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NewsBook: Missouri Government News for the Week of February 4, 2008

. Peter Kinder drops his campaign for governor. (02/08/2008)

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder announced Friday night he was dropping his campaign for the Republican nomination for governor.

Instead, Kinder said he would seek re-election.

Kinder made his announcement at the annual Lincoln Days meeting of Republicans in Springfield.

Like Gov. Matt Blunt's decision to drop out, Kinder's appeared sudden.  Just a few days earlier, he had announced a series of news conferences across the state to formally announce his campaign.

Kinder gave little insight into what prompted his decision, except to say he wanted to avoid an internal primary right.

His decision leaves U.S. Congressman Kenny Hulshof and State Treasurer Sarah Steelman as the only announced candidates.

. Midwifery Rages on in Missouri (02/06/2008)

The debate over legalizing midwifery in Missouri continues. Witnesses testified both for and against the bill during Wednesday's Senate Pensions Committee Hearing.

One side recommended the committee to consider stronger regulations for the bill. The other side urged the need to the expand the maternity care system.

. The Show Me State Treat (02/06/2008)

Children of all ages came to the State Capitol for a Senate hearing today in support of the ice cream cone as Missouri's official state dessert.

 The bill would increase sales for all individual ice cream businesses in the state. 

. House Immigration Committee looks to crack down on employers of illegal immigrants (02/06/2008)

Missouri lawmakers are looking to tighten immigration laws in the state by requiring employers to check every new employee's immigration status by using a federal database.

The legislation, proposed by Rep. Vicki Schneider, R-O'Fallon, would put the onus on Missouri businesses to use the E-Verify system, operated by the federal government, or risk losing their business license altogether.

. Sales tax collections drop for Missouri (02/06/2008)

Missouri's Office of Administration reports that sales tax collections took a 4.7% drop for the month of January compared to January of 2007.

The sales tax is the second largest source of tax revenue for the state, following the income tax.

A senior Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee warned the decline could lead to cuts in proposed spending increases for the next fiscal year.

. Senators reach bi-partisan agreement in hopes of a more productive session (02/06/2008)

A group of Republican and Democratic Senators met last night and agreed that they would not motion a "previous question" in the 2008 legislative session.

If a "previous question" motion is proposed, the present topic is immediately voted on, without opportunity for discussion. It is most commonly used to end a filibuster, but as of last night, it will not happen this year.

. Robb sponsors bill for multiple-birth's rights (02/06/2008)

Ed Robb, R-Columbia, sponsored a bill to allow parents of multiple-birth siblings to choose whether their kids should be in the same classroom.

He said Mothers of Multiples wanted to resurrect the bill from the 2006 legislative session that never made it to committee.

Read the newspaper story here.

. Republican Leaders show support for Hulshof (02/06/2008)

Republican leaders in the Missouri state House and Senate publicly endorsed Kenny Hulshof's campaign for Governor in a series of meetings this afternoon.

Hulshof spoke of his Missouri roots and kept the energy high as legislatures pledged their support.

. Higher Ed Committee close to voting on Emily Brooker Act (02/06/2008)

The House Higher Education Committee discussed the Emily Brooker Intellectual Diversity Sunshine Act on Tuesday, bringing back old witnesses and hearing from new ones on the bill's pros and cons.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, said that even though the bill inspired many universities to adopt or update policies regarding the issue, a state statute would create a fail-proof safeguard.

. Mixing Up Minimum Wage Law (02/05/2008)

Business owners testified in favor of changes in Missouri's minimum wage law.

 The bill opposes the automatic increase in the minimum wage.   

. Missouri's Supreme Court chief justice urged state lawmakers to keep the state's non-partisan court plan. (02/05/2008)

The plea was made in the State of the Judiciary Address to a joint session of the legislature by Laura Stith.

Her speech was given just a couple of hours after a House committee considered legislation that would revise the system to give non-lawyers and the legislature a greater say in selection of judges.

The non-partisan plan covers the appeals court and the supreme court as well as circuit courts in urban areas.

Critics charge the plan gives lawyers too much power in picking nominees.  Stith argued the system has kept politics out of the judicial selection process.

