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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of September 21, 2015

The University of Missouri's medical program announced Thursday, Sept. 24, a change that will eliminate the legal basis by which the Planned Parenthood affiliate in Columbia provides abortions.

On Dec. 1, the University of Missouri Health Care will eliminate a classification of a relationship used by Planned Parenthood by which a physician had met legal requirements to perform abortions at the organization's facility.

State law requires that an abortion facility have a physician with referral authority to a nearby hospital.

Technically, the university ended "refer and follow" as a category of privileges at MU health facilities effective Dec. 1.

The change comes after Planned Parenthood had come under attack by a Senate committee chaired by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia.

Planned Parenthood of mid-Missouri issued an immediate release attacking the university's decision. "We are outraged that MU Health Care caved to the political pressure from Senator Kurt Schaefer's 'Sanctity of Life' Committee and has eliminated refer and follow privileges for physicians," Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri President and CEO Laura McQuade said in a written statement. "This is a continuation of the orchestrated attemtp to restrict access to safe, legal abortions in Missouri."

Schaefer's committee was named after videos were released nationally in which Planned Parenthood officials allegedly discussed the sale of fetal tissue from abortions.

As part of its proceedings, Schaeffer's committee questioned MU Chancellor Bowin Loftin on whether University of Missouri Health Care's allowing Planned Parenthood to have "refer and follow" privileges violated state legal prohibitions against publicly funded abortions.

Schaefer's campaign organization issued a statement of victory after MU's decision was released.

"From day one when we learned of this scandal, I vowed that we would 'get MU out of the abortion business," the Columbia senator was quoted as saying.

The university acknowledged the change in MU Health Care policies was prompted by legislative questions and Loftin's request for the executive committee of the medical staff of MU Heath Care to review the policies and make recommendations.

"Of the 800 members of MU Health Care's medical staff, two medical providers had refer and follow privileges," Steve Whitt, chief medical Offficer of MU Health Care was quoted as saying in a press release.

"Refer and follow privileges only allow physicians to access their own patients' information. This level of access to patient information is already permitted by any referring provider, including those not on MU health Care's medical staff; therefore, the designation of refer and follow privileges was outdated and unnecessary."

Planned Parenthood's regional president disagreed.

"The MU Health Care system's claim that refer and follow privileges are 'outdated and unnecessary' is simply not true," McQuade said in a written statement. "These privileges are increasingly used in hospitals across the country to allow physicians who seldom or never admit patients to a hospital the ability to maintain staff privileges."

Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid Missouri announced last July that it had hired a new physicians and would begin providing abortion services at the Columbia facility in August. The Columbia facility had not provided abortions since 2012.

In his release, Schaefer claimed that "many unborn lives will hopefully be saved as a result" of the MU decision.

The Missouri governor's office reported that  Gov. Jay Nixon had undergone double knee replacement surgery on Tuesday, Sept. 22.

The governor's office refused to disclose the hospital were Nixon was staying or even the city.

Nixon has suffered from knee difficulties for several years. Occasionally, he as walked with an obvious limp.

Once, he joked it was the consequence of basketball that he frequently plays.

Knee replacement surgery usually is performed when arthritis or cartilage damage makes walking painful or difficult.

The surgery requires extensive rehabilitation that can last for several weeks.

The Missouri Supreme Court upheld the right of former Kansas City Chiefs employee to call 20 other former employees to testify that they also had been fired because of age.

The suit was filed by Steven Cox was fired in 1998 as the football teams maintenance manager.

At the time of his dismissal, Cox was 61 years old.

His attorney sought to call other Chiefs employees who had been fired around the same time as part of a reorganization of the team under the new chief executive officer, Clark Hunt.

Cox's attorney had presented evidence statements made by the new Chiefs' management of plans to bring in a younger staff.

But the circuit court prohibited 20 former terminated Chiefs employees from testifying about their terminations, ages or age-discrimination lawsuits.

