Friday, August 24, 2007
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.