. Property tax reform unanimous (02/05/2008)

Property tax reform debate could see the Senate floor by the end of February, after passing through committee hearings with a unanimous vote.

The bill would tighten legislative loopholes, and require tax rate roll backs based on property reassessment increases.

. "Robocalls" May End With Missouri Primary (02/05/2008)

Prerecorded campaign pitches from political candidates in Missouri may be ending with the Missouri primary.

Legislation is awaiting House action that would put the "robocalls" on the same level as telemarketers.

. Cohabitation by Parents Could be Factor in Child Custody Rights (02/05/2008)

Representative Bob Nance sponsored a bill in which parental cohabitation could be a factor in determining child custody rights.

This bill would take into account a parent who is living with a person who is not a spouse, adult child or relative of the parent.

. Tougher Restrictions on Sex Offenders (02/04/2008)

Legislators take sex offender law on line with new language to include online identities in databases.  Internet crime prosecutors testified in favor of the new legislation which will increase penalties for sex offenders and creates a searchable index of known online identities of sexual predators.

Bills discussed included Senate Bill 758 which prohibits sexual offenders from loitering within 500 feet of playgrounds or campsites in state parks.  Judiciary committee members also discussed rehabilitation and considered mandating even stricter punishments for offenders.

. Tomorrow's primary could produce a record turnout (02/04/2008)

The office of Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan predicts a record number of primary voters will hit the polls tomorrow, a turnout that both state parties said is driven by competitive races.

Expectations for attendance in today's primary trounce turnout numbers in 2000 and 2004, years in which the Missouri primary served more as a coronation for one candidate than a primary election.

. Hearing will address Bill for Intellectual Diversity in Higher Education (02/04/2008)

The Emily Brooker Higher Education Sunshine Act would prevent students and staff at Missouri universities from being penalized for their beliefs.

Rep. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, sponsored the bill and says studies show a small majority of college students feel pressured to agree with their teachers to get a better grade.

Universities would have to report steps being taken to ensure intellectual diversity each year and post the report on their website.

. Flu spikes late in St. Louis (02/04/2008)

The influenza virus hit record highs this season with twice as many cases this year than last. The Department of Health  is taking new measures to promote influenza prevention by running humorous radio and television ads to raise awareness of the virus.

Missouri health officials are stressing "social distancing" for victims of the flu to stop the spread of infection. The Department of Health says the flu season is difficult to predict, however this season did start later than usual thus the numbers are skewed.

. Senator Koster's Legislation to Crackdown on Methamphetamine Use and Production (01/31/2008)

Sen. Chris Koster, D-Cass County, introduced legislation that would include Missouri in a new meth education project called the Missouri Meth Project.

The bill seeks to increase sentences for meth dealers and pay sheriff deputies higher salaries.

Koster is seeking the Democratic nomination for attorney general.  A Republican state senator suggested Koster's bill and news conference were driven by politics.

. Committee discusses teacher-student Internet connection (01/30/2008)

The Education Committee discussed possible changes to a bill targeted at ridding Missouri schools of sex offenders. Committee Chairwoman Jane Cunningham said school districts need to be held more accountable for hiring teachers that have been charged with sexual misconduct.

The bill would create better background checks, add three offenses to a list that prohibits teacher certification and get rid of the statute of limitations.

. Committee wants MSHSAA to play by its rules (01/30/2008)

At a hearing Wednesday, the Special Committee on Student Achievement discussed a bill to put the Education Department in charge of state schools' extracurricular activities.

The bill would make both public and private schools abide by the rules set forth by the department.

. Bill to raise pay for math and science teachers in Missouri Public Schools (01/30/2008)

Republican Senator Matt Bartle is the sponsor of a bill that would issue pay raises and stipends for teachers of math and science in Missouri Public Schools.

Bartle says the in order to respond to the demand for teachers of math and science, there needs to be some sort of incentive in place to encourage more college graduates to become math and science teachers.

Another critical aspect of the bill is the proposal to issue teacher certification for college graduates with either a math or science degree.

