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NewsBook: Missouri Government News for the Week of April 14, 2008

. Alternative teaching certificates is sent to the governor. (04/16/2008)

The House passed without change a Senate bill to provide an alternative method for people to be certified in school.

The proposal would allow persons who were certified by the American Board of Certification of Teacher Excellence to teach in public schools.

Supporters argue the bill will encourage professionals who retire to enter the classrooms.

. Missouri's state auditor questions housing tax credits. (04/17/2008)

State Auditor Susan Montee reported Thursday that a tax credit program designed to encourage construction of lower income housing actually is providing greater benefits for investors and developers.

The audit found that for every dollar of tax credits awarded under the program, only 35 cents actually were used for building lower income homes -- with the rest of the money going to investors and taxes.

Montee said the program is inefficient and should be replaced with a new program.

The governor issued a written statement saying the governing board of the program should be changed by eliminating the statewide elected officials -- including the governor.

. Missouri's House rejects changing the non-partisan court plan. (04/17/2008)

A handful of Republicans joined with Democrats to defeat a proposal designed to reduce the influence of lawyers in selecting judges under the non-partisan court plan.

The proposal would increase the number of non-lawyers on the nominating commissions, require a larger number of finalists be submitted to the governor and give the governor authority to reject a panel of nominees.

If it had been approved by the legislature, the constitutional amendment would have required statewide voter approval to take effect.

Critics of the current system have argued that the judicial selection process has become dominated by a small band of trial lawyers who seek more activist courts.  Opponents argue the proposal would subject the system to partisan politics.

. Obesity commission would tackled Missouri obesity statistics (04/17/2008)

At the same time when the Missouri legislature is considering bills that would make the ice cream cone the official dessert of the state of Missouri, one representative has introduced legislation that would create the Missouri Commission on Prevention and Management of Obesity.

While the obesity bill has languished in the legislature -- it's not even been given a committee assignment -- the ice cream cone has been on the fast track.

The ice cream cone bill is meant to recognize Missouri's historical invention of the ice cream cone at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair held in Forest Park. Both the House and Senate have passed their versions of the bill.

A study released by Trust for America's Health, a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy group for improvement in health, ranks Missouri as the 12th most obese state in 2007 -- up from 14th the year before.  

. Missouri's illegal immigration debate rages on. (04/16/2008)

The House gave first-round approval to an immigration bill reaffirming that illegals will not receive welfare assistance.

Rep. Michael Frame, D-Eureka, said Congress is avoiding the real issue. He argues the U.S. should be more focused on America's employers rather than employees.

Frame said employers should be given a choice -- fire illegals or pay the fine.

. UM System could receive almost 5 percent budget increase (04/16/2008)

The Missouri Senate passed the higher education budget Wednesday, which would give the University of Missouri System more than $450 million.

But Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, called this year's budget "a wash," saying the legislature is spending money on private higher education institutions when it should be used for public university needs.

. Sexual conduct in school districts at its worst (04/16/2008)

Rep. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, said sexual conduct within school districts is six times worse than the priesthood scandal.

The measure, which passed in the House on a 139-6 vote, was prompted by a teacher who had a sexual affair with his 13-year-old student and was re-hired to teach in a different district.

This legislation would require annual background checks for teachers and open communication between districts to ensure proper hiring.

Mike Wood of the Missouri State Teachers Association voiced his only concern about the revision that implies teachers are guilty until proven innocent.

. With polygamy in the news, some Missouri legislators chime in on what the state's responsibility is in the matter (04/16/2008)

Some Missouri Republicans say that it is not right when the state removes children from a household for any reason that isn't abuse or trauma. Rep. Cynthia Davis, R-O'Fallon, and Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Jackson County, don't think the state should remove children from their homes.

Rep. Jeanette Oxford, D-St. Louis City, said children need to be in a secure place, even if that means taking them away from their parents.

. Missouri House passes bill to establish annual tax-free week for energy-efficient products. (04/16/2008)

The bill creates a week-long tax holiday each year, during which consumers can buy energy-efficient products totaling up to $1,500. Products include energy-saving light bulbs, washers, dryers and refrigerators. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Mike Sutherland, R-Warrenton, said this is a big step to encourage Missourians to be Earth-friendly.

If passed in the Senate, the first annual Show-Me Green Week will be in November and will be changed to April in 2009 in honor of Earth Day. Supporters of the bill say that energy-efficient appliances can cut energy use by 30 percent and save more than $400 in electric bills each year.

. Missouri's governor promptly issues executions after Supreme Court ruling in Kentucky (04/16/2008)

The Supreme Court's decision to uphold lethal injection executions in Kentucky may greatly affect Missouri inmates on death row.

Missouri and Kentucky have similar methods of a three-series injection procedure that some inmates say is cruel and unusual punishment. Now that the Supreme Court has upheld Kentucky's court case, Missouri courts are quickly issuing execution dates for all pending cases.

 The last execution in Missouri was October 2005.

