House Speaker Todd Richardson unveiled Friday, Oct. 23, a set of policy recommendations to address issues raised by the resignations of two legislators after reports of inappropriate conduct with female students.
Richard proposes mandatory training for House members on ethics and sexual harassment policies.
He also proposes a ban on "romantic fraternization" between members, staff and interns.
In addition, he proposes that an outside counsel investigate any sexual harassment complaint involving a House member of the House chief clerk.
His list of recommendations provides that the policy would cover "the unwelcome interaction of members and employees both in and away from the Capitol complex."
In addition to imposing restrictions on legislators, the proposal also would impose protections of House members and staff.
"The House will take such action as is available to protect House members and employees in the course of their work from unwelcome sexual conduct and communications by lobbyists, members of the press, visitors, constituents, service personnel, state employees employed by other agencies, or other persons."
Richardson's proposal does not include provisions as to how the restrictions would be enforced on legislators nor on persons outside of government.
In a statement issued with release of the proposals, Richardson acknowledged "these proposed policy changes are not a cure-all, but they do take significant, substantive steps toward improving the work environment in the Capitol so that interns, staff, and members can have a workplace where they are treated with respect and free from harassment," Richardson was quoted as saying in a statement released by his office.
Richardson's release came after House Democratic leaders renewed their call for public hearings to deal with the issues raised by the resignations of two legislators following charges of inappropriate conduct with female college interns.
In one case, House Speaker John Diehl resigned this spring after reports of sexual suggestive text messages with an intern.
Later in the summer, Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, resigned after reports that a female intern had complained of inappropriate sexual advances.
For a second year in a row, the number of schools in the Education Department's highest performance ranking continued to grow.
The figures come from the Annual Performance Report that grades schools on the basis of student tests and other factors such as attendance and graduation rates.
In 2013, the first year the new Performance Review Report evaluation standard was used, 238 schools scored high enough achieve the highest ranking to be worth of accreditation with distinction.
The following year, that number rose to 280. In the latest report issued Friday, Oct. 23, the number rose to 356 of the 521 public school districts evaluated -- 68 percent of all the districts.
"I want to applaud the educators, administrators and teachers who are helping more of our students graduate high schools prepared for post-secondary success," said Education Commissioner Margaret Vandeven.
During the same period, the number of troubled districts failed. The number of districts that were ranked as scoring below an accreditation fell from five to just one -- St. Louis County's Normandy School District that was taken over by the State Education Department.
At a news conference discussing the report, Vandeven stressed that accreditation decisions are made by the State Board of Education and are based on more than just one year's performance.
The board will take up any changes in school accreditation at its December meeting.
The performance rankings are based on the percentage of possible points that could be earned in various categories of measurement. Scores of 90 percent or higher rank a school as being eligible for "Accreditation with Distinction."
However, the proposed accreditation category has not yet been implemented nor has the Education Board established additional criteria for which "Accredited with Distinction" would be awarded to a district.
House Democratic Leader Jake Hummel, D-St. Louis, along with eight other Democrats sent a letter to House Speaker Todd Richardson demanding an interim committee be appointed to develop policies addressing interns working for the legislature.
"Other than a vague outline of possible policy changes informally distributed a couple of months ago, no action has been taken on this matter," Hummel charged in his letter, released Wednesday, Oct. 21.
Hummel noted Richardson had promised to take steps to address the issue after he was selected to replace former House Speaker John Diehl who resigned in response to reports of sexually suggestive text messages with a female college intern.
Diehl's resignation was followed later in the summer by the resignation of Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, after allegations of sexual harassment by a female intern who had worked for him.
"The Missouri House of Representatives is obligated to ensure inerns who come to the Capitol to learn and work are protected from inappropriate sexual advances and harassment," Hummel wrote.
Hours after release of Hummel's letter, that had been sent one week earlier, Richard issued a one-paragraph statement responding that a task force he had appointed had been working on the issue.
"We are now in the final stages of preparing our recommendations," Richard was quoted in the statement as saying.
Richardson statement said the task force had worked with House attorneys and consulted with university officials to develop recommendations.
"From that point, my office engaged in a thorough review process that resulted in additional recommendations that will revise not only intern policy, but also sexual harassment policy for all House members and staff."
Richardson's statement did not indicate what either he or his task force had recommended, but said the House Administration Committee would hold public hearings on the issue.
Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, was not available for immediate comment.