. Cyber Bullying Debate Continues (01/30/2008)

Senate Bill 762, sponsored by Democratic Kansas City Senator Yvonne Wilson, would modify the definition of "bullying." Antibullying policies carried out by school districts would include cyberbullying and electronic communication.

The bill was influenced by the suicide of a St. Charles child. The education committee will consider the bill after Wednesday's hearing.

A similar bill by Republican Sen. Scott Rupp would classify cyberbullying as a crime under harassment.

No one testified in opposition.

. Local Control for St. Louis Police (01/30/2008)

Democratic St. Louis Senator Maida Coleman is the sponsor of a bill that would put the St. Louis Police Force under local control.  Currently, the police force is controlled by a commission whose members are appointed by the Governor.

Coleman sponsored a similar bill last legislative session but it was defeated.  The main concern over the bill is the status of pension for police officers.  The bill is still in the economic committee, waiting for a vote.

. GOP Presidential Candidate Mike Huckabee promoted at the state Capital his plan to abolish the federal income tax. (01/29/2008)

Under Huckabee's plan, the income tax would be replaced by a national sales tax.

Huckabee spoke at the headquarters of Associated Industries, one of Missouri's major business organizations.

At the same time Huckabee spoke, Democratic candidate John Edwards was addressing supporters in another part of town.

Missouri's presidential primary will be held next Tuesday.

. Chlamydia plan aims to curb high rates (01/29/2008)

St. Louis city has the highest number of chlamydia and gonorrhea cases in the country. 

House health committee discussed a bill to allow doctors to prescribe antibiotics for patients they've never met, in hopes of stopping the sexually transmitted disease.

. Bill would require sex offender registry search of all student housing applicants (01/29/2008)

The Committee on Crime Prevention and Public Safety discussed an amendment Tuesday that would require universities in Missouri to check the state sex offender registry for all university housing applicants. Applicants found in the registry are already prohibited from living in university housing, but the amendment would make the search mandatory for every applicant.

Representative Sam Page, D-Creve Coeur, introduced the legislation and cited previous legislation in Illinois and low costs that would be passed on to the applicant.

. Hulshof to join the gubernatorial campaign. (01/29/2008)

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Tuesday that Central Missouri Congressman Kenny Hulshof will announce his candidacy for the Republican nomination for governor.

Hulshof would become the third major Republican to enter the race.  Last week, both Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and State Treasurer Sarah Steelman jumped in just days after Gov. Matt Blunt announced he was dropping his re-election campaign.

Hulshof is a Columbia resident.  He was reported to have considered running for governor in 2004.

Hulshof's entry likely precludes a campaign by House Speaker Rod Jetton who told reporters last week he would not run if Hulshof entered the race.

. Cyberbullying Bill Would Expand Crime of Harassment (01/28/2008)

Tina Meyer, mother of St. Charles teen Megan Meyer who was a victim of cyber bullying, lent her voice in favor of Senate Bill 818, a bill that would expand the crime of harassment to include electronic devices such as the Internet.

St. Charles Republican Scott Rupp, the bill's sponsor, said his office received countless calls with stories of kids who were victims of cyber bullying. 

The bill has yet to be voted on in committee.

. House Dems make school safety top priority (01/28/2008)

At a press conference Monday afternoon, Missouri House Democrats outlined plans to improve public schools as part of their Move Missouri Forward initiative.

The group discussed a bill to appropriate $1.5 million to the Education Department for a school safety and violence prevention program.

. Availability of Tax Information Main Concern (01/28/2008)

A bill sponsored by President Pro Tem Senator Michael Gibbons focuses on the availability of property tax information for citizens.  The main problem, says Gibbons, is that tax payers do not have ready access to tax information which results in confusion. 

The bill also moves up important tax dates.  Assessors would be required to notify taxpayers by February 15th of real property assessment increases and with help from the county clerk, will also estimate the tax liability for property on which assessments are increasing.  Assessors would also need to certify the assessment book on April 15th, weeks earlier than the current deadline of May 31st.

No one testified in opposition of the bill but those in favor of the bill did raise concern over the deadline, saying when it comes to property tax assessment rates, accuracy counts more than punctuality.