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Sunday, November 11, 2007

BAN ON POLITICAL USE OF STATE VEHICLES ABSOLUTE

State Auditor Susan Montee says the state law that bans officials from using government vehicles for political trips is absolute and doesn’t allow for political travels even if the state is reimbursed for the cost. Montee’s conclusion came in a routine audit of Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder’s office released Oct. 30.

In September 2006, Kinder’s campaign paid the state $5,757 to cover the cost of political trips in his state car. The Office of Administration had advised Kinder he could use the care for political trips so long as he reimbursed the state. OA’s reimbursement policy, however, is not supported by state law.

Attorney General Jay Nixon’s campaign on Oct. 26 paid the state $47,022 in reimbursement for using his state vehicle. Both Nixon and Kinder say they are no longer using state vehicles to travel to political events.

SCHOOL FUNDING LAWSUIT WILL BE APPEALED

A group of school districts that sued the state over the constitutionality of its public school funding system will appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court after a circuit judge ruled against them on all counts.

The schools filed the lawsuit in January 2004 and it finally went to trial earlier this year. They claimed the state’s 1993 school funding formula and a replacement formula adopted in 2005 provided inadequate funding for education that was unfairly distributed among Missouri’s 524 public school districts. Cole County Judge Richard Callahan rejected those claims in a pair of decisions issued in August and September.

MENTAL HEALTH PLANS TO OUTSOURCE CASEWORKERS

The Missouri Department of Mental Health plans to eliminate the jobs of 484 caseworkers for the developmentally disabled and outsource their duties to private companies.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the department says the move will reduce the number of caseloads per worker as private providers can hire workers at a lower cost than the state, thus resulting in more caseworkers at the same overall cost. Critics, however, said the move will result in private companies putting their financial interests ahead of their clients’ needs.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

GOVERNOR NAMES TWO TO COURT OF APPEALS

Without the controversy that accompanied his recent appointment to the Supreme Court, Gov. Matt Blunt on Oct. 10 announced his choices for two of the five current vacancies on the Missouri Court of Appeals. Blunt picked Clay County Circuit Judge James Welsh for a spot on the court’s Kansas City-based Western District and selected former St. Louis County Councilman Kurt Odenwald for an opening on the Eastern District bench in St. Louis.

The governor must make appointments to the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals from lists of finalists submitted by the Appellate Judicial Commission. In filling a Supreme Court vacancy recently, Blunt demanded that the three finalists fill out detailed 111-question surveys, which he then made public.

Critics of the governor’s handling of the appointment process said the surveys, which required extensive requests for documentations, were designed to harass and embarrass the finalists. The Court of Appeals candidates were not subjected to the same treatment.

Two vacancies remain on the Western District, with another spot currently open on the Southern District in Springfield. The judicial commission has yet to announce finalists for those posts.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

AUDIT UNCOVERS WASTEFUL SPENDING BY MOHELA


State Auditor Susan Montee on Oct. 11 issued an audit that accuses the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority of a pattern of wasteful spending, including providing excessive and unjustified benefits and severance packages to agency executives, building an $11 million headquarters without bidding the project and procuring numerous other goods and services without soliciting competitive bids.

Montee said the audit’s findings are incomplete because the agency, which services low-cost student loans, refused certain requests for documentation made by auditors. The agency’s refusal is the subject of a pending lawsuit filed by the auditor’s office.

GOVERNOR NAMES TWO TO COURT OF APPEALS

Without the controversy that accompanied his recent appointment to the Supreme Court, Gov. Matt Blunt on Oct. 10 announced his choices for two of the five current vacancies on the Missouri Court of Appeals. Blunt picked Clay County Circuit Judge James Welsh for a spot on the court’s Kansas City-based Western District and selected former St. Louis County Councilman Kurt Odenwald for an opening on the Eastern District bench in St. Louis.

The governor must make appointments to the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals from lists of finalists submitted by the Appellate Judicial Commission. In filling a Supreme Court vacancy recently, Blunt demanded that the three finalists fill out detailed 111-question surveys, which he then made public.

Critics of the governor’s handling of the appointment process said the surveys, which required extensive requests for documentations, were designed to harass and embarrass the finalists. The Court of Appeals candidates were not subjected to the same treatment.

Two vacancies remain on the Western District, with another spot currently open on the Southern District in Springfield. The judicial commission has yet to announce finalists for those posts.

SCHOOL FUNDING LAWSUIT HAS COST $4.6 MILLION SO FAR


A nearly 4-year-old lawsuit challenging Missouri’s mechanism for funding public schools so far has cost state and local taxpayers about $4.6 million, a cost that will increase if the case is appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court as expected.

More than half of Missouri’s 524 public school districts are involved in the case. According to The Associated Press, the districts have spent more than $3.2 million on attorney fees, expert witnesses and other costs. The state has spent at least $1.4 million defending its school funding system.

In August, Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan ruled against the school districts on most counts. He still must rule on certain other issues in the case before it can be appealed.

STATE MINIMUM WAGE TO INCREASE TO $6.65 AN HOUR

Missouri’s standard minimum wage will increase to $6.65 an hour effective Jan. 1, 2008, according to the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. The state’s current minimum wage of $6.50 an hour took effect on Jan. 1, 2007, following voter approval of a ballot measure in November 2006 to boost the wage, which had been set at $5.15 an hour since 1997.

Proposition B, which voters passed with 76 percent support, also requires the wage to be adjusted annually for inflation starting in 2008. The pending 15-cent an hour increase in the wage is based on a 2.2 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index from July 2006 and July 2007.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

GOVERNOR’S HEALTH CARE PROPOSAL FACES CRITICISM

Gov. Matt Blunt’s new proposal for expanding health insurance coverage to more Missourians drew immediate criticism from both Republicans and Democrats over the plan’s projected cost and whether it could realistically deliver on the governor’s promises.

Blunt’s Insure Missouri plan would assist working Missourians who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid in obtaining private health insurance. However, it would do nothing for the tens of thousands of children, senior citizens and disabled people who lost their health care coverage under the governor’s 2005 Medicaid cuts.

After years of saying it would be too costly to restore coverage to the 180,000 Missourians who lost it due to the 2005 cuts, Blunt now claims his plan would cover 200,000 Missourians at a cost of just $46 million in state revenue a year by 2010. Critics dispute that cost as improbably low to cover that many people.

Republican state Reps. Doug Ervin of Kearney and Rob Schaaf of St. Joseph, who both sponsored major health care legislation that passed earlier this year, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Blunt would have a hard time winning approval for his plan in the GOP-controlled General Assembly since it would create a large new state program.

ETHICS COMMISSION REVOKES DECISION, TO HOLD DO-OVER

The Missouri Ethics Commission on Sept. 19 voted to rescind its earlier vote on how to implement a recent state Supreme Court ruling reinstating campaign contribution limits. The action came after the Missouri Republican Party sued commissioners for violating the state open meeting’s law in reaching its original decision.

At a Sept. 11 meeting, the commission discussed the issue in closed session and then in an open session and with no public debate approved a motion to implement the court’s ruling. The Republican Party contends the commission’s action was a public policy matter that could not be discussed in private under state law, a view shared by many news organizations.

The commission will hold an open meeting on Oct. 4 to take public testimony on the matter and again vote on implementation. In a supplementary ruling to its opinion striking down legislation that repealed state campaign contribution limits, the court directed the commission to order candidates who accepted donations above the limits during the six-month period the caps were lifted to return the money unless individual candidates can prove doing so would result in a hardship.

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES GET NEW LEADERS

Several state representatives assumed new leadership roles on Sept. 12 to replace House members who moved on or moved up.

The full House chose state Rep. Bryan Pratt, R-Blue Springs, as speaker pro tem, the chamber’s No. 2 post. Pratt replaces Carl Bearden, R-St. Charles, who resigned from the House this summer to become a lobbyist.

The House Republican Caucus chose state Rep. Steve Tilley of Perryville as majority leader to replace Tom Dempsey of St. Charles, who recently was elected to the Senate.

State Rep. Paul LeVota of Independence officially took over as minority leader, while state Rep. J.C. Kuessner of Eminence assumed LeVota’s old job as assistant minority leader. The House Democratic leadership shuffle was prompted when state Rep. Jeff Harris of Columbia announced he would step down as minority leader to pursue the Democratic nomination for attorney general in 2008. Harris will retain his House for the remainder of his term.

House Republicans also selected state Rep. Ron Richard of Joplin as the heir apparent to term-limited House Speaker Rod Jetton of Marble Hill. Whether Richard ever actually becomes speaker, however, is contingent on a number of factors: First, Richard must win re-election in 2008. Second, Republicans must maintain their House majority in the next year’s elections. And third, Richard must maintain the support of at least 82 House members over the next 16 months until the actual speaker’s election takes place in January 2009.

At least one previous speaker-designee failed to actually get the job. In 1995, House Democrats, then in the majority, chose Sam Leake to replace departing speaker Bob Griffin. By the time of the official vote, however, Leake lost support and Steve Gaw was elected speaker.

JUDGE REJECTS ORDER TO BLOCK MOHELA DEAL

Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan on Sept. 11 declined to issue a restraining order preventing the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority from transferring funds for the state to be used for construction projects. Under legislation passed this year, MOHELA is to give the state $350 million, with the first $230 million payment due this month.

