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NewsBook: Missouri Government News for the Week of February 18, 2008

. Missouri's governor drops his health coverage program. (02/22/2008)

In a written statement issued Friday, Gov. Matt Blunt announced he was postponing implementation of his "Insurance Missouri" program that was designed to provide government-funded health care coverage for more Missourians.

The administration had intended to implement the program without legislative approval for the first several months, while seeking legislative funding that reached some $400 million in state and federal funds.

But Blunt's approach had met with growing concerns voiced by Republican legislators.

"I do not believe it would be fair to sign citizens up for a program that may not be renewed by the legislature," the governor was quoted as saying in a release announcing that plans for the program had been suspended.

. Missouri's Health Department adopts a new advertising campaign against the flu. (02/22/2008)

Faced with rising flu cases across the state, Missouri's Health Department has adopted a Florida-produced series of ads that encourage people to wash their hands and stay at home when sick.

So far, the Health Department reports nearly 12,000 flu cases have been reported to the department -- double the average for the past five year.

Schools and athletic contests have been canceled because of an unusually high number of flu cases.

. Missouri's House approves allowing prayer in schools. (02/21/2008)

The House gave final approval and sent to the Senate a proposed constitutional amendment that would establish a right to pray in school and other public facilities.

If adopted by the legislature, the proposal would require statewide voter approval to become part of the constitution.

In addition to a right to pray, the measure also would give governmental bodies the right to appoint a minister to conduct a religious ceremony before the start of a government meeting.

. The State Auditor says the governor does not have clear legal authority for personal use of state resources. (02/21/2008)

State Auditor Susan Montee issued a reporter saying that state laws are contradictory concerning the governor's use of his office resources for personal and political activities.

The governor's office rejected the auditor's conclusions, arguing that state law providing security for the governor is clear in allowing personal use of state resources.

But Montee said the state constitution specific prohibits using state resources for private activities.  She noted that the question about personal use of resources like state cars has been raised with a number of state officials over the years -- both Republican and Democrat.

She called on the legislature to clarify the issue.

. Missouri's candidates for governor take opposite positions on taking the lid off of campaign contributions. (02/21/2008)

The Democratic candidate said he would veto the proposal while the Republican candidate said he would sign the idea.

Democrat Jay Nixon and Republican Kenny Holshof expressed their views at a media briefs just after the state Senate voted by a near-party-line vote to repeal the contribution limits that voters had approved 14 years ago.

Hulshof, central Missouri's Congressman, said he would sign the bill -- although adding he would want more disclosure requirements.  "I would sign the bill, if the bill landed on my desk for limits, but I also would like some additional disclosure items included," Hulshof told reporters at the annual Associated Press Day in the statehouse.

But Nixon said the legislation is not in the best interest of democracy, charging the Senate plan acts "directly in the face of the 74% of the people who voted for campaign contribution limits."  The limits were approved in 1994 after being placed on the ballot by an initiative petition.

The two candidates spoke shortly after the Senate took a final vote on the measure, sending it to the House.

. Senate Republicans put on the fast track a plan to take the lid off of campaign funding. (02/20/2008)

The Senate leadership has accelerated to a swift vote the chamber's final approval of a measure that would repeal voter-approved limits on campaign contributions.

The Senate gave first-round approval to the proposal on Wednesday -- an action that normally would have put the bill on the calendar for action the following week.

But in an unusual move, the Senate leadership fast-tracked the proposal onto the calendar for action as early as the next morning, Thursday.

The proposal contains a "emergency clause" declaring the repeal of limits on campaign finance contributions necessary to "the immediate preservation of the public health, welfare, peace and safety."

That clause, if approved by a two-thirds majority of the House and Senate, would cause the measure to take effect immediately upon the signature of the governor rather than the normal effective date of legislation in September -- just a few weeks before the November elections.

. First round approval on removing limits on campaign contributions (02/20/2008)

First round approval to remove limits on campaign contributions passed Missouri's Senate Wednesday.

The Missouri Senate repealed limits enacted by Missouri voters fourteen years ago for campaign contributions.

The measure faces another vote in the Senate before moving to the House.

. Midwifery Issues Continue (02/20/2008)

The Senate Pensions Committee approved the legalization of midwifery in Missouri.

The committee also merged the two different midwifery bills together in order to speed up the process of authorizing the process.