State Auditor Nicole Galloway issued an audit raising questions about the security of information held by the state Education Department about both current and past students.
The audit involves an Education Department database created in 2008 that holds information about individual students provided to the department by local school districts.
The database contains information about both current students as well as past students.
Her audit recommended the Education Department cease asking local schools for the Social Security numbers of students.
"We know that transmitting, that anytime you collect, transmit and maintain Social Security numbers, it creates the opportunity for a data breach or for that information to fall into the wrong hands", Galloway said at news conference announcing the audit.
In response to the audit, the Education Department promised it would remove Social Security number information from its database by June 2016.
As to why the Education Department maintains a database of past students, a spokesperson for the department said it helped assess the outcomes of Missouri school students.
The audit recommended the department adopt policies to address how to handle when it becomes aware of a breach of data concerning student information. It also recommended ceasing a practice by which Education Department employees shared IDs and passwords to access student data.
Republican conservative Kurt Bahr challenged the Education Department on their need for federal funds for Disability Determinations during a house committee hearing.
21 million dollars of federal funding have been allocated for Disability Determinations this year.
"We're dealing with education dollars and this is just kind of an out lier that sits in the budget," said Bahr. "I get it's only federal dollars and it's not state, it's just an anomaly in our House Bill two."
The department's deputy commissioner said they does not have a choice in where the program resides, however, it has been efficient and effective.
Bahr questioned the purpose of having this program in the Department of Education rather than having it in a social welfare agency.
"So I guess the question is, is this a Fed requirement that must go through this department or can we as a state say 'hey, let's just move it over to a different department because it seems to make more sense for us,'" said Bahr.
An Education Department representative Rick Longley says moving the funding could be possible, it would just take legislation to do so.
Attorney General Chris Koster announced Monday, Oct. 19, settlement with Farmers Insurance for violation of the state's telemarketing laws.
The $575,000 is the largest payment for violating the state's no-call law.
The attorney general's office reported they had received more than 275 complains during a four-year period.
Money from the settlement will be used for consumer advocacy and enforcement by the attorney general's office.
Missouri's law prohibits, with some exceptions telemarketing calls to phone numbers after the person having the number has placed the phone number on the no-call list maintained by the attorney general.
The law was adopted in 2000. Originally limited to land lines, the law was expanded three years ago to include cell phones. There now are 4.5 million numbers that have been registered on the no-call the list.
On the same day the Farmers Insurance settlement was announced, Koster's office announced a lawsuit had been filed against the cable firm Charter Communications for violating the telemarketing restrictions.
The attorney general's office reported 350 complaints about calls to market Charter's cable, Internet and phone services.
Gov. Jay Nixon imposed a series of restrictions in the budget passed by the legislature totaling $46 million.
Nixon said the budget withholding was necessary because of an appeals court decision that lowered by $50 million the amount of money the state administration predicted the state would collect from a settlement agreement with the tobacco industry.
"This unexpected loss of funds must be accounted for through spending restrictions to keep the budget in balance and our AAA credit rating intact," Nixon was quoted as saying in a news release issued by his office Monday, Oct. 19.
Hardest hit by the governor's spending restrictions were health and social services programs. More than $35 million of the cuts came from three departments:
Nixon's written statement stressed that he sought to minimize the impact by "reducing spending from new programs yet to get underway and funding increases that would grow the size of the budget."
Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder promptly attacked the governor's action.
"It is troubling that Gov. Nixon has decided to cut funding for children, law enforcement, the mentally ill, the disabled and other needed programs," Kinder was quoted as saying in a news release.
Kinder argued that the budget cuts were not necessary because state revenues have grown in the first three months of the budget year and the state has what Kinder described as a $325 million in an unspent surplus.
The tobacco money comes from a national settlement agreement between the tobacco industry and the nation's states, many of whom had filed suits against the major tobacco companies claiming diseases caused by smoking had expanded their Medicaid spending.
Under the settlement, the states agreed to impose higher taxes on tobacco companies that were not part of the settlement and, thus, did not have to pay the states.
Missouri, however, was accused of not fully complying with that provision of the agreement. An arbitration panel ultimately ordered a cut in tobacco payments to the state, but a state circuit court subsequently lowered the penalty by $50 million.
Last month, that court decision was overturned by the Eastern Missouri Court of Appeals.
Nixon said the state attorney general was planning an appeal, but a decision was not expected until after the the budget year that concludes June 30, 2016.
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.
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.