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Friday, August 1, 2008

WITH FUEL PRICES HIGH, MISSOURIANS DRIVING LESS

Missourians drove about 200,000 fewer miles in May 2008 than they did in May 2007, the St. Louis Business Journal reported in a July 29 story citing statistics from the Federal Highway Administration. The total miles Missouri drivers traveled dropped to nearly 6 million from 6.2 million a year ago, a decline of 3.9 percent.

With gasoline prices hovering around the $4-a-gallon range, fuel sales in Missouri dropped 3 percent from last year. According to data from the Missouri Department of Revenue cited by the paper, 355 million gallons of fuel were sold in Missouri in June 2008, down from the 366 million gallons sold in June 2007.

JUDGE APPOINTS ATTORNEYS TO TAKEOVER E-MAIL CASE

Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan on July 22 appointed a bipartisan duo of lawyers to take over a lawsuit that seeks to compel Gov. Matt Blunt to turn over e-mails being sought by investigators looking into whether the governor and top administration officials violated Missouri’s open records law. Callahan appointed Joe Maxwell and Louis Leonatti, both of Mexico, Mo., as “special assistant attorneys general” after earlier ruling that a team of independent investigators picked by Attorney General Jay Nixon to look into the matter had no legal standing to demand the records.

Maxwell, a Democrat, is a former lieutenant governor and state lawmaker. Leonatti, a Republican, was nominated for the federal bench by President George Bush in 1992 but never confirmed for the post by the U.S. Senate. Callahan gave Maxwell and Leonatti until Aug. 26 to decide whether to continue pursuing the lawsuit.

JETTON FIRES BACK AT KINDER IN ETHICS FLAP

During a July 11 news conference outside the offices of the Missouri Ethics Commission, House Speaker Rod Jetton fired back at Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a fellow Republican who a couple of weeks earlier criticized Jetton for conflicts of interest by working as a paid political consultant for several other GOP lawmakers. Jetton said he found the criticism puzzling since a top Kinder aide attempted to enlist Jetton’s services during Kinder’s short-lived gubernatorial bid earlier this year.

Kinder, who is running for re-election, has called for a state law prohibiting elected officials from serving as paid political consultants. State Treasurer Sarah Steelman, who is seeking the GOP nomination for governor, also supports such a law. Their campaign season efforts come two years after state Sen. Rita Days, D-St. Louis, first filed legislation to do exactly what Kinder and Steelman now propose. Senate Republican leaders failed to hold committee hearings on Days’ bills – SB 1167 in 2006 and SB 126 in 2007.

After Jetton’s consulting business first came to light in 2006, he sought an opinion from the Ethics Commission as to its legality. Although Jetton claims the commission approved the arrangement, the opinion actually said that although Jetton hadn’t yet broken the law “the Commission has serious concerns about the ability of an elected official to avoid violation of these laws while conducting a consulting business for compensation.”

BLUNT SIGNS BILL REPEALING CAMPAIGN FINANCE LIMITS


Without public ceremony, Gov. Matt Blunt on July 10 defied the will of Missouri voters by signing a bill into law that repeals Missouri’s limits on individual donations to political candidates. Voters first imposed the limits in 1994 with 73.9 percent support. In an attempt to minimize press coverage of the bill, Blunt’s office didn’t acknowledge that SB 1038 had been signed until late the next day, a Friday. Putting out controversial news late on a Friday is known as “taking out the trash,” since the resulting stories will end up in the Saturday papers, which typically have low readership.

Under current law, individual donors can give no more than $1,350 to a statewide candidate, $675 to a Senate candidate and $325 to a House candidate per election. When it takes effect on Aug. 28 – after the Aug. 5 primary elections but before the Nov. 4 general elections -- donors will be allowed to give unlimited amounts to candidates. SB 1038 is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph. Most Republican lawmakers supported the bill while nearly all Democrats opposed it.

ANHEUSER-BUSCH RELENTS TO FOREIGN TAKEOVER

After weeks of resistance, St. Louis-based Anhueser-Busch Cos., the largest American brewer, on July 14 relented to a $52 billion buyout by InBev, a Belgian-Brazilian conglomerate. In the end, Anhueser-Busch forced InBev, the world’s largest brewer, to boost its offer to $70 a share from $65 a share. Anhueser-Busch stock had been trading in the $40 range when InBev first made its offer in June.

Because of InBev’s reputation for slashing costs following its acquisitions of other brewers, many Missouri officials are concerned about the eventual loss of high-paying jobs at the company’s flagship St. Louis brewery and corporate headquarters. The sale also deals a heavy psychological blow to St. Louis, which has considered its status as the hometown of Anhueser-Busch as a source of great community pride.

BLUNT SIGNS IMMIGRATION LEGISLATION

Gov. Matt Blunt on July 7 signed into law a bill intended to crack down on illegal immigration in Missouri. Most of the measure, however, simply reiterates existing laws prohibiting illegal immigrants from receiving government services or gaining employment in the state. HB 1549 does include some sanctions on employers who hire illegal immigrants but most of the toughest employer provisions were stripped from the final version of the bill.

GOVERNOR VETOES STUDENT CURATOR BILL

Gov. Matt Blunt on July 9 vetoed a bill that could have given the student member of the University of Missouri Board of Curators full voting rights starting in 2011. The General Assembly passed the bill in May with overwhelming support, culminating years of efforts by lawmakers to secure voting power for the student curator. The voting members of the Board of Curators opposed the bill and praised Blunt for vetoing it.

The board consists of nine voting members – currently one from each of Missouri’s congressional districts – and one nonvoting student member. However, Missouri is expected to lose a congressional seat in January 2013 based on the 2010 U.S. Census. SB 873 sponsored state Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, would have given the ninth voting spot to the student curator starting in January 2011.

The bill passed 31-2 in the Senate and 100-47 in the House of Representatives. The number of supporters in the Senate would be sufficient to override the governor’s veto. The number of “yes” votes in the House fell nine short of the necessary two-thirds majority, although with 14 members absent from the final vote the mathematical possibility of reaching the 109 votes needed does exist. However, given that lawmakers of the governor’s party traditionally don’t support veto overrides except on hot-button issues, it unlikely an override will occur when the legislature convenes its annual veto session in September.

MOHELA AGAIN MISSES SCHEDULED PAYMENT


The Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority has again missed a scheduled payment to the state that was required by a 2007 law championed by Gov. Matt Blunt that diverts some of the agency’s assets to the state to pay for capital improvement projects at public colleges and universities. MOHELA’s board of directors cited the continuing financial difficulties the agency has experienced since being forced to shift some of its assets to the state starting last fall

MOHELA was due to make a $5 million quarterly payment by the end of June. The board did agree to pay $850,000 to satisfy the remainder of its skipped March payment.

GOVERNOR SIGNS $22.4 BILLION BUDGET INTO LAW

Gov. Matt Blunt has signed into law the $22.4 billion state operating budget for the 2009 fiscal year, which began July 1. This year’s budget increases overall spending by nearly $1 billion over the previous year. Blunt signed 12 of the 13 bills that make up the budget on June 27 before signing the last measure on June 30.

The budget includes a $121.3 million increase in direct state aid to local school, which falls in the normal range of increases public education receives each year. It also includes a $43 million increase for public colleges and universities, but the boost fails to restore total funding to these institutions to the FY 2002 level, which was the high-water mark for higher education funding. The budget did not restore the cuts to health care the governor and Republican-controlled General Assembly instituted in 2005.

Initial estimates show the state ended FY 2008 with a $50 million surplus. Revenue collections for the year grew by 3.7 percent, slightly higher than the 3.1 percent growth the budget was based on.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

BELGIAN BREWER SEEKS TAKEOVER OF ANHEUSER-BUSCH

After weeks of speculation, Belgian brewer InBev SA announced a $46 billion offer to buy St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch Cos., the nation’s largest beer producer. Gov. Matt Blunt issued a statement opposing the deal, which he called “deeply troubling.”

The takeover of Anheuser-Busch at the very least would strike a heavy psychological blow to the St. Louis region, which has taken great pride in being the company’s headquarters for well over a century. From a financial standpoint, company employees and state and local leaders are concerned about InBev’s reputation for slashing costs. A-B currently employs about 6,000 people in St. Louis and has a tradition of providing high wages and good benefits. A-B is also known for generous investments in the community.

InBev offered a cash bid of $65 per share, a premium of $6.65 above Wednesday’s closing price of $58.35 per A-B share. The Anheuser-Busch Board of Directors must approve the deal. If the board rejects it, however, InBev could take its offer directly to shareholders with a hostile takeover attempt.

MEDIA SEEKS TO JOIN E-MAIL LAWSUIT AGAINST GOVERNOR

The Associated Press, Kansas City Star and St. Louis Post-Dispatch are seeking to join a lawsuit against Gov. Matt Blunt that seeks copies of potentially damaging e-mail records the administration allegedly tried to have destroyed. An independent investigator looking into possible violations of state open records and record retention laws by high-ranking administration officials originally filed the lawsuit in May.

