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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of November 17, 2014

Mercy Hospital in Jefferson County evaluated a patient for a potential case of Ebola Thursday.

The patient, a nurse, had recently been to West Africa. A vial of the patient's blood has been transported to a testing laboratory in Jefferson City. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has approved the lab for Ebola testing.

"The Department of Health and Senior Services has been working closely with Mercy, the local health department and the CDC to coordinate an effective response to this potential case," Health Department spokesperson Ryan Hobart said in an email.

Hobart's email also said results of the blood test can be expected to be completed Thursday night.

The Health Department denied repeated requests for an interview.

Rep. Mark Parkinson, R-St. Charles County, said he opposes the proposed pay increase for state officials and lawmakers.

An 8 percent increase was approved by the Citizens' Commission on Compensation for Elected Officials for most statewide elected officials - including the secretary of state, auditor, treasurer, attorney general and the governor. The increase would be included in paychecks beginning in fiscal year 2016 and would increase again in 2017.

Parkinson said he opposes the pay hike and will do whatever is necessary to see that it does not go into effect.

"My constituents didn’t send me to Jefferson City because they felt I needed a comfortable living, nicer clothes, or a bigger house," Parkinson said in a news release. "They sent me to Jefferson City because I promised to make the same responsible choices with our state budget that I would make with my own household budget. Our state has a number of priorities that need to be funded every year. Finding over $1.3 million dollars so that we can give pay raises to our statewide elected officials and our legislators is not one of those priorities."

The commission's recommendations automatically go into effect unless two-thirds of both the House and Senate vote it down.

The panel also suggested a $4,000, or 11 percent, increase over two years for lawmakers and $9,500 for the lieutenant governor.

Missouri judges, in addition to all of the positions, would get more compensation for daily expenditures and mileage reimbursement to match the federal rates.

Attorney General Chris Koster announced new transparency rules to reduce the appearance of conflicts of interest in political contributions.

Koster's announcement followed a New York Times article reporting that contributions from companies led to better investigation outcomes for companies.

"These new restrictions are the strictest conflict-of-interest provisions of any elected attorney general in the United States," Koster was quoted as saying in a statement released Wednesday, Nov. 19.

Koster's new policies will ban contributions from companies, or their legal representatives, currently under investigation or whose investigations ended less than 90 days before; contributions from anyone employed by the attorney general's office; or gifts of any value from registered lobbyists.

Mike Wolff, Dean of St. Louis University's law school and former Missouri Supreme Court chief justice, said Koster's new policies "raise the bar for ethics in our state."

Koster's new policies are not required by state law.

Gov. Jay Nixon released the names of members on the Ferguson Commission, which must issue a report before Sept. 15, 2015.

All 16 members are St. Louis-area residents according to a statement from the governor's office on Tuesday, Nov. 18.

Rev. Starsky Wilson, CEO of the Deaconess Foundation and Rich McClure, the former president and COO of Unigroup, will co-chair the commission.

Other members include business leaders, educators, activists, religious leaders and lawyers, as well as a detective from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and the director of the Department of Public Safety.

"Committed and thoughtful citizens must identify necessary actions to take and policies that have to change," McClure was quoted as saying in the statement. "Then, our state and our region must pursue their implementation vigorously."

Nixon charged the commission with the task of studying issues underlying recent protests in Ferguson and proposing specific policy solutions.

"Change of this magnitude is hard; but maintaining the status quo is simply not acceptable," Nixon was quoted as saying in the statement.

More than 300 applications and nominations were received for the commission.

The unemployment rate in Missouri dropped to its lowest point since June 2008 as the holiday season gets underway, according to the Oct. 2014 jobs report.

The report, released by the Department of Economic Development, showed the unemployment rate dropped four tenths of a point from 6.3 percent to 5.9 percent.

Missouri's unemployment rate was still higher than the national average, which was 5.8 percent in October, down from 5.9 percent. Amy Susan, the director of communication for the Department of Economic Development, said decreasing unemployment rates is a national trend.

"Across the country, we're starting to see unemployment rates go down, we're starting to see a lesser need for unemployment claims, those are the benefits people receive if they have been laid off due to no fault of their own, so we're starting to see companies regain that momentum and find ways to be more profitable so that they can hire people and provide good paying jobs, so we're starting to see that again nationwide," Susan said

In October, the state's non-farm payroll added 2,400 jobs, increasing the total growth of non-farm payrolls to 48,400 jobs during the past year.

