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NewsBook: Missouri Government News for the Week of March 10, 2008

. Insure MIssouri plans make their way into legislature (03/13/2008)

After months of deliberation, Missouri Republicans have filed legislation to implement the governor's proposed Insure Missouri to expand government-backed health care coverage for more Missourians.

But the various bills that have been filed go quite a bit further than the governor's original idea -- even including provisions to establish requirements for school physical education courses.

 The first bill to be filed using phrase "Insure Missouri" would provide health care to an additional 150,000 people not covered by MO HealthNet, said the bill's sponsor -- Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County.   The bill, however, makes the exact number of people covered subject to the legislature's annual appropriation.

. Bill to prohibit college to illegal immigrants has passed to the Senate on Thursday. (03/13/2008)

A bill prohibiting illegal immigrants to attend institutions of higher education was approved by the House and sent to the Senate among much heated debate.

The bill was met with fierce opposition who deemed it racist, restricted and archaic.

Bill sponsor Jerry Nolte says it is the Missouri taxpayers who will be hurt if the bill does not get passed.

. Matt Blunt's office file their own Sunshine Law demand (03/12/2008)

Less than a week after the governor's office demanded more than $500,000 to comply with a document request from the attorney general's office, Matt Blunt's chief of staff has demanded virtually all e-mail documents held by the attorney general.

A memo to the attorney general from the governor's chief of staff contained a list of 15 separate requests, the broadest being "Copies of all email backup tapes or other storage mechanisms for any email messages transmitted to or from the Attorney General's office." 

The memo gives no reason as to what the governor intends to do with the information.

The attorney general has appointed an independent task force to investigate allegations that his staff has ordered destruction of state documents.  The governor's office has demanded more than $500,000 to cover the costs in turning over documents requested by the attorney general's task force -- headed by the former Highway Patrol superintendent during the administration of Gov. John Ashcroft.

Included in the governor's demand are "All documents...regarding the investigative committee appointed by the Attorney review the policies of the Office of the Governor."

. The House Urban Issues Committee approved a bill that would give the city of St. Louis complete control of its police force. (03/12/2008)

Since the Civil War, the St. Louis Police Department has been under control of a board appointed by the governor.

St. Louis Mayor, Francis Slay urged Missouri legislators to give his city local control of its police force.

St. Louis police union representatives testified in opposition expressing their fear of pension loss if the city gained control over the police budget.

. The Senate votes to make mortgage fraud easier to catch (03/12/2008)

The Senate gave first round approval to a measure designed to make it easier for prosecutors to address mortgage fraud.

The bill's sponsor, Republican Senator Kevin Engler said the increase in cases involving mortgage fraud is astounding, and that officials need more tools to prosecute offenders.

. Mo. legislature addresses high gas prices (03/12/2008)

Missouri drivers are refueling less as gas prices continue to rise. This is decreasing the amount of fuel tax collections that fund MoDOT. Republican Senator John Griesheimer says not to worry. This shouldn't result in any major problems for MODOT's road projects.

With the state's 17 cent fuel tax funding MoDOT's projects and the decrease in gas sales, Missouri legislators have discussed alternative sources of funding for MoDOT. One option is taking out the fuel tax completely while adding a two cent sales tax that would lower gas prices and help MoDOT's progress.

. A bill is presented that would outlaw sanctuary cities for illegal immigrants in Missouri (03/12/2008)

Republican Representative Gary Dusenberg of Jackson County presented a bill that would prevent any local government from passing legislation that would allow for it to become a safe-haven for illegal immigrants.

He contends that Kansas City has become a sanctuary city and that the tax dollars of American citizens should not be spent catering to the needs of illegal aliens.

. Missouri House votes to ban illegal foreigners from public universities (03/12/2008)

The House bill would require public institutions to verify to lawmakers that they have not knowingly admitted illegal foreigners into their university.

The bill came to a voice vote and was approved for perfection.

. Safety for high hazard dams in Missouri (03/11/2008)

The House Environment Committee heard a bill that would establish tougher safety regulations on high hazard dams.

Missouri has 1,200 dams that are at risk of failure and loss of life.

The only person to testify against the bill raised concerns about the regulation fees.

. House committee shut down initiatives to expand health care profession education (03/11/2008)

The House Budget Committee rejected an effort to restore the governor's recommendation for $13 million in state funds for a program to expand health care educational programs at Missouri's higher education institutions.

The committee voted to cut the funding in Gov. Matt Blunt's recommendation in one amendment by a 10-13 vote. It also voted against adding the funds to "Preparing to Care" in a 12-12 vote on two amendments offered by Reps. Ed Robb, R-Columbia, and Sara Lampe, D-Springfield.