The e-mail controversy began in September when reporters began looking into potentially improper political activities by Blunt’s then-Chief of Staff Ed Martin. Scott Eckersley, an attorney in Blunt’s office, later was fired for advising the governor that Martin and others were breaking state laws by deleting e-mails sought by the media. According to the investigator’s lawsuit, Blunt or top aides ordered the destruction of backup tapes containing the deleted e-mails but were thwarted when two information technology supervisors with the Office of Administration refused to comply because the e-mails were subject to pending open records requests.

LAND OWNERS CAN SUE OVER ‘COMDEMNATION BLIGHT’


The Missouri Supreme Court unanimously ruled on June 10 that property owners may sue for financial damages when local governments declare property “blighted” in order to pave the way for a redevelopment that doesn’t occur in a timely manner. A declaration of blight is necessary step for government to use eminent domain to seize private property for redevelopment purposes.

The case involves a suburban Kansas City shopping center the city of Gladstone declared blighted in 2003 as part of a redevelopment plan that later fell through. With the threat of eminent domain looming for five years, the shopping center’s owners say they’ve lost millions of dollars from tenants not renewing leases and a resulting decline in their property’s value. The court dubbed the threatened use of eminent domain that never occurs but causes financial losses for the property’s owners as “condemnation blight.”

The ruling allows a lawsuit for damages brought by the shopping center owners to proceed and overturns a Clay County judge’s summary ruling in favor of the city. The case is Clay County Realty Co. and Edith Investment Co. v. City of Gladstone.

LIMBAUGH APPOINTMENT LEAVES SUPREME COURT OPENING


The U.S. Senate on June 10 unanimously confirmed President George W. Bush’s appointment of Missouri Supreme Court Judge Stephen Limbaugh Jr. to the U.S. District Court for eastern Missouri. Limbaugh’s elevation to the federal bench will give Republican Gov. Matt Blunt his second appointment to the state high court.

The Missouri Constitution gives the governor a limited role in appointing appellate judges by requiring him to pick a nominee from a list of three finalists selected by the Appellate Judicial Commission. When a vacancy opened on the Supreme Court last summer, Blunt publicly complained that his favored candidates didn’t make the cut before ultimately picking Patricia Breckenridge, then a judge on the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District, from among the finalists chosen by the commission. The controversy sparked an effort to amend the constitution to give the governor more control over the nominating process. House Democrats, joined by a handful of Republicans, defeated the proposed amendment 69-83.

Limbaugh is completing work on pending cases and is expected to resign from the Supreme Court and begin his duties on the federal bench later this summer. The Appellate Judicial Commission likely won’t begin the process of replacing Limbaugh until he either steps down or announces a firm date for when he plans to do so.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

REVENUE DEPARTMENT FEE HIKE VIOLATES STATE LAW

In significantly increasing the fees it charges for driver’s license and vehicle records, the Missouri Department of Revenue factored in costs that under state law it can’t pass on to purchasers, The Associated Press reported on May 21. The AP report was based on about 200 documents related to the fee hike it obtained from the department under the Sunshine Law.

Earlier this month the revenue department raised its fees to $7 per record. The department previously charged $1.25 for an individual record, with per-record costs of just a fraction of a penny for bulk purchases. Insurance companies and other businesses authorized to obtain the records used to pay $2,035 for the complete database of 4 million records; the full database now costs $28 million.

In setting the new fee at $7 per record, the department included the cost of purchasing and maintaining a new computer database and other expenses such as employee benefits and attorney fees. The Sunshine Law, however, says the only costs government agencies may impose is 10 cents a page for documents plus the actual cost for a clerical worker to retrieve the documents. According to a Dec. 21, 2006, document obtained by the AP, it takes just 3.5 minutes for department employee to process a record request for an actual staff-time cost of 67 cents.

In the closing days of the legislative session, the General Assembly added a provision to SB 711 that cut the revenue department’s fee for bulk purchases to a half-cent per record. The governor is expected to sign the bill, which also provides property tax relief for homeowners. Some companies that routinely purchased the records have also sued the department alleging its fees are excessive under Sunshine Law.

GOVERNOR SIGNS LAW TO COMBAT METAL THEFT

Gov. Matt Blunt on May 21 signed into law a bill that seeks to crackdown on the theft of copper and other valuable metals. SB 1034 imposes new record-keeping requirements on scrap metal dealers and requires them to get a copy of a photo identification from sellers who aren’t regular customers and are seeking to sell more than $50 worth of metal.

The bill also prohibits scrap dealers from purchasing items such as traffic signal boxes, street signs, manhole covers, guardrails and park bleachers that are likely the property of a government agency.

VILLAGE LAW REPEAL SENT TO GOVERNOR AFTER WILD RIDE

For nearly 11 weeks after the Senate unanimously approved it, a bill to repeal a controversial village law enacted last year languished in the House of Representatives as Speaker Rod Jetton kept it on the shelf. However, the measure dominated the final three days of the 2008 legislative session, sparking talk among majority Republicans of a coup to overthrow Jetton, a series of political maneuvers by the speaker to kill the measure and a long filibuster by senators who previously supported it. Ultimately, Jetton and his allies relented, and the General Assembly granted the bill final approval.

The controversy began last year when Jetton, R-Marble Hill, quietly slipped a provision into a 300-plus page omnibus bill that made it possible for a landowner to incorporate his or her property as a village – with no minimum population or obligation to offer municipal services – solely so the landowner could avoid local land-use restrictions. Jetton did so at the behest of a political contributor whose efforts to develop property in Stone County had by stymied by local residents. Since the provision became publicly known, several other developers around the state have started efforts to create sham villages, while state lawmakers and local officials mobilized to repeal the law.

At approximately 4 a.m. on May 16, a deal was finally brokered to clear the bill, SB 765, for final passage. Under the deal, the Senate defeated the emergency clause that would have allowed the repeal to take effect immediately upon being signed by the governor. Instead the repeal won’t become effective until Aug. 28, potentially giving developers the opportunity to attempt to take advantage of the existing law for another few months. The Senate again passed the measure without dissent before the House approved it 131-7.

WEAKENED IMMIGRATION BILL WINS FINAL PASSAGE

The General Assembly on May 16 granted final approval to legislation designed to crackdown on illegal immigration. However, the final version of HB 1549 included substantially weaker penalties for employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants than what had been sought by the Senate.

The original House version targeted illegal immigrants by limiting their access to public services, outlawing so-called – but apparently nonexistent – sanctuary cities that harbor illegal immigrants and granting the Missouri State Highway Patrol the authority to enforce federal immigration laws. Majority Republicans repeatedly rebuffed efforts to punish employers who profit by hiring and exploiting illegal workers. The Senate, however, insisted on employer sanctions, which became a key sticking point in negotiating the final bill. In the end, employer sanctions remained in the legislation but were significantly scaled back.

LAWMAKERS ENDORSE PROPERTY TAX REFORM

Amid a public outcry about increased property taxes caused by growth in assessed property values, the General Assembly on May 16 approved a bill that seeks to strengthen existing requirements that are supposed to force local taxing jurisdictions to roll back their tax rates so that they don’t profit from tax reassessments.

Property values in Missouri are reassessed every two years. Because overall values typically increase during reassessment cycles, the Missouri Constitution requires taxing entities, such as school districts and fire districts, to roll back their tax rates so that they bring in roughly the same amount of revenue, plus the value of new construction and an inflationary adjustment. Because of past rollbacks, however, actual tax rates are often lower than a jurisdiction’s maximum authorized rate. As a result, many taxing entities in that situation refuse to enact further rollbacks following reassessment, resulting in higher taxes for property owners.

SB 711 would require taxing jurisdictions to roll back from their actual rate following reassessments, thus reducing reassessment-driven tax hikes. Efforts by House Democrats to provide additional property tax exemptions for elderly Missourians were rejected. The final bill passed 33-0 in the Senate and 142-5 in the House.

GOP FORCES THROUGH REPEAL OF CAMPAIGN LIMITS


With just one vote to spare, House Republicans rammed through a bill repealing limits on campaign contributions, which Missouri voters first imposed in 1994 with 73.9 percent support. The measure, SB 1038, cleared the House on a near party-line vote of 83-72. Gov. Matt Blunt is expected to sign it into law.

Under current law, individual donors can give no more than $1,350 to a statewide candidate, $675 to a Senate candidate and $325 to a House candidate per election. When the repeal takes effect on Aug. 28, donor will be able to give unlimited amounts.

The various amendments House Democrats had prepared offer included putting the issue on the November ballot for voters to decide and delaying the effective date of the bill until next year to avoid changing the campaign finance rules in the middle of the 2008 election cycle. Majority Republicans, however, shut down debate to force a vote before those amendments could be offered.

Friday, May 9, 2008

FIVE BALLOT MEASURES MAKE SIGNATURE DEADLINE

Supporters of five initiative efforts cleared the first hurdle in getting on their proposals on the ballot when they submitted signed petitions to the Secretary of State’s Office by the May 5 deadline. The measures include three statutory changes – lifting the casino loss limit, requiring utilities to use more renewable energy and allowing home health care providers to unionize – and two separate proposed constitutional amendments to restrict the use of eminent domain.