Employment in financial activities expanded by 1,500 jobs, while transportation, warehousing and utilities added 1,200 jobs, according to Susan.

She said the growth in employment was partially due to the increase in investments in Missouri.

"In Missouri, we've actually experienced our best year in economic development ever in the state for our history in Missouri, so that's a big deal for us investment-wise and job numbers, this has been a great year for us, so we're starting to not only maintain our business community here but we're also recruiting and attracting the investments from businesses around the country and around the world," Susan said.

The last time the unemployment rate increased was in March 2014, when it rose to 6.7 percent. Since then, it has slowly shrunk almost a full percentage point with the largest decrease in October.

More than four hours after issuing his statewide state of emergency and activating Missouri's National Guard, Gov. Jay Nixon held a telephone conference call with reporters.

Nixon said his action activating the National Guard was "part if our ongoing efforts to prepare for any contingency."

Nixon refused to discuss the details of how many National Guard would be called up or where they would be deployed in Ferguson.

But he suggested that as with the Guard's role when they were called out for the initial protests, they would not be confronting protestors.

"The National Guard is well suited to provide security at command posts, fire stations and other locations freeing up law enforcement officers to remain focused on community policing and protecting constitutional rights."

"I'm not going to get into any operational details other than to say that the various duties and responsibilities and places are being viewed and the commanders will take care of that...I just don't want to get into operational details."

Earlier in the day, Nixon's various public safety agencies also refused to provide details as to how his forces would be used including the National Guard, the Public Safety Department and the Highway Patrol.

In his telephone conference call with reporters Monday night, Nixon stressed the difficulty in finding a balance.

"Our goal here is to keep the peace and allow folks' voices to be heard and in that balance I'm attempting, you know I am, using the resources that we have to marshal to be predictable for both those pillars," Nixon responded when asked if the "buck ultimately stops with you."

There is a shortage of turkeys harvested all across the country this year.

However, because many Thanksgiving turkeys can be frozen for up to a year before being sold to the public, this will not affect Missouri sales this year.

Diane Olson, promotions and educations director for the Missouri Farm Bureau, said the reduced number of turkeys will not affect this year's Thanksgiving dinner.

"I think the issue is that many of the flocks have been reduced over the past few years," said Olson.

Olson said the prices for turkey are not rising this year.

"We found that turkey prices were really very reasonable," Olson said. "Ranging from 78 cents a pound to $1.69 a pound."

Turkey farmers have had to decrease their flocks due to an increase in feed and transportation prices.

Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, agreed with Gov. Jay Nixon's decision to declare a state of emergency and activate the National Guard in anticipation of the grand jury decision in Ferguson.

Hinson is also a paramedic and said a proactive approach like Nixon's is the best course of action.

"I think he's doing a good thing by being proactive leading up to the possibility that the verdict comes down and there's no indictment and that we do have violence that takes place," Hinson said.

Hinson also said it is unfortunate that Nixon had to make this decision.

"You would think that people would be law-abiding and respect the decision of a jury, but depending on how it goes, I don't foresee that happening," Hinson said.

Nixon's decision comes in anticipation of a grand jury's decision whether or not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown.

House Speaker Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, said he is glad Gov. Jay Nixon is being proactive with his state of emergency declaration in Ferguson in anticipation of the grand jury decision on whether to indict police officer Darren Wilson for shooting and killing Michael Brown.

"I am very pleased to see the governor actually paying attention to this issue," Jones said. "He's had plenty of time to prepare for it, but at least this time, he's focused on Ferguson."

However, Jones added that this state of emergency is not like any other.

"I am just a little perplexed as to him calling a state of emergency before anything has actually occurred," Jones said. "I'd be interested to see if that's ever been done before in our state or other states."

Nixon's order activated the National Guard to help local police deal with any protests that may occur as a result of the grand jury announcement.

The state of emergency expires in 30 days.

Gov. Jay Nixon activated the Missouri National Guard and declared a state of emergency in anticipation of the St. Louis County grand jury’s verdict.

Nixon’s executive order, announced on Monday, Nov. 17, called on the Guard to support local law enforcement should there be unrest following the grand jury’s verdict on Officer Darren Wilson.

Missouri's governor can declare a state of emergency for specific areas within a state, but Nixon’s state of emergency covers the entire state.

The date for the grand jury’s decision is unknown but is expected sometime during mid- to late-November.

Rep. Courtney Allen Curtis, D-St. Louis County, attacked the governor’s decision.