The judge said that Cox had not claimed in his suit that there was a pattern of age discrimination nor that there was a hostile work environment.

In a 5-2 decision, the state high court overturned the lower court judges refusal to allow the witnesses to testify.

The court found the circuit court judge's ruling in error.

It cited other cases in which appeals-level courts have upheld the right of what it called "me too" evidence to question other employees about similar job-discrimination actions.

The state Supreme Court found the judge's decision "an abuse of discretion in issuing a blanket rejection of other instances of employees being fired based on their age, even where they were fired by the same supervisor or by one reporting to the same supervisor," wrote Judge Laura Denvir Stith.

The excluded evidence "highly logically relevant because it makes the existence of a fact -- the firing of Mr. Cox due to his age -- much more probable than it would be without the evidence," Stith concluded.

Her decision cited evidence Cox had presented showing that Hunt had said the intention was to move the Chiefs in a "more youthful direction."

The decision also criticized the circuit judge for refusing to allow Cox's lawyers to conduct a deposition of Hunt on his efforts for bringing in younger employees.

The Missouri Supreme Court threw out the ultimate circuit court decision which had rejected Cox's lawsuit -- sending the case back to the circuit court.

Three recent reported deaths from the West Nile Virus disease in the St. Louis area put Missouri as the third highest state for West Nile Virus deaths this year, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control.

Only Texas with nine and Oklahoma at 4 exceed Missouri's death toll from the disease.

But the figures have led to a dispute between the local and state health agencies.

The St. Louis Bureau Chief for Environmental Health Services Jeanine Arrighi said the number is significant.

"That is certainly more than we've had in past years and we suspect it's because we've had a particularly wet summer and so the availability of standing water in the community contributes to the number of mosquitoes."

But a spokesperson for Missouri's Health Department, Ryan Hobart, downplayed the significance of the numbers.

"The amount of cases that have been reported this year trend with some of years past. This isn't more cases or a significant amount more than would've happened in past years and people just need to be taking care of themselves and using insect repellent," Hobart said.

The website for the federal Centers for Disease Control reports that there "are no medications to treat or vaccines to prevent WNV infection. Fortunately, most people infected with WNV will have no symptoms."

Of 708 cases the CDC reports in the country this year, 13 are in Missouri.

But the fatality rate percentage is highe for Missouri.

Nationwide, the CDC connects West Nile to 29 deaths this year. Only two states exceeded Missouri's three-death total with Texas at nine and Oklahoma at 4.

The CDC figures are based on both confirmed and probable West Nile cases.

The CDC reports that  most suffering from the West Nile virus disease will recover completely "but fatigue and weakness can last for weeks or months."

About ten percent of those infected who develop neurological infection from West Nile will die, according to the CDC.

According to the CDC, the West Nile disease was first identified in Africa in 1937. The first known case in the U.S. was in Brooklyn, New York in 1999.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster has filed a contempt motion against Walgreen Co. of Illinois for repeatedly displaying expired sales tags in their stores.

According to a release from Koster's office, an investigation they conducted found more than 1,300 expired sales tags in 49 of the 50 stores they visited.

Walgreens had previously agreed in a court order to remove sales tags within 12 hours of their expiration.

"I promised Missouri consumers that we were going to stay on Walgreens' back until it corrected its deceptive ways," Koster said in the release. "It is the stores' responsibility to ensure fair and accurate pricing. We are not going to quit until Walgreens gets it right."

As part of the agreement the company agreed to previously, consumers who are overcharged for an item that costs $5 or less are entitled to that item for free.

Consumers who are overcharged for an item exceeding $5 in price are entitled to a $10 Walgreens gift card and to receive the item at its lowest advertised price.

According to Koster's office, Walgreens has already paid the state $136,500 for pricing violations.

