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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of October 12, 2015

A St. Louis circuit judge on Thursday, Oct. 15, threw out an ordinance increasing the minimum wage in St. Louis. The judge's order came the day before the higher salaries were to take effect.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen in August approved an ordinance which would have required businesses in St. Louis to pay employees at least $8.25 per hour -- rising to $11 per hour by January 2018.

The ordinance would have taken effect on Oct. 16, but was blocked by by Circuit Judge Steven Ohmer who found in favor lawsuit filed by various business interests including the Cooperative Home Health Care, Inc., the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Missouri Restaurant Association, the Missouri Retailers Association, the National Federation of Independent Businesses and Naufel, Inc.

In his ruling, the judge found that the ordinance violated Missouri law including a measure the governor had vetoed in the summer, but lawmakers overrode this fall.

Missouri's current statewide minimum wage is $7.65, higher than the current federal minimum wage of $7.25. Missouri's higher state minimum wage is the result of Proposition B approved by Missouri voters in 2006.

The state law passed by voters to set a higher minimum wage in Missouri was cited by the judge in this case in granting an injunction blocking a higher minimum wage in the City of St. Louis.

The judgment permanently restrains the defendants, the City of St. Louis, from implementing the ordinance.

Last month, the Missouri General Assembly overrode Gov. Nixon's veto of a bill which prohibits municipalities from raising the minimum wage higher than the state minimum wage.

The judge rejected arguments by the plaintiffs that the ordinance violated statutory prohibitions against a municipality setting a minimum wage higher than the state minimum wage, that it exceed the authority of the city's charter and that it constituted an unauthorized delegation of legislative power.

In a written statement, Brad Jones, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business said the injunction was a victory for small businesses statewide.

"The minimum wage should be consistent throughout the state," Jones said. "Allowing local governments to set their own higher wages would create hardships for many small, family businesses."

Following the ruling, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay indicated via social media that the injunction would be appealed.

The website of Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander shows that 10 different petitions involving increasing the state minimum wage have been submitted for approval to be circulated in an effort to place them on the ballot for statewide elections in 2016.

Get the bill banning cities from adopting higher minimum wage requirements, HB 722

Missouri's Economic Development Department reported Missouri's unemployment rate for September fell to the lowest level since August 2007.

While good news for those of have found work, it poses a potential loss for unemployed Missourians under a new law that will take effect in January.

According to the department, the unemployment rate was 5.3 percent of those seeking jobs.

The department reported that the greatest job growth was in art, entertainment and recreation with 2,100 jobs in September.

But a low unemployment rate could have a down-side for those who remain unemployed.

Earlier this fall, Missouri's legislature overrode the governor's veto of a bill that will cut unemployment compensation for those out of work during periods of high employment.

When the law takes effect in January, unemployment compensation coverage would fall from 20 weeks of unemployment to 13 weeks if the current high-employment figures continue.

Supporters argue that the cut in benefits will provide an incentive for the unemployed to find work when jobs are available.

But the new law faces a legal challenge now filed in court.

Gov. Jay Nixon argues the law is invalid because the legislature did not follow what he argues is a constitutional requirement that the veto override vote by the House and Senate be taken in the same session.

The House voted to override the veto in the spring during the regular session. But Senate Republican leaders decided not to vote to stop a Democratic filibuster in the closing days of the regular session that had blocked any legislative action -- including the final override vote on the cut in unemployment compensation.

Instead, Senate Republicans waited until the fall veto session in September for the override vote.

Shortly after the veto session, Nixon was non-committal as to whether he would implement the law. Later, however, his office said he would implement the provisions when they take effect January 1.

The Department of Economic Development does not provide enough information about the effectiveness of the Neighborhood Assistance Program, according to a new audit.

State Auditor Nicole Galloway released the audit on Thursday, Oct. 15.

"Without accurate information, legislators cannot determine if the program should continue, be modified or terminated," the audit said.

The Neighborhood Assistance Program is a tax credit given to neighborhoods around the state for various improvement projects.

The audit also found the DED doesn't always follow their own guidelines when considering projects, and doesn't provide adequate justification when it forgoes these guidelines.

The audit recommends that the DED ensures "all project applications are evaluated in a consistent manner."

Overall, the Neighborhood Assistance Program Tax Credit received a "good" rating, which means the audit found it well-managed, with a few areas that could benefit from improvement.

House Children Chair Rep. Diane Franklin, R-Camdenton

The director and founder of the pathology lab that was sent the aborted fetuses from Missouri Planned Parenthood in Missouri told House committee members they got complete bodies.

