyer for Five Hour Energy approached Koster about dropping the lawsuit in exchange for political contributions.

Soon after that, the story says Koster called his office and had his staff drop the state's lawsuit against the company.

Jones says this is an outrageous abuse of power.

"It's one of the most dramatic and massive abuses of power I think we've seen in this state in decades," Jones said.

Jones later added he will set up an investigative committee to look at the Times' allegations.

"I believe we're going to look into setting up an investigatory committee as we've done on other issues," Jones said. "I will set that up."

Jones is barred from running for reelection because of term limits, but he said he hopes Speaker-elect John Diehl, R-St. Louis County, will proceed with the investigation.

On primary election night while many politicians and other groups were celebrating victories, there was one group that was dealing with the bitterness of defeat.

Those folks were part of the many groups pushing for Missourians to approve a new constitutional amendment that would've raised the state sales and use tax by three-quarters of a cent over 10 years.

Proponents of the measure said it would've raised $5.4 billion for transportation projects around the state.

MoDOT Director Dave Nichols said despite the defeat, MoDOT has already been downsizing.

"We had been preparing for a smaller program for many, many years, and that's really the mode we were in before the election and it's the mode that we're in right now," Nichols said.

Currently, MoDOT gets 50 percent of their state funding through a 17 cent per gallon fuel tax, 25 percent through sales taxes when a person buys a vehicle, and another 25 percent through registration fees on vehicles and driver's licenses.

However, Nichols says the funding issue isn't the legislature's fault.

"The funding issue that we're having right now is not a result of the legislature doing any manipulation with our budget," Nichols said. "The issue is we haven't had a funding increase for transportation in our state since 1992 and we can't keep up with the cost of building projects and the fact that our revenues are declining because vehicles are more fuel efficient and people are driving less."

Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, is the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

He says he is working to solve the funding crisis.

"I would say there's not a day that goes by where I'm not talking about it or discussing it with constituents," Kehoe said. "There are discussions every day, ideas floating around."

No more specific proposals have been put forward by MoDOT or lawmakers yet, but Nichols said he and his colleagues will have meetings with lawmakers over the next few months to determine a path forward.

The Board of Education has been under fire for moving too fast with the hiring of a new commissioner to take over for Chris Nicastro after she steps down.

The board announced a longer selection process that will run through the end of the year.

They will accept applications as well as recommendations from the public about what they would like to see considered by the board in the evaluation process until Nov. 21.

According to a news release, the most qualified applicants will be notified and invited to interview with the board. The process will end with a vote of approval from the board who says they would like to see a new commissioner approved by Dec. 31.

Lawmakers heavily criticized the outgoing commissioner for her handling of the state's unaccredited school districts. 

Parents and educators from across Missouri voiced opposition to national Common Core standards during a Missouri Education Board meeting Monday.

After a House bill prohibiting the implementation of Common Core passed during the legislative session, the state Education Department was required to create new Missouri public education standards in response.

Some parents and teachers fear the state will adopt standards like Common Core and that it could be detrimental to public education.

"I beg you, consider non-Common Core standards when you're considering all of the Common Core standards that are clearly going to be put back in front of you and I beg you to reconsider this rigorous testing that is destroying children across the state of Missouri," parent Jessica Boyster said to the board.

Retired educator Pam Hedgpeth said the move toward Common Core is purely political.

"It's really tough because there's a strong political agenda driving this force," Hedgpeth said. "And that political agenda often times is not representing the 75 percent of teachers across the state that think the current standards we have make a lot of sense for kids."

But St. Louis resident Robert Miller said Common Core standards in language arts and math help prepare students for college readiness exams like the ACT and SAT.

Moving forward, Missouri Education Board President Peter Herschend said he will look into some concerns raised by public commentary.

He also said work groups for different subject areas like math and social studies will continue to create the new standards.

The Missouri State Employees Retirement System, or MOSERS, announced Monday the program will allow same-sex couples to receive benefits if they were married in other states.

State Treasurer Clint Zweifel made the motion to change the existing law during a meeting of the MOSERS Board of Trustees and praised the decision in a statement released Monday afternoon.

"The tide of history and the march towards equality must not be ignored," Zweifel said. "In order for Missouri to move forward, we must show the world we stand for inclusion and equality for everyone."

The vote was made during a closed meeting of the board Monday morning. It's unclear how other members of committee voted.

Missouri Republican Party Executive Director Matt Wills said the decision by Zweifel is an attempt to stay relevant.