Senator Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, and Rep. Robert Ross, R-Yukon, work with students in the Missouri Senate during a mock floor debate.
  Senate Appropriations Chair teaches students how to run the Legislature 09/22/2015

JEFFERSON CITY - Columbia Republican Senator Kurt Schaefer lead high school students in a mock legislative session at the Capitol Tuesday, Sept. 22 2015

16 high schools across Missouri participated in the session as part of the Constitution Project, according to the project's committee chair Judge Doug Gaston.

Gaston said the project was created to teach high school students about journalism, trial advocacy and crime scene investigation.

"The mission is to instill love of country, which we think is love of freedom and freedom is protected because of the Constitution," said Gaston. "So we teach them about the Constitution."

During the debate, Schaefer gave students an abbreviated version of senate rules. He said he supports projects like the Constitution Project.

"Projects like this, where you bring in high school students to be more engaged in the political process and understand the constitutional function of the government, it's outstanding," said Schaefer.

The project will hold regional competitions throughout the fall. Students will be back in the Capitol in November for the final competition. 

Jay Nixon surrounded by higher education officials outside his mansion.

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon Monday, Sept. 21, outlined his first proposal for the FY 2017 budget: an additional funding incentive to entice Missouri colleges and universities to hold tuition rates at their current levels.

The plan would ask lawmakers to approve a $55.7 million increase for Missouri's two-and four-year colleges that would bring Missouri higher education funding to $985 million.

"Under my budget, Missouri undergraduates won't pay a penny more in tuition next year," Nixon said. "This tuition freeze is good for students, families and our economy as a whole."

In addition to freezing undergraduate tuition, the proposal would require colleges and universities to dedicate at least $9.2 million of the budget increase to programs related to science, technology, engineering and math. A written release by Nixon indicated that 60 percent of job opening require basic knowledge in these areas and 40 percent of job openings require advanced knowledge in these four areas.

Nixon was joined by 23 presidents and chancellors from two-and four-year colleges across the state in making the announcement in front of the Missouri Governor's Mansion.

Missouri State University President Clif Smart, who also serves as president of the Council on Public Higher Education in Missouri said, "Missouri's public untiversities are dedicated to keeping college affordable."

Ron Chesbrough, president of St. Charles Community College and chair of the Missouri Community College Association's President/Chancellors Council, said "This significant investment would enable Missouri's community colleges to freeze tuition next year and to continue delivering quality, affordable education."

The increase would reflect a 6 percent boost in higher education funding and bringing state budget spending on higher education to an all-time high.

The funding proposal would have to be approved by lawmakers as part of their deliberation on the that will be taken up in January. The budget would cover the 2017 fiscal year that will begin July 1, 2017.

"I'm really confident that the legislature wants to invest in jobs and education," Nixon said. "They know the connection between the economy and our schools is a tight one."

The tuition freezes would also have to be approved by the respective governing boards of each of the state's two-and four-year colleges.

"We are very excited by this announcement. We think it positions us well and gives us the opportunity to invest in the areas we want to invest in," University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe said. "We can make recommendations, but at the end of the day the Board of Curators of the University of Missouri system will decide whether or not to hold tuition flat."

It was approved by lawmakers and accepted by the governing boards of the state's colleges and universities, the proposal would mark the fourth tuition freeze brokered by Gov. Nixon since he took office in 2009.

Gov. Jay Nixon offered encouraging words for some ballot-issue proposals that would seek Missouri voter approval for a cigarette tax increase for either education or transportation.

"The fact that you have leaders out there working to put in front of the public the opportunity in those areas is a good public policy piece," Nixon said Monday, Sept. 21, at a news conference outside his mansion.

Nixon noted there are proposals to boost the cigarette. One would boost funding for transportation and another for early childhood health and education.

While offering support for initiating the ideas, Nixon held off from a formal endorsement.

"I think there are a lot of miles between now and who gathers all of the signatures," Nixon said.

"As for me putting my finger down on which one of those, I want to wait and see which ones get through the process."

