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Thursday, March 27, 2008


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.”


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