Submitting signatures, however, is no guarantee the issues will make it on the November ballot. The Secretary of State’s Office first must verify that the petitions have sufficient numbers of valid signatures from registered voters. In 2006, only three of six submitted petitions had enough signatures to go before voters. The minimum number ranges from 86,000 to 95,000 for statutory change and 140,000 to 150,000 for a constitutional amendment. The verification process must be completed by Aug. 5.

BLUNT OR AIDES ALLEGEDLY SOUGHT TO DESTROY RECORDS

An independent investigator filed a lawsuit on May 5 alleging that Gov. Matt Blunt or top officials in his administration ordered the destruction of backup tapes containing potentially damaging e-mails sent by members of his staff. The destruction was thwarted when two information technology supervisors with the Office of Administration refused to comply because the e-mails were subject to pending open records requests by various media outlets, according to the lawsuit.

Mel Fisher, the former Missouri State Highway Patrol superintendent heading the investigation, filed the suit in response to months of stonewalling by the Blunt administration, which has refused to cooperate with the investigation or produce requested records. The suit asks the court to take custody of the records so that it may review them.

The e-mail controversy began in September when reporters began looking into potentially improper political activities by Blunt’s then-Chief of Staff Ed Martin. Scott Eckersley, an attorney in Blunt’s office, later was fired for advising the governor that Martin and others were breaking state open record and record retention laws. The administration then orchestrated a failed smear campaign to discredit Eckersley, which prompted him to file a pending defamation and wrongful termination suit against the governor. Attorney General Jay Nixon appointed the independent team of investigators in November to look into allegations of criminal activity related to the e-mail controversy by administration officials.

REVENUE IMPOSES MASSIVE FEE HIKE FOR DRIVING RECORDS

Until recently insurance companies and other businesses authorized to access Missourians’ driver and vehicle license records had to pay just $2,035 for the complete database of 4 million records. The Missouri Department of Revenue’s new asking price for the database: $28 million. Businesses that use the records say the massive fee hike will either put them out of business or result in significantly higher car insurance rates for Missouri motorists as insurers pass on the cost of obtaining the records. Some lawmakers question the legality of the move and are threatening to overturn it.

The revenue department recently raised the fee to $7 per record. The old fee was $1.25 for a single record with significant discounts for bulk purchases that lowered the cost for the entire database to just a fraction of a penny per record. Under the new fee structure, the department provides no bulk discount.

Called before the Joint Committee on Tax Policy on May 6 to explain the hike, Department of Revenue Director Omar Davis said it was necessary to pay for a $50 million modernization of its 30-year-old database. Davis said the department didn’t ask the General Assembly for a budget appropriation for that purpose because “we knew the answer would be no,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. State Rep. Shannon Cooper, R-Clinton, said he will seek to attach an amendment nullifying the fee hike to another bill during the final days of the legislative session.

HUGE TAX BREAK FOR CANADIAN COMPANY PASSES

After substantially scaling it back, the General Assembly on May 7 finally approved a massive tax break to entice a Canadian airplane manufacturer to locate in Kansas City. The package of $240 million over eight years is far less than the $880 million over 22 years originally sought.

The tax incentive bill, HB 2393, is to encourage Bombardier Aerospace to build a $400 million assembly plant near Kansas City International Airport that would be expected to employ 2,100 people. However, passage of the measure, which awaits Gov. Matt Blunt’s signature, is no guarantee the company will put its plant in Missouri. The company has expressed its preference is to build the facility near its headquarters in Montreal, Quebec.

LAWMAKERS PASS $22.44 BILLION STATE OPERATING BUDGET

Lawmakers on May 7 wrapped up work on a $22.44 billion state operating budget for the fiscal year beginning July1. The budget increases spending by $956.7 million, or 4.5 percent, over the current fiscal year. Despite the increase, the final budget is $502.5 million lower than what Gov. Matt Blunt had requested.

Lawmakers substantially trimmed Blunt’s spending request in large part due to a downturn in state revenue collections. Even with the cutbacks, the budget still spends more general revenue, which accounts for nearly 40 percent of total spending, than the state expects to collect in the coming fiscal year. General revenue spending will increase 5.4 percent with collections expected to rise by just 3.4 percent. Lawmakers are using a surplus set aside last year to cover the difference.

HOUSE APPROVES PHOTO VOTER ID AMENDMENT

With only a few days remaining in the legislative session, the House of Representatives on May 8 endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow lawmakers to require voters to show a photo ID at their polling place as a condition of voting. The House approved the measure on a near party-line vote of 88-69 with all Democrats opposed and all but one Republican in support.

HJR 48 seeks to overturn a Missouri Supreme Court decision that declared a 2006 photo ID law unconstitutional. In that case the court ruled that since the Missouri Constitution guarantees voting rights to all Missouri residents who are age 18 or older, U.S. residents and registered to vote, the legislature is prohibited from imposing additional voting rights restrictions, such as photo ID, that aren’t constitutional authorized.

Because the measure must still go through a Senate committee and win approval of the full Senate, where Democrats are expected to filibuster, with just five days remaining in the legislative session, the chances of it winning final passage are uncertain. If the measure clears the legislature, it would automatically go on the statewide ballot in November unless Gov. Matt Blunt exercises his authority to set the vote for August.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

U.S. SUPREME COURT RULES PHOTO ID LAW CONSTITUTIONAL

The U.S. Supreme Court on April 28 upheld an Indiana law that requiring voters to show government-issued photo identification at the polls in order to vote. Although the court says the U.S. Constitution doesn’t prohibit states from imposing photo ID requirements, the ruling will have little impact in Missouri, where the state Supreme Court struck down a similar 2006 voter ID law based on the Missouri Constitution.

The Missouri Supreme Court said the state constitution guarantees voting rights for all qualified registered voters and that the General Assembly may not impose additional requirements, such as photo ID, that aren’t constitutionally specified. Republicans have proposed a constitutional amendment to eliminate that hurdle to imposing voter photo ID, but the measure’s sponsor, state Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, told The Associated Press he didn’t expect it to get through the legislature and on the ballot this year.

LAWMAKERS STRIP INSURE MISSOURI MONEY FROM BUDGET

Gov. Matt Blunt’s proposed Insure Missouri plan suffered another blow when legislative negotiators stripped the $353 million allocated for the plan from the state operating budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. A bill to authorize the governor’s plan stalled early in the legislative session, but the Senate recently revived a version of it with the passage of SB 1283. House leaders, however, remained opposed to advancing the bill.

Insure Missouri called for subsidizing private health insurance for some working Missourians. It wouldn’t extend benefits to the elderly, disabled or children, nor would it restore coverage to the more than 180,000 Missourians who lost it due to the governor’s 2005 Medicaid cuts. Restoring the coverage would cost the state an estimated $201.2 million in general revenue.

3 PERCENT RAISE FOR STATE WORKERS INCLUDED IN BUDGET

Budget negotiators have opted to give state employees a 3-percent raise for the upcoming fiscal year, a position proposed by the governor and supported by the Senate. The House of Representatives had wanted to give employees a flat raise of $1,056, which would have put more money in the pockets of lower-paid state employees and given smaller raises to higher-paid workers.

Under the 3-percent plan, an employee making $100,000 will get a $3,000 raise while an employee earning $20,000 will get a $600 raise. State employee groups had urged budget negotiators to accept the House position, which House Democrats successfully passed through the chamber earlier this year after several years of trying.

BILL TO HELP FINANCIALLY STRUGGLING MOHELA PASSES

The House of Representatives on April 28 gave final approval to legislation intended to help the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, which has been struggling financially since the Republican-controlled General Assembly last year raided the agency’s assets to pay for a campus construction plan championed by Gov. Matt Blunt. The bill now awaits the governor’s signature to become law.

SB 967 will allow MOHELA to originate federal student loans, which agency officials say will enable it to generate more revenue. In opposing last year’s raid of MOHELA assets, House Democrats predicted it would threaten the agency’s financial future and jeopardize its ability to provide lost-cost student loans. MOHELA reported the first financial loss in its history just months after making its first $230 million payment to the state. MOHELA was unable to make the full $5 million quarterly payment it was scheduled to make last month.

PANEL LOADS VILLAGE LAW REPEAL WITH POISON PILLS

The House Local Government Committee on April 30 finally passed a bill to repeal a controversial village law enacted last year but only after loading the measure with amendments likely to kill it. The village provision enacted in 2007 allows a property owner to dodge local land-use restrictions by incorporating their land as a village without any minimum population requirements or obligation to offer municipal services.

House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, surreptitiously slipped the provision into a 300-plus-page omnibus local government bill last spring at the behest of Lebanon businessmen Robert Plaster, a friend and political supporter of the speaker. The provision went undetected until the day the law took effect when papers were filed to incorporate land Plaster owns in Stone County. Since then several other landowners around the state have initiated efforts to establish villages.

The Senate passed a repeal measure, SB 765, on Feb. 28, but Jetton stalled the process by not referring it to committee until April 10. State Rep. Vicki Schneider, R-St. Charles and chair of the local government committee, further delayed the acting on the measure for another three weeks.