The hearing of the House Children and the House Ways and Means committees on Wednesday, Oct. 14, came in response to national accusations than an edited video clip which suggested Planned Parenthood had sold parts of aborted fetuses.

But the director of the lab that examines aborted fetuses, as required by state law, found nothing had been removed.

"As far as I know, they are complete, but that's all I can say about it, as far as I know," said the director of Pathology Services, James Miller.

But Miller's testimony came under questioning from Rep. Mike Moon, R-Lawrence County.

"Is it possible that some of those specimens had had parts removed before you received them at the clinic?" Moon asked.

"I guess anything is possible, I don't think it' probable," Miller responded.

"But it's possible?" Moon asked up in a follow up question "Anything is possible," was Miller's response.

Weeks earlier, Attorney General Chris Koster released the results of an investigation that found no evidence that fetal body parts at been sold by Missouri Planned Parenthood during the one month investigated.

After the hearing, committee members discussed legislative ideas including tracking of fetal remains to incinerators and a state memorial for aborted fetuses.

The leading critic of the governor's plan to float Rams stadium bonds without legislative approval says he will file a Public Records Demand for details of the Rams stadium construction.

Republican Senator Rob Schaaf says the papers have not yet been given to the St. Louis aldermen who are expected to vote on whether or not to approve payments on the bonds for decades to come.

He also says a majority of senators have said they would object to pay the bonds without voter or legislative approval.

"I have 21 senators including myself who have signed a document saying we will not pay for the bonds unless it is approved by the legislature or goes to a vote of the people but there seems to be no movement to do either of those things so we're going to have to end up to keep our word and not end up making payments on these bonds," Schaaf said.

Schaaf says he will file a Public Records Law for the term sheets because they are government funded.

Businessman John Brunner joined four Republicans in the race to take Jay Nixon's office in 2016. The former CEO of hand-sanitizer company Vi-Jon Inc. announced his candidacy for governor on Oct. 5.

Republican candidate and former House Speaker Catherine Hanaway says she anticipates a good race with Brunner in the mix.

“We welcome John Brunner to the race and look forward to a constructive dialogue that highlights the strength of conservative ideas for Missouri,” Republican candidate Catherine Hanaway said in a statement.

In 2012 Brunner lost in a Republican primary for the U.S. Senate to former U.S. Representative Todd Akin. Brunner has never held public office.

Efforts from the Missouri Juvenile Standards Work Group would establish the state's first code of ethics for juvenile justice officers, provided they are approved at a meeting in November.

Beverly Newman, the chief juvenile officer of the 17th Judicial Circuit in Missouri, told the Joint Committee on Child Abuse and neglect the new recommendation would be presented to juvenile officers during a juvenile officer business meeting scheduled for November 5 and 6.

Newman said it is unknown what the time line for implementation of these standards would be following those meetings in November.

Sen. Rob Schaaf (R-St. Joseph) said these standards may prove to be ineffective if they cannot be implemented.

"If you're going to create a code of conduct or a code of ethics and standards, it doesn't do a bit of good unless there's some entity that oversees that and makes sure that it's enforced," Schaaf said.

Committee Chair Rep. Bill Lant, R-Pineville, said he would want courts to implement these standards and avoid having them implemented by the legislature.

Some of the standards suggested by the work group include creating an audit process for juvenile officers and how to handle the crossing over of youth from the child welfare system to the juvenile justice system.

Last Week

In a surprise announcement, Gov. Jay Nixon announced Friday, Oct. 9, the resignation of his current Health Department director and her replacement with another lawyer.

Both the outgoing Health Department director and the incoming director had worked for Nixon when he was state attorney general.

Gail Vasterling's resignation letter to the governor does not cite a reason for her decision. The governor's spokesperson, Scott Holste, said her resignation was not requested by the governor.

Nixon announced that her replacement will be Peter Lyskowski, the department's deputy director who, like Vasterling, had worked as an assistant attorney general under Nixon.

The switch will take effect Oct. 19.

Vasterling will become the general counsel for the Mental Health Department.

To continue in his new job, Lyskowski's appointment as an acting director will require confirmation by the Missouri Senate when the legislative session begins in January.

Attorney General Chris Koster announced Friday, Oct. 9, that he will join 20 other states in a lawsuit against the Federal Environmental Protection Agency's rules that would limit carbon emissions from power plants.

In a speech to the annual meeting of the Missouri Electric Coop, Koster argued that the EPA restrictions would have adverse effects on the economy and electric rates.

