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Missouri Government News for Week of Jan. 15

House Approves Speed Limit Bill

The House has given preliminary approval to a measure that would retain the federally-mandated speed limits for urban and two-lane highways.

The House rejected an amendment that would have imposed a limit on trucks 5 mph. lower than the limit for cars.

Limits on rural four-lane highways would return to what they had been prior to the federal law - 70 mph. on Interstates and 65 on other four-lane highways.

The pre-federal-law limits will return for all highways unless the legislature approves lower limits. The govenror has recommended lower limits be retained for urban and two-lane roads.

A similar measure has stalled in the Senate.

Speaker's Legislative Program

House Sepaker Steve Gaw emphasized legislative reform in his inaugural address to the House.

Gaw creation of legislative committee to review lawmakers' travel expenses and creation of an ethics committee to review ethical charges against lawmakers.

Gaw had delayed an inaugural speech when he was elected two weeks ago saying his election was so sudden and unexpected that he needed time to think about his speech.

For more details see:

Anti-Abortion Put in Favorable Committee

The House version of the anti-abortion bill has been assigned to a committee controlled by abortion opponents.

The measure would require women to contact a counselor before an abortion could be performed.

The bill was assigned by House Speaker Steve Gaw to the House Children, Youth and Families Committee. The committee chair and a majority of the committee had voted for a nearly identical proposal last year that was vetoed by the governor.

Gaw, who voted against the bill last year, said he would not use his powers as speaker to bury the bill in committee.

For more details see:

Governor's Legislative Program

A crack down on crime topped the legislative program Gov. Mel Carnahan presented to a joint session of Missouri's legislature Wednesday.

The governor recommended alternative schools for violent students, tougher sentences for sex offenders and more money for adult-abuse shelters.

There were few surprises in the governor's address since he had announced most of his major recommendations earlier -- including a reduction in the state sales tax by one-quarter of a penny per dollar.

Republican leaders charged the governor was trying to sound Republican in an election year with his recommendations for getting tough on crime and cutting taxes was election year politics. For details of the governor's package and reaction, see:

Let the Voters Decide

The director of Missouri's Police Chiefs Association told a Senate committee that Missouri voters should decide whether to legalize concealed weapons.

That's the same position that Gov. Mel Carnahan has taken on the issue. During last year's session, Carnahan had warned he would veto a packed-pistols bill unless it were submitted to the voters.

But many supporters, including the NRA, have rejected efforts to submit the issue to the voters.

Many top law enforcement officials have oppposed legalizing concealed weapons.

Last year, a similar proposal failed in the legislature after extended debate by opponents. For stories with more details and digital audio see:

The Profits of Crime

More than 500 Missouri prisoners are on the welfare roles and dozens actually are getting welfare funds, according to a report from Missouri State Auditor Margaret Kelly.

Kelly's review of a the State Corrections Department found 508 inmates whose name also appeared on the state's welfare roles. A detailed check into 86 of those cases found 67 inmates whose welfare benefits had not been reduced or eliminated, according to the auditor.

"Missouri taxpayers have been footing the bill for 'felon-fare' for inmates' familes and friends," Kelly charged.

The Social Services Department director, Gary Stangler, charged Kelly's audit was misleading and prompted by her candidacy for governor.

Stangler said nobody in prison actually cashed a welfare check. Only in a few cases did somebody else actually cash the welfare check, Stangler said.

Senate Approves Tougher Speeding Penalties

The Senate gave preliminary approval to legislation that would reimpose misdemeanor penalties for speeding.

The bill, which faces one more vote in the Senate before going to the House, undoes legislation passed just one year ago that dropped speeding down to an infraction.

Prosecutors had complained that an infraction-level penalty prevented them from getting arrest warrants for violators who failed to show up for their court hearings.

Meanwhile, another bill to keep the 55 mile per hour speed limit on two-lane and urban roads has become bogged down in Senate.

Some opponents of the bill argue the speed limit should be allowed to go back to what it had been prior to the federally-imposed limits. For more details, see Senate approves toughening penalities for speeding.

Education Standards Approved

Missouri's Education Board has approved a set of new standards for measuring student performance and learning in school.

The standards have been attacked by critics as reducing emphasis on basic skills like reading, writing and math.

The Education Board made few changes in the proposal that had been recommended by its staff.

Adoption of statewide measures of student learning are part of the broad "Excellence in Education" legislation passed by Missouri lawmakers in 1993.