On Sept. 7 MOHELA Executive Director Raymond Bayer Jr. recommended against transferring the money because of the lawsuit and changes in the student loan market. The MOHELA Board of Directors, however, voted 5-1 to proceed with the transfer.

The state law that established MOHELA in 1981 said the agency’s assets could only be used for the purpose of servicing low cost student loans and covering MOHELA’s necessary operating expenses. Although revisions to the law made this year allow MOHELA funds to be used for capital project, the lawsuit contends that assets accrued under the old law cannot be used for this new purpose.

HISPANIC GROUPS WANT BLUNT’S CHIEF OF STAFF SACKED

Some Missouri-based Hispanic groups have asked Gov. Matt Blunt to fire chief of staff Ed Martin following comments Martin recently made at a Missouri Housing Development Commission that the groups deem offensive. Blunt, however, said Martin will keep his job.

At an Aug. 17 commission meeting, Martin chastised an attorney for a developer accused of hiring illegal workers after the attorney attempted blame the situation on the lack of an electronic means of verifying the workers’ immigration status. According to the meeting transcript, Martin said: “Make your point for your client, don’t start in with what’s available. I’ll tell you what’s available, is every frigging developer can figure out who is illegal, and when he says – like he told them – there’s a bunch of Mexicans out there, I guess some of them are probably not legal.”

A spokeswoman for Blunt said Martin was paraphrasing what the developer said and that the statement didn’t reflect Martin’s personal views. However, the context of the transcript doesn’t appear to support that explanation.

ACCESS MISSOURI SCHOLARSHIPS CUT BY 30 PERCENT

Due to higher than anticipated demand from financially needy college students, the state is cutting awards under the new Access Missouri Scholarship program by 30 percent from what was originally expected. Access Missouri combines two previous state scholarship programs and was created under an omnibus higher education bill the General Assembly passed this year.

Following the cuts, the new program is offering eligible students maximum scholarships of $1,500 a year to attend a public four-year university and $3,000 for private universities. When it was created, the program was expected to offer public school students $2,150 a year and private school students $3,600 annually.

HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER WINS SPECIAL SENATE ELECTION


House Majority Leader Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, on Sept. 4 won a special election to fill a vacant seat in the Missouri Senate. Dempsey captured 56.2 percent of the vote to beat Democrat Ed Appelbaum.
Although Tom and I often voted very differently from each other he was one of the members of the house who I had a great deal of respect for. I wish him the best in the Senate.

GOVERNOR SIGNS SPECIAL SESSION BILLS

Gov. Matt Blunt on Sept. 4 signed an economic development bill the Missouri General Assembly passed in a two-week special legislative session that ended the previous week. The bill will provide $66 million a year in tax breaks to developers and other businesses and also repeals state and local laws prohibiting ticket scalping.

On Sept. 5, Blunt signed the session’s other bill, which allows the Missouri Department of Transportation to finalize a contract to repair 800 of the state’s worst bridges over the next five years.

VERIZON AGREES TO SETTLE TAX LAWSUIT

Cellular phone service provider Verizon has agreed to pay nearly $30 million to settle a long-running tax dispute with Missouri municipalities, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Numerous Missouri cities filed suit against Verizon and other cell phone companies in 2001, claiming the companies were failing to pay local taxes on phone service. The companies argued cell phones weren’t subject to the taxes, most of which were enacted before the existence of cellular technology.

At the urging of the cell phone industry, the Missouri General Assembly passed legislation in 2005 that sought to derail the lawsuit. However, the Missouri Supreme Court later declared the law unconstitutional. Verizon is the first company subject to the suit to settle. The other companies are AT&T, Sprint Nextel, US Cellular, T-Mobile and Alltel.

Monday, September 3, 2007

TWO-WEEK SPECIAL SESSION WRAPS UP

The Missouri General Assembly concluded a two-week special legislative session on Aug. 30 by passing an economic development bill and a measure to speed up repairs on state bridges. Gov. Matt Blunt, who called the special session, is expected to sign both bills.

The economic development bill would provide $66 million a year in tax breaks to developers and other businesses and also repeals state and local laws prohibiting ticket scalping. The other measure would allow the Missouri Department of Transportation to finalize a contract to repair 800 of the state’s worst bridges over the next five years.

SCHOOLS LOSE FIRST ROUND IN FUNDING LAWSUIT

Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan on Aug. 29 upheld the constitutionality of Missouri’s system for funding public schools. The case, which was brought by more than half of Missouri’s 524 school districts, is expected to be appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court.

The district filed the lawsuit in January 2004 claiming the state provides insufficient funding to public schools and unfairly distributes what it does provide in violation of the Missouri Constitution. Callahan ruled the constitution doesn’t provide a “guarantee of absolute equity, equality or adequacy in dollars spent or facilities from district to district.”

One issue Callahan left unresolved is meaning of “state revenue” in the constitutional provision requiring at least 25 percent of state revenue to be spent on education. The question is whether that provision refers to just general revenue or whether other taxes collected by the state for specific purposes, such as transportation or conservation, should be included in determining the 25-percent threshold. Callahan has scheduled a Sept. 20 hearing on the matter.

SOME MISSOURIANS EXCLUDED FROM ‘HUMAN’ DEFINITION

Proponents of a proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit embryonic stem cell research pulled the measure after critics pointed out its definition of “human” excluded people with common chromosomal abnormalities. Cures Without Cloning, which is pursuing an initiative drive to put the issue on the 2008 ballot, told media outlets it will submit revised language.

As originally submitted, the proposal defined human life as consisting of “a complete set of forty-six chromosomes.” Missourians with genetic conditions such as Down, Turner or Klinefelter syndromes wouldn’t fall under that definition since they have 45 or 47 chromosomes.

FEDERAL JUDGE BLOCKS NEW ABORTION LAW

U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith on Aug. 27 issued a temporary injunction blocking Missouri from enforcing new restrictions on abortion clinics the General Assembly enacted earlier this year. Smith’s order came one day before the new law was to take effect.

The order came in response to a lawsuit filed on Aug. 20 by Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri challenging the restrictions. The law requires abortion providers to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers. Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis facility already complies with the new standards but its Columbia and Kansas City clinics do not. The group claims the law effectively eliminates abortion access for many women by imposing unnecessary requirements on clinic operations.

COURT KICKS DONATION DECISION TO ETHICS COMMISSION

The Missouri Supreme Court on Aug. 27 sidestepped a definitive ruling on whether political candidates must return large donations many accepted earlier this years and directed the state Ethics Commission to decide the matter on a case-by-case basis.

In 2006 the General Assembly repealed limits on the size of campaign contributions candidates may accept from individual donors. The limits, which Missouri voters had first imposed in 1994, were lifted effective Jan. 1, and many candidates accepted contributions well in excess of the old per-donor caps of $325 for a state representative candidate, $650 for state senatorial contest and $1,275 for a statewide race.

In a unanimous July 19 ruling, however, the Supreme Court reinstated the limits based on technical problems in how the measure was passed. At that time, however, the court left open the question of whether candidates would have to return contributions in excess of the caps.

In its supplemental opinion, the court unanimously ruled that candidates whose elections were decided prior to its initial ruling do not have to return the money since most cases it has already been spent. That portion of the ruling primarily applies to candidates who ran for local office in the spring elections.

The court ruled 4-2 to let the Ethics Commission decide the fate of contributions to candidates raising money for the 2008 elections. However, the majority directed the commission to order candidates to return excess donations unless they or one of their of opponents can prove doing so would cause an undue hardship.

STATE GETS EMINENT DOMAIN OMBUDSMAN

Gov. Matt Blunt on Aug. 23 appointed Paul Anthony Martin to the newly created position of eminent domain ombudsman. Martin most recently was a prosecutor in the U.S. Office of Special Counsel and previously worked for former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo.

The Missouri General Assembly created the ombudsman post, which pays $60,000 a year, as part of eminent domain reform legislation it passed in 2006. The ombudsman is charged with advocating for private property rights and assisting Missourians in eminent domain disputes with local governments. The ombudsman can be contacted at (314) 340-4877.

Friday, August 24, 2007

HOUSE APPROVES ECONOMIC DEVOLOPMENT, BRIDGE BILLS

Meeting in a special legislative session called by the governor, the House of Representatives on Aug. 23 approved economic development legislation to provide select businesses with more than $66 million a year in taxpayer subsidies. The House also approved a bill to allow the Missouri Department of Transportation to finalize a contract to repair 800 of the state’s worst bridges over the next five years.

During debate on both bills, majority Republicans refused to allow consider any changes not pre-approved by Gov. Matt Blunt. Both measures now head to the Senate. The special session is expected to wrap up by Aug. 31 with an estimated cost to taxpayers of up to $200,000.

STEM CELL ISSUE COULD BE HEADED BACK TO BALLOT


Opponents of a constitutional amendment Missouri voters narrowly approved last year protecting stem cell research have proposed a follow up measure that essentially seeks to overturn the result of the previous vote. The group Cures Without Cloning on Aug. 22 filed the proposed ballot measure with the Secretary of State’s Office.