When the vote finally was taken, Schneider offered a substitute bill that includes provisions to levy local taxes on cellular phone service, new restrictions on liquor licenses and sales, and additional rules on the operation of sexually oriented businesses. Supporters of repealing the village law, which enjoys widespread support, said Schneider’s substitute is a thinly veiled attempt to ensure the bill fails to win final approval.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

NEW LICENSE PLATES VIOLATE LAW WITH POOR GRAMMAR


English teachers and other sticklers for proper grammar could be irate when Missouri’s newly redesigned license plates go into circulation this summer with a grammatically incorrect version of the state’s nickname. The error, which the Missouri Department of Revenue says it will not correct, also apparently violates state law.

The state’s nickname on the new plates will read “Show Me State.” Because the words “show” and “me” form a compound modifier, the rules of grammar require that they be hyphenated, Missouri Southern State University English professor Dale Simpson told The Joplin Globe. State law also requires Missouri license plates to bear the phrase “SHOW-ME STATE,” hyphen included.

About 2.8 million of the new plates already have been made. A revenue department spokesman told The Associated Press the error won’t be corrected on the remaining 10 million plates that are scheduled to be produced.

SENATE RESURRECTS INSURE MISSOURI


The Senate on April 23 gave preliminary approval to a revived version of Insure Missouri, a health care proposal Gov. Matt Blunt proposed with much fanfare last fall that seemingly died after encountering stiff legislative resistance, especially in the House of Representatives. While the new proposal, SB 1283, bears the Insure Missouri name and contains some features of the governor’s plan, it is actually modeled on an Indiana law that provides government subsidies for some low-income workers to buy private health insurance.
Under the bill, Missourians ages 19 to 64 with jobs that pay up to 225 percent of the federal poverty level could qualify if affordable health care isn’t available through their employer and if they pay $1,000 a year into a health care savings account. As with the original Insure Missouri, SB 1283 wouldn’t extend benefits to the elderly, disabled or children, nor would it restore coverage to the more than 180,000 Missourians who lost it due to the governor’s 2005 Medicaid cuts.

HOUSE REJECTS LOWERING WAGES FOR TIPPED WORKERS

The House of Representatives on April 23 rejected legislation to slash the base minimum wage for tipped workers to $2.13 an hour from the current $3.325 an hour. On the mostly party-line vote of 68-82, all Democrats opposed cutting the minimum wage while most Republicans supported doing so.

HB 1851 would have overturned part of a minimum wage ballot measure Missouri voters approved in 2006 with 76 percent support. The standard state minimum wage, which voters also increased and that currently stands at $6.65 an hour, would have been unaffected by the bill.

State Rep. Shannon Cooper, R-Clinton, added the wage reduction provision as an amendment to the bill. Supporters, including the restaurant industry, said the wage hike has proven too costly. Opponents of reducing the wage said it’s wrong to arbitrarily cut wages for tipped workers such as waiters and waitresses.

HOUSE NARROWLY APPROVES TEACHER BARGAINING BILL

With only one vote the spare, the House of Representatives passed legislation to create a legal framework for labor negotiations between public school districts and teachers. The bill, HB 2059, passed 83-67, with one more “yes” vote than the minimum 82 needed to send the measure to the Senate.

The bill was prompted by a 2007 Missouri Supreme Court decision that found the state constitution guarantees government workers, including teachers, the right to collectively bargain with their employer. The decision struck down a 1947 ruling in which the court invented an exemption from bargaining rights for government workers despite the fact that no such exemption exists in the constitutional text.

Opponents of the bill say it would mostly preserve the status quo and not provide true collective bargaining as required by the Missouri Constitution, thus guaranteeing a lawsuit. Supporters say the measure establishes a reasonable system for negotiations that protects the interests of all teachers, not just the majority who votes to be represented by a particular organization.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

PROBATION WORKERS DUE $4.1 MILLION IN BACK PAY

Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan has ruled the state owes Missouri’s probation and parole workers $4.1 million in back pay because the Missouri General Assembly illegally exempted unionized employees from pay raises granted to other state workers. Callahan further ruled the state owes more than $300,000 in taxes on the back pay from 2004 to 2007.

However, Callahan didn’t order to the state to provide the owed compensation because to do so would be a judicial infringement on the legislature’s appropriations power. In the April 9 decision, Callahan said he couldn’t compel the legislature to appropriate the money because “a court may not order what it cannot enforce,” The Associated Press reported in an April 17 story. The state budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which is still in the legislative process, doesn’t include money for the back compensation.

SCOTUS RULING COULD MEAN RESUMPTION OF EXECUTIONS


Attorney General Jay Nixon says executions should resume in Missouri after the U.S. Supreme Court voted 7-2 on April 16 upheld Kentucky’s use of lethal injection to execute condemned prisoners. Missouri’s lethal injection procedure, which is similar to Kentucky’s, also has been subject to a court challenge and executions in the state have effectively been on hold since October 2005.

For an execution to go forward in Missouri, the state Supreme Court must set an execution date. In October 2007 Nixon asked the court to set the execution dates for 10 inmates. Those requests remain pending. Forty-six men currently are on Missouri’s death row.

TAX HIKE FOR VETERANS WINS HOUSE APPROVAL

The House of Representatives on April 15 voted 107-40 to send a proposed constitutional amendment to voters that, if ratified, would increase the state sales tax to provide an estimated $116 million a year -- $928 million over the eight-year life of the tax – to pay for improved services for military veterans. The Senate must still pass the measure for it to go on the November ballot.

HJR 71, sponsored by state Rep. Barney Fisher, R-Richards, would ask Missouri voters to impose an additional one-eighth cent sales tax. The increase would raise the total state sales tax to 4.35 percent from the current 4.225 percent. The tax would take effect on Jan. 1, 2009, but expire at the end of 2016. Voters would then have the option of renewing the tax for another 10 years at a reduced rate of one-tenth of a cent. If renewed, voters would consider additional extensions every 10 years.

HOUSE REJECTS OVERHAUL OF JUDGE SELECTION SYSTEM

House Democrats led the defeat of a proposed constitutional amendment to extensively overhaul the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan, which has served as a national model for judicial selection since its adoption in 1940. After winning first-round approval on an 80-63 vote earlier in the week, HJR 49 was defeated 69-83 on a final vote on April 17.

Under the nonpartisan plan, the governor plays a limited role in selecting judges. When a vacancy arises on the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals or circuit courts in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas, an independent nominating commission selects a list of three finalists for the post. The governor must appoint one of those finalists. If he fails to do so, the commission makes the selection. Republican Gov. Matt Blunt has been critical of the nonpartisan plan because of his limited influence on the selection process.

HJR 49 would have given the governor a much larger role, including letting him pick more members of the nominating commissions and allowing him to reject the nominee lists and demand new ones.

CHAMBERS REACT DIFFERENTLY TO MASSIVE TAX BREAK

While the House of Representatives endorsed giving up to $880 million in tax breaks over 22 years to a Canadian airplane manufacturer, a similar bill remains stalled in the Senate after several days of debate. The legislation is a key part of the state’s effort to convince Bombardier Aerospace to build passenger jets in Kansas City.

The House gave preliminary approval to its bill on April 15. Supporters of the bill say the positive impact on Missouri’s economy if Bombardier were to locate here is worth the cost of what is likely the largest package of tax breaks the state has ever offered for a single project. However, Bombardier has stated its first preference is to build the planes in its home country. Opponents say the offer is overly generous and would subject the state to substantial financial risk. The bills are HB 2393 and SB 1234.

BLUNT CLAIMS ‘ABSOLUTE PRIVELEGE’ FROM LAWSUIT


Gov. Matt Blunt is asserting his office provides him an “absolute privilege” against liability in a pending defamation and wrongful termination lawsuit filed against him by a former employee, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on April 15. In court documents related to the case, Blunt claims the privilege applies even if he made “intentionally false statements” about the employee.

Scott Eckersley, the governor’s former deputy counsel, is suing the governor and several top current or former administrator officials over Eckersley’s dismissal last fall. Eckersley says he was fired for pointing out the administration’s repeated violations of state open records and retention laws. Following the firing, key administration officials launched a smear campaign to discredit Eckersley. The Blunt administration’s claims about Eckersley quickly were debunked in news reports.

ETHICS NOMINEE LINKED TO BLUNT FAMILY WITHDRAWS

Jefferson City attorney Michael Shmid, whom Gov. Matt Blunt appointed to a Democratic seat on the Missouri Ethics Commission, has asked that his appointment be withdrawn after the state Democratic Party questioned his party affiliation. The law requires the six-member commission to have equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans.

Shmid is an associate in the Schreimann, Rackers, Franka and Blunt law firm. Andy Blunt, the Republican governor’s brother, is a partner in the firm. The governor neglected to mention Schmid’s connection to the Blunt family when he announced the appointment on April 9.