“I just think at this point that it’s unnecessary had the governor taken other precautionary measures earlier on,” Curtis said. “So to do it now, he’s working on cleaning up his legacy it seems to me.”

Curtis, who represents part of Ferguson, was not told about the state of emergency in advance.

The executive order did not mention how many members of the Guard would be called up or how they would be mobilized.

But St. Louis City Mayor Francis Slay said in a news conference shortly after Nixon’s announcement that the National Guard would not be on the front lines of possible protests.

Slay called Nixon's decision a precaution.

"We would not have the Guard on the front lines, interacting with, dealing with, confronting protesters," Slay said. "Many of them don't have experience with protests and peaceful protests like our police officers do."

Nixon cited past violence in Ferguson following the shooting of Michael Brown. The grand jury is expected to reach a decision on whether to indict Wilson in mid- to late-November.

Rep. Dave Hinson, R-St. Clair, chair of the House public safety committee and a paramedic, said it was a good thing for Nixon to be proactive.

"I think he's doing a good thing by being proactive leading up to the possibility that the verdict comes down and there's no indictment and that we do have violence that takes place," Hinson said. He also said it was unfortunate that the National Guard might be necessary at all.

Following the August shooting of Brown, local law enforcement was criticized for its militarized response to protests.

Slay said they would avoid the appearance of militarization in the future.

"Our police officers in the city of St. Louis will be wearing their police officer uniforms," Slay said. "They're not going to have...riot gear on and things like that unless, of course, a situation would occur which would require to do that to protect themselves."

Following Nixon's announcement, no one in the governor's office was available to comment.

Calls to the Missouri National Guard, Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Department of Public Safety were directed to the public safety department’s communications director, Mike O’Connell.

O'Connell did not immediately answer any calls, but an email to O’Connell received an automatic response stating that he was “out of the office on business” and not available for calls or emails.

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, also disagreed with Nixon’s decision.

“I think that the state of emergency was ill-advised,” Nasheed said. She also criticized the governor for his lack of communication in regards to his failure to notify Curtis before the announcement.

The state of emergency will expire after 30 days.

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, criticized Gov. Jay Nixon for issuing a state of emergency in Ferguson in anticipation of the grand jury issuing a decision in the shooting death of Michael Brown.

"I think that the state of emergency was ill-advised," Nasheed said.

When asked about Rep. Courtney Allen Curtis, a Democrat who represents part of Ferguson, not being told about the state of emergency in advance, Nasheed said that is not unusual, but Ferguson is different.

"I do believe that at a time when we are in a major crisis, the last thing you need is a lack of communication," Nasheed said. "That doesn't fare well with many of the elected officials that have been on the ground each and every day."

Nixon's declaration activates the National Guard to assist local police in any protests that occur as a result of the grand jury's decision.

Neither Missouri's Public Safety Department nor the state's National Guard would provide immediate information on how they will implement the governor's emergency declaration in response to fears of violence in Ferguson.

Gov. Jay Nixon's state of emergency order activating Missouri's National Guard left it up to the Guard to determine how many troops would be called up and how their equipment would be mobilized.

But the state headquarters for the guard referred questions to the state's Public Safety Department. There, all calls were directed to the department's public information officer, Mike O'Connell, who did not answer his phone.

An email to O'Connell received an automatic response stating that O'Connell was "out of the office on business" and that he did not have immediate access to calls or emails.

A bit more detail was provided by the St. Louis City mayor, Francis Slay.

At a news conference shortly after Nixon's order, Slay defended the governor's decision to activate the National Guard as a precaution.

Slay said the state's military would serve a secondary, backup role.

"We would not have the Guard on the front lines, interacting with, dealing with, confronting protestors," Slay said. "Many of them don't have experience with protests and peaceful protests like our police officers do."

Slay also told reporters they would seek to avoid the appearance of police militarization that was the subject of widespread criticism during the initial protests in Ferguson.

"Our police officers in the city of St. Louis will be wearing their police officer uniforms," Slay said. "They're not going to have ... riot gear on and things like that unless, of course, a situation would occur which would require to do that to protect themselves."

Rep. Courtney Allen Curtis, D-St. Louis County, attacked Gov. Jay Nixon just minutes after he declared a state of emergency.

"I just think at this point that it's unnecessary had the governor taken other precautionary measures earlier on," Curtis said. "So to do it now, he's working on cleaning up his legacy it seems to me."

When contacted by MDN moments after the announcement came in an email from Nixon's press secretary Channing Ansley, Curtis said he and Rep. Sharon Pace, another lawmaker who represents part of Ferguson, had not been contacted by Nixon.