The latest proposal would make no changes to the 2006 amendment but add several new constitutional provisions that would have the effect of rendering the existing language invalid. If their petition is approved for circulation, the group must gather the requisite number of signatures from registered voters to place the issue on the 2008 ballot.

CARDINALS GET SUBSIDY FOR BALLPARK VILLAGE


The Missouri Development Finance Board on Aug. 21 approved $29.6 million in taxpayer subsidies for the St. Louis Cardinals’ proposed Ballpark Village development. The $387 million project next to the new Busch Stadium is to include retail commercial and residential components.
Picture from urbanreviewstl.com

PLANNED PARENTHOOD CHALLENGES ABORTION LAW

Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri filed a federal lawsuit on Aug. 20 challenging a new state law that could force two of the state’s three abortion clinics to shut down. The group is asking a federal judge to issue an injunction preventing the law from taking effect as scheduled on Aug. 28.

The law requires abortion providers to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers. Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis facility already complies with the new standards but its Columbia and Kansas City clinics do not. The group claims the law effectively eliminates abortion access for many women by imposing unnecessary requirements on clinic operations.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

New Addition to the Daus Family


Vincent Chavez Daus was born on August 10 at 2:03 a.m. He was 21 inches long and weighed in at 8 pounds 6 ounces. Patricia and Vincent are doing great and as you can see from the picture Mate thinks it's pretty cool having a little brother in the house.

COOPER RESIGNS AFTER PLEADING GUILTY TO FELONIES

Nathan Cooper resigned his seat in the Missouri House of Representatives on Aug. 14, five days after pleading guilty to two federal felonies related to immigration fraud. Although the charges carry a combined maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, under federal sentencing guidelines Cooper, a Cape Girardeau Republican, likely will face a sentence of 30 to 37 months.

On Aug. 15, the Missouri Supreme Court gave Cooper until 5 p.m. the next day to show cause as to why his law license should not be suspended. Although Cooper’s plea agreement requires him to surrender his law license, he filed an immigration lawsuit on behalf of a client just one day after entering his guilty pleas.

LAWSUIT FILED TO BLOCK MOHELA SALE

Some student loan holders on Aug. 16 sued the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority claiming the agency is violating its fiduciary duty to borrowers and its state-mandated mission with a pending sale of student loan assets. The suit was filed in Cole County Circuit Court.

Over the objections of House Democrats, the General Assembly in May passed legislation authorizing MOHELA assets to be used to fund construction projects proposed by Gov. Matt Blunt. The state law that established MOHELA in 1981 says the agency’s assets can only be used for the purpose of servicing low cost student loans and covering MOHELA’s necessary operating expenses.

The law allowing MOHELA funds to be used for construction doesn’t take effect until Aug. 28. The plaintiffs allege that assets MOHELA accrued under the old law cannot be used for this new purpose. Attorney John Lichtenegger of Jackson, a former Republican member of the University of Missouri Board of Curators and a vocal opponent of the governor’s MOHELA plan, is representing the plaintiffs.

KANSAS THREATS PROMPT BLUNT TO REVERSE ON TAX

In the face of threatened retaliation by Kansas lawmakers and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt says he favors repealing a recently enacted tax increase on Kansans and other out-of-state residents who work in Missouri, according to The Associated Press. When Blunt signed the tax hike into law in July, he said he was only concerned about other parts of the bill lowering taxes for some Missourians, not the impact the measure might have on non-Missourians.

A provision of HB 444 eliminated a provision in state law that allowed non-Missouri residents who work in Missouri to deduct home-state property taxes from their Missouri income taxes. As a result, some Kansas lawmakers suggested eliminating a similar deduction enjoyed by Missourians who work in Kansas. In an Aug. 9 letter to Sebelius, Blunt said he supports restoring the exemption during the 2008 legislative session.

SPECIAL LEGISLATIVE SESSION SLATED FOR AUG. 20

House Speaker Rod Jetton’s office confirmed on Aug. 9 that Gov. Matt Blunt will call a special legislative session beginning Aug. 20. The session will be limited to passing a scaled-back version of economic development legislation that Blunt vetoed in July and changing state law to allow the Missouri Department of Transportation to finalize a contract to repair 800 of the state’s worst bridges over the next five years.

House Democrats urged the governor to expand the call to include legislation to fix a flaw in state overtime statutes that is causing budget problems for police and fire departments. The Senate passed such a bill in the regular session, but House Republican leaders blocked it in the lower chamber.

Blunt was expected to issue the formal special session call on Aug. 9 but postponed doing so.

NATHAN COOPER PLEADS GUILTY TO FEDERAL FELONIES

State Rep. Nathan Cooper on Aug. 9 pleaded guilty to two federal felony charges for helping clients fraudulently obtain work visas for immigrant employees. He faces up to 15 years in prison and a $500,000 fine when he is sentenced on Oct. 19

Cooper, R-Cape Girardeau, was first elected to the House in 2004. House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, last year named Cooper as “Freshman Legislator of the Year for Accountability in Government.” As part of his plea agreement, the Southeast Missouri lawmaker will resign his House seat and surrender his law license.

Federal prosecutors say Cooper collected more than $50,000 in legal fees for helping clients in the trucking industries fraudulently obtain work visas for foreign employees. In his plea agreement, Cooper admitted to applying for visas using bogus shell companies, deceiving federal officials about the immigration status of his clients’ employees and illegally transferring visas.

CONSERVATION COMMISSION NOMINATION DRAWS SCRUTINY

The Missouri Conservation Commission, not Gov. Matt Blunt, should have selected the panel’s newest member because the governor missed his constitutional window for doing so by eight days, some critics of the process contend.

Under the Missouri Constitution, the governor appoints the commission’s four members. However, it says: “If the governor fails to fill a vacancy within thirty days, the remaining members shall fill the vacancy for the unexpired term.”

On Aug. 7, Blunt appointed Saline County Presiding Commissioner Becky Plattner to replace Stephen Bradford in one of the commission’s two Democratic slots. Bradford’s term expired June 30, 38 days before Blunt named a successor. During the interim, Bradford continued to serve under another constitutional provision that allows appointed officials to hold their posts past the end of their terms until replaced.

Blunt and the commission argue the 30-day time limit only applies when a commissioner resigns midterm and isn’t applicable in this instance. In 1991, however, then-Gov. John Ashcroft cited the time limit in asking the commission to reappoint a member 30 days after that member’s previous term had ended.

JUDGE STRIKES DOWN LAW LEGALIZING MIDWIFERY

Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce on Aug 8 ruled unconstitutional a new state law legalizing the practice of midwifery. Supporters of the law plan to appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court.

State Sen. John Loudon, R-Ballwin, secretly slipped the obscurely worded midwifery provision into a larger bill he was handling related to health insurance. The provision wasn’t discovered until after the General Assembly granted final passage of the bill, HB 818. Gov. Matt Blunt later singed the bill into law.

The Missouri State Medical Association and other physicians’ groups filed a lawsuit on June 29 claiming the midwifery provision is unrelated to the subject matter of the underlying bill in violation of the Missouri Constitution.

JUDICIAL COMMISSION RESPONDS TO ATTACKS

In an open letter addressed to the “citizens of Missouri,” the Appellate Judicial Commission on Aug. 7 responded to unprecedented attacks concerning its traditionally secret process for nominating candidates to fill vacancies on the Missouri Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. Gov. Matt Blunt and others have been critical of the commission for refusing to turn over certain records relating to its selection of three finalists to fill an open seat on the Supreme Court.

The commission cited a Supreme Court rule that makes the commission’s records and proceedings confidential. Critics, however, contend the court’s rule is trumped by the state’s Sunshine Law, which requires records and meetings of governmental bodies to be accessible to the public with limited exceptions.

The commission’s open letter came hours after state Rep. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis, held a news conference on the steps of the Supreme Court Building to call for more openness in the vetting of judicial nominees. Lembke said he will sponsor legislation next year to specifically require the commission’s proceeding to be open under the Sunshine Law.

BLUNT’S PUBLIC SAFETY DIRECTOR CALLS FOR TAX HIKE

While testifying before a House committee on Aug. 6, Missouri Department of Public Safety Director Mark James called for a imposing 75-cent a month tax on cell phone service to pay for improvements in the state’s 911 system. James is a member of Gov. Matt Blunt’s cabinet. The governor traditionally has opposed tax increases.

James made his comments before the House Special Committee to Evaluate the 911 System. According to The Associated Press, Missouri is the only state without a statewide tax for wireless 911 service. The proposed tax would generate an estimated $33.8 million a year.

Missouri voters have twice defeated proposed state taxes on cell phone service dedicated for the 911 system. In 1999, the proposal garnered just 42.5 percent voter support. Support slipped to 34.7 percent when an identical measure was placed on the ballot in 2002. Both measures called for a 50-cent per month tax on cell phone services.

REPUBLICAN STATE SENATOR SWITCHES PARTIES

In a bombshell announcement on Aug. 1, state Sen. Chris Koster of Harrisonville, the early frontrunner for the 2008 GOP nomination for attorney general, announced he is leaving the Republican Party and becoming a Democrat. One day earlier Koster resigned his Senate leadership position of majority caucus chairman.