. MOHELA wants more control over student loan distribution. (02/20/2008)

A bill presented by Sen. Robert Mayer, R-Dexter, would let federal funds for student loans originate in the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority directly as opposed to another party, such as a bank.

An agreement was made between MOHELA and the Missouri Bankers Association so 10 percent of funds made from the loans will be issued to MOHELA for loan distribution.

. You scream, I scream, Missouri screams for ice cream (02/20/2008)

The bill that would make the ice cream cone the official state dessert passed through the Senate Pensions Committee without any opposition. 

The Ice Cream Cone was actually invented at the World's Fair in St. Louis in 1904.

. Republican leaders charge the attorney general with stonewalling their requests for information. (02/20/2008)

Missouri's governor and top GOP legislative leaders charged Attorney General Jay Nixon has failed to answer their requests for information about the state's Second Injury Fund that covers some workers who are re-injured on the job.

A state audit nearly one year ago found the fund was heading to insolvency after the legislature and governor had imposed a limit on the charge assessed to business to pay for the program.

But the governor and legislative leaders told reporters Wednesday that they needed more information from Nixon before the could proceed with legislation to address the problems.

Nixon's office said they have provided ample information to the legislature including testimony at two committee hearings on the matter as well as cooperative with an independent audit the legislature had commissioned.

The program provides medical coverage and disability payments to injured veterans and workers who are re-injured on the job.

. Children in foster care with HIV/AIDS cannot find permanent homes (02/19/2008)

Children with HIV or AIDS who are in foster care are having difficulty getting permanent homes.

Potential parents are afraid that they will contract HIV/AIDS, and for many, misinformation about how the virus is contracted is an issue.

. Missouri's Supreme Court strikes down banning prior sex offenders from living near schools. (02/19/2008)

In a short and unanimous decision, the state's high court held that the ban, passed in 2006, cannot be applied to people convicted prior to adoption of the statute.

The 2006 law prohibits a registered sex offender from living within 1,000 feet of a school or child-care facility.

The case was brought by a man who pleaded guilty to a sex offense in 2005 and had been living within 1,000 of a grade school since 1997.

. Teacher Sexual Misconduct Bill Passed out of Committee (02/19/2008)

The Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education voted out a bill which will increase protection of students from teacher sexual misconduct.

Under the bill, more complete background checks on teachers will be performed.

. Missouri's Senate votes to extend state law on bullying to electronic communications (02/19/2008)

The Senate gave first-round approval to a measure that extends the state's current law on school bullying to include "cyberbullying" and electronic communication.

The law requires school districts to adopt policies on bullying.

The bill, which does not define cyberbullying, is one of several that were introduced in the aftermath of a St. Charles County teenager's suicide after incidents of Internet-based deception.

. Missouri Lawmakers Urged to Vote Yes on 24-Hour Abortion Waiting Period (02/18/2008)

Missouri's Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony Monday night on a bill that would require a 24-hour waiting period before a woman could have an abortion.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said a woman should be provided with all possible alternatives before deciding on abortion.

The bill also would establish the crime of abortion coercion, defined as the circumstance in which a woman is coerced into having an abortion by the threat of divorce by a husband, termination of a job by an employer or physical abuse.

. Missouri senator says mandatory school flu vaccinations a future possibility. (02/18/2008)

Sen. Harry Kennedy, D-St. Louis, said mandatory vaccinations for the influenza virus were a possibility for future legislative bills.

The flu virus wipes out thousands of school children each year due to the close confines of schools.

Kennedy said that while the funding is not there for a such a project currently, consideration for a future program would be a distinct possibility.

. Missouri's Senate approved medical funding it had killed last year. (02/18/2008)

The Senate approved a $46 million appropriation for medical facilities at the Columbia and Kansas City campuses of the University of Missouri.

The funds would come from sale of assets held by the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, the state's college loan program.

Last year, the same projects had been stripped from the MOHELA bill after anti-abortion forces had raised concerns about stem cell research and Democratic legislators had voiced opposition to the MOHELA sale.

. Missouri's House votes to legalize prayer in school (02/18/2008)

The House gave first-round approval to a constitutional amendment that would require government agencies, including schools, to allow voluntary prayer in their facilities.

If approved by the legislature, the measure would require statewide voter approval to become part of the state Constitution.

The bill's sponsor told members of the House his proposal would protect religious freedom from judicial attack.

The measure faces one final House vote before going to the Senate.