"I wasn't directly consulted, nor was Rep. Pace, and I'm just bewildered to death that Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal wasn't either given that this directly affects our constituents," Curtis said.

In a written statement, Nixon justified his state of emergency declaration and activation of the National Guard in response to the possibility of violence in Ferguson when a grand jury issues its decision on whether to indict the police officer who shot Michael Brown.

Activation of the National Guard was just one of a series of steps in a formal order declaring a state of emergency in Missouri in response to the possibility of violent protests in Ferguson.

Nixon's executive order cites past acts of violence in Ferguson after the police shooting-death of an unarmed suspect and the expected decision of a grand jury investigating the police officer's actions.

"As part of our ongoing efforts to plan and be prepared for any contingency, it is necessary to have these resources in place in advance of any announcement of the grand jury's decision," Nixon was quoted as saying in a news release issued by his office.

Nixon was not available for immediate comment.

The governor's executive order warns that "regardless of the outcomes of the federal and state criminal investigations, there is the possibility of expanded unrest" as a justification for a 30-day state of emergency.

While putting the National Guard into "active service," neither Nixon's order nor his news release indicates how many members of the Guard would be called up.

Instead, the state of emergency order leaves it up to the Guard's adjutant General to determine how many are called into active service and what equipment would be employed.

Various public safety officials in Nixon's administration were not available to answer questions for clarification.

Missouri saw the largest monthly drop in the country in the number of children enrolled in a federally-subsidized, child-care program this year.

According to a report by the Center for Law and Social Policy, 12,300 fewer children participated in the Child Care and Development Block Grant program in Missouri each month in 2013, more than any other state.

Proportionally, Maine had the largest monthly drop at 44.4 percent, compared to a 25.7 percent monthly drop in Missouri.

However, between 2006 and 2013, Missouri saw a net gain of 2,000 in the number of monthly enrollees, according to the CLASP report.

The Missouri Department of Social Services administers the subsidy program, which offers child-care subsidies to low-income families.

Rebecca Woelfel, the social services department's communications director, wrote in an email that the department cannot "speculate on trends in benefit usage."   

To qualify, families cannot earn more than 123 percent of the poverty level, Woelfel wrote in the email.

Glen Koenen, "an advocate for the hungry," told the Post-Dispatch the drop in child-care subsidy enrollment may be a result of the Social Services Department's reorganization of its Family Support Division, which oversees the subsidy program.

The Post-Dispatch said some attribute the drop to lower unemployment numbers.

Ruth Ehresman, coordinator of the St. Louis Family and Community Partnership, told the Post-Dispatch that low-income families tend to be employed in low-wage jobs, so that as employment rises, so would child-care subsidies.

Last Week

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill's decision not to support Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada, for senate minority leader indicates a possible gubernatorial run in 2016, according to MU political science Professor Peverill Squire.

Squire said her opposing Reid aligns with Missouri constituents after the results of the November midterm elections.

"The decision to not support the reelection of your long-time leader is not something that is done lightly," Squire said. "But from McCaskill's perspective, it sends a signal back to her constituents that she's independent to some extent of the Democratic leadership and that would position her both for running for governor in 2016 or for reelection in 2018."

McCaskill announced Thursday she will not support Sen. Harry Reid in the race for Senate minority leader.

Despite not having McCaskill's vote, Senate Democrats elected Reid as the Senate minority leader Thursday for the next congressional session beginning in January. Reid currently serves as the Senate majority leader, but after the November midterm elections, the Democrats lost their majority to the Republicans.

McCaskill, in her second term, announced her opposition to Reid, who has led the Democratic party since 2005. Before the Senate leadership votes, she said she chose not to vote for him because that's not what the citizens of Missouri want.

"Yesterday, I met with Harry Reid and told him I would not be supporting him for Minority Leader," McCaskill was quoted as saying in a statement. "I heard the voters of Missouri loud and clear. They want change in Washington. Common sense tells me that begins with changes in leadership."

McCaskill could not be reached for comment.

An online petition called for the attorney general not to appeal court rulings on gay marriage.

PROMO, a statewide organization advocating for equality for all Missourians, sponsored the petition after Attorney General Chris Koster's announcement to appeal a Missouri federal court ruling that declared Missouri's ban on gay marriage unconstitutional.

PROMO Communications Organizer Katie Stuckenschneider says the group collected more than 3,000 signatures.

