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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of May 11, 2015

Decisions by Gov. Jay Nixon and law enforcement officials involving the Ferguson unrest of last year was criticized in a report released Thursday by the U.S. Justice Department.

The report questioned Nixon's decision to put a Highway Patrol captain in charge over local law enforcement to handle the situation after protests became violent.

Use of military equipment, dogs and tear case by local law enforcement also was criticized.

The report charged "inconsistent leadership" and "use of ineffective and inappropriate strategies" as among the six issues that it concluded permeated all aspects of the police response.

Nixon had placed the Highway Patrol in charge of a unified command to coordinate as violence escalated.

But the report found an absence of coordination within law enforcement to address the protests.

"The lack of consistency in policy led to unclear arrest decisions, ambiguous authority on tactical orders and a confusing citizen complaint process."

The harshest criticism was directed at the Ferguson Police Department which the report found lacked relationships or trust with the community.

The tactics employed by various law enforcement agencies also was criticized.

"The use of military weapons and sniper deployment atop military *vehicles was inappropriate, inflamed tensions, and created fear among demonstrators," the report concluded.

The Missouri Highway Patrol issued a statement after release of the report arguing police actions helped save lives.

"The many adaptations made by law enforcement in Ferguson during the 17-day incident period, including their work to engage residents and respond to community concerns, were important factors in preventing the loss of life or serious injuries."

The state budget office announced Wednesday, Sept. 2, that the growth in state revenue collections for the first two months of the budget year grew at a rate higher than originally anticipated.

In December, Gov. Jay Nixon and legislative budget leaders projected a 3.6 percent increase for the fiscal year that began in July.

But during the first two months of the budget year, increased by 5.0 percent.

Corporate tax collections grew at the fasted rate of 16.4 percent. Sales tax collections increased 5.1 percent and income tax collections by 6.7 percent.

The figures for the two months is a reversal of a 1.2 percent drop in collections for July.

However, budget experts warn that a one-month comparison can be misleading because of differences such as to when weekends fall when the Revenue Department does not process tax payments.

Attorney General Chris Koster announced Tuesday, Sept. 1, a lawsuit against MSB Consultants and its president for violation of Missouri's "No-Call" law.

Koster's office said the company had violated the telemarketing law by making phone calls selling insurance to phone subscribers who had signed up for the no-call list.

The attorney general reported his office had received 20 complaints of telemarketing calls from the company to phone numbers on the list.

"My office will not tolerate businesses that ignore Missouri law and bombard consumers with unwanted calls," Koster said.

The Missouri law prohibits calling a number which has been placed on the No-Call list by the subscriber of the telephone number.

The law authorizes up to a $5,000 fine for each violation -- a potential judgement of up to $100,000 based on the 20 complaints filed with the state attorney general.

The Missouri Department of Education announced Tuesday, Sept. 1, the names of six public school teachers selected as finalists for the Teacher of the Year award.

The finalists were picked by a selection committee of teachers as well as representatives of business and education organization leaders.

The winner will be picked by the selection committee on Sept. 12.

The Missouri Teacher of the Year will be Missouri's nominee for the National Teacher of the Year award.

Missouri's current Teacher of the year is a journalism teacher at Hazelwood West High School in St. Louis Countyy, Chris Holmes.

The six finalists for this years award are:

The Missouri Department of Transportation released a statement Monday, Aug. 31, that 641 bridges are now listed in critical condition - 50 more bridges than a year ago.

Missouri State Bridge Engineer Dennis Heckman said that the department is doing its best to repair the bridges with the amount of funding that is available. He said the Missouri Transportation Department will replace a few bridges each year and fix them as fast as they can.

Heckman also said that the average age for a Missouri bridge is 45 years old and most of the bridges were built to last 50 years so because of this, many of the bridges are crumbling at the same time. He said this is a problem because the bridges become too expensive to maintain and are in constant need of repairs.

Heckman said drivers are not to worry though. The bridges are still safe to drive on as long as drivers are following the weight limits posted on the bridges. The bridges are inspected at least once per year and if a bridge were to become unsafe to drive across, the Missouri Transportation Department will shut them down.

"It doesn't mean they fall down on the day they turn 50. What happens is they become too expensive to maintain. We have to fix a lot of things on them more constantly," Heckman said.

Last year, the department announced it was cutting back on construction support for a majority of the state's highways because of revenue shortfalls.

The department's decision came after voter rejection in August 2014 of a sales tax increase for transportation.

Convicted killer Roderick Nunley was executed Tuesday night, Sept. 1 for, for the killing of a 15-year-old kidnapped teenager in 1989.

The execution came after Gov. Jay Nixon rejected a final appeal of clemency in a statement indicating that Nunley had pleaded guilty to the crime.

Nixon's denial noted the victim had been "abducted, raped and then stabbed to death."

Nunley's partner in the crime had been executed last year.

"I ask that Missourians remember Ann Harrison at this time and keep her parents, Bob and Janel Harrison," and the Harrison family in your thoughts and prayers," Nixon said in an emailed statement issued earlier in the evening before the execution was carried out at the Missouri prison in Bonne Terre.

Jeff Mizanskey was freed Tuesday from a Missouri state prison after serving two decades for drug-related charges.

Mizanskey was originally sentenced to life in prison without parole for marijuana possession in 1996.

Gov. Jay Nixon announced in May that he had agreed to commute Mizanskey's sentence after the story gained national attention.

Mizanskey was then able to argue his case in front of a parole board in August, and he was subsequently granted parole.

Mizanskey had multiple previous drug convictions prior to his 1996 conviction.

In 1984 he was convicted of possession and sale of marijuana, and in 1991 he was convicted of marijuana possession.

Mizanskey was also arrested for possession of a variety of drugs in 1983, and served a 60-day jail sentence.

His life sentence came as a result of a three-time drug conviction.

The prosecutor in the case had written a letter supporting supported clemency, although the letter also detailed a history of criminal violations by Mizanskey.

A Missouri House bill that would authorize the release of any offender serving a life sentence without parole for marijuana offenses was introduced during the legislative session in February, but it failed to pass.

State Auditor Nicole Galloway announced her office will be taking additional steps to increasing accountability in the state's municipal court system.

A press release from Galloway's office stated that, under the Municipal Courts Initiative, auditors will more closely examine statistics on warrants and tickets.

The initiative will also emphasize investigating cases of unfair treatment that could damage the credibility of the courts.

Municipal court reform was a major issue in the 2015 legislative session.

St. Louis County Republican Eric Scmitt sponsored Senate Bill 5, which limits the amount of revenue St. Louis County can generate from traffic tickets.

Gov. Jay Nixon signed the bill into law in July.

Senate Bill 5 went into effect at the end of August.

"True, comprehensive reform must include a series of approaches in order to effect real change and must be conducted with full transparency," Galloway said in the release. "The proposed rules filed by my office lay out clear guidance for counties, municipalities and courts in meeting critical requirements, and the process allows for full participation by the citizens of Missouri."

A public hearing will be held Nov. 2, 2015 in Jefferson City to discuss the proposed changes.