Last year, Missouri voters rejected a sales tax increase for transportation. In the spring, an effort in the Senate for a smaller transportation tax hike won the governor's support for continuing, but the idea died in the legislature.

A cigarette tax increase for education narrowly was defeated in 2012.

Last Week

Gov. Jay Nixon is tied for the most non-budget veto overrides in Missouri history, but said he's more focused on substance than numbers.

"I didn't come to this job undefeated and I won't leave it undefeated," Nixon said.

Nixon told reporters in Jefferson City that he will not be suing the legislature following its veto override of cuts to unemployment compensation, making the period people can claim benefits in Missouri among the shortest in the nation.

"I try stay in those two branches of government as much as I can without engaging a third one to help the conversation move forward," Nixon said of involving the judiciary in suing the legislature.

According to the governor, the Senate's veto override of the unemployment compensation bill was unconstitutional.

Nixon vetoed the bill during the 2015 legislative session and said that, since the Senate did not override the initial veto during the session, it missed the opportunity to override the veto at that point.

"As the Senate said last night, I mean, they said, 'this is going to be decided in court,'" Nixon said.

On the same day lawmakers handed Gov. Jay Nixon a near historic set of veto-override defeats, he also was handed a setback in his efforts to build a new football stadium in St. Louis.

Delivered to Nixon on Wednesday, Sept. 16, was a petition signed by 21 senators that they would oppose any efforts to appropriate funds to pay off bonds issued to build the stadium if the bond issue does not get prior approval by the legislature or Missouri voters.

"Together, we pledge to vigorously oppose any proposal to appropriate state taxpayer dollars for debt service on a new stadium that is not authorized by a prior vote of the public or the General Assembly," the petition warns Nixon.

The 21 senators represent more than a majority of the 34-member Senate.

Nixon has argued that extending the bonds issued for the current NFL stadium in order to build a new stadium does not require legislative or voter approval.

The leader of the petition dismissed any concern that the senators could be attacked for undermining Nixon's efforts to keep the Rams football team in Missouri.

"It's not up to the governor to try to negotiate illegally," said Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph. "We're talking about putting the state in debt and it's going to cost $300 million by the time we pay principal and interest for 30 years."

The owner of the Rams has begun efforts to get NFL approval to move the Rams back to the Los Angeles area.

Gov. Jay Nixon now is tied for suffering the greatest number of non-budget veto-overrides in Missouri history.

On Wednesday, Sept. 16, Missouri's legislature overrode 10 of the governor's vetoes. Coupled with the two vetoes overridden in the spring, it ties the 1833 record for legislative rejection of a governor's vetoes of non-budget items.

In all, 12 of the 18 bills Nixon vetoed will become law.

Among the major vetoes overridden are bills that would allow higher charges for some consumer loans, restrict cities from raising minimum wage requirements or banning plastic grocery bags, give police powers to private security guards, limit unemployment benefit coverage, continue a tax break for large laundries, and ban a college scholarship program for some children of illegal/undocumented foreigners.

Labor isses dominated the the final hours of the veto session with the General Assembly handing Nixon a major defeat, but also a major victory.

In the afternoon, the House sustained the governor's veto of the "Right to Work" bill that would prohibit requiring a person to be a union member to hold or keep a job.

But later in the evening, the Senate joined the House in voting to override the governor's veto of a measure that will cut the number of weeks a person can collect unemployment compensation during periods of high employment in the state.

Nixon's vetoes that the legislature overrode are:

Also see the list of vetoed bills with links to the veto letters and rollcalls.

Supporters fell 13 votes short of the number needed to override the governor's veto of the bill that would have prohibited requiring a worker to join a union or pay union fees.

Four Republicans who had voted against the bill last spring switched and supported the override.

But 20 Republicans voted against the override motion.

Supporters of the bill argued it would help bring jobs to Missouri and provide workers the freedom of choice.

"If we really want to do right by the workers, we're going let, give workers the freedom and the the union will represent them the best," said the bill's sponsor -- Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield.

