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NewsBook: Missouri Government News for the Week of March 24, 2008

. The Senate votes to let MoHELA issue loans. (03/27/2008)

The Senate gave first-round approval Thursday to a measure that would let the college-loan agency originate up to 10% of federally-backed loans for college students.

Currently, the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority can only purchase college loans issued by banks.

The right to originate loans would generate a higher rate of income for agency.  The bill was part of an agreement reached last year to gain approval for the governor's plan to use $350 million of the agency's assets for a statewide building construction program.

. Missouri's House passes a $22 billion budget. (03/27/2008)

The House finished work Thursday on the state's operating budget -- slashing about $100 million from the spending plan Gov. Matt Blunt had presented to lawmakers earlier this year.

House Democrats raised objections, arguing for more money for education and restoring cuts the administration had made in the Medicare program that provides health care coverage for the lower income.

On a near straight party-line vote, House rejected a Democratic motion to reject the education budget in order to add more funds for local schools.

For some time, Republican budget leaders in the legislature had been arguing for scaling back the Republican governor's spending plans because of the predictions of a national economic downturn.

The House-passed budget now goes to the Senate.

. Senate Democrats filibuster the nomination of a fellow Democrat (03/27/2008)

Senate Democrats blocked a confirmation vote on a top aid to former Cong. Dick Gephardt, D-St. Louis.

Kevin Gunn, Gephardt's former chief of staff, has been nominated by the Republican governor for a seat on the utility-regulating Public Service Commission.

Democrats filibustered the confirmation vote, arguing that Gunn still had an active campaign committee for political office.

The office Gunn had been seeking was a vulnerable Republican Senate seat now held by the chamber's president pro tem.

Republicans said the Democrats were upset because the nomination caused Gunn to drop his campaign for the Senate seat.

. The Senate votes to require bio-diesel amid a split among rural lawmakers. (03/27/2008)

Rural lawmakers argued on both sides before the Senate passed a proposal to require bio-diesel for trucks, similar to the requirement imposed for gasoline in 2006.

Supporters argued requiring ethanol-based fuel  helped farmers and reduced dependency on foreign oil.

But other rural lawmakers argued the ethanol requirement for cars has driven up the cost of corn feed for hogs and cattle.  One legislator said it also was a cause for rising food costs. 

. Missouri's College Loan Program hits financial problems (03/26/2008)

MoHELA's board is scheduled to consider holding off on a $5 million transfer of its assets to the state because of financial difficulties.

The Associated Press quotes the college loan board's executive director as saying the agency has lost $12.9 million.

The board has scheduled a Friday meeting to discuss aborting the scheduled transfer.

At the urging of Gov. Matt Blunt, legislators passed a plan in 2007 for transferring MoHELA assets to the state for a building construction program. 

Under the plan, the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, the agency provided the state with an immediate $230 of its assets.  After that, MoHELA is to transfer $5 million every three months to the state for the next six years -- but with the right to stop a payment if financially necessary.

. Missouri's House begins work on a trimmed-down budget. (03/25/2008)

Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt's budget plans would be trimmed by about $100 million under a budget package the House began debating Tuesday.

The House is expected to spend much of the week working on the $22 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The governor's spending recommendations would spend most of a projected $506 million surplus in general revenue -- leaving slightly more than $50 million by the end of the next fiscal year.  Legislative budget leaders have expressed concern that was too small a cushion given predictions of an economic downturn.

The House cuts may not be the end of the legislature's revisions to the governor's package.  House Budget Committee Chairman Alan Icet said another $100 million is expected to be removed by the Senate -- so each chamber can take equal credit, or blame.

. Lawmakers target sex offenders. (03/25/2008)

Sex-offender legislation dominated the lawmakers' agenda on their first day back after Easter Break.

The Senate gave first-round approval to a constitutional amendment designed to allow registration of sex offenders convicted of sex offenses before the registration requirement became law.

The Senate proposal is in response to a state Supreme Court decision prohibiting retrospective application of the registration requirements convicted before the requirements had been passed.

Just a bit later, the Senate voted approved a measure that would require a registered sex offender to stay at home on Halloween night, turn off the outside lights and post a sign that no treats or candy are available at the residence.

On the other side of the statehouse, the House Crime Committee heard a registered sex offender argue that treatment programs can rehabilitate offenders.

The committee was reviewing bills that would bar registered sex offenders from being near public parks, swimming pools or day care facilities.

. Missouri's governor releases a portion of demanded e-mails. (03/24/2008)

The Associated Press reported Monday that Gov. Matt Blunt's office has complied with some of the document demands from the attorney general's investigation.

The three-member team of the attorney general is investigating allegations of illegal e-mail destruction by the governor's office.

AP reports the governor's office has released 2 of the 45 document requests by the investigation.  But both sets of released documents involve records that others previously had requested from the governor's office.

Previously, the governor's office had told the investigating team it would cost them nearly $541,000 to cover the expenses in complying with the document requests.  The governor's office then issued its own document demand for virtually every e-mail record held by the attorney general's office.

. Jay Nixon seeks to stop the Missouri River spring rise. (03/24/2008)

Attorney General Jay Nixon filed a request with the U.S. district court in St. Louis seeking a restraining order to stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from proceeding with its plans for a "spring rise" on the Missouri River.

In 2004, the Corps had adopted plans for release of extra water held in upstream reservoirs in an effort to encourage spawning of the pallid sturgeon.

The state has been waging an on-going battle against the plan, arguing resulting spring floods would harm Missouri property owners along the river and agriculture.

Nixon based his latest effort on the recent flooding.  "A spring rise could cause or aggravate flooding of fields in parts of central and western Missouri that were not ht as hard by the rain, in addition to causing an entirely avoidable increase in misery for those Missourians who are being flooded out now," Nixon was quoted by his office as saying.

. Questions surround the responsibility of privately owned dams when they fail in Missouri (03/19/2008)

The US Army Core of Engineers takes the responsibility for levees in the state as well as federally owned dams that provide hydroelectricity.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources regulates and inspects private and public owned dams that are 35 feet and higher. If a dam is less than 35 feet and it fails, then the responsibility is that if the dam owner.