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Thursday, May 24, 2007


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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