NEW MISSOURI LICENSE PLATES COMING IN JUNE


Missouri will begin phasing in new vehicle license plates this summer. The new plates will feature a bluebird, the state bird, sitting on a hawthorn branch, the state floral emblem. The new design will replace the current Missouri plates that have been in use since 1997.

Motorists who renew their vehicle registrations after June 16 will receive the new plates, which will cost an additional $2.78 per set over the current cost for standard plates. Personalized plates will cost an additional $4.25 per set.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

PSC CHAIRMAN PLAYED KEY ROLE IN PRO-INDUSTRY BILL

During testimony before a legislative committee on April 1, Public Service Commission Chairman Jeff Davis took credit for helping utility companies draft 2005 legislation, which later became law, that critics said hurt consumers while increasing profits for the companies. The revelation, reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in an April 4 story, raised further questions about Davis’ impartiality as a member of the PSC, which regulates utility companies.

Davis had previously been accused of a conflict of interest for participating in a private meeting in the governor’s office with AmerenUE officials -- including their then-lobbyist Andy Blunt, the governor’s brother -- in 2006 while a rate increase sought by the company was pending before the PSC. In 2007, an e-mail from Aquila Inc. official became public that indicated Davis privately had assured company officials he supported a proposed merger with another company, which was subject to PSC approval.

HOUSE VOTES TO DEFY FEDERAL GOVERNMENT ON REAL ID

The House of Representatives on April 10 sent to the Senate a bill to prohibit the state from complying with the federal Real ID act, which critics say imposes expensive requirements on states and violates the privacy of citizens. Congress passed the law in 2005 but immediately encountered resistance from state governments.

Six states – Oklahoma, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Washington – have already enacted laws prohibiting implementation of Real ID. At least 11 other states, including Missouri, are considering similar legislation. The combined cost to the states of implementing Real ID is estimated at $3.9 billion.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has warned states that if they do not comply their residents will be barred from entering federal buildings or boarding airplanes. Critics say that is a hollow threat since it would mean the de facto closure of all federal buildings and airports in those states. The Missouri bill is HB 1716.

BLUNT NAMES EMPLOYEE OF BROTHER TO ETHICS PANEL

Gov. Matt Blunt on April 9 appointed to the Missouri Ethics Commission an associate attorney of the law firm in which Andy Blunt, the governor’s brother, is a partner. If confirmed by the Senate, Michael Schmid, a lawyer with the Jefferson City firm of Schreimann, Rackers, Franka and Blunt, will hold a Democratic slot on the commission. The news release from the governor’s office announcing Schmid’s appointment neglected to mention the Blunt family connection.

Democrats and Republicans are required by law to hold equal numbers of seats on the six-member commission. Under the law, congressional district committees of the political party for which there is a vacancy nominate candidates for the commission. Democratic Party spokesman Jack Cardetti told The Associated Press said Schmid wasn’t nominated by the party. However, the two Democrats who were nominated withdrew due to professional conflicts. As a result, Blunt was free under the law to appoint a nominee of his own choosing.

Cardetti questioned Schimd’s Democratic credentials. Schmid donated $250 to Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon’s gubernatorial campaign on April 1 and told the AP he made the donation, in part, to establish Democratic credentials in advance of his anticipated appointment.

HOUSE REJECTS SCHOOL VOUCHER PROPOSAL

The House of Representatives on April 9 voted 80-58 to strip a private school voucher provision from a bill to raise minimum teacher salaries. As a result, House Majority Leader Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, told The Associated Press he will not allow a final vote on the measure. “That bill will not see the light of day,” Tilley said.

The voucher provision of HB 2040 would have granted tax breaks to donors to a scholarship fund for children with autism or other special needs to attend private or parochial schools. Opponents called the bill a thinly veiled attempt to open the door to taxpayer support of private and parochial schools to the detriment of public school funding. State Rep. Maynard Wallace, R-Thornfield, sponsored the amendment to remove the voucher provision.

The teacher salary component of the overall bill, which was sponsored by House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, purported to increase the minimum teacher salary to $31,000 a year from the current $24,000. However, no money was appropriated for the increase.

HOUSE PROPOSES AMENDMENT TO RESTRICT SPENDING

On an 84-65 vote, the House of Representatives on April 10 approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would severely restrict state spending. If also approved by the Senate, the measure would go before Missouri voters on the November ballot.

HJR 70 sponsored by House Budget Chairman Alan Icet, R-Wildwood, would limit annual growth in general revenue spending to the rate of inflation with a further adjustment for population increases. Supporters say the amendment is needed to further control state spending. Opponents counter that it would hamstring the ability of government to provide necessary state services. Colorado suspended a similar constitutional provision after it caused a state budget crisis.

HOUSE APPROVES M0RATORIUM ON NEW CASINOS

The Missouri Gaming Commission would be prohibited from licensing any new casinos until 2010 under legislation that won first-round House approval on April 2. Supporters say the moratorium is needed to gage the strength of the gambling market, particularly in the Kansas City area, where Missouri casinos will soon face competition from new facilities in Kansas.

As currently written, however, HB 1929 would prevent the licensing of casino that is already under construction in St. Louis County. When the Gaming Commission approves a new casino it doesn’t issue a license until after construction in completed.

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Shannon Cooper, R-Clinton, said he will seek changes so the St. Louis facility isn’t affected. Opponents of the bill say the market – not an arbitrary limit imposed by the state – should determine how many casinos operate in Missouri.

HOUSE NARROWLY APPROVES LIMITING POWER OF COURTS

With the bare minimum number of votes required, the House of Representatives on April 3 voted 82-68 in favor of a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit the authority of state courts. Majority House Republicans shut down debate to force the vote after more than an hour of discussion.

HJR 41 sponsored by state Rep. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, would prohibit state judges from ruling in cases involving taxation. Supporters say it would prevent judges from imposing tax increases, something a Missouri judges have never done as they are already prohibited from doing so by the state constitution. Opponents say it will prevent Missourians from seeking redress in state courts in legitimate disputes involving taxation.

The measure now goes to the Senate, which hasn’t acted on previous attempts by the House to strip state courts of authority. If the proposal does clear the Senate, it would go on the statewide ballot in November.

MOTORCYCLE HELMET LAW REPEAL WINS HOUSE APPROVAL

In what has become an annual ritual, the House of Representatives on April 3 approved a bill to repeal Missouri’s motorcycle helmet law for riders age 21 and older. The bill typically passes each year in the House, where most lawmakers believe wearing a helmet should be a personal choice and not a government mandate, only to be blocked in the Senate by safety advocates. The House sent the measure, HB 1393, to the Senate on 94-52 vote.

SENATE ENDORSES BILL TO CRACK DOWN ON IMMIGRATION

The Senate on April 3 voted 26-7 in favor of a wide-ranging legislative package intended to crack down on illegal immigration. The bill, SB 858, now heads to the House of Representatives. Provisions of the bill include prohibiting illegal immigrants from receiving most forms of state assistance, barring them attending public colleges and universities in most cases, requiring police to check the immigration status of arrestees and punishing businesses for knowingly employing illegal workers.

HOUSE PASSES PROPOSED AMENDMENT TO LIMIT TAXES

The House of Representatives on April voted 133-19 in favor a proposed constitutional amendment that would require local governments to roll back their property tax levies following reassessment. If approved by the Senate, the measure would go on the statewide ballot in November.

Property reassessment occurs every two years. An existing constitutional provision seeks to prevent taxing jurisdictions from profiting from rising property values by requiring them to reduce their tax rates so they collect about the same amount of money as they did before reassessment, not counting the value of new construction and an inflationary adjustment. Because many jurisdictions are below their maximum authorized tax rates due to past rollbacks, however, some jurisdictions decline to reduce their rates further, resulting in higher taxes for property owners.

HJR 43 sponsored by state Rep. Chuck Portwood, R-Ballwin, would require taxing jurisdictions to roll back from the actual rate they were charging prior to reassessment instead of the higher authorized rate to close what supporters view as a constitutional loophole. Opponents say it would cost financially strapped local governments and school districts millions of dollars in tax revenue.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

SUPREME COURT UPHOLDS USE OF EMINENT DOMAIN

In a decision that essentially maintains the status quo, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled 6-1 on March 18 that all Missouri municipalities may use eminent domain to aid in the redevelopment of blighted property. The decision overturned a circuit court's ruling that under the Missouri Constitution only charter cities can use eminent domain for redevelopment.

The case was brought Homer Tourkakis, an Arnold dentist challenging the city's effort to seize his office as part of a larger redevelopment. Because the constitution specifically says that charter cities can use eminent domain to combat blight but does not grant such power to non-charter cities, Tourkakis argued Arnold, a non-charter city, lacked the authority to take his property.

Charter cities derive their power from the Missouri Constitution, while non-charter cities have only those powers that the General Assembly gives them. The court's majority ruled that non-charter cities are authorized to use eminent domain for redevelopment under the state's tax increment financing statute.

