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NewsBook: Missouri Government News for the Week of May 14, 2007

. Legislators blame term limits the legislative sessions problems (05/19/2007)

Several legislators and lobbyists said it was the absence of long-term legislative experience that was the underlying cause for the variety of legislative errors and oversights that emerged during the session -- as well as the partisan acrimony on the Senate's last day.

Legislators spent several hours of their last week working on bills to correct other bills they already had passed and sent to the governor.  At a post-session news conference, Gov. Matt Blunt acknowledged those errors might force him to veto one of his major legislative agenda items -- tax breaks for business.

But Blunt said he did not think the problems of this year's session warranted the state re-examining the constitutional amendment that limits legislators to eight years in the House and eight in the Senate.

. Legislature wraps up the year (05/18/2007)

"Punks" became the word of the day as the Missouri legislature concluded its 2007 regular session with an historic partisan note in Missouri's Senate.

In the state's upper chamber, Republicans twice approved motions to shut off any debate in order to force votes on two Republican-agenda issues.  It was the first time in Missouri's recorded history that the "previous question" motion had been used to force a vote on two separate issues on the same day in a chamber that once prided itself as being a non-partisan body.

The first issue was an anti-abortion issue that blocks Planned Parenthood from providing services to public schools for sex education courses.  The second issue was a constitutional amendment to make English the state's official language.

It was after Senate Republicans voted to block further discussion on either issue that the Senate's Democratic leader used the word "punks" to describe the Senate's GOP leaders.  She charged that Republican Senate leaders had bowed to demands from the Republican House Speaker for Senate approval of the two measures before he would allow the House to take up the Medicaid reorganization bill pushed by the governor and the Senate's majority leader.

The Senate's top leader denied any such threat and the Republican governor defended the independence of his fellow Republican legislators.

. Mo HealthNet Sent to governor (05/18/2007)

Missouri lawmakers on the last day of their session sent the governor a reorganization of the state's Medicaid program just hours before the end of the session.

The measure imposes a more managed-care structure for recipients that seeks to reward healthy lifestyles.

Democrats complained the Republican proposal did not go far enough to restore the Medicaid cuts the Republican administration had imposed two years ago.

. A tentative agreement is reached on Medicaid while other major issues of the session are in death throes. (05/17/2007)

House-Senate negotiators reached a tentative agreement late Thursday night on redesigning the state's Medicaid program.

Legislators have until 6pm Friday to finish their work.  If they fail on Medicaid, the governor has suggested he would call lawmakers into an immediate special session.

While progress appeared to have been made on Medicaid, several of the other major issues at the start of the legislative session appeared headed to the legislative trash can, including:

On the positive side, legislators sent the governor Thursday a measure to require fire alarms and sprinklers in larger group homes and assisted living facilities.  The measure was prompted by the fire at an Anderson home in southwest Missouri last fall that killed eleven persons.

. Medicaid negotiations break down. (05/16/2007)

The likelihood of a legislative special session rose dramatically late Wednesday night when a House-Senate conference committee on Medicaid broke up without an agreement.

Earlier in the day after a closed-door session with Republican legislative leaders, Gov. Matt Blunt would not rule out calling lawmakers into an immediate special session if they did not pass a Medicaid reorganization bill.

The Senate has passed a proposal promoted by the administration that would convert Medicaid to a more managed-care system with incentives to recipients for healthy lifestyles.  The House dropped many of the Senate's changes and provides higher and expanded Medicaid payments.

The differences are personified by the two bill sponsors -- the Senate's is a managed care executive and the House sponsor is a practicing family physician.

The legislature adjourns its regular session for the year at 6pm Friday.  Thursday night, however, is the effective deadline for a Medicaid agreement because House rules require a conference report be delivered to members at least one day before a chamber vote -- although the House can vote to suspend that rule.

. Wednesday as the fix-it day for Missouri's legislature (05/16/2007)

Missouri lawmakers spent several hours working on measures designed to fix what they openly acknowledge were mistakes, errors and oversights in a couple of major bills they had passed the prior week.

One legislative leader agreed that Wednesday could have been called the "fix it day."  The idea is that lawmakers attach to other bills fixes to bills they already passed.  But with a similar, earlier effort, the Senate majority leader conceded he did not know that approach would stand up in court.

The biggest concern is a bill providing tax breaks for business that had been strongly pushed by the governor.  But almost immediately after passage, business interests were raising concerns about the bill.

