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Missouri Government News for Week of Jan. 8, 1996

This week's news summary was prepared by Candyce L. Clifft from reports prepared during the week by staff of Missouri Digital News.

New Leadership in Missouri House

After a week of conflict, the Missouri House of Representatives elected a new speaker, speaker pro tem, and majority floor leader Jan. 10. Rep. Steve Gaw, D-Moberly, replaced Bob Griffin as Speaker. At 37, Gaw is the youngest House speaker in recent history.

Rep. Fletcher Daniels, D-Kansas City, was elected House speaker pro tem. This is the highest position a Black has held in the Missouri legislature.

Gracia Backer, D-Fulton, was chosen House majority floor leader in another historic election. Backer is the first woman elected to the position.

Other related stories:

Governor Announces Anti-Crime Package

Gov. Mel Carnahan announced tougher penalties for sex offenders as a main part of his anti-crime legislation package for the 1996 session.

Though they would not be sentenced to life, sex offenders would be under parole supervision for the rest of their lives, under Carnahan's proposal.

Other key parts of the package include more funding for domestic violence shelters and more than $11 million to put more highway patrolmen on the streets.

Senate Committee Hears Speed Limit Bill

A bill to retain the 55 mph speed limit on two-lane roads was approved by the Senate Transportation Committee.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Danny Staples (D-Eminence), would not impact the federal speed limit repeal on interstates and four-lane state highways. The speed limit would return to 70 mph on interstates and 65 mph on rural four-lane highways.

Staples said he doesn't know anyone who opposes his bill.

Related story:Senate committee hears bill to keep part of 55 mph speed limit

Committee Considers Hospital Stay for New Mothers

The Senate Housing and Insurance Committee heard a bill to regulate insurance coverage for new mothers and children. The bill proposes minimimum coverage for 48 hours after a delivery with no complications. For a c-section delivery, a 96-hour minimum of coverage would be required.

Bill sponsor Sen. Ted House, D-St. Charles, said mothers and children could be released in less than 48 hours if the doctor and the mother agree it is safe.

Sen. David Klarich, R-St. Louis County, said the bill would mean higher insurance costs for everyone, regardless of whether it was needed.

Representatives at the hearing from University Hospital and the Missouri Medical Association said the 48-hour minimum stay is standard and necessary.

Related story: Insurance industry questions minimum hospital stay for births

Senate Delays Approval of 4 Carnahan Appointees

The Senate Gubernatorial Appointments Committee delayed the approval of four Carnahan appointees to two state commissions that regulate utility rates and oversee state conservation efforts.

The committee questioned Kansas City attorney Karl Zobrist, appointed chairman of the Public Service Commission, about his legal representation of two utility companies.

Dianne Postlewait-Drainer, another PSC appointee, was questioned about whether she could be fair to utility companies, considering her background arguing on behalf of consumers before the PSC.

William Herzog and Ronald Stites, two appointees to the Conservation Commission, were questioned about their committment to selecting the next department director from within the department.

The Senate could act on the appointments as early as Jan. 15.

Barnes Subpoenaed by Grand Jury; Steps Down as Speaker Pro Tem

Former Speaker Pro Tem Jim Barnes resigned from his post Jan. 10 after being subpoenaed to appear before a Cole County grand jury. However, Barnes said the subpoena was not a factor in his resignation.

The Missouri Ethics Commission threatened prosecution of Barnes, D-Raytown, for not filing his campaign finance report on Oct. 15. Barnes filed the report Jan. 8 and said he would pay any fines for late filing.

On Jan. 10, the Kansas City Star reported that Barnes charged $1,300 in long-distance phone calls to his state credit card while on a personal trip to Japan.

Seventeen calls were made to Barnes' ex-girlfriend, who worked as a part-time aide in his district until the beginning of the year. Barnes said he was calling to see what was going on in his district.