According to a spokeswoman for MOSERS, the decision will go into effect after November 13.

An early-voting amendment would give Missourians six business days prior to Election Day to cast their ballot, not including weekends.

Amendment 6 would cost about $2 million initially and an additional $100,000 for each general election according to the Secretary of State website.

Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis County, called the amendment a sham.

"This is actually a bogus early voting amendment," she said.

Newman said an earlier proposal provided for voters' actual needs, starting early voting three weeks prior to election day and allowing for weekend voting.

But Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, said these voters already have options.

"There are reasonable accommodations that have been made," Pearce said, such as absentee voting.

Currently, Missouri law allows certain elections to be held entirely by mail and requires an excuse for absentee voting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures' website.

Missouri is one of 14 states without early voting. Of the 33 states that allow early voting, the average starting time is 22 days before the election. Twelve states require early voting for at least one weekend day prior to the election.

An energy efficiency survey ranked Missouri 44th in the country compared to 43rd the previous year. 

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy released the report, which shows utility policies carry 40 percent of the weight when deciding where the states rank.

A Missouri law allows utilities, owned by investors, to earn credit from efficiency programs giving them motivation to become more energy efficient while making a profit.

The option to opt out of utility efficiency programs also hurt the state's ranking. The Missouri Energy Efficiency Investment Act offers rebates and discounts on energy-efficient lighting and air conditioners but large energy consumers can opt out of the program.

A proposed amendment has critics worried the state of Missouri will start passing unbalanced budgets.

Amendment 10, which is on the Nov. 4 election ballot, would allow lawmakers to overturn a governor's withholding, much like the power they already have to overturn line-item vetoes. In a Missouri Supreme Court case, Gov. Jay Nixon was given broad and unrestrained powers to restrict legislative spending.

The Missouri legislature overrode 47 vetoes in September, only to have the governor block funding for all 47 measures two days later. The governor's withholding authority aims to prevent deficit spending without voter approval and to make sure that is enforced, state laws give the governor broad powers to block the release of money appropriated for state programs.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said with the approval of the amendment, balancing the budget would be harder to do.

"The way it changes for the people of Missouri is that it makes an unbalanced budget much, much more likely," Kelly said. "It changes it for the General Assembly because it gives the General Assembly the opportunity to override the governor's withholds. But, the governor's withholds mechanism is the way that we in Missouri ensure a balanced budget, we have done so for many years."

He said the "governor's withhold mechanism" is a tool that has "kept the Missouri budget balanced and it's foolish to risk that for short term partisan gain."

Rep. T.J. Berry, R-Clay County, said it's the governor's abuse of his power that is causing the need for an improved system of check and balances.

"Our current governor has taken the powers that he needs to have, as far as he needs to be able to control the budget, and he has taken those powers and used them strictly for a tool of political necessity and means," Berry said. "If he had been like our previous governors, who sometimes walked over the line also but were much closer to the line, and didn't use the withholds as a weapon, I don't think we would even be having this discussion. But, our current governor has used withholds not as a budget necessity but as a budget weapon."

The president of the Missouri National Education Association sent a letter to the State Board of Education calling for an open process when selecting the new commissioner of education after reports of a new leader being chosen in private.

Missouri NEA President Charles Smith would like the parents, school board members, and the communities at large to have an opportunity to voice their opinions on the next commissioner.

"From the custodian to the cafeteria worker," Smith said. "Each one has something good and valuable to contribute to the conversation."

Smith's letter is in response to reports that a new commissioner will be announced at the school board meeting next week.

This would be 37 days after current Commissioner Chris Nicastro announced her plans for retirement at the end of the year.

Nicastro's retirement was announced amid criticism for her handling of unaccredited school districts.

Public school teachers across the state would be affected if the teacher tenure amendment passes in November.

Amendment 3 would effectively get rid of traditional teacher tenure in favor of performance evaluations.

This amendment would also restrict teachers from collectively bargaining about these evaluations and would limit teacher contracts to three years or less.

Missouri National Education Association Chief Lobbyist Otto Fajen is a part of the Protect Our Local School coalition opposing the amendment.

He said these performance evaluations, which take into account student achievement, are the wrong approach to education.

"We want to make sure that teachers and districts are able to work with students as individuals," Fajen said. "We need to make sure that, you know, we can do that to help our students become good thinkers and frankly not just good test-takers."

Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, supports the amendment and said that it is a good approach to reward the best teachers.

