Rep. Daus is not responsible for any of the comments posted on this blog. Let's keep the comments clean and refrain from bashing. Thanks!

Thursday, May 22, 2008


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.