A self-professed moderate, Koster said he was making the switch because the Republican Party has become too dominated by conservative ideologues. Koster has long enjoyed the support of some traditionally Democratic constituencies, such as organized labor and trial attorneys. During his three years in the Senate, however, Koster reliably voted the Republican position on major issues that Democrats strongly opposed, such as voter ID, cutting health care funding and removing campaign contribution limits.

Koster, a former Cass County prosecutor, declined to comment on whether he intends to continue his bid for attorney general, although he is widely expected to do so. Koster said he will not seek re-election to the Senate next year. House Minority Leader Jeff Harris of Columbia and state Rep. Margaret Donnelly of St. Louis have already announced their candidacies for the Democratic nomination for attorney general.

BLUNT CHOOSES EX-GOP BOSS FOR WORKERS’ COMP POST

Gov. Matt Blunt on July 27 appointed Jeff Buker, the former head of the Missouri Republican Party, as director of the state Division of Workers’ compensation. From 2003 to 2005 Buker served as director of operations for the state GOP, which at the time was the party’s top-ranking post. The news release announcing Buker’s appointment made no mention of his tenure at the state party.

ANTI-AFFIRMATIVE ACTION GROUP SUES CARNAHAN

A group seeking to place a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot next year to ban racial and gender preferences in state hiring, education and contracting practices sued Secretary of State Robin Carnahan on July 26 over the ballot language her office drafted for the measure.

The American Civil Rights Institute, which has pursued similar measures in other states, claims the language provided by Carnahan’s office is biased in opposition to the proposal. The suit was filed in Cole County Circuit Court. Supporters still must gather a sufficient number of initiative petition signatures in order for the proposal to go on the November 2008 ballot.

GOVERNOR PICKS FIGHT OVER SUPREME COURT NOMINEES

The Appellate Judicial Commission on July 27 denied Gov. Matt Blunt’s request for all documentation related to the panel’s selection of three finalists for a vacancy on the Missouri Supreme Court.

Through his counsel Blunt asked for all transcripts, notes and other information from the commission’s interviews with all 30 applicants for the post. In declining the request, the commission said its proceedings are confidential under Supreme Court rules. Critics of the selection process say the court’s rules are trumped by Missouri’s Sunshine Law, which requires most governmental proceedings and records to be open to the public.

The three finalists selected by the commission are all members of the Missouri Court of Appeals. They are Judge Nannette Baker of the court’s Eastern District and Western District Judges and Western District Judges Patricia Breckenridge and Ronald Holliger.

On Aug. 2 Blunt asked the finalists to complete an 111-question survey that includes extensive requests for documentation. Blunt has until Sept. 30 to make his selection. If he fails to do so, the commission will make the appointment.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

SUPREME COURT RESTORES CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTION CAPS

In a unanimous ruling, the Missouri Supreme Court on July 19 reinstated the state’s limits on campaign contributions that had been repealed by a 2006 law. The court, however, hasn’t yet determined whether candidates must return money received in excess of the limits during the more than six months that the caps were lifted.

Over the objections of House Democrats, the General Assembly last year passed HB 1900, which eliminated contribution limits first imposed by Missouri voters in 1994. The bill also prohibited candidates from raising money when the legislature was in session. A lower court judge struck down the blackout period as unconstitutional but upheld the repeal of campaign limits.

Based on the legislative history of HB 1900, the Supreme Court determined that the legislature would not have repealed contribution limits without also imposing the blackout period. As a result, the high court invalidated that entire section of the bill, restoring the law as it existed prior to enactment.

The court is accepting briefs from interested parties through Aug. 3 on the issue of disgorgement. The Missouri Ethics Commission on July 25 recommended to the court that most candidates be required to return excess contributions. The commission, however, said municipal candidates who ran for office in the spring should be excused from returning excess contributions since their elections have already taken place.

TRANSPORTION TAX DISTRICTS HAVE LITTLE OVERSIGHT

Transportation development districts that impose taxes without voter approval are growing in number and operating with little government oversight, according to a July 25 report by State Auditor Susan Montee. At the end of 2006, 120 districts had been established, nearly 70 percent of them in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas. They are expected to collect more than $1 billion combined over the five- to 40-year duration of their taxes.
Under a 1997 state law, developers can ask a judge for approval to set up a special taxing district, which levies sales taxes at retail businesses within a development. The proceeds are supposed to be used to pay for infrastructure at the development.Problems Montee’s report identified include a lack of competitive bids for taxpayer-funded projects, improper documentation of developers’ costs and districts charging higher tax rates than authorized.

KANSAS CONSIDERING PAYBACK FOR MISSOURI TAX HIKE

Kansas lawmakers are considering retaliation against Missouri for a bill Gov. Matt Blunt recently signed into law that increases taxes on people who work in Missouri but live in other states.

Previously, non-Missouri residents could deduct from their Missouri income taxes property taxes paid in other states. HB 444 eliminated the deduction. Some Kansas lawmakers suggest eliminating a similar deduction enjoyed by Missourians who work in Kansas.

HB 444 also cut state taxes on Social Security benefits for some Missourians. When asked about the tax increase on non-Missourians, Blunt said his duty as governor was to lower taxes for Missouri residents. In response to Blunt’s comment, Kansas state Rep. Kenny Wilk, R-Lansing, told The Associated Press: “That’s just an example of Governor Blunt’s youth and immaturity on full display.”

FINALIST FOR SUPREME COURT VACANCY ANNOUNCED

Republican Gov. Matt Blunt will choose from among three members of the Missouri Court of Appeals for his first appointment to the Missouri Supreme Court. The Appellate Judicial Commission selected the finalists from among 30 applicants to replace Ronnie White, who resigned from the court earlier this month to go into private practice.

The finalists are Judge Nannette Baker of the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District and Western District Judges Patricia Breckenridge and Ronald Holliger. Baker and Holliger were both appointed to their current posts by Democratic governors while Breckenridge is a Republican appointee.

White was the first and only black member of the state high court. Baker is the lone African-American among the finalists. Blunt has 60 days to make his selection. If he fails to do so, the commission will make the appointment.

CARDINALS SEEK SUBSIDY FOR BALLPARK VILLAGE


The Missouri Department of Economic Development is recommending the state provide $27 million in taxpayer subsidies for the proposed Ballpark Village development to be built next to new Busch Stadium in St. Louis. The recommended subsidy is slightly smaller than the $32 million sought by the St. Louis Cardinals and the developer the team hired for the project.

The Missouri Development Finance Board, which provides tax breaks for economic development projects, is expected to vote on the proposal next month. Ballpark Village is expected to cost $280 million, with about $100 million coming from state and local taxpayer subsidies.

Economic development officials recommended less state money than requested after concluding only about 75 percent of the sales tax revenue generated by Ballpark Village would be new revenue, while the remainder would result from sales shifted from existing businesses. Project proponents contended 90 percent of the revenue would be new.

ADMINISTRATION URGED PATROL TO CRITICIZE NIXON

Officials in Gov. Matt Blunt’s administration pressured the Missouri State Highway Patrol to publicly criticize Attorney General Jay Nixon last month for not pursuing criminal charges against AmerenUE over the December 2005 Taum Sauk Reservoir collapse even though the patrol’s own investigation found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, according to a July 18 story by The Kansas City Star.

E-mails obtained by the paper showed that high-ranking officials in the governor’s office were upset with comments by patrol officials to the media that the patrol determined no crimes had been committed. The officials wanted the patrol to put out a statement to the contrary. At the direction of Department of Public Safety Director Mark James, Col. James Keathley, patrol superintendent, issued such a statement on June 7. Keathley’s statement contradicted several findings of the patrol’s investigation.

SPECIAL SESSION POSSIBLE AS BLUNT VETOES ECO DEVO BILL

In a surprise move, Gov. Matt Blunt on July 6 vetoed an omnibus economic development bill that would have cost the state at least $200 million a year and perhaps substantially more. The governor’s action could prompt a special legislative session in September to pass a scaled-back version on the bill.

The governor originally proposed HB 327 to expand the amount of tax credits available under the Quality Jobs program the General Assembly enacted in 2005. The legislature, in particular the Senate, loaded up the bill with all manner of additional tax breaks for various special interests, including $100 million over several years for a single St. Louis-area developer.

In addition to the cost, Blunt cited numerous flaws in the bill among his reasons for vetoing it and said many of the proposed tax breaks would have done little to improve the state’s economy. Blunt said he’s willing to call a special session on the issue if legislative leaders agree on a package that costs $50 million to $70 million. House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, seemed cool to the idea in telling The Associated Press: “I would vote to override that veto.” An override, however, appears unlikely. “I am not interested in overriding the governor,” Senate President Tem Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, said.

GOVERNOR SIGNS TOUGHER ABORTION RESTRICTIONS

Two of Missouri’s three abortion clinics face closure or expensive upgrades under new regulations on abortion providers Gov. Matt Blunt signed into law on July 6. The law also prohibits people affiliated with abortion providers from providing sex education materials to public schools.

HB 1055 requires abortion providers to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers. Officials from Planned Parenthood told The Associated Press the new standards will force it to spend $2 million to upgrade its Columbia facility. Its Kansas City office, which only provides abortions induced by medication, will likely have to cease offering the service. Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis facility already meets the new standards.