. Missouri's House rejects primary seat-belt enforcement. (05/15/2007)

Missouri's House rejected a Senate proposal for giving police the right to stop a driver for not wearing a seat belt. 

Under current law, a ticket for not wearing a belt can be issued only if the driver was stopped for some other reason.

The Senate had tacked the enforcement issue onto an unrelated billboard bill.  Tuesday, the House voted to prohibits conference committee members from agreeing to that Senate-passed provision.

. Public safety officials urge approval of a minimum wage exemption. (05/15/2007)

Various public safety officials converged on the statehouse Tuesday to urge legislators to approve a measure that would exempt them from the overtime pay requirement approved by Missouri voters last November.

Expanding the overtime law to cover police and firefighters inadvertently was included in the voter-approved provision that raises the minimum.  Public safety officials say they regularly work overtime and requiring they get overtime pay rates is threatening local government budgets.

The Senate approved removing the over-time pay provision, but a House committee voted to expand the bill to include repeal of another section that provides automatic annual inflation increases to the minimum pay rate.  The bill now awaits House action with three days left in the 2007 regular session.

. Right to kill sent to the governor. (05/15/2007)

One day after Senate approval, the Missouri House approved and sent to the governor legislation that would expand legal protections for killing an intruder into a home or vehicle.

House approval was overwhelming -- 151-6. 

The bill's sponsor predicted the measure, if signed by the governor, would not make Missourians more likely to use deadly force.  Instead, Sen. Jack Goodman said the purpose of the bill is to restore legal protections against civil lawsuits and prosecutions that had been eroded by court decisions.

The measure also includes a provision to add some mental health court judgments into the criminal records database that is used for hand-gun permit checks.

. New Midwifery Amendment Passes (05/15/2007)

Senators complained Tuesday about the tactics, but ultimately voted legalize midwifery in Missouri.

Midwifery deregulation was passed to the governor by a seemingly unaware legislature last week when the provision was sneaked into an unrelated health insurance bill by Sen. John Loudon, R-St. Louis County.

On Tuesday, the Senate's majority leader -- Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph -- sternly criticized Loudon and offered an amendment to another bill that would have done Loudon's midwifery provision.  Other members joined in the attack on Loudon.

But Loudon trumped his critics -- winning Senate approval for a substitute to Shields' amendment that would, again, legalize midwifery.  Even a couple of Loudon's critics voted for his amendment.

With Loudon's victory, further action on the underlying bill was put on hold and the bill's sponsor said it may never be approved.

. Right to kill clears the Senate. (05/14/2007)

The Missouri Senate Monday approved the final conference-committee version of a bill that would expand legal protection for a person to kill an unwanted intruder into a home or vehicle.

The measure's sponsor said the bill is designed to clarify existing legal rights that had been eroded by court decisions.  The measure strengthens provisions that protects a person from criminal prosecution or civil lawsuits for killing an intruder.

The bill now goes to the House for a final vote to send it to the governor.

. Midwifery measure passes, sponsor gets canned. (05/14/2007)

The chairman of the Senate's business and insurance committee was removed after it was discovered he had sneaked through the legislature a midwifery legalization bill by tacking it onto an unrelated health bill without telling his colleagues.

Sen. John Loudon, R-St. Louis County, attached the midwifery provision to a 123-page health insurance substitute bill he offered to the Senate prior to a final vote on the measure.  He did not advise the Senate he had included the unrelated midwifery provision and used obscure language for the provision that did not even use the word "midwife." 

Legislators gave the measure final approval last week as they were rushing to finish work prior to their weekend break.

Upon discovering what Loudon had done, Senate President Pro Tem Mike Gibbons removed Loudon as committee chair.

The bill provides tax breaks for health insurance costs and gives the Health Department responsibility for collecting private, unpaid medical bill's.  The midwife provision would authorize midwives to provide pre-pregnancy, post-pregnancy and birthing services without medical supervision.

. Lawmakers begin their final week blocked from Sopranos. (05/14/2007)

Missouri lawmakers returned to the Capitol to discover that Mediacom, the cable company that serves Jefferson City, had cut off analog access to HBO.

A company spokesman said HBO would be available only with the more-expensive digital cable boxes.  The company said it had warned customers of the change, although several customers said that was not the case -- that access was shut off without warning.

A customer service agent said that while analog access had been removed for residential customers, it was being continued for commercial customers like hotels.