. A Senate committee was urged to remove politics from selection of local judges (02/18/2008)

A Jefferson County circuit judge urged the Senate Governmental Organizations Committee to pass legislation that would require all circuit and associate circuit judges be elected on nonpartisan ballots.

The committee was told the plan would give judges who do not affiliate themselves with a party a chance to seek judicial office.

Missouri's current nonpartisan court plan covers only appellate levels courts and circuit courts in the metropolitan areas.

. Senate committee passes campaign finance reform (02/18/2008)

In a party-line vote, the Missouri Senate Finance Committee passed a bill that would repeal limits on contributions to individual campaigns. Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, sponsored the bill and says it aims to bring transparency to the election process.

Shields presented similar legislation last year, but the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional. The bill will now go to the Senate floor for further debate.

. Democrat Questions Missouri Gun Control (02/13/2008)

The recent shooting in Kirkwood has prompted one Missouri legislator to consider action against current conceal-and-carry laws. Sen. Yvonne Wilson, D-Jackson County, said something should be done to repeal the law.

Bryan Pratt, R-Jackson County and House speaker pro tem, continues to support Missouri's current gun control laws. He and other Republicans say that they must preserve Missourians' 2nd Amendment right to bear arms.

. Kirkwood shooting calls Missouri gun control laws into question (02/13/2008)

After last week's shooting in Kirkwood that resulted in six deaths, Missouri legislators are questioning gun control laws. Bryan Pratt, R-Jackson County and House speaker pro tem, said Missouri has come a long way in protecting its citizens while also staying true to the 2nd Amendment.

Sen. Yvonne Wilson, D-Jackson County, is concerned for Missourians' safety and said the conceal-and-carry law should be repealed.

. Missouri Children Scream for Ice Cream (02/13/2008)

Nineteen children involved in a civics and leadership group not only came up with the idea of the ice cream cone as the official state dessert, but they also did all the research and preparation required in the legislative process.

Elise Kostial, 11, was at the committee hearing, representing the group of children who came up with the idea.

. For the second year in a row, a bill is presented to make the UM student representative a voting member. (02/13/2008)

Columbia Sen. Chuck Graham sponsors a bill that will make the UM student representative a voting member of the Board of Curators.

Currently, the UM System has a nonvoting student member, but Graham believes that isn't enough.

. Confusion is over for recognized holidays (02/13/2008)

Missouri representatives passed on a bill that allows public schools to use the traditional names of recognized holidays.

Educational institutions have previously caught flak for recognizing observed holidays; now the confusion is over.

. Bill giving veterans cheaper tuition prompts big debate over MU (02/13/2008)

Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, introduced an amendment to the Missouri Returning Heroes' Education Act that would make money for veterans' tuition be contingent upon money allocated specifically for it.

The amendment brought criticism from Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, and Sen. Maida Coleman, D-St. Louis, because of the apparent advantages it gives to the University of Missouri-Columbia.

. Nurses could prescribe drugs under a plan approved by Missouri's Senate. (02/12/2008)

The Senate gave first-round approval to a measure that would let advanced practice nurses prescribe drugs for some prescription medications.

The proposal would be restricted to specially licensed nurses who are working under collaborative agreements with doctors.

The idea has been pushed several years by proponents who argue it would help ease the workload on physicians.

The bill requires one more roll-call vote in the Senate before it can advance to the House.

. The State Treasurer's office gets a GOP candidate. (02/11/2008)

A northwest Missouri senator has become the first Republican to jump into the race after state Treasurer Sarah Steelman announced her candidacy for governor.

Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, made his announcement at Springfield's Lincoln Days, the annual gathering of Missouri Republicans.

A few years ago, Lager chaired the House Budget Committee but was removed after he raised concerns about spending plans that were being pushed by other Republicans.

. Campaign funding alternatives presented to a Senate committee. (02/11/2008)

Two substantially different proposals for handling campaign financing were presented to the Senate Governmental Organizations Committee on Monday.

One proposal, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Smith, D-St. Louis, would establish a system for government financing of campaigns similar to the presidential system.

The other approach is sponsored by the Senate's majority leader, Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph.

His proposal would repeal limits on how much any one person can contribute to a political campaign.

Campaign contribution limits had been approved by the legislature in 2006, but were struck down by the state Supreme Court on procedural grounds.

Shields argues that politicians have found ways around the limits and, as a result, the only effect is to hide the real source of campaign funding. Critics charge his approach would make it easier for special interests to dominate campaigns.

The committee took no immediate action on the two bills.