The court's decision, however, doesn't necessarily mean Tourkakis will lose his property. In a 2007 ruling, the court made it more difficult for cities to prove blight, a necessary finding for using eminent domain for redevelopment. Previously cities had to show a property was either an economic liability (the property isn't generating as much tax revenue as it could if redeveloped) or a social liability (the property is conducive to crime or threatens public health). Cities now have to prove both factors to establish blight. As a result, Arnold might be hard-pressed to prove a dentist's office causes crime or is a public health threat.

ETHICS COMMISSION GRANTS 'HARDSHIPS' TO CANDIDATES

The Missouri Ethics Commission has granted so-called "hardship" exemptions to nine state lawmakers to allow them to keep at least some of the money they accepted in excess of the state's campaign contribution limits that briefly were lifted in 2007 but later reinstated by the Missouri Supreme Court.

According to The Associated Press, the lawmakers granted hardships include state Rep. Ron Richard, who is slated to become House speaker next year; House Majority Leader Steve Tilley, House Budget Committee Chairman Allen Icet; House Majority Whip Brian Nieves; and state Sen. Tom Dempsey, who was House majority leader until he moved to the Senate following a special election last fall.

When the Supreme Court reinstated the campaign caps last summer due to a procedural flaw in the bill's passage, it ordered candidates to return their over-limit donations unless they could prove, on a case by case basis, a hardship. The court did not specify what should constitute a hardship, and the Ethics Commission refused to disclose what criteria it used in determining whether candidates to should be allowed to keep the money.

SENATE APPROVES SEX OFFENDER REGISTRY AMENDMENT

The Senate on March 25 approved a proposed constitutional amendment that would require more than 4,300 sex offenders with old convictions to register with the state. The amendment seeks to reverse a 2006 Missouri Supreme Court ruling that sex offenders don't have to register if they were convicted before the registry law took effect in 1995.

The court based it ruling on the state constitutional provision that prohibits retrospective application of laws. SJR 34 sponsored by state Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, would specifically allow retrospective laws requiring sex offenders to register or prohibiting sex offenders from living near schools. If also passed by the House of Representatives, the measure would go on the statewide ballot in November.

MOHELA CONSIDERING SKIPPING PAYMENTS TO STATE



The Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority is considering skipping a $5 million payment due Monday as a part of Gov. Matt Blunt's controversial plan to use the agency's assets to pay for campus construction projects. The MOHELA board was scheduled to discuss at its March 28 meeting whether it can afford to make the payment.

Since its founding in 1981 to provide low-cost student loans, MOHELA's assets had been off limits to legislative raids. That changed last year when the General Assembly passed a law requiring MOHELA to give $350 million to the state. MOHELA made its first $230 million payment in September. Under the 2007 law, MOHELA is supposed to make $5 million quarterly payments to the state for the next six years.

HOUSE APPROVES $22 BILLION STATE BUDGET

The House of Representatives on March 27 approved a $22.45 billion state operating budget for the 2009 fiscal year, which begins July 1. The House budget is nearly a half-billion dollars under the $22.94 billion Gov. Matt Blunt requested.

The budget provides the minimum increase required by law for public schools and doesn't reverse the health care cuts of 2005. Republicans narrowly defeated efforts by Democrats to expand Medicaid eligibility and restore dental and vision coverage. Democrats, however, scored a victory in winning approval of an amendment sponsored by state Rep. Margaret Donnelly, D-St. Louis, to restore coverage for occupational, physical and speech therapy.

The 13 appropriations bills that make up the state budget now head to the Senate for further consideration. The constitutional deadline for sending the budget bills to the governor is May 9.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

From the Desk of Mike Daus

This week the house debated HB1463 which would prohibit the entrance of undocumented students into public institutions of higher education. Whether you are sympathetic or not to the plight of undocumented students, this bill has a major flaw.

Every year the public institutions of higher education in this state would have to certify to the appropriation committees of the General Assembly that they had not enrolled any undocumented students. Sounds easy enough but from testimony in the committee hearing some of our larger universities would have a difficult time insuring this could happen in a cost effective manner. If they did enroll an undocumented student they would face state funding restrictions. This in turn would increase tuition at our institutions of higher education to make up for the short fall.

I know many in the 67th district disagree on how to handle the issue of undocumented workers, students and residents but I hope we can all agree that punishing our young students with even higher college costs is not the answer.

HOUSE LEADER ENDS DEBATE ON JUDGE PROPOSAL

After just 10 minutes of debate, House Speaker Pro Tem Bryan Pratt, R-Blue Springs, on March 11 unilaterally, HJR 41, would prevent state judges from ruling in cases involving taxation. Supporters say it would prevent judges from imposing tax increases, something a Missouri judge has never done as they are already prohibited from doing so by the state constitution. Opponents say it will prevent Missourians from seeking redress in state courts in legitimate disputes involving taxation.

The House again brought the measure up on March 13, but Republican leaders pulled it without taking the roll-call vote needed to send it to the Senate. closed debate and called for a voice vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to limit the authority of state judges. Although the “no” votes clearly were louder than the “yes” votes, Pratt nonetheless declared the measure had won first-round approval.

Although at least a half-dozen representatives were waiting to be recognized to speak on the proposal, a fact noted in news stories by several reporters who witnessed the incident, Pratt later claimed no one was seeking recognition.

The measure, HJR 41, would prevent state judges from ruling in cases involving taxation. Supporters say it would prevent judges from imposing tax increases, something a Missouri judge has never done as they are already prohibited from doing so by the state constitution. Opponents say it will prevent Missourians from seeking redress in state courts in legitimate disputes involving taxation.

The House again brought the measure on March 13, but Republican leaders pulled it without taking the roll-call vote needed to send it to the Senate.

MOHELA LOSING MONEY FOR FIRST TIME IN HISTORY

Less than a year after the Republican-controlled General Assembly pushed through Gov. Matt Blunt’s plan to use Missouri Education Loan Authority assets to pay for capital projects, the agency is losing money for the time since it was created in 1981. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on March 7 that MOHELA has laid off 16 employees and is letting another 23 vacant jobs go unfilled as a result of its financial problems.

It took Blunt two legislative sessions to win approval of his controversial MOHELA proposal, the final version of which requires the agency to turn over $350 million to the state. Before last year’s change in the law, MOHELA’s assets had been off limits to lawmakers.

In additions to the revenue MOHELA lost as a result of funding Blunt’s plan, the ripple effects through financial markets from the national subprime lending crisis is contributing to MOHELA’s problems.

BLUNT WANTS INVESTIGATORS TO PAY FOR RECORDS

Gov. Matt Blunt is demanding that the special investigative team that is looking into possible wrongdoing by his administration pay $540,000 for records they have requested. Attorney General Jay Nixon appointed the independent team to determine if administration officials broke any laws related to the firing of Blunt’s former deputy counsel.

The investigative team was supposed to finish its inquiry in January, but its deadline was extended until April due to the lack of cooperation by Blunt’s office. Citing continued resistance from the administration, investigators on March 11 asked for and received a second extension. The investigation is now scheduled to be completed by June 6.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

HOUSE APPROVES REDUCING PHONE COMPANY REGULATION

The House of Representatives on March 6 approved legislation to eliminate some existing state regulations on telephone companies, including certain billing, maintenance and customer service requirement. HB 1779 sponsored by state Rep. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, also establishes rules governing Internet-based phone service.
Under current law, phone companies face less rate regulation if they operate in competitive markets, which are determined on an exchange by exchange basis. Under HB 1779, if 55 percent of a company’s service area in the state is deemed competitive, its rates are deregulated even in its non-competitive markets. Critics of the bill say the new standard for determining competition will lead to substantially higher rates in rural areas served by a single company.

Office of Administration Commissioner Michael Keathley died on March 5 at his Dexter home following a five-year fight with cancer. Keathley, who would

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services would keep a record of Missourians’ prescription drug use under a bill the House sent to the Senate on March 6 by a vote of 84-69. HB 1619 sponsored by state Rep. Kenny Jones, R-Clarksburg, would also require pharmacists to maintain an electronic log of medicines containing pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in the manufacture of methamphetamine.

Under the prescription tracking portion of the bill, the health department would have a record of a patient’s names, address and date of birth, along with the types and amounts of drugs they have taken. Supporters say the tracking system would allow the state to identify prescription drug abuse and doctor shopping to obtain excessive amounts of prescription drugs. Opponents say it would result in an unwarranted government intrusion into private medical information and increase the likelihood of such information failing into the wrong hands.

OA COMMISSIONER KEATHLEY DIES OF CANCER

Office of Administration Commissioner Michael Keathley died on March 5 at his Dexter home following a five-year fight with cancer. Keathley, who would have turned 51 this month, had served has OA commissioner since January 2005 and was Senate administrator for three years prior to joining Gov. Matt Blunt’s administration.
Later that day Blunt appointed State Budget Director Larry Schepker as Keathley’s replacement.

STEELMAN INFLATES IMPACT OF ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION

At a March 5 news conference, State Treasurer Sarah Steelman claimed Missouri government is losing an estimated $49 million a year from illegal immigrants not paying state income taxes. The Associated Press, however, immediately reported that Steelman had overstated the financial loss.