BUDGET SURPLUS NOW PROJECTED AT $320 MILLION

State budget officials on July 9 said Missouri will have an estimated $320 million in available but unappropriated revenue for the 2008 fiscal year, which began on July 1. When the General Assembly granted final approval to the FY 2008 budget in May, it was expected that about $200 million was being left unspent.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

BEARDEN RESIGNS HOUSE SEAT FOR LOBBYING GIG


House Speaker Pro Tem Carl Bearden, the No. 2 ranking House member, resigned July 12 to take an unspecified lobbying job. The Associated Press reported that Bearden, R-St. Charles, would announce details about his new job on July 13.

Bearden’s departure leaves a further void in top House leadership. House Majority Leader Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles and the No. 3 ranking House member, is running in a Sept. 4 special election for the Senate in a heavily Republican district. On the Democratic side, House Minority Leader Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, will step down from his leadership post in September to pursue a 2008 bid for Missouri attorney general. Harris will retain his House seat through 2008.

Bearden was first elected to the House in 2000. Term limits prevent him from seeking re-election next year. Gov. Matt Blunt will have to call a special election to fill Bearden’s seat.

BUDGET SURPLUS NOW PROJECTED AT $320 MILLION


State budget officials on July 9 said Missouri will have an estimated $320 million in available but unappropriated revenue for the 2008 fiscal year, which began on July 1. When the General Assembly granted final approval to the FY 2008 budget in May, it was expected that about $200 million was being left unspent.

GOVERNOR SIGNS TOUGHER ABORTION RESTRICTIONS

Two of Missouri’s three abortion clinics face closure or expensive upgrades under new regulations on abortion providers Gov. Matt Blunt signed into law on July 6. The law also prohibits people affiliated with abortion providers from providing sex education materials to public schools.

HB 1055 requires abortion providers to meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers. Officials from Planned Parenthood told The Associated Press the new standards will force it to spend $2 million to upgrade its Columbia facility. Its Kansas City office, which only provides abortions induced by medication, will likely have to cease offering the service. Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis facility already meets the new standards.

SPECIAL SESSION POSSIBLE AS BLUNT VETOES ECO DEVO BILL

In a surprise move, Gov. Matt Blunt on July 6 vetoed an omnibus economic development bill that would have cost the state at least $200 million a year and perhaps substantially more. The governor’s action could prompt a special legislative session in September to pass a scaled-back version on the bill.

The governor originally proposed HB 327 to expand the amount of tax credits available under the Quality Jobs program the General Assembly enacted in 2005. The legislature, in particular the Senate, loaded up the bill with all manner of additional tax breaks for various special interests, including $100 million over several years for a single St. Louis-area developer.

In addition to the cost, Blunt cited numerous flaws in the bill among his reasons for vetoing it and said many of the proposed tax breaks would have done little to improve the state’s economy. Blunt said he’s willing to call a special session on the issue if legislative leaders agree on a package that costs $50 million to $70 million. House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, seemed cool to the idea in telling The Associated Press: “I would vote to override that veto.” An override, however, appears unlikely. “I am not interested in overriding the governor,” Senate President Tem Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, said.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

BLUNT SIGNS SOCIAL SECURITY TAX CUT


Gov. Matt Blunt on July 5 signed a bill into law that expands the exemption on Social Security benefits from state income taxes. The bill will gradually be phased in costing the state an estimated $27 million in lost revenue in the first year and $154 million a year once fully effective in 2012.

Under the previous law, individuals with incomes under $25,000 a year and married couples earning less than $32,000 a year – the bulk of Missouri senior citizens – didn’t pay state taxes on Social Security benefits. HB 444 raises the exemption threshold to $85,000 for an individual and $100,000 for couples.

Another part of the bill increases taxes on those who own property in another state by repealing a provision of Missouri’s tax code that allowed people to deduct property taxes paid to another state from their Missouri taxable income. Eliminating the deduction is estimated to bring in $11 million a year for the state.

BILL CLOSING LOOPHOLE IN DWI LAW SIGNED


Gov. Matt Blunt on July 2 signed legislation closing a loophole in Missouri law that allowed some people arrested for drunken driving to have evidence of their intoxication ruled inadmissible in court. The provision of HB 574 was prompted by the 2004 DWI arrest of state Rep. Charles Portwood, R-Ballwin, following an accident in which his vehicle ran through a fence and hit a pool house.

A 1982 law required medical personnel collecting a blood sample from a DWI suspect to use a non-alcoholic swab to sterilize the area from where the blood is drawn. That didn’t happen in Portwood’s case, forcing the St. Louis County prosecutor to dismiss the charges against him in 2006.

Following the publicity raised by the dismissal, several medical experts said use of an alcohol swab doesn’t taint the results of blood samples used to determine a suspect’s blood alcohol content because medicinal alcohol is chemically different from alcohol that is consumed. “This legislation ensures those guilty of driving while intoxicated will not be able to escape conviction merely because our guidelines on testing alcohol levels were too explicit,” Blunt said in a statement.

COLE COUNTY JUDGE BLOCKS MIDWIFE LAW

Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce on July 3 issued a temporary restraining order preventing a new state law that legalizes the practice of lay midwifery from taking effect. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Aug. 2.

State Sen. John Loudon, R-Ballwin, secretly slipped the obscurely worded midwifery provision into a larger bill he was handling related to health insurance. The provision wasn’t discovered until after the General Assembly granted final passage of the bill, HB 818. Gov. Matt Blunt later singed the bill into law.

The Missouri State Medical Association and other physicians’ groups filed a lawsuit on June 29 claiming the midwifery provision is unrelated to the subject matter of the underlying bill in violation of the Missouri Constitution.

GOVERNOR SIGNS BILL MAKING EXECUTION TEAM SECRET

Gov. Matt Blunt on June 30 signed into law legislation making it illegal to disclose the identity of those who carry out the state’s executions. HB 820 came in response to a St. Louis Post-Dispatch story published last year that revealed the name of the doctor who oversaw executions for the Missouri Department of Corrections.

The newspaper reported that Dr. Alan Doerhoff of Jefferson City, who participated in numerous executions for the state, had been sued more than 20 times for malpractice. In testifying anonymously before a federal court that was considering the constitutionality of Missouri’s execution procedures, Doerhoff said he was dyslexic and sometimes didn’t give condemned prisoners the proper amount of anesthesia.

The new law, which takes effect Aug. 28, could be subject to a legal challenge as an unconstitutional “prior restraint” on the publication of truthful information. The Missouri Press Association told The Associated Press that it had made no decision on whether to file a lawsuit.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Easy Connection Act


From the RENEW MO website at http://www.renewmo.org/easyconnectionact.html

"The Easy Connection Act establishes uniform procedures to allow Missourians to connect a small renewable energy system to the electric grid in a quick, safe, and reliable manner. The Easy Connection Act makes it easier and more cost effective for a Missourian to install a renewable energy system onto a home or business. This victory is a critical first step to bring Missouri's renewable energy policy up to the national standard.

ECA enables Missourians to utilize renewable energy sources more effectively in two ways:

1) Simple Interconnection Simple interconnection procedures that standardize interconnection for all Missourians are necessary to promote the use of renewable energy in Missouri. ECA makes it easier and more cost-effective for Missourians to connect small renewable energy systems to the grid.

2) True Net Metering (One-for-One Electricity Measurement) The ECA establishes "true net metering", which credits an owner of a renewable energy system at a one-to-one rate for electricity "sold" back to the grid. True net metering is used in 41 states and Washington D.C.

The Easy Connection Act signed into law on June 25, 2007:Representative Jason Holsman (D-Kansas City) and Senator Joan Bray (D-St. Louis) sponsored the bill in the Missouri House and Senate respectively. The Easy Connection Act passed as an amendment to the "Green Power Initiative Bill" in the House on May 8, by a vote of 146-6, and passed the Senate on May 14 by a vote of 34-0. Governor Blunt signed the bill into law on June 25, 2007.

Before ECA:The original procedures for connecting small renewable energy systems to the electric grid in Missouri were time consuming, unclear, and costly. As a result, many Missourians chose not to interconnect or connect illegally to avoid the hassle. Additionally, older Missouri law contained a cumbersome and inequitable "dual metering" policy. Under previous rules, if a renewable electricity system produced more energy than was used by the household or business, the excess energy was sent back to the grid and was "bought" back at just 20% of the retail rate."

You can also contact RENEW MO for more information on qualified installers and cost estimates of renewable energy systems.

Some Great Ice Cream


Yesterday Patricia and I were heading to a family get together and we stopped by the Local Harvest Market to pick up some healthy snacks to serve at the event. While we were there we picked up a carton of home made ice cream they sell. As a politician in St. Louis I'm a bit nervous to say the following but I'm going to step out on a limb and say that the gooey butter cake ice cream they sell gives Ted Drewes a run for the money. Stop by the next time you crave some healthy snacks or your sweet tooth is calling.
http://www.localharvestgrocery.com/

Monday, July 2, 2007

Answer This Week's Survey Question

What's your opinion on the Paul McKee/Blairmont development in North St. Louis City? Follow the link to cast your vote.

http://survey.constantcontact.com/survey/a07e24cy439f3i4tfno/start

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Posted on behalf of the Marti Frumhoff Memorial Organization


Dear Friends of Marti Frumhoff: We are officially launching Marti's Tower Grove South Memorial Park site.We need your support in making this happen and providing for long term maintenance of the Memorial in TGS. 10th ward Alderman Joe Vollmer is actively working with us to actualize our vision of the space. We have the support of the TG Business Association. Professional horticulturist and TGS resident Peggy Hoelting has volunteered her time and talent to designing the Memorial Garden. We need donations to make this happen, please consider helping us honor Marti. http://www.martifrumhoffmemorial.org/
Please post this information to your blog and list servs.
Christian Herman
Christopher Thiemet
Project coordinators

Thursday, June 28, 2007

SUMMER RECESS

My return to the home front has left me with a laundry list of things to take care of that have been postponed much too long. Patricia, Mate and I are expecting a new addition on August 11 so I've been busy making sure mom doesn't overdue it during her pregnancy. That's my excuse for the month long delay in posting anything to the blog site!

