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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of September 28, 2015

The senator who help lead the efforts for concealed weapons and to restore higher speed limits on highways passed away Oct. 1.

Harold Caskey died from complications of Parkinson's disease at the age of 77.

In 2003, Caskey led the Senate effort for passage of the bill to legalize concealed weapons. He made the motion to shut off a filibuster by his fellow Democrats and later made the motion to override the Democratic governor's veto of the bill.

Earlier, in 1996, he was leader in legislation to re-establish the higher, 70mph speed limits on multi-lane highways.

He helped add a provision that prohibits driving license violation points from be assessed for speeding that is less than 5mph above the limit.

Ironically, Caskey could not take advantage of the two laws he helped pass. Legally blind, he was not able to have a concealed weapons permit nor a driving license.

Caskey also was a leader in legislative efforts for public school funding and college scholarships.

Caskey served 28 years in the Senate, beginning in 1977 until forced out by legislative term limits after the 2004 legislative session.

State Auditor Nicole Galloway announced Wednesday, Sept. 30, a series of audits to determine how well public schools protect digital information.

"A school and school district has a responsibility to protect that information," Galloway said.

"If they're going to require Social Security numbers, health information, if they're going to require personal information about you or your students, then they have a responsibility to collectively protect it."

Beyond examining what protections school districts have to avoid hacking, she said the audits also will examine what policies are in place when protections fail.

"We're looking to see a school district detect a data breech. And once it's detected, do they have procedures and plans in place to address it?" Galloway said.

Galloway said more than 250 schools across the country had experienced data breaches in the past decade including at least three in Missouri in the past year.

Her audit will start with five schools districts:

Juvenile sex offenders would avoid permanent listing on the state's sex offender website under a case argued before Missouri's Supreme Court Wednesday, Sept. 30.

The case involves an unnamed 14-year-old juvenile who was found responsible in a juvenile proceeding for rape of an adopted sister in March of 2014.

At issue is whether the juvenile who never was convicted as an adult in the crime, must register with the state's sex-offender registry when he becomes an adult.

"Missouri is one of the few states who put children on the adult sex offender registry for life, with no possibility of removal -- ever," argued St. Louis Law Clinic Attorney Patricia Harrison.

Under questioning, Harrison noted that juvenile proceedings do not include the same rights for a defendant as the trail of an adult, such as the right to a jury.

Arguing on the other side, Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Laudano argued registration was a public safety issue in which only the most serious juvenile offenders are required to register for the rest of their lives on a list that the state makes available on the Web.

"Only a subset of juveniles found delinquent, those 14 or older at the time of their offense and who commit an act equal to more to more severe than aggrivated sexual abuse under federal law must register as adults."

As is customary with cases argued before the Supreme Court, no indication was given as to when a decision would be issued.

Chris Koster's gubernatorial campaign issued a statement attacking the Republican Party for efforts against stem cell research.

His statement came just one day after release of an investigation of his office that confirmed Planned Parenthood arguments that it had not sold fetal body parts from abortions performed in its Missouri facility.

Some anti-abortion advocates have argued that certain types of stem-cell research involve destruction of human life.

Koster says a possible assault by Missouri Right to Life would deter medical researchers from coming to Missouri.

"At a time when we are trying to attract the best and brightest to come and work in our state, it is imperative our government leaders stand up and protect the intellectual freedom of doctors searching for cures to the world's worst diseases," Koster was quoted in the release as saying.

Koster was not immediately available for questioning.

Koster's release cites his support of stem-cell research when he was a Republican in the state Senate.

Koster switched parties in 2007 shortly before his campaign for the Democratic nomination for attorney general in which the Senate's top GOP leader was running.

At the time. the western Missouri senator cited opposition to stem-cell research by some of his Republican colleagues as the reason for his switch.

Koster's attack of the GOP on stem-cell research came one day after his office issued a report that an investigation could find no evidence that body parts of aborted fetuses had been sold by Planned Parenthood in Missouri.

A University of Missouri agriculture expert says the wet weather of early summer followed by a lack of rainfall in the fall has hurt pumpkin production in the state.

"It's worse than having a drought year. At least in a drought year we can water where as this year was so wet for so long that we're having things there's just nothing there and at the end of the year there's just nothing to water for example our tomatos to try and get some more. So it's just been a big disaster really," said Tim Reinbott, superintendent of the University of Missouri Bradford Research Center.

Reinbott said the price for a pumpkin is almost double the cost of last year.

"Also the size is way down this year also. I was just out there today and we maybe have two thirds the size of what we normally have. The dry late weather really affected that," he said.

One agricultural products store in Jefferson City reported they had to get their pumpkins from outside of Missouri.

The propriety of municipal judges and prosecutors holding other jobs along with consolidation of municipal courts are among specific topics the Missouri Supreme Court has asked its work group on local courts to study.

Also requested by the court was a review of issues dealing with municipal court penalties and remedies when a defendant will not or cannot pay a court-imposed fine.

The task force to study municipal courts was appointed in May by the state Supreme Court after the U.S. Justice Department issued a report criticizing some aspects of municipal courts including jail sentences for defendants who could not post bond or pay fines.

During the last legislative session, the Missouri legislature approved a measure that imposes tougher limits on how much of a city's budget can be financed by court fines.

To give the Supreme Court's task force more time to review the new questions, Chief Justice Patricia Breckenridge wrote the group that the court had extended the deadline for a final report from December of this year to March 1, 2016.

The seven-member working group is co-chaired by two former members of the Missouri Supreme Court.

In a 47-page report, Attorney General Chris Koster reports there was no evidence of Planned Parenthood selling fetal body parts during the one-month covered by an investigation by his office.

The investigation covered 317 abortions performed in June at the only Planned Parenthood facility in Missouri that performs surgical abortions.

In every case at the St. Louis facility, the attorney general's report found that aborted fetuses had been shipped to a pathology lab, as required by state law, and then incinerated.

"The information and documentation we reviewed did not reveal any irregularities involving the transmission, examination, or disposal of the fetal organs and tissue," the report concludes.

The attorney general's investigation came after release of videos of national Planned Parenthood officials discussing what critics alleged involved the sale of body parts from fetuses aborted at Planned Parenthood facilities.

In the aftermath of the videos, a special Senate committee held contentious hearings in which members questioned the level of oversight by the state Health Department of Planned Parenthood operations.

Shortly after the last hearing, the University of Missouri announced it would terminate a relationship with a Planned Parenthood affiliated physician that allowed the Columbia Planned Parenthood facility to offer non-surgical abortions.

Last Week

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.