Steelman based her estimate on a Pew Hispanic Center report that says Missouri is home to between 35,000 and 65,000 illegal immigrants. Steelman used the higher number, assumed they are all adults, that all are working and that none are paying taxes. According to the AP, the Pew report says that only about 65 percent of illegal immigrants in the state, many of whom are children, are working. The AP further reported that the Missouri Department of Revenue says thousands of illegal workers are paying state income taxes.

Steelman initially defended her estimate, but when the AP later brought the discrepancies to her office’s attention, Assistant State Treasurer Doug Gaston admitted Steelman had relied “on bad info.”

BILL WOULD FORCE LAWMAKERS TO DISCLOSE TAX BREAKS

The House Elections Committee on March 4 held a public hearing on legislation to require lawmakers to publicly disclose any state tax credits received by themselves, their spouses or their children. Under HB 1674, such tax breaks would be listed on the personal financial disclosure reports that lawmakers already must file with the Missouri Ethics Commission.
State Rep. Shannon Cooper, R-Clinton, said he got the idea for the bill after it came to light that several Missouri lawmakers have received tax credits, mostly for ethanol plant investments, and weren’t required to disclosure that fact. The Missourinet reported that Cooper doesn’t mind lawmakers getting tax credits but opposes them doing so secretly

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Floor Action for the week of Feb. 25th

HB 1313 - gives preference in state purchasing contracts to certain disabled veterans doing business as Missouri companies.

HB 1311 - ensures write-in candidates for municipal office meet all required qualifications, deadlines, and tax obligations for holding elective office.

HB 1305 - allows individual school districts to exempt high school transfer students from the requirement to pass certain government courses.

Student Protection Act
Listen to the Audio


House Gives Initial Approval to Student Protection Act


Concern about adverse effect on teachers

Protection Against Unsubstantiated Claims

Committee Action for the week of Feb. 25th

Special Committee on Family Services heard HB 1831 which would change the laws regarding consent requirements for obtaining an abortion and creates the crime of coercing an abortion.


The Special Committee on Tax Reform passed HB 1773, which would authorize an income tax dependency exemption for stillborn children.

Special Committee on Government Affairs heard HB 1440, which would require certain public officials to receive training regarding open meetings, open records and public information laws.

House Committee Considers Federal Income Tax Deduction Legislation. Listen to the audio.

House Transportation Committee Considers Plan to Increase Highway Funding

From the Desk of State Rep. Mike Daus


This week the House Transportation Committee heard HJR67. HJR67 would put a small dent in our transportation funding crisis by taking 10% of all new general revenue in the future and putting it into the transportation fund. Of coarse the proponents of the resolution repeat over and over again how this proposal would increase funding for transportation without raising taxes.
The first problem with HJR67, as I see it, is that it doesn't come close to solving the transportation funding issue. The second problem is that transportation funding in this state has been traditionally funded by the gas tax and the sales tax on automobiles. When you start dipping into the general revenue fund to pay for transportation you're taking away future dollars that will no longer be able to be used for healthcare, education, and senior programs to name just a few.
To pay for the transportation needs of this state the voters of Missouri will have to approve a tax increase. Until they feel the time is right we should keep MoDOT's hand in their own cookie jar.

Three New Members Sworn Into the Missouri House of Representatives

The Missouri House of Representatives welcomed three new members. Mary Kasten, R-Cape Girardeau, Mark Parkinson, R-St. Charles, and Michele Kratky, D-St. Louis, became the newest members of the Missouri House of Representatives. Although a new member this session, Representative Mary Kasten is no stranger to the Missouri House. She served in the House from 1983 until 2001 representing the 158th district. Rep. Kasten has also served as a member of the Cape Girardeau School Board for 20 years and she founded the Community Caring Council in addition to other service. Representative Michele Kratky was elected to fill the seat previously held by her husband Fred Kratky in the 65th district. Rep. Kratky previously worked as the Legislative Director for the St. Louis Association of REALTORS. Representative Mark Parkinson is also a veteran of Missouri politics. Rep. Parkinson, elected to fill an open seat in the 16th district, volunteered for Senator John Ashcroft's reelection campaign, and then worked in the Senate offices of Christopher "Kit" Bond and John Ashcroft. With the new members, there are now 91 Republican House members and 70 Democratic members. Two seats remain vacant - districts 18 and 70. Elections for these open seats and all House seats will be held this November.

SENATE VOTES TO LIMIT PROPERTY TAX INCREASES

By a unanimous vote, the Senate on Feb. 27 sent to the House legislation to limit property tax increases caused by property reassessments. Under existing law local governments are supposed to roll back their tax rates following reassessments so they don't profit from rising property values. However, many taxing jurisdictions that are charging a rate below their legally authorized rate ceiling often forgo post-reassessment rollbacks.

SB 711 would make rollbacks mandatory even if a taxing jurisdiction is charging a rate below the ceiling. Supporters of the bill say the failure of local governments to roll back rates has resulted in excessive property tax bills for homeowners, especially the elderly.

HOUSE NARROWLY VOTES FOR DWI MEMORIAL PROGRAM

With the bare minimum number of votes required, the House of Representatives on Feb. 25 voted 82-51 to establish highway memorial sign program for drunken driving victims. The bill, which now goes to the Senate, would also prohibit unofficial memorial markers.

The Missouri Department of Transportation would administer the program. Families would have to pay $1,040 for the markers, which would appear on both sides of the road where a DWI death took place for 10 years, with renewal allowed for another fee. The signs would read: "Drunk Driving Victim!" and be followed by the person's initials and the phrase "Who's Next?"

Supporters say the markers would help deter drunken driving and eliminate potentially hazardous homemade roadside memorials. Opponents say the signs would have no impact on drunken driving and give travelers a negative impression of Missouri.

SENATE APPROVES REPEAL OF JETTON'S VILLAGE LAW

The Senate on Feb. 25 voted to repeal a statutory provision enacted last year that allows owners of property in unincorporated areas to establish their land as an independent village regardless of population and with no obligation to provide services. A second vote is required to send the bill, SB 765, to the House of Representatives, where House Speaker Rod Jetton is expected to block it.

Jetton, R-Marble Hill, secretly slipped the village provision into an omnibus local government bill last year. Jetton's Law, as some critics have dubbed it, went unnoticed until the bill took effect on Aug. 28. On that day a group acting on behalf of Lebanon businessman Robert Plaster, a friend and political supporter of Jetton, filed a petition to incorporate land Plaster owns in Stone County into a village. In his attempts to develop the property, Plaster has encountered resistance from local officials and residents. Establishing his land as a village would free him from local land use restrictions. The Stone County Commission voted to reject the village petition, a decision Plaster is challenging in court. A Franklin County landowner is also attempting to take advantage of the law to incorporate into a village property on which he is the sole resident.

State Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, and several House Republicans have also filed bills to repeal the new village law, but Jetton hasn't assigned any of the measures to committee. In a Feb. 27 editorial, the Lake Sun Leader newspaper in Camdenton called on majority House Republicans to remove Jetton as speaker for deceptively enacting the village law and blocking its repeal.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

From the Desk of State Rep. Mike Daus


Today the house approved HJR 55 which "reconfirms" a citizen's First Amendment right to pray and worship in all public areas. I was the last to speak on the resolution before it was passed by the house. My remarks focused around the fact that while the legislature is in its seventh week and many Missourians are concerned on how they will pay for health care, housing expenses and education, we were spending our time "reconfirming" a right that all Americans already have. "What we are telling Missourians today is that we're not ready to help you solve the many problems you face but we are ready to reconfirm your ability to pray about it." To me this isn't good government. HJR 55, if passed by the Senate, will go before a vote of the people in the November election.

SENATE APPROVES REPEAL OF CAMPAIGN FUNDING CAPS


The Senate on Feb. 21 passed a bill to repeal Missouri’s campaign contribution caps and allow individual donors to give unlimited amounts to candidates. The bill passed 24-9, with most Republicans in favor of repealing the limits and most Democrats opposed. The measure must still pass the House of Representatives.

Missouri voters first imposed the contribution limits in 1994 with 73.9 percent in support. Given the overwhelming voter support for the limits, state Sen. Wes Shoemyer, D-Clarence, said voters should decide if they should be repealed. However, Shoemyer’s amendment to place the bill on the statewide ballot was defeated.

Current law limits individual donors to giving $325 to House candidates, $675 to Senate candidates and $1,350 to candidates for statewide office. Political party committees can give 10 times the individual limit.

If the bill, SB 1038 sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, is signed into law, it would take effect on Aug. 28. As a result, the existing caps would remain in place for the Aug. 5 primaries but be lifted before the Nov. 4 general elections.

JUDGE REWRITES BALLOT LANGUAGE ON STEM CELL MEASURE


Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce on Feb. 13 declared ballot language prepared by the Secretary of State’s Office for a proposed constitutional amendment to ban stem cell research to be “insufficient and unfair” and imposed new language. For similar reasons, another Cole County judge last month invalidated the secretary of state’s ballot language on a proposed initiative to ban state and local affirmative action programs.