As I mentioned in my most recent newsletter now is the perfect time to email me some ideas that you would like the Missouri General Assembly to address during the 2008 session. Every summer I put together a list of issues I intend to work on in Jefferson City. I throw many of the ideas to my colleagues and often find they are also working on the same issues. The ideas are also given to a team of legislative researchers at the capital who are able to point out some of the pitfalls of these ideas and write them into a format so that a bill can finally be filed. Going through these steps helps move things along more smoothly when session begins.

So feel free to share some ideas on this blog or email my office if you've got that idea to help make the State of Missouri better.

I also wanted to inform you that I will begin including survey questions with my newsletters. If you have not already signed up for the newsletter I encourage you to do so by entering your email address in the link at the top right corner of this blog.

NIXON URGES SPECIAL SESSION INJURY FUND


Attorney General Jay Nixon on June 26 asked Gov. Matt Blunt to call a special legislative session to address a court decision that is contributing to the pending insolvency of Missouri’s Second Injury Fund.

In a 4-3 ruling in January in Schoemehl v. Treasurer of Missouri, the Missouri Supreme Court held that when a worker covered by the Second Injury Fund dies, his or her dependents can continue to collect benefits from the fund. The Second Injury Fund covers workers with pre-existing injuries or disabilities who are hurt again on the job. The Schoemehl decision is expected to cost the fund an additional $35 million a year.

The Senate in April passed SB 668 to invalidate the decision. However, House Workforce Development and Workplace Safety Committee Chairman Steve Hunter, R-Joplin, blocked the bill. Hunter’s then-employer, Associated Industries of Missouri, wanted sweeping changes to the Second Injury Fund rather than just a fix of the Schoemehl ruling.

JUDGE STITH SET TO BECOME CHIEF JUSTICE


Missouri Supreme Court Judge Laura Denvir Stith will begin a two-year term as chief justice as of July 1. Stith will replace Chief Justice Michael Wolff, who will remain on the court. The position of chief justice rotates among the court’s seven members.

Stith, 53, of Kansas City is the second of only three women to serve on the state high court. She was appointed to the court by Democratic Gov. Bob Holden in 2001. A graduate of the Georgetown University School of Law, Stith clerked for then-state Supreme Court Judge Robert Seiler. After 15 years in private practice, Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan named her to the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District in 1994.

MIDWIFERY PROVISION TO FACE COURT CHALLENGE

The Missouri State Medical Association plans to file a lawsuit seeking to invalidate a provision legalizing midwifery that was slipped into legislation by state Sen. John Loudon without the knowledge of most lawmakers, The Associated Press has reported.

Loudon, R-Ballwin, championed the midwifery bill without success for years. Without telling his fellow senators, Loudon added to a health insurance bill he was handling a provision allowing people with “tocological certification” to provide related services regardless of other state laws to the contrary. Tocology refers to obstetrics. HB 818 won final passage in both legislative chambers before the provision was discovered. Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, subsequently removed Loudon as chairman of the Senate Small Business, Insurance and Industrial Relations Committee as punishment for his deception.

The expected lawsuit will claim the midwifery provision violates the Missouri Constitution’s prohibitions on bills containing unrelated provisions or provisions that deviate from the bill’s original purpose. HB 818’s title was “an act … relating to health insurance.” Gov. Matt Blunt signed the bill into law on June 1. The State Medical Association plans to file its lawsuit in Cole County Circuit Court later this month.

SCHOOL START BILL SIGNED INTO LAW


In order to start classes in mid-August, local school boards will have to hold public meetings and take formal votes under legislation Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder signed into law on June 18. Kinder signed the bill, which kicks in beginning with the 2008-2009 school year, as acting governor while Gov. Matt Blunt was in France.

SB 64 requires the school year to begin no earlier than 10 days prior to Labor Day. Districts may begin classes earlier, however, by formally voting to do so after holding a public hearing. According to The Associated Press, more than 90 percent of Missouri’s 524 school district started classes for the 2006-2007 school year earlier than 10 days before Labor Day.

WORKERS’ COMP DIRECTOR SAYS SHE WAS FORCED OUT

Missouri Division of Workers’ Compensation Director Pat Secrest says the Blunt Administration forced her to resign. Secrest submitted her letter of resignation on June 7 but told The Associated Press “it was not my idea to leave.”

Secrest, a former Republican state representative from suburban St. Louis, told the AP she was surprised at being asked to step down from the post, which Gov. Matt Blunt appointed her to in January 2005.

SUPREME COURT TIGHTENS EMINENT DOMAIN RULES


The Missouri Supreme Court on June 12 issued a decision that could make it harder for cities to use eminent domain to seize property from one private owner and give it to another for redevelopment. The 6-1 ruling stops an effort by Centene Plaza Redevelopment Corp. to obtain property for a new Clayton headquarters through eminent domain.

Before eminent domain can be used, a property must be declared blighted in that it poses an economic and social liability. In the past, these two elements have been considered jointly, a position favored by Judge Ronnie White in his solo dissent. The court majority, however, said each element must be proven separately.

The court said Clayton adequately demonstrated economic liability by showing the property in question would generate more tax revenue after redevelopment. However, the court said there was no proof the property as it currently exists is conducive to crime or threats to the public health and therefore did not represent a social liability. The redevelopment area covers some of the most expensive real estate in the St. Louis area and included thriving businesses that had been at their locations for generations.

The decision won’t prohibit future use of eminent domain for private development but does set a higher standard for establishing blight. Simply demonstrating that a property would be more productive if redeveloped is insufficient to determining blight without also proving the existing use constitutes a social liability.

SUPREME COURT RULES FOR PUBLIC SECTOR BARGAINING

In a landmark decision that overturns a 60-year-old precedent, the Missouri Supreme Court on May 29 ruled 5-2 that the state constitution grants collective bargaining rights to government employees. In the same ruling, the court voted 7-0 to reverse another long-standing precedent that allowed governments that voluntarily entered into labor agreements with employees to unilaterally break them at any time.

Article I, Section 29 of the Missouri Constitution says: “That employees shall have the right to organize and bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing.” Although the provision contains no exemption for public sector employees, the Supreme Court created one in the 1947 case City of Springfield v. Clouse.

In the current case, the majority said the 1947 court erred in establishing an exemption for public employees where none exists in the text. In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Michael Wolff wrote: “‘Employees’ plainly means employees. There is no adjective; there are no words that limit “employees” to private sector employees. The meaning of section 29 is clear and there is, accordingly, no authority for this Court to read into the Constitution words that are not there.” Although the constitution gives government workers the right to bargaining collectively, their employers are under no obligation to agree to terms and state law still prohibits such workers from striking, Wolff wrote.

Dissenting from the majority’s decision to overturn Clouse, Judges William Ray Price Jr. and Stephen Limbaugh Jr. said the 1947 ruling has been “substantially undercut” by subsequent rulings and legislative actions. As a result, they said reversing Clouse will have little practical impact.

The current case was brought by the Independence National Education Association and other labor groups representing support staff at the Independence School District. The district voluntarily entered into labor agreements with the groups but later unilaterally changed the terms. In 1982, the court ruled in Sumpter v. City of Moberly that a public employer was free to disregard agreements with its employee unions. With the current case, the court unanimously reversed that precedent.

JUDGE SAYS TIPPED WORKERS OWED MINIMUM WAGE HIKE

The new state minimum wage law Missouri voters approved last year applies to tipped workers, a Cole County Judge ruled on May 29. A group of restaurant owners sued over the law, seeking a declaration that they weren’t obligated to raise wages for tipped employees to $3.25 an hour from the federal minimum of $2.13 an hour.

With 76 percent support, Missouri voters in November approved raising the standard state minimum wage to $6.50 an hour from $5.15 an hour. Supporters said the new law entitled tipped workers to a base pay of half the standard minimum wage.

After the new law took effect on Jan. 1, the Missouri Department of Labor advised employers that they didn’t have to increase base pay for workers who earned at least $6.50 an hour through wages and tips combined. Gov. Matt Blunt overruled the department on March 14.

In her decision, Judge Patricia Joyce said the law granted tipped workers a raise. However, she said employees who were denied increases have to individually sue their employers to recover back wages owed from Jan. 1 to March 14. Employers can avoid such suits by voluntarily paying the back wages.

