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Thursday, April 24, 2008


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.