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NewsBook: Missouri Government News for the Week of February 25, 2008

. House Tax Reform Committtee chair said that he wants to pass legislation to keep government from state taxation on a federal tax rebate. (02/28/2008)

Chairman of the House Tax reform Committee said that he plans on passing legislation to stop the government from taxing the federal tax rebate, and has submitted legislation for this initiative.

Democrats question Republican motives for submitting legislation almost identical to legislation submitted by Democrats.

. Rising flu cases spark concern in Missouri legislature (02/28/2008)

Citing the rising number of flu cases hitting Missouri, one legislator has filed a bill that would create a pilot program to bring vaccines into schools.

The bill was proposed one week before a CDC advisory panel recommended extending flu vaccinations for children from ages six months up to 18 years of age. The previous recommendation was age six months to age five.

The Missouri bill is sponsored by Sen. Norma Champion, R-Springfield.  She said she wants to give the Health Department a long leash in stipulating the parameters for a flu-vaccination program.  Champion said she is not in support of making the vaccine mandatory, but rather just wants to make it more available to children.

. Teachers would face tougher background checks under a measure passed by the House. (02/28/2008)

The House sent the Senate Thursday a measure that imposes tougher requirements for background checks on teachers.  The proposal also requires schools to report to the state any sex offense allegation against a school employee.

Although approved by an overwhelming majority, a few legislators expressed concerns about protecting teachers from false allegations.

Get the bill, HCS HB 1314.

. The Senate approves alternative teacher certification bill (02/27/2008)

After an all-night filibuster that ran into the evening, the Senate approved by an overwhelming margin a bill that would allow persons without teaching degrees to teach in  public schools.

Supporters said the measure would enhance the quality of teaching in fields like math and science.

But Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, argued the bill would allow unqualified persons into the classrooms.  She conducted a one-woman filibuster blocking a vote by the senate until late evening.

. Legislation targets sex offenders (02/27/2008)

Sex offenders are in the cross hairs of the General Assembly this year with numerous pieces of legislation coming from both parties that aim to restrict the rights of people on the Missouri Sex Offender Registry.

The centerpiece of these efforts is a bipartisan joint resolution proposed in the Senate that would make the registry retroactive, which would force sex offenders who committed their crimes before the enactment of the registry to sign up. If the legislation passes, voters would vote on the issue in November.

. New requirements for petition gatherers (02/27/2008)

The House of Representatives approved new restrictions for ballot petition gatherers.

The measure would prohibit pay by the signature and also require Missouri residency.

Signature gatherers would be restricted from receiving signatures for more than one petition and must not receive them by mail or via the Internet. 

. Missouri residents might not have to pay state taxes on federal rebate (02/27/2008)

A Missouri bill would exempt state residents from paying income taxes on federal rebate checks.

In response to the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008 recently signed by President Bush, the Missouri bill would put the money back into the hands of American workers.

. No major surprises on the opening day for filing. (02/26/2008)

The opening day to file for the August primary produced no surprises for the statewide offices.

For governor, U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulsof and state Treasurer Sarah Steelman were among four who filed for the Republican nomination. Attorney General Jay Nixon was the only candidate to file for the Democratic nomination. All three previously had announced their campaigns.

Four of the five offices got both Republican and Democratic candidates -- but not the secretary of state's office. The current holder of that office, Democrat Robin Carnahan, was the only person to file for the job.

. The House approves tougher laws on sex offenders in the classroom. (02/26/2008)

The House gave first-round approval on a measure that would require a school to report an allegation of sexual abuse within 24 hours.

The bill also would toughen requirements for checking the backgrounds of teaching applicants. It also would provide lawsuit protections for school employees to tell another district about sexual abuse allegations that have been made against a teacher.

. Senate debate stalls a vote on forcing bio-diesel on truckers. (02/26/2008)

Extended morning debate prevented the Senate from taking a preliminary vote on the measure that would require that all diesel fuel sold in the state contain at least five percent bio-diesel.

Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Jackson County, complained the proposal would lead to higher food prices because of the shift of corn production for fuel.

The bill's supporter, Senate Transportation Committee Chair Bill Stouffer, said the proposal would create new jobs in Missouri in bio-diesel production.

In 2006, the legislature passed a measure requiring that gasoline contain ethanol.

. Opposition emerges to the idea of flu vaccinations in school. (02/26/2008)

A St. Louis senator has raised questions about a bill filed earlier this week to establish a pilot project for flu immunization in schools.