FEDERAL COURT UPHOLDS STATE’S EXECUTION PROCEDURES


The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on June 4 reversed a lower court’s ruling that Missouri’s lethal injection procedure constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment” in violation of the Eighth Amendment. The appellate decision allows Missouri to resume executions of condemned prisoners, which have been on hold since February 2006.
U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan Jr. found Missouri’s execution protocols to be haphazard, potentially subjecting inmates to unnecessary pain. He ordered changes in the procedure, including requiring an anesthesiologist to supervise executions. The state, however, was unable to find a qualified doctor who wanted the job.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

MANDATORY SPRINKLER LAW APPLIES TO FEW FACILITIES


Fewer than 40 percent of the residential care facilities that currently don’t have sprinkler systems will have to comply with a bill the General Assembly passed in the last week of the legislative session that was intended to require such systems, The Associated Press reported on May 24. The legislation was prompted by a November 2006 fire at the Anderson Guest House in Joplin that killed 11 people.

The bill exempts existing residential care facilities from having to comply with the sprinkler mandate. According to the AP, 310 of 616 residential care facilities in Missouri don’t have sprinkler systems. Of those 310 facilities, only 120 would be required to install sprinklers. Blunt’s spokeswoman said he intends to sign the bill.

COURT TELLS DNR TO BUTT OUT OF TAUM SAUK CASE


A Reynolds County judge on May 22 ruled that Attorney General Jay Nixon – not the Missouri Department of Natural Resources – has the legal authority to represent the state in its lawsuit against Ameren Corp. over the December 2005 collapse of the company’s Taum Sauk reservoir that destroyed Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park.

Nixon and DNR Director Doyle Childers have battled over who has the authority to negotiate a settlement in the matter, with Childers seeking to have Nixon’s office removed from the case.

PSC GRANT $43 MILLION RATE HIKE TO AMEREN


The Missouri Public Service Commission on May 22 approved an electricity rate hike for Ameren Corp. that will cost the company’s Missouri customers an estimated $43 million a year. The increase, however, fell well short of the $361 million hike Ameren sought.
The Office of the Public Counsel maintained Ameren is already overcharging customers and recommended a $179 million rate decrease. The PSC’s own staff recommended a $168 million decrease. The PSC approved the rate hike on a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Steve Gaw as the lone dissenter. Ameren has faced much criticism in the last year for repeated and prolonged outages that left hundreds of thousands of its customers without power.

‘BLIGHT’ DEFINITION AT ISSUE IN EMINENT DOMAIN CASE


The Missouri Supreme Court on May 22 heard an eminent domain case that hinges on whether prime property in one of the state’s most affluent areas can legitimately declared “blighted.” The case’s outcome could affect whether local governments in the state can continue to use the power of eminent domain to seize private property and turn it over to another private owner for redevelopment. The court will issue a ruling at a later date.

The Clayton City Council declared properties in a prime downtown block blighted to make way for a proposed $210 million development by the Centene Plaza Redevelopment Corp. Property and businesses owners in the targeted area who refused to sell challenged the move, saying there is no evidence to support a conclusion the thriving area is blighted. State law requires a finding of blight before eminent domain can be used.

Attorneys for the property owners said land Centene purchased in the development area sold for $7.4 million an acre. They also noted the average home in Clayton costs $541,000 while household income averages $181,000 a year. Centene’s attorney said the city was within its rights to use eminent domain to maximize the economic productivity of the property. A skeptical Judge Richard Teitelman said: “If this area is declared blighted, I don’t know of any area in the state that couldn’t be declared blighted.”

FIRE DISTRICTS WANT SPECIAL SESSION ON OVERTIME FIX

Four St. Louis-area fire protection districts on May 22 asked the governor to call a special legislative session to fix a flaw in the state’s new minimum wage law that inadvertently changed overtime rules for police and firefighters. The Senate passed SB 255 to address the issue during the regular session, but it died in the House of Representatives where Republican leaders insisted on gutting key voter-approved provisions in addition to the overtime fix.

During session Gov. Matt Blunt had urged lawmakers to pass a bill limited to the overtime fix and respect the wishes of the 76 percent of Missouri voters who voted for the minimum wage law in November. The governor’s spokeswoman told The Kansas City Star “it’s just far too early to talk about special sessions and special session requests.”

House Republicans wanted to repeal the minimum wage increase granted to tipped workers and the annual inflationary adjustments to the minimum wage included in the voter-approved law. Police and fire officials say the House’s lack of action on the fix could cost them millions of dollars in unanticipated overtime costs.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

OFFICIAL ENGLISH AMENDMENT HEADED FOR BALLOT

Missouri voters will decide whether to amend the state constitution to require that only English can be used in official government proceedings. The proposal will appear on the statewide ballot in November 2008 unless the governor sets an earlier election date.

The proposed amendment, HJR 7, cleared the House of Representatives on May 18 by a vote of 127-29. The Senate approved it 25-7 earlier in the day after shutting down debate to force a vote.

JUDGE WHITE STEPPING DOWN FROM SUPREME COURT


Missouri Supreme Court Judge Ronnie White announced on May 18 that he will resign from the bench effective July 6. White, the first black judge on the state’s highest court, was appointed by then-Gov. Mel Carnahan in October 1995. He served as chief justice from 2003 to 2005.

White, 53, announced no specific plans for when he leaves the court. White’s departure will give Republican Gov. Matt Blunt his first opportunity to appoint a Supreme Court judge. The court’s current roster features five judges appointed by Democratic governors, including White, and two selected by Republicans.

HOUSE KILLS OMNIBUS TRAFFIC REGULATIONS BILL


The House of Representatives on May 18 defeated an omnibus transportation and traffic regulations bill by 66-81 vote with Democrats leading the opposition. The bill, HB 596, began as a one-page measure relating to bid bonds for highway construction projects but ballooned to nearly 200-pages by the time it cleared the Senate.

One provision that contributed to the bill’s defeat would have made it harder for Missourians to challenge traffic tickets in court. Under existing law, the state must prove such cases beyond a reasonable doubt. The bill would have substantially lowered the state’s burden of proof to a preponderance of the evidence, which is must easier to meet.

Another controversial section required drivers whose licenses have been suspended for more than 60 days to purchase special license plates for all vehicles licensed solely or jointly in their name. The measure granted police the power to pull over vehicles bearing such plates at will. Many lawmakers were concerned the requirement would cause unnecessary collateral damage by requiring innocent drivers to get special plates on cars they own jointly with a family member whose license had been suspended.

ANTI-ABORTION BILL SENT TO GOVERNOR

The Senate on May 18 forcibly shut down debate to reach a vote on legislation imposing new regulations on abortion clinics. The bill, which had already cleared the House, was sent to the governor on a 24-9 vote. The bill could result in only one of the three abortion clinics in Missouri remaining open, according to The Associated Press.

HOUSE REPUBLICANS BLOCK POLITICAL ‘NO-CALL’ BILL


Republican House leaders on May 17 blocked consideration of legislation to expand Missouri’s popular “no-call” list, which prohibits many unwanted phone calls from telemarketers. The Senate had added the no-call provisions to a House bill relating to telecommunications services.

Only land-lines may be included on the list under current law. The Senate sought to allow Missourians to block telemarketing calls to cell phones and prohibit pre-recorded “robocalls” from political candidates and campaigns. The bill, HB 801, later passed without the no-call provisions.

LEGISLATURE PROVIDES SHIELD FOR USE OF DEADLY FORCE


People who use deadly force to protect their homes or vehicles would be shielded from civil and criminal liability under a bill the General Assembly granted final approval on May 15. The bill, SB 62, also requires records of judicial determinations that someone is mentally ill to be entered in the national database used for conducting background checks on prospective guns buyers. The latter provision was in response to the recent mass killing at Virginia Tech University by a mentally ill gunman.

BILL IMPOSES LIFE FOR DRUG DEALING NEAR PARKS

Selling illegal drugs within 1,000-feet of a park could send you to prison for life under a bill forwarded to the governor on May 14. SB 198 elevates the crime to a Class A felony punishable by 10 to 30 years to life in prison. Under current law, selling drugs is a Class B felony, which carries a sentence of five to 10 years imprisonment.
Supporters say the tougher penalties will reduce drug dealing near parks. Since virtually every part of Missouri’s major cities are within 1,000 feet of a park – nearly one-fifth of a mile, opponents say the bill arbitrarily imposes longer sentences on urban residents, specifically minorities, while not similarly punishing primarily white rural drug dealers.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Loss of a Friend and City Supporter


Marti Frumhoff passed away at her home in Tower Grove South on May 16th. You will recall that Marti was featured in one of my newsletters several weeks ago regarding her endless work as the founder of the Rehabber's Club. Marti was a good friend who never once said "no" when I needed assistance. In 2001 when I was considering running for State Representative she stepped up to the plate to serve as my campaign manager. I will always remember Marti for her commitment to city living and her ability to stand up for things she believed in regardless of personal or political consequences.

Whether you knew Marti or not I can guarantee that she has made your life better through one of the numerous organizations she dedicated her life to.

Marti, you are missed already.

Friday, May 11, 2007

$21.5 BILLION STATE BUDGET SENT TO GOVERNOR

The General Assembly on May 10 finished work on the $21.49 billion state operating budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The budget marks a 3.3 percent increase from the current fiscal year. The 13 appropriations bills that make up the state budget now await the governor’s signature to become law.