"The ultimate goal with the federal decision is for [Koster] not to appeal," said Stuckenschneider. "And if he does appeal, then it will put an end to the ban once and for all."

There was no immediate response from the attorney general's office.

In 1994 Missouri voters approved a constitutional amendment limiting campaign contributions by a 74-26 vote.

However, lawmakers unraveled the amendment step by step.

In 2006, lawmakers voted to repeal the limits, but the state Supreme Court struck down the repeal on a technicality.

Then in 2008, lawmakers again repealed the limits and the bill was signed into law by Republican Gov. Matt Blunt.

Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, voted for repealing the limits when he was a state Senator.

He said they didn't make sense and weren't fair.

"By getting rid of the limits, people could give you whatever you want," Engler said. "All you had to do is know what was given to somebody and you could decide whether you agreed with that person or not."

Secretary of State Jason Kander said he has made reinstating campaign contribution limits and lobbyist gift restrictions one of his causes because the lack thereof makes the state look bad.

"When you have an environment that allows unlimited contributions and unlimited gifts to lobbyists, then what you end up with is a situation where it's a much more volatile environment for business and that's not a good thing," Kander said.

Republicans will have supermajorities in the House and Senate when the 2015 legislative session convenes on Jan. 7th.

House Speaker Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, said the chair of the committee investigating allegations against Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster hopes to issue a report before the end of the year.

Jones announced the committee Wednesday, which he created in response to a New York Times investigation alleging that Koster participated in questionable behavior involving campaign contributions and company investigations.

Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, will chair the committee and intends to hold a hearing before the end of the year, Jones said.

"His desire and hope was to come up with some recommendations for the attorney general's office by the end of the year in the form of a report as to how to address all of the issues raised in the New York Times piece," Jones said.

Jones said Barnes wanted a "serious group...that would not be on a witch hunt of any sort."

The commission includes Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, and Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, who will both leave office come January due to term limits.

Cox, a former prosecuting attorney, said he participated in a special investigative committee on the Department of Revenue regarding alleged wrongdoing during the summer of 2013.

"The facts are more important than what someone reports them to be," Cox said. "I think that we as a legislature need to be more involved in legislative oversight and reviewing the actions of the executive."

Jones said House Speaker-elect John Diehl, R-St. Louis County, will be able to replace Cox and Kelly if he feels the committee needs to continue after the new year. He can also create a new committee during the general session beginning in January.\

Gov. Jay Nixon announced Tuesday, Nov. 11, said the National Guard was available if necessary to deal with protests after a grand jury decision is announced on the police shooting of Michale Brown.

Nixon held a news conference at a Highway Patrol facility the adjoining county of St. Charles to announce plans for dealing with any potential unrest in response to the decision.

"The Guard will be available when we determine it is necessary to support local law enforcement," Nixon said. "As Governor, the most important part of my job is keeping the people of Missouri safe."

The St. Louis County Prosecutor, Robert McCulloch has said a grand jury decision was expected by late November.

The grand jury is investigating the shooting by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson of Brown on August 9.

Subsequent protests led to large units of police armed with automatic weapons and riding military vehicles.

Nixon subsequently called out the National Guard. Nixon's decision and the militarization of police tear gassing protestors brought nationwide criticism.

On the other side, store owners complained of damage and looting that occurred during the protests.

At his Tuesday news conference, Nixon said more than 1,000 police officers had undergone more than 5,000 hours of additional training.

Booker Shaw, a former judge and member of the Missouri Citizens' Commission, suggested judges are not looking for a pay raise.

The commission has the power to change the salaries of elected officials.

In the past year judges' salaries were increased to 73 percent of a federal judge's salary.

After a brief discussion between lawyers and judges the commission agreed not to touch the judges' salaries.

"Our focus needs to be really on statewide and elected officials," said commission chair Charlie Schlottach. "As well the legislature."

The commission's decisions will take effect starting in July 2015 unless rejected by the legislature.

The commission will have their salary decisions by Dec. 1, 2014.

A St. Louis area legislator has become the first Democrat to formally announce their bid for the Democratic nomination for state attorney general.

Sen. Scott Sifton, D-St. Louis County, announced his candidacy in an email distributed the afternoon of Sunday, Nov. 9.

Sifton has served one term in the state House and is in the middle of his first four-year term in the Senate.

The only other announced candidate is the Senate Appropriations Committee chair -- Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia.

Schaefer, so far, is unopposed for the GOP nomination after House Speaker Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, announced he was dropping out in order to spend more time with his family.

The office, now held by Chris Koster, is up for election in 2016.