Sen. John Loudon, R-St. Louis County, charged the bill involved "vaccination without representation."

. School enrollment required for underage drivers (02/26/2008)

A bill presented to the House Urban Education Committee would prohibit the Revenue Department from issuing driver's licenses to anyone under age 18 not enrolled in school.

School districts would report those ineligible to the Department of Revenue.

But the Missouri Association of School Administrators stood in opposition to this approach and provided an alternative.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Rodney Hubbard, D-St. Louis, was open to the idea.

. Missouri Democrats not concerned about Ralph Nader (02/26/2008)

Ralph Nader has thrown his hat into the presidential ring for the fourth time.

While Nader has taken votes from the Democratic Party in the past, Missouri Democrats say they are not concerned.

. Staph infections to be more closely monitored in Missouri hospitals with Rep. Rob Schaaf's proposed bill (02/26/2008)

The Missouri Health Care Policy heard a bill Tuesday that would require every Missouri hospital to establish a methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) control program to insure that staph infections do not spread.

 The bill would also require that all cases of staph infection, whether hospital- or non-hospital-acquired, be reported to the Department of Health
and Senior Services.

. Missouri to receive $200,000 from maker of birth control pill (02/25/2008)

Attorney General Jay Nixon announced today that Missouri will get $200,000 as part of a $5.9 million settlement of a civil action against Barr Pharmaceuticals, a drug company that makes birth control pills.

The lawsuit, filed by the attorneys general of 34 states and the District of Columbia, charged that Barr Pharmaceuticals and Warner Chilcott, another drug company, were violating antitrust laws by preventing generic versions of a prescription oral contraceptive, Ovcon, from being on the market.

The $200,000 will reimburse the state's costs in pursuing the case and will also be applied to consumer protection law enforcement.

The lawsuit against Warner Chilcott was settled last year for $5.5 million.

. Bipartisan bill would create tougher laws against dogfighting (02/25/2008)

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard a bill Monday that would make it a felony to be a spectator in a dogfight for a second time. The bill would also mandate a disposition hearing for the rescued animal and make local animal control officials responsible for the dog for 30 days.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Scott Rupp, R-Wentzville, says the bill is the result of a police bust last fall in Stoddard County, where officials found 26 dogs trained for fighting.

. Bill would give independent organization authority to certify teachers in Missouri (02/25/2008)

A proposal by Sen. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville, would make the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence responsible for teacher certification of professional people looking for a career in education.

Both the Missouri National Teachers' Association and Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, oppose the plan, saying ABCTE does not require the right training for educators.

. Village Law Repeal moves through Senate (02/25/2008)

The highly controversial village law is one step closer to being repealed. A Senate version of the bill to return the statutes back to the 2006 language was finalized in the Senate on Monday afternoon.

Last year, language was passed making it easier for rural land owners to establish a village. The changes were passed late in the session as an amendment to a larger bill up for consideration.

. A Missouri senator introduces bill to committee to ensure tax-free weapon sales to foreign nations (02/25/2008)

Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County, introduced a bill to the Senate Ways & Means Committee that backs a part of the U.S. Constitution that allows the sale of weapons to foreign countries to go untaxed.

The United States currently sells defense articles on the United States Munitions List, which includes items from artillery to airplanes, to foreign countries for their defense use.

The bill would ensure that these articles go untaxed when sold by state defense dealers.

. Missouri senator introduces school-based influenza pilot program (02/25/2008)

Sen. Norma Champion, R-Greene County, introduced a bill that would allow schools to participate in a pilot program distributing the influenza vaccine to students.

Missouri's flu cases spiked this season, and Champion's bill would make the vaccine readily available for students in order to reduce the spread of the virus.

. 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 "Insure 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 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 years.

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 report saying 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 specifically prohibits using state resources for private activities. She noted that the question about personal use of resources such as state cars has been raised with a number of state officials, both Republican and Democrat, over the years.

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 Hulshof expressed their views at a media brief 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 he added 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 percent 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 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 an "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 on Wednesday.

The Missouri Senate repealed limits enacted by Missouri voters 14 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 two midwifery bills together 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. Rob 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 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 they 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 the statute's adoption.

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 feet 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 schoolchildren 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, Rep. Michael McGhee, R-Odessa, 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 the 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-level courts and circuit courts in 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.