The stem cell proposal would effectively repeal a constitutional amendment Missouri voters narrowly ratified in 2006 that prohibits the state from outlawing forms of stem cell research that are legal under federal law and specifically declare such research illegal. Supporters of the current effort still need to collect signatures from registered voters to place the measure on the November 2008 ballot.

COURT SAYS STATE CAN’T FORCE SEX OFFENDERS TO MOVE


The Missouri Supreme Court on Feb. 19 struck down a 2006 state law that sought to force registered sex offenders who live within 1,000 feet of a school or day care center to move. The unanimous court said the law violated the Missouri Constitution’s prohibition against laws that are retrospective in operation.

A 2004 law prohibited sex offenders from moving within 1,000 feet of a school or other child care facility but didn’t apply to offenders who lived within such proximity before the law took effect. The General Assembly passed follow-up legislation in 2006 to require such offenders to move.

The court ruled unconstitutional only the 2006 changes to the law and let stand the original 2004 statute prohibiting sex offenders from moving near a school. In doing so the court used the same reasoning it applied in a 2006 case that said the state’s mandatory sex offender registry applies only to those who committed sex crimes after the registry was established in 1995.

TAX DEDUCTION PROPOSED FOR STILLBORN BABIES

The Senate Ways and Means Committee on Feb. 18 heard a bill that would allow parents of a stillborn baby to claim the deceased child as a dependent on their state income taxes. SB 1064 sponsored by state Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, would provide such parents with the $1,200 deduction for one year following a stillbirth.

FUNDING FOR UNIVERSITY BUILDINGS CLEARS LEGISLATURE

The Senate on Feb. 18 gave final approval to $46 million in funding for new medical buildings at the University of Missouri’s Columbia and Kansas City campuses. Last year state Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, stripped funding for the buildings from a larger capital improvements bill to punish two Democratic senators for their opposition to related legislation.

Under the bill, the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center in Columbia will get $31 million with $15 million for the expansion of a nursing and pharmacy building at UMKC. The funding will come from the $350 million in proceeds raised by the sale of Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority assets the legislature approved last year. The current bill, which had already cleared the House of Representatives, now awaits the governor’s signature to become law.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bills for Debate on the House Floor

Follow this link to see the bills that will be coming up for debate on the house floor.
http://www.floorleader.com/Announced_Legislation.html

Thursday, February 14, 2008

House Committee News

House Health Care Policy Considers House Bill 1625 - February 12, 2008
Jefferson City - The House Health Care Policy Committee today heard testimony on legislation that would provide pharmacies with liability immunity for refusing to assist or participate in any act or service in connection with any drug or device that causes a pregnancy to end prematurely resulting in an abortion.
View the video here.


House Committee Considers Constitutional Amendment That Would Reduce the Size of the Missouri House - February 12, 2008Jefferson City - Members of the House Election Committee met on Tuesday to consider a proposed constitutional amendment (HJR 46) that would reduce the size of the Missouri House of Representatives.
Listen to the audio here.



Ice Cream Cone as the official MO Dessert?Listen to the audio here.

BILL WOULD BAR SEX OFFENDERS FROM PHOTOING KIDS

The House Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee on Feb. 12 held a hearing on a bill that would make it a crime for sex offenders to photograph children without the approval of their parents.

Under HB 1537 sponsored by state Rep. Tim Jones, R-Eureka, violators would face a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Some committee members, however, questioned whether such a law could be enforced.

KINDER DROPS OUT OF GOVERNOR'S RACE


Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, the first Republican to declare his candidacy for governor after Gov. Matt Blunt last month unexpectedly decided to forgo re-election, surprised supporters by dropping his bid for the office. Kinder, who instead seek re-election to his current job, announced his decision on Feb. 8 at the state Republican Party's annual Lincoln Days event in Springfield.

Kinder's withdrawal winnows the GOP field to two candidates - State Treasurer Sarah Steelman and U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof. While avoiding being part of a hotly contested gubernatorial primary, Kinder's decision creates a Republican primary in the lieutenant governor's race. Former state Rep. Jack Jackson, who says Kinder urged him to run for lieutenant governor before abandoning his gubernatorial bid, said he is staying in the race.

HOUSE PASSES BILL TO UNDO TAX HIKE ON KANSANS

By a 145-0 vote, the House of Representatives on Feb. 12 passed a bill to undo a tax hike imposed last year on residents of Kansas who work in Missouri. Sponsored by House Minority Leader Paul LeVota, D-Independence, the bill seeks to head off retaliatory action by the Kansas Legislature.

A bill Gov. Matt Blunt signed into law last year included a provision added by the Senate that ended the practice of allowing people who live in others states but work in Missouri to deduct their home-state property taxes from their Missouri income taxes. This primarily was done to retaliate against Illinois, which doesn't extend the same courtesy to Missourians who work in that state. The impact on Kansans wasn't known until lawmakers there complained.

LeVota's bill, HB 1661, would restore the Missouri tax deduction for out-of-state residents so long as their home state provides reciprocity to Missourians. Blunt initially opposed taking corrective action but eventually relented after intense criticism and threats of retaliation by Kansas lawmakers and now supports LeVota's bill, which heads to the Senate for further consideration.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Another Good Cause

For all those artistic types (and those who just want to have a fun time) take a look at the upcoming fundraiser for the Marti Frumhoff Memorial Garden: http://hatsofftomarti.blogspot.com/.

All proceeds will help to fund a memorial garden located at Utah and Morgan Ford.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Another New Superintendent


A week after Rick Sullivan was confirmed by the Missouri Senate it was announced that the Special Administrative Board (SAB) of the St. Louis Public Schools will begin a search for a new superintendent. Although they encouraged current superintendent, Diana Bourisaw, to apply for the job she has declined and I can’t say that I blame her.

For all the debate I heard a year ago about the need for stability this seems to be a step backward. I understand the argument from the SAB that they were not the board who hired her and that she was hired without an open process but now was not the proper time given the numerous issues of trust people have with the SAB.

Perhaps the SAB will find their version of the perfect applicant but in my personal opinion it will be difficult to find someone who will perform the job with the grace, integrity and composure of Diana Bourisaw. She was caught in the middle of some incredibly complicated situations and from what I saw she always handled them with the upmost professionalism. I wish her luck in her future endeavors as I do the SAB in their search for her replacement.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Video Update

Here's a link that will take you to a video update of some of the events that happened in Jeff City the Week of the 4th.
http://www.house.mo.gov/pr/Video/2-8-08/weekend%20update.wmv

Thursday, February 7, 2008

MoDOT DIRECTOR WARNS OF LOOMING FUNDING CRISIS


Missouri Department of Transportation Director Pete Rahn warned lawmakers that “the bottom drops out of Missouri’s transportation funding in 2010.” Rahn made his comments during his State of Transportation speech to the General Assembly on Feb. 6.

In 2004, voters ratified Amendment 3, which redirected existing state money to transportation from general revenue and authorized MoDOT to sell billions of dollars in bonds to pay for immediate improvements to the state’s transportation system. However, Amendment will leave the state with a $2.62 billion transportation debt.

Beginning in 2010, the department will be forced to shift a significant portion of its budget to paying off the debt, which won’t be retired until 2029. As a result, MoDOT’s construction budget will plummet by more than half from $1.23 billion this year to $569 million in 2010. With the reduced construction budget, MoDOT will “barely be able to maintain our highways,” according to the department.

Although the looming transportation funding crisis has been known since Amendment 3 was ratified, neither Gov. Matt Blunt nor the Republican-controlled General Assembly has taken any steps to prepare for it.

CHIEF JUSTICE VOWS MORE OPENNESS IN JUDGE SELECTION


During her State of the Judiciary address to the Missouri General Assembly on Feb. 5, Supreme Court Chief Justice Laura Denvir Stith promised to provide more openness to the process of selecting nominees for the state’s high court and Court of Appeals. The process came under intense criticism this summer by Gov. Matt Blunt and others during the selection of candidates to replace former Supreme Court Judge Ronnie White.

Under the Missouri Constitution, the seven-member Appellate Judicial Commission headed by the chief justice reviews applicants for court vacancies and submits three finalists to the governor, who must select one of them or forfeit the decision to the commission. Blunt complained that none of his preferred candidates made the final cut before ultimately selecting Patricia Breckenridge to replace White.

Claiming it is exempt from Missouri’s Sunshine Law, the commission has operated in near-total secrecy. Stith pledged that in the future the commission will publicly post the times and locations of its meetings, although the proceedings themselves will remain closed. Stith also said the applications of finalists will be made public, as will general demographic information on all applicants before the finalists are selected.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

House Committee News

The Budget Committee approved supplemental appropriations(HB 2019) for the University of Missouri for the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center at the Columbia campus and a Pharmacy and Nursing Building at the KC campus.

Special Committee on Tax Reform approved a bill (HB1661) that would allow residents from other states who work in MO to deduct property taxes from their state income taxes. This would create property tax equalization across state lines.

Special Committee on Energy and Environment heard a bill (HB 1326) that would give Missourians who buy hybrid vehicles a break on their state income taxes.

Special Committee on Student Achievement heard a bill (HB 1480) that would give the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education authority over public school extracurricular competitive activities.