"I think it will result in a clearer recognition of the teachers that are doing the best job," Emery said.

A public forum led by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, questioned whether Missouri is prepared to handle an Ebola case.

It quickly descended into Schaefer and other senators challenging Department of Health and Senior Services Director Gail Vasterling.

"In this whole [Ebola] thing, it's like 'Oh, we relied on this guy to take this call. We relied on that person over there,'" Schaefer said. "And this is what I'm hearing from constituents is there doesn't appear to be a chain of command here where someone says 'By golly, that's my job. I'm the person in that position and I'm going to set those protocols.'"

"No one is willing to step up to the plate and say that," Schaefer added later.

Schaefer also asked Vasterling where hazardous Ebola waste would go should there be a case in Missouri.

"We do not have a facility in the state of Missouri," Vasterling said. "We would have to find a facility outside the state of Missouri."

Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, questioned Vasterling on whether Gov. Jay Nixon has had Cabinet-level meetings on Ebola.

"No, but I have talked with him about it," Vasterling said. She also said the last Cabinet meeting "may have been before [Ebola] was an issue."

Schaefer also referenced Vasterling's lack of medical background.

"Do you have any scientific background?" Schaefer asked. "No," Vasterling said.

Schaefer then questioned the decisions Vasterling made in regards to Ebola.

"When you make determinations of what should be done, you're not making necessarily your own determinations," Schaefer said. "You're relying on the scientific or medical opinion of someone else, correct?"

"Yes," Vasterling said.

Schaefer said after the forum that any future health department director should probably have a medical background.

"When you have decisions that are this serious, I would rather rely on the judgment of someone trained in either the scientific or medical field to be making the determination than someone who is just simply interpreting information that's given to them," Schaefer said. "I think that maybe we should look at a statutory change that the Director of the Department of Health should be someone with either a medical background or a scientific background."

Gov. Jay Nixon announced a Ferguson commission in a speech Tuesday.

The commission will study the causes leading to Ferguson's civil unrest following Michael Brown's death.

Nixon asked how St. Louis would move forward following "73 days of civil unrest."

"I think of the mother of an African-American teenager, as she kisses him goodbye each morning, hands him his backpack and watches him head off to school, knowing that he might never come home again. She lives with that fear every day," Nixon said. "I think about the wife of a cop, as she kisses her husband goodbye, hands him a cup of coffee and watches him drive off to work, knowing he might never come home again. She lives with that fear every day."

The commission will study the social and economic conditions leading to the unrest in Ferguson, hear from experts to "address the concerns identified by the Commission," and "offer specific recommendations," Nixon said.

Nixon noted that the commission will not be investigating Brown's death or the facts surrounding it and said he plans to announce commission members in early November.

Criminal history could become admissible evidence in child sex crime cases if Missouri voters pass a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Rep. John McCaherty, R-St. Louis County, sponsored the 2013 joint resolution after a constituent told him her daughter was abused.

"The man had actually groomed this young lady for sexual abuse," McCaherty said. "The prosecutor determined that there wasn't enough evidence of the actual act without [prior history] to be able to prosecute."

Critics argue the amendment could prevent individuals from receiving a fair trial, citing criminal history as prejudicial evidence.

"They very well could be allegations from a disgruntled ex-spouse or a whole number of people," said Sen. Joseph Keaveny, D-St. Louis City, who voted against the bill in 2013. "I just think it deprives the individual of a fair and balanced trial."

Criminal history was admissible evidence in these cases prior to a 2007 Missouri Supreme Court case.

It is still admissible in federal child sex abuse cases and in 30 states.

On Friday Stericycle, Inc. which owns and operates a hazardous waste facility in north St. Louis, issued a statement saying that its St. Louis facility would not "accept, store or treat Ebola-contaminated waste."

According to the statement, issued by the company's Lake Forest, Ill. headquarters, Stericycle had reached an agreement with Attorney General Chris Koster.

"Should healthcare facilities in Missouri encounter a suspected or confirmed Ebola case, Stericycle will be available to work with these facilities to find other disposal options," according to the statement.

The night before, Koster had filed a petition that would stop the Stericycle facility from receiving Ebola-infected material.

Koster's petition came after Stericycle received a federal permit from the U.S. Department of Transportation allowing it to transfer Ebola-infected materials from Texas.

However, the permit required Stericycle to transfer materials to the "nearest appropriate disposal facility available at the time," and Stericycle operates several hazardous waste facilities in Texas.