In a news release after his speech, Koster argued the restrictions on carbon-generated power would cost the state more than $6 million.

"Renewable energy is a vital piece of our state's energy profile," Koster was quoted as saying. "It is essential that we achieve this goal in an economically responsible way that makes sense for Missouri.

Dan Viets

A prominent attorney in the effort to legalize marijuana filed the paperwork for a statewide ballot issue to legalize marijuana.

Columbia Attorney Dan Viets said he has represented dozens of clients who had been charged with using marijuana for various medical conditions.

Viets said the ballot issue proposal would only give doctors the power to prescribe marijuana when medical conditions warrant.

"Right now under Missouri law, doctors can prescribe hundreds of dangerous and addictive, deadly drugs," Viets said. "No one has ever died from cannabis. And that's not true of aspirin. That's not true of most pharmaceutical medications."

Endorsing the petition campaign is the former head of the Missouri Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Tom Mundell told reporters in Jefferson City how he had seen marijuana help veterans overcome the horrors of war.

"They had found that this was the Holy Grail to them; That they had found something that had relaxed them, that had actually started an inner healing," Mundell said.

The measure would earmark for veterans programs tax revenue generated medical marijuana sales.

If supporters can gather enough signatures -- about 160,000 -- the proposed constitutional amendment would appear on the November 2016 ballot.

If approved, Missouri would join 23 other states that have legalized marijuana for medical treatment.

A data breach of an Experian server gave an unauthorized party access to the personal information of 263,000 Missourians.

T-mobile customers who applied for postpaid services between Sept. 1, 2013 and Sept. 16, 2015 are affected by this breach.

Information taken from the server included customer names, addresses and social security numbers.

Attorney General Chris Koster alerted Missourians of the breach Oct. 7.

"My office is monitoring the situation to ensure the Missouri consumers are properly notified," said Koster in a press release.

Koster said consumers who are affected should consider registering for a credit freeze.

In a letter to consumers, T-Mobile CEO John Legere said he will focus on helping consumers.

"Obviously I am incredibly angry about this data breach and we will institute a thorough review of our relationship with Experian, but right now my top concern and first focus is assisting any and all consumers affected," said Legere in the letter.

T-Mobile representatives refused to comment for radio.

The Missouri Hospital Association has released a study suggesting the state has a growing problem of abuse of commonly prescribed painkillers.

This study shows that hospital treatments of the abuse of opioid painkiller drugs in Missouri have more than doubled in the last decade.

"We found, over the course of a decade which was 2005 to present, was that the rate of prescription drug abuse had skyrocketed in Missouri," said spokesperson Dave Dillon. "During that period it has increased 137 percent state-wide."

The growth rate of painkiller related hospitalizations in Missouri is the highest in the country.

"The medical problems related to prescription drug abuse are staggeringly high and continue, basically, to grow in Missouri at a rate that is much higher than the Midwest, which is the highest rate in the country," said Dillon.

Within Missouri the abuse problem covers a broad demographic and geographic range. The highest growth rates were among white males under the age of 30.

The Missouri Hospital Association plans to work with prescription providers to find a solution to this state-wide problem.

"We're certainly going to work with the provider community now that the problem has been identified to try to work through solutions that can be done on our end, meaning in the people who provide health care services," Dillon said.

Six slightly different tobacco tax increase petitions were approved Wednesday, Oct. 7, for circulation to place the issue on the November ballot.

All six would raise phase in an extra tax on tobacco that ultimately would raise the tax on a pack of cigarettes from 17 cents to 60 cents.

Money raised from the tax would be used to fund early childhood education and health programs.

Two other petitions have been approved that would phase in a 23-cent-per-pack tax increase with the money going to transportation.

The tax increase for childhood programs has been promoted by a coalition of Kansas City area business and health leaders.

In late September, Gov. Jay Nixon all but endorsed the proposal -- saying it was "good public policy" that efforts were underway to get the issue before Missouri voters.

The secretary of state must verify the initiative petition form complies with state law and prepare a ballot title before signatures can be collected.

Signatures must be submitted by May 8, 2016.

To be placed on the ballot, an initiative petition that would change state law requires the signatures of five percent of the voters in six of Missouri's congressional districts -- slightly more than 100,000 signatures.

A constitutional amendment requires signatures from eight percent of the voters in six congressional districts -- more than 163,000 signatures.

If the secretary of state determines that a sufficient number of signatures have been collected, the measure will be placed on the November ballot.