Critics described the bill as an attack on organized labor.

"This is about a systematic attack on workers, working families," said Rep. Karla May, D-St. Louis. "It's all based on greed."

Several hundred labor union supporters packed the visitors gallery overlooking the House chamber and listened to the two-hour debate.

For the first time in Missouri history, a former House Speaker will hold the Senate's top position as Senate president pro tem.

The day before the Missouri legislature convenes for the veto session, Republican senators have named their choices for new Senate leadership. The Republican caucus named their current GOP leader -- Ron Richard, R-Joplin -- to fill the Senate president pro tem vacancy left by the resignation of Tom Dempsey.

Dempsey resigned from the position with a year left in his term to take a job with a conservative advocacy group.

Richard was the floor majority leader under Dempsey. Although selected by the GOP caucus that commands a majority of the Senate, the full Senate must vote on his formal election when the veto session convenes Wednesday.

"I'm filling out Tom's final year, I mean committee chairmans are already appointed so that's not going to change, and I'm going to be fair like him on sending the bills to committees and trying to get priorities of the caucus and trying to get priorities of senators," Richard said.

Richard's selection came just two months after one senator criticized the Senate for becoming to House-like in its approach to concentration of power.

As the first to serve as leader of both the House and Senate Richard said he can't compare the two positions, because the job descriptions are different.

"Everybody has their own mind and their own way to do things over here, and the rules are different over here," Richard said.

Successful political consultant Jack Cardetti has joined New Approach Missouri and their campaign to legalize medical marijuana in 2016.

Having worked on campaigns like Gov. Jay Nixon's and Secretary of State Jason Kander's, Cardetti is no rookie when it comes to working on a successful campaign.

The executive director and treasurer of Show-Me Cannabis John Payne said Cardetti will do a lot for the campaign.

"I think that Jack's experience can be brought to bear to help us assemble the best possible campaign team and to raise money that's necessary to get this issue before voters," said Payne. "That's really the key."

Past campaigns to legalize medical marijuana have failed due to lack of signatures. Cardetti said 2016 is the time for this issue.

"We think it's a really timely issue," Cardetti said. "What we're gonna do is seek to have Missouri be the 24th state that allows physicians to recommend small amounts of marijuana to patients that are suffering serious and debilitating illnesses."

New Approach Missouri is in the early stages of its campaign, however Cardetti said he believes they will have the support they need to get this issue on the ballot next year.

"It really ought to be up to physicians and patients to decide what the best form of medical treatment is," Cardetti said. "We just feel strongly that this ought to be an option, at least, on the table."

According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, instances of tree rot and fungi appearing across the state was likely caused by the massive drought that affect the Midwest in 2012.

Simeon Wright, a forest pathologist at the Missouri Department of Conservation, said that trees are much more vulnerable to developing rot and fungus when they are subjected to periods of high stress.

The 2012 drought was one of those periods.

"Many trees may not show symptoms right away, but over time, a few years later, there's been more time for wood decay fungi to begin to develop and other disease and insect issues to occur," Wright said. "Once you have all of that stress on the tree that may have been initiated with the drought, it can take a couple of years for those symptoms to become apparent."

Although Wright said that wetter weather, including what the state experienced this summer, can cause tree diseases, it likely doesn't increase the frequency of wood decay.

He said wounds sustained by a tree that allow fungus to infiltrate the tree's interior tend to lead to more cases of fungus growth.

When trees begin to rot, they become less structurally sound.

Wright said these trees could become dangerous.

"When you see evidence of decay, particularly the fungi growing on trees, that indicates that the tree may be becoming a hazard because it's not structurally sound anymore," Wright said. "It could break over in a storm or something like that and cause damage to property or to people that are near the tree."

The Department of Conservation recommends that anyone who is concerned about a potentially rotting tree on their property contact a certified arborist.

Homeowners can find a certified arborist in their area by visiting