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Thursday, September 27, 2007


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.


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 In a supplementary ruling to its opinion striking down legislation that repealed state campaign contribution limits, the court directed the commission to order candidates who accepted donations above the limits during the six-month period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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.