The spending plan’s boost in state funding for local school districts is comparable to what the legislature grants every year but does not represent an atypical infusion of new money. It increases funding for public colleges and universities by about 4 percent – a third of the 12 percent increase the Missouri Coordinating Board for Higher Education said was needed and that House Democrats endorsed.

The budget does not restore the Medicaid cuts of two years ago that resulted in more than 180,000 Missourians losing their health care coverage. The restoration would have cost the state $155.8 million in general revenue but allowed it to leverage an additional $265.3 million in federal Medicaid funds that instead will go to other states. The Republican-controlled General Assembly left $200 million in general revenue unspent.

MASSIVE TAX BREAKS CLEAR LEGISLATURE

The House of Representatives on May 10 gave final approval to a massive package of tax breaks that will cost the state at least $103 million a year in lost revenue. HB 327 was sent to the governor following a week-long stalemate between the House and Senate over the cost.

The bill originally expanded credits available for Gov. Matt Blunt’s Quality Jobs program, which was created in 2005. The bill quickly was loaded up with other tax breaks, including those for land developers, ranchers, alternative fuel vehicles and movie producers. The expectation was that many of the breaks would be removed from a compromise version of the bill to make it more affordable. However, that didn’t occur.

One provision providing up to $12 million a year in breaks -- $100 million total over several years – appears to be targeted for a single developer, Paul McKee Jr. of St. Charles County. Since January, McKee has given $20,000 to Blunt, $10,000 to Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and $3,188 to Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons, according to The Associated Press.

The bill also eliminates the crime of ticket scalping, the practice of reselling tickets to concerts and sporting events at a price higher than face value. That provision was sought by Ticketmaster, a client of the governor’s lobbyist brother, Andy Blunt. To prevent scalpers from snatching up large quantities of tickets before the public has an opportunity to buy them at the normal price, the bill prohibits people from buying more than 20 tickets at a time. The way the provision is worded, however, apparently prohibits Missouri’s professional sports teams from selling season tickets, which typically come in large blocks.
http://www.house.mo.gov/bills071/bills/hb327.htm

GOVERNOR’S MOEHLA DEAL FINALLY PASSES


Sixteen months after he first proposed it and following numerous roadblocks and major revisions, the General Assembly has finally approved the governor’s proposal to sell a significant portion of the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority to pay for campus construction projects. Critics of the plan said it will expose MOHELA, whose substantial student loan assets currently are off limits to lawmakers, to future raids and undermine the agency’s ability to fulfill its mission of providing low-cost student loans.

The proposal, however, bears little resemblance to the Gov. Matt Blunt’s original plan to spur an economic boom in the state by making Missouri a hub of life science research and instead focuses primarily on campus maintenance projects. An $89.5 million life sciences research center at the University of Missouri-Columbia – the centerpiece of the plan – was stripped from the final project list. Both the Columbia and Kansas City campuses of the UM System ended up with nothing.

The House of Representatives passed SB 389 granting the legal authorization for the sale proceeds to be used for construction projects on May 7. The House endorsed HB 16 and HB 17, which include the project lists, days later. All three bills went to the governor to be signed into law. Critics of the sale, however, may launch a referendum petition drive to place SB 389 on the November ballot for voter approval, preventing SB 389 from taking effect on Aug. 28 as scheduled and, at least temporarily, stopping the deal.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

SENATE CUTS DEAL ON SOCIAL SECURITY TAX CUT

The Senate on May 3 reached a compromise on legislation to cut state income taxes on Social Security benefits and other retirement benefits, ending a stalemate on the measure with a 29-3 vote. The Senate version of the bill, HB 444, would result in an estimated $155 million in lost tax revenue, substantially less than $285 million House version, which was loaded with myriad other tax cuts.

As originally filed by House Speaker Rod Jetton, the bill called for eliminating state taxes on Social Security benefits regardless of a senior’s income, which critics labeled a tax cut for the wealthy. Seventy-two percent of Missouri seniors already don’t pay the tax as individuals with incomes under $27,000 a year and married couples earning less than $32,000 annually are exempt.

The Senate compromise increases the exemption limit to $85,000 for a single person and $100,000 for married couples. A final version of the bill still needs to be worked out between the chambers.

GOVERNOR NAMES WOMAN TO HEAD AG DEPARTMENT

In the wake of a sexual harassment scandal that forced the ouster of former Department of Agriculture Director Fred Ferrell, Gov. Matt Blunt on May 2 named a politically connected Platte City woman to lead the agency. Katie Smith, 29, recently served as a deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Energy and previously worked for Republican U.S. Sens. Kit Bond and Jim Talent. If confirmed by the Missouri Senate, Smith will be the first woman to lead the department in its 74-year history.

Ferrell, 66, was forced to resign in February after sexual harassment allegations against him became public, exposing a nine-month cover up of the matter by the Blunt administration. Witnesses said Ferrell made comments and engaged in conduct demeaning to women, including saying that women shouldn’t supervise men and telling an employee he wanted to see her in a wet t-shirt contest.

SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS ABORTION LAW BUT LIMITS SCOPE

The Missouri Supreme Court on May 1 unanimously upheld a 2005 state law that allows parents to sue those who “aid or assist” their underage daughters in obtaining an out-of-state abortion without their permission. In doing so, however, the court interpreted the law so narrowly as to limit much of its effect.

Missouri law has long required parental consent for a minor to obtain an abortion. Neighboring Illinois does not. As a result, some Missouri girls seek abortions in Illinois clinics, a practice Missouri sought to curtail with its 2005 law.

In interpreting the law, the Supreme Court said the broad “aid or assist” language cannot be construed to allow lawsuits against people who offer a minor advice about obtaining an abortion. To hold otherwise, the court said, would violate First Amendment free speech rights. The court also said the limits of Missouri law end at its borders. As a result, workers and doctors at Illinois clinics cannot be held liable for actions that take place outside of Missouri. Both abortion rights supporters and opponents claimed victory with the ruling.

HOUSE VOTES TO CLOSE ‘VIRGINIA TECH’ LOOPHOLE

The House of Representatives on May 1 voted 154-6 to give the Missouri State Highway Patrol more access to court records identifying people as mentally ill so the patrol may check them against gun ownership and sales records. The move follows last month’s mass murders at Virginia Tech University by a gunman a judge had ruled was dangerous.

Those whom a court has found to be mentally ill are barred from owning or purchasing guns. Background checks, however, sometimes miss mentally ill buyers because court records related to mental illness aren’t always forwarded to law enforcement agencies. Such was the case with the Virginia Tech gunman.

The House added the provision to SB 62, which also would shield Missourians from prosecution if they use deadly force to protect their home. A final version of the bill must be worked out between the chambers before it can be passed into law.
http://www.senate.mo.gov/07info/BTS_Web/Bill.aspx?SessionType=R&BillID=108

BILL GUTTING MINIMUM WAGE LAW HEADS TO HOUSE FLOOR

Legislation originally intended to fix a flaw in Missouri’s new minimum wage law that a House committee altered to repeal key voter-approved provisions has been forwarded to the House for debate. House Rules Committee Chairman Shannon Cooper, R-Clinton, had threatened to keep the bill, SB 255, stalled without assurances of support for repealing several provisions that provided raises for tipped workers and that include yearly inflationary adjustments for all minimum wage workers.

Proposition B, which Missourians passed in November with 76 percent support, boosted the state’s standard minimum wage to $6.50 from $5.15 an hour and the wage floor for tipped workers to $3.35 from $2.13 an hour. Backers of the ballot measure, however, also made some inadvertent changes related to overtime pay for police and firefighters, which is what SB 255 sought to correct. If the statutory fix isn’t passed this year, it could end up costing local governments substantially more in overtime pay for police and firefighters.
http://www.senate.mo.gov/07info/BTS_Web/Bill.aspx?SessionType=R&BillID=4047

HOUSE COMMITTEE SPIKES STEM CELL AMENDMENT

By a 4-3 vote, the House Rules Committee on April 30 defeated a proposed ballot measure that sought to reverse a constitutional amendment voters narrowly ratified in November protecting embryonic stem cell research. HJR 11, sponsored by state Rep. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis, would have asked voters to amend the Missouri Constitution again, this time to ban stem cell research. The committee’s action likely finishes the issue for the year. http://www.house.mo.gov/bills071/bills/hjr11.htm

Thursday, April 26, 2007

BILL AUTHORIZING MOHELA SALE CLEARS SENATE

Legislation providing the legal authorization for Gov. Matt Blunt’s proposed sale of Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority assets cleared the Senate on April 26 following weeks of opposition by Democrats. SB 389, which also caps tuition increases at public colleges and universities, was sent to the House of Representatives on a 23-11 vote.

The governor’s plan calls for selling a portion of MOHELA’s student loan portfolio to raise $350 million for campus construction projects, which are included in another bill the Senate had earlier forwarded to the House. The current plan, however, bears little resemblance to Blunt’s original proposal to bolster life sciences research and spur economic development throughout the state. All projects for the UM System’s Columbia and Kansas City campuses have been stripped from project list, which now focuses on maintenance and repair projects. Critics say the sale will jeopardize MOHELA’s ability to continue providing lost-cost student loans.