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Missouri lawmakers discuss homeland security

January 30, 2002
By: Brian Connolly
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - A day after President Bush outlined his plan for homeland security, Missouri lawmakers took on a variety of issues from bioterrorism to price gouging.

The governor's special advisor for homeland security, told a House appropriations committee $8.1 million in state funds would allow Missouri to meet its near-term needs.

But Tim Daniel also predicted the state could get $60 to $65 million in federal homeland security funds aimed at improving the preparedness of the state's first responders for fiscal year 2003.

Daniel testified to the House Appropriations Committee on Corrections and Public Saftey.

"The threat that we face in the United States I believe is a long-term threat, not necessarily just from Al-Qaeda," Daniel said.

Daniel also indicated the state could receive $15 million in federal funds for bioterrorism.

"This bioterrorism issue is long term and significant and will require a commitment on the part of state and local government at some level," Daniel said.

Missouri has spent approximately $780,000 on homeland security since Sept. 11, Daniel said.

While Daniel told the committee he doesn't believe there is an immediate terrorist threat, he said over the next two decades the United States will remain a target.

The committee also met members of Missouri Task Force One, an urban search and rescue team baseed in Columbia. The team is seeking state money to pay for equipment and training, said Steve Paulsell of the Boone County Fire Protection District. Though they have recieved state funding in the past, they received no money in last year's budget.

Rep. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, accompanied the Task Force at the hearing and said he would like them to receive annual state funding.

"It's a tremendous resource to the state at very little cost," Graham said.

Missouri Task Force One is staffed by volunteers, which Graham said provides "a heck of a return on investment" for the state. Gov. Holden included $150,000 for the group's equipment needs in this year's budget. They currently receive $150,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency annually, Paulsell said.

Homeland security bills were also on the agenda for two Senate committees.

A bill heard by the Senate Public Health and Welfare committee would require health care providers to notify the state of suspicious health conditions that may be potential causes of a public health emergency.

Aimed at addressing bioterrorism threats, the bill would also give the governor power to declare a public health emergency if an illness posing an "imminent" threat is detected. The governor would then have the power to mobilize a variety of state resources to address the emergency.

Sen. Sarah Steelman, R-Rolla, expressed concern that the bill doesn't clearly define when an imminent threat occurs.

"I do think it's important to nail that down a little bit tighter," Steelman said.

The Senate Pensions and General Laws committee heard testimony on a bill targeting price gouging during states of emergency. The measure makes it illegal for retailers to raise prices more than 10 percent after the declaration of a state of emergency.

The bill covers materials and services deemed to be "necessities." The definition of necessities is too broad, said Ronald Leone, executive vice president of the Missouri Petroleum and Convenience Store Association. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Pat Dougherty, D-St. Louis, said the bill was "a work in progress."

The committee also discussed the "Terrorism Prevention Act" proposed by Sen. Chuck Gross, R-St. Charles. The act makes it a felony to possess or use weapons of mass destruction and creates a joint committee on terrorism. The bill gives the joint committee an exemption from the state's "Sunshine Law" that requires public meetings to be open.

That exemption could provide "a great excuse" for the closing of meetings and records, said Doug Crews, executive director of the Missouri Press Association. Crews spoke in opposition to the portion of the bill granting the Sunshine Law exemption.