The Missouri Department of Conservation has expanded pheasant hunting statewide for this hunting season, which starts with a youth-only weekend Oct. 24, 2015.

Before this season, pheasant hunting was only allowed in the Northern half of the state, along with a portion of Southeast Missouri.

According to the department, expanding pheasant hunting across Missouri simplifies rules for hunters without hurting the state's pheasant population.

"Hens are protected from harvest and one rooster often mates with multiple hens," Conservation Department Resource Scientist Beth Emmerich said. "Our rooster-only hunting season has very little impact on overall population size and growth."

However, not all areas of Missouri have pheasant populations and Emmerich said the hunting expansion "does not imply that birds can be harvested or even observed in all areas of the state."

Pheasant hunting in Missouri was only permissible in what the department called a North Zone consisting of all counties north of Interstate 70 and a portion of St. Charles County south of I-70.

The Southeastern portion of Missouri that allowed pheasant hunting was comprised of Dunklin, New Madrid, Pemiscot and Stoddard counties.

Missouri's pheasant hunting season starts Nov. 1, 2015 and ends Jan. 15, 2016.

Since 2013, there has been a partnership between mental health centers and the state to help identify people who are in need of mental health care.

President and CEO of the Missouri Coalition of Community Behavioral Healthcare Brent McGinty says the Missouri Community Mental Health Liaisons program will now focus on quicker intervention.

"Well what we really need to do going forward is find ways to really engage the clients in treatment at the front end of their illnesses versus waiting until folks get deeper into their illnesses," said McGinty.

The Liaisons program was created by Governor Jay Nixon shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings.

For two years the program has worked with law enforcement and health officials to make more than 12,000 referrals for individuals in need of care.

"That gap in that service continuum between law enforcement and the metal health providers can be a barrier for someone getting the care that they need at the appropriate time," said McGinty. "So that's really been a critical factor and a critical feature in the CMHL program."

Missouri's acting budget director announced Monday that Missouri has lost $50 million as a result of a federal appeals court decision involving tobacco settlement payments.

Under the national settlement with several states, including Missouri, the major-brand tobacco companies pay the states for the costs the state claim they bore for financing health treatment for lower-income smokers.

As part of the agreement, the states are required to impose a tax on other tobacco companies that were not part of the settlement -- to avoid non-participating companies able to sell tobacco products at lower prices since they are not paying for the settlement.

Several years ago, the tobacco industry filed suit charging Missouri had not met the requirements of the agreement.

On Monday, Oct 5, Acting Budget Director Dan Haug reported that the federal Eastern District Court of Appeals held Missouri's portion of tobacco settlement payments should be $50 million lower than the state had expected under an arbitration agreement.

Despite the lost revenue, Haug reported that for the first quarter of the budget year, state revenue collections met the original projections of the administration and legislative leaders when they put the state's budget together earlier this year.

For July, August and September, revenue collections grew by 3.6 percent.

But the figures suggest Missouri paid a budget price with the lower tobacco settlement payment -- experiencing only a 1.6 percent growth for September.

A retired St. Louis business executive who spent more than $7 million of his own money in a failed race for the U.S. Senate in 2012 announced Monday, Oct. 5, that he was running for the GOP nomination for governor in 2016.

John Brunner formally announced his candidacy in emails Monday after what his campaign organization reported was a private speech Sunday night to 200 supporters.

In his speech distributed the next day on the Web, Brunner cited his background as a business executive.

"I am the only candidate with decades long record of bringing billions of dollars of business to Missouri including thousands of jobs."

Brunner narrowly lost the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate to Todd Akin in 2012.

Akin subsequently lost the election to Sen. Clair McCaskill following criticism of his use of the term "legitimate rape" to defend his position defending abortion restrictions.

In his announcement, Brunner acknowledged he has never held public office, but the St. Louis businessman cited that as an advantage in his campaign.

"I'm not part of the establishment, I've never held public office," Brunner said to his rally. "But, I'm a threat to the political class and the big-dollar donor because I cannot be bought."

Brunner demonstrated his financial independence in 2012. According to Federal Elections Commission financial disclosure reports, Brunner was the sole contributor of more than $7.7 million in his failed primary campaign.

Brunner joins a crowed GOP field of candidates for the gubernatorial nomination including former House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, State Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Bob Dixon and former Navy Seal Eric Greitens.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster is the only announced Democrat for the race.

In his Web-announcement speech, Brunner alluded to Koster as a chameleon in apparent reference to Koster's decision to switch from a Republican to a Democrat before his initial campaign for state attorney general.