. Missouri Department of Transportation reacts to gas prices (03/11/2008)

While gas prices continue to fluctuate in Missouri, revenue for the Transportation Department has remained the same.

Each penny increase in gas tolls costs the department $100,000 a year.

. Missouri's Senate approves a rating system for child day care centers (03/11/2008)

The Senate proposal would require a five-star rating system for day care centers administered by the state.

Participation by child care facilities would be voluntary.

Critics, however, warned that competition would force day care centers to participate and that the costs to meet the requirements for the highest ratings would drive up the cost of day care for parents.

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

. House makes a controversial move over anti-tax proposal (03/11/2008)

Missouri's House approved without allowing debate a proposed constitutional amendment to block courts from ordering tax or spending increases.

The House speaker pro tem called an end to a debate without letting Democrats offer amendments.

. Missouri's Senate votes to force truckers to use biodiesel (03/10/2008)

After hours of debate that ran into the evening, the Senate on Monday gave first-round approval to a measure that would require biodiesel in trucks.

Supporters argued it would help the environment and farmers. Opponents charged it was a government mandate.

. Future economic problems might impact education funding (03/10/2008)

Missouri's House budget chairman said Monday he will recommend a cut in the governor's spending plan for the University of Missouri System when his committee takes up the higher education budget this week.

Rep. Allen Icet's proposal would drop the governor's 6.1 percent increase in state funds for the UM System general education budget to a 4.1 percent increase for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

. House will hear bill allowing teachers without education degrees in Missouri classrooms (03/10/2008)

The Missouri House will hear a bill this week that will permit professionals who do not possess an education degree to teach in state classrooms.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Scott Muschany, R-St. Louis County, will require the Missouri Board of Education to issue teaching certificates to professionals who complete a certification course with the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence.

. Licensed professional counselors may be considered mental health professionals (03/10/2008)

A bill sponsored by Sen. Frank Barnitz, D-Lake Spring, that would allow licensed professional counselors to be considered mental health professionals under the Missouri Department of Health has passed out of committee.

 The bill would allow LPCs to assess detainment for up to 96 hours to determine if a patient should be committed to a mental health center.

. Missouri's governor seeks more than $0.5 million from the state for his e-mails (03/07/2008)

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Friday that Gov. Matt Blunt has demanded $540,000 to pay for office e-mails sought in an investigation looking into destruction of state records.

The investigation is being conducted by a team of special investigators looking into allegations by a former lawyer for the governor's office of record destruction within the office.

The newspaper reports the payment demand comes from a private attorney hired by the governor in a response to the record requests.

. The state's college loan program shows its first loss (03/07/2008)

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Friday that the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority is reporting its first operating loss since its creation more than a quarter of a century ago. The newspaper reports that 16 employees have been laid off and another 23 left unfilled.

The report comes after the legislature approved a plan pushed by the governor to sell off more than $200 million of the agency's assets.

Critics warned the governor's plan could undermine the financial stability of the program for college loans. 

MOHELA has been seeking legislative authorization to originate loans directly as part of an effort to improve its financial situation.

. Missouri's House approves tracking individual prescriptions (03/06/2008)

Pharmacies would be required to report to the state information about individual prescription drugs that have been dispensed under a measure approved by the House and sent to the Senate.

Proponents argue such a statewide database will help in anti-crime efforts against illegal drugs.

The bill contains an amendment adopted by the House that outlaws the abortion pill known as RU-486.

. The House votes to ease rate regulation over some phone companies (03/06/2008)

The House passed by an overwhelming vote a measure that gives phone companies more flexibility in setting their rates.

Proponents argued that easing state regulation would lead to expanded features provided by companies in more rural areas. 

While easing regulation of land-line companies, the bill also seeks to impose some state oversight of VOIP, voice over Internet Protocol, by which phone service is provided through the Internet and is largely unregulated by the state.

. Driving permits only for the enrolled student finds Missouri legislators in doubt (03/05/2008)

While Illinois tries to reduce the legal age to get a driver's permit, Missouri stays restricted. The bill would allow 14-year-olds to gain a driver's permit, giving them two years of experience instead of one. Missouri Sen. John Griesheimer, R-Washington, says that by tightening the law, Missouri is saving lives.

Under another bill presented to the House Urban Education Committee, drivers between the ages of 15 to 18 will have to be enrolled in school to obtain or keep their driver's license.

. Medical marijuana bill has little chance of passing in the House. (03/05/2008)

A group supporting the use of medical marijuana calls the election year a main opponent of a bill to legalize it.

One of the bill's sponsors says it is too controversial to pass with many representatives running for re-election this fall.

. Meet the superdelegates (03/05/2008)

Missouri state Rep. Maria Chappelle-Nadal says she's 99 percent sure she will be going to the Democratic National Convention without endorsing a presidential candidate. And she's not alone.

One of Missouri's prized Democratic superdelegates, the Democrat from St. Louis County said she has been offered private meetings with Sen. Barack Obama and former President Bill Clinton, but has refused to meet with either campaign and is waiting for the rest of the country to decide before making an endorsement.

. Rep. Ed Robb's twins bill moves out of committee (03/05/2008)

A Columbia representative's "twins bill" will move to the Missouri House floor, the Education Committee decided Wednesday.

Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia, worked to pass a bill that would give parents of multiple-birth siblings authority over their children's classroom assignments.

. Alleviating restrictions for doctors prescribing drugs (03/05/2008)

A measure presented to the House on Wednesday would expand doctors' rights to prescribe pain medications.

The bill would update current terminology by removing the word "intractable" from the Pain Intractable Treatment Act.

No one testified in opposition and the committee took no immediate action on the bill.  

. A bill is heard in the Senate regarding informed consent of a woman who opts to have an abortion (03/05/2008)

Sponsored by Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, the bill calls for more information to be presented to women who are considering having an abortion. Included in this new information would be an informative video as well as new printed information.

During the session, Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, lashed out in opposition to Right to Life of Missouri, making claims that it does not represent legislators or itself properly.

. Bulk of anti-illegal foreigner bills heard by Senate Pensions Committee (03/05/2008)

Seven Senate bills were heard by the Senate Pensions Committee that would give the state more power against those who reside in Missouri illegally. Senate bills 751, 1186, 1255 deal with illegals receiving public benefits, such as welfare.

Senate bills 858 and 927 covered the knowledgeable hiring of illegal workers and the barring of illegal aliens from public university. State Treasurer Sarah Steelman testified in support of greater penalties for employers who knowingly hire illegal workers.

. A Missouri senator opposes North American Union (03/05/2008)

Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield, urges opposition to North American Union in a committee reading.

Similar to the European Union, a North American Union would loosen restrictions at the borders between Canada, Mexico and the United States.

Three witnesses testified in opposition and said the union is a scheme conducted by government officials.

. Legislators are trying to prevent the state from collecting state taxes on the federal tax rebate (03/04/2008)

Missouri's legislature is beginning efforts to assure that the state does not collect taxes on the federal tax rebate signed by President Bush last month.

A spokesperson from the Department of Revenue said legislators should not expect to see any deductions because this rebate does not count as income, making it exempt from state taxes.

. Missouri House votes in amendment to ban chemical abortions (03/04/2008)

The Missouri House voted to outlaw the abortion drug RU-486.

The amendment was tagged on to a bill that would create a statewide database to monitor prescription drugs.

The bill has raised several privacy issues, such as who has access to the database.

. Police force hearing canceled again (03/04/2008)

For the second week in a row, the hearing of a bill that would allow the city of St. Louis complete control over its police force has been postponed.

Hazardous road and weather conditions were given as reasons for Tuesday's cancellation.

. Harassment could be considered a class D felony with Republican Rep. Joe Smith's bill (03/04/2008)

Harassing someone who is 17 years or younger could result in up to four years in prison if the accused is 21 or older.

The bill defines harassment as disturbing, frightening or intimidating another.

Harassment also includes causing emotional distress and using unwanted coarse language with another.

. Senate votes to expand state DNA registry (03/03/2008)

A Senate vote to expand the state's DNA database to include minors sparked debate in Jefferson City on Monday over whether the state should be doing more to compensate those wrongfully convicted in the state.

The Senate unanimously voted to pass a bill proposed by Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, that would include juvenile offenders convicted of certain misdemeanor and felony crimes.

. MOHELA to compete with other loan originators (03/03/2008)

A Senate bill would give the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority 10 percent of the money generated from loans so the agency can generate its own.

MOHELA decided on the 10-percent figure with the Missouri Bankers' Association. The loan authority would receive up to $200 million a year.

The executive director of MOHELA said the funds would help the organization through the current credit crunch.

. Senate committee passes bill lowering Boating While Intoxicated limit (03/03/2008)

A bill to bring drunken boating in step with drunken driving limits was passed in the Senate Financial Committee on Monday.

The bill lowers the blood alcohol limit from .10 to .08 when driving a boat on Missouri waterways. The bill  must now go before the full Senate for approval. 

Members of the Missouri Water Patrol say 100 percent of last year's boating fatalities involved alcohol.

. Senator introduces revisions to organ donation act to committee (03/03/2008)

Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County, introduced a bill Monday to the Senate Financial and Governmental Organizations and Elections Committee that would revise the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act of 1968.

The revisions will expand the number of people in relation to the donor who can give consent for the donation, other than first-person consent from the donor.

It also calls for, among other things, revisions that will give priority to transplants and therapy over over use for research and education if the donor does not specify.