. New spin on illegal foreigner legislation (04/16/2008)

HB 1463 would ban illegal foreigners from attending public universities, a move the bill's sponsor, Rep. Jerry Nolte, R-Gladstone, says will help illegal foreigners in the long run.

Nolte cited a story of an illegal student who graduated from a public university but was unable to gain employment because he was not a U.S. citizen. The bill, Nolte says, will save illegals from wasting their money.

The Senate Pensions Committee heard the bill but has yet to vote on it.

. Abortion requirements win House approval. (04/15/2008)

The House gave first-round approval to a measure that would require a 24-hour waiting period for an abortion. The measure also would require that a doctor provide a woman with information about her unborn fetus before an abortion could be performed.

The doctor also would be required to offer an ultrasound of the fetus.

The measure cleared the House by a margin of greater than 3-to-1. It requires one more House vote before going to the Senate.

. The House gave approval to provide $880 million in tax credits to a Canadian aircraft manufacturing plant. (04/15/2008)

By an overwhelming voice-vote, the House gave first-round approval to an administration proposal to allow up to $880 million in tax credits to entice a Canadian company to locate a jet aircraft manufacturing plant in Kansas City.

An amendment to the bill would prohibit state officials and their relatives from being hired at the plant.

In the Senate, however, opponents stalled a vote on a similar measure for a third day.

. Battle over autism insurance coverage (04/15/2008)

Reps. Jeff Grisamore, R-Jackson County, and Sam Page, D-St. Louis County, have joined forces in their fight for autism insurance coverage.

Autism is currently the only neurological disorder not covered by insurance, and the bill would prohibit insurance carriers from denying coverage for individuals with autism.

Those that testified in opposition were from the insurance industry, and among those testifying in favor were two physicians and four mothers with autistic children.

. Missouri House OKs sales tax on veteran services (04/15/2008)

The Missouri House gave first-round approval to a bill that would ask voters to raise taxes for veteran services.

The proposed constitutional amendment would create a one-eighth-cent sales tax for funding veterans' homes, services and programs.

. House gives first-round approval to bill that would put more non-lawyers on nominating board (04/14/2008)

The Missouri House gave first-round approval to a bill that would increase the number of non-lawyers on the committee that provides a list of judicial candidates to the governor.

Democrats accused the Republican sponsor of the bill of trying to change the state Constitution with little reason.

. Senate committee bill would keep Missouri State Water Patrol administration in the family (04/14/2008)

A bill that would allow only members who had previously served in the Missouri State Water Patrol to become commissioner of the department passed through the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

Current commissioner Colonel Rad Talburt is the first officer in 25 years to be named commissioner after previously serving in the Missouri State Water Patrol.

Most appointed commissioners have come from departments outside the Water Patrol or from other political offices.

. Missouri's governor subpoenas the news media. (04/11/2008)

The Associated Press reported Friday that its lead statehouse reporter was subpoenaed by an attorney defending Matt Blunt in a lawsuit filed by one of the former attorneys for the governor's office.

The attorney, Scott Eckersley, has charged he was defamed by the governor's administration when it distributed to the media personal e-mails from Eckersley's government e-mail account. The material distributed by the administration included private legal advice from Eckersley and communication with a former female acquaintance.

At issue appears to involve where the e-mails actually were read or distributed. Blunt's attorney is seeking to have the case transferred from Kansas City to Jefferson City. A wrongful termination lawsuit filed by Eckersley already has been transferred.

The Associated Press reports that the Kansas City Star also was subpoenaed, although its statehouse reporter has since moved out of state. AP and the Star are two of several news organizations that have been given the thick packet of private e-mails by the administration.

. A lid on the state's budget clears the House. (04/10/2008)

The Missouri House passed and sent the Senate on Thursday a measure that would impose a cap on the growth of the state's budget.

The limit would be based on the growth of the state's population and the inflation rate.

The constitutional amendment, if it clears the legislature, would require statewide voter approval to take effect.

. The Missouri House votes a mixed message on illegals. (04/10/2008)

Missouri's House gave final passage to a measure designed to crack down on illegal foreigners -- but then voted to reject a federal effort designed to establish a national standard for identification of legal residents.

The first bill, sent to the Senate, includes a number of provisions on illegals including banning sanctuary cities, denying driving licenses to illegals and requiring driving licenses be given in English only. The measure also requires police to check the legal presence of persons they arrest and confine.

The measure now goes to the Senate, which earlier had approved a similar bill. Unlike the House, however, the Senate plan includes penalties on businesses that hire illegals.

The second bill sent to the Senate on Thursday prohibits the state from complying with the federal Real ID Act that establishes national standards for driving licenses issued by the states. 

. Senate opposition stalls action on tax breaks for a Canadian firm. (04/10/2008)

An administration request for tax breaks to encourage location of an aircraft manufacturing plant in Kansas City ran into a number of questions in Missouri's Senate on Wednesday.

The administration is seeking approval to award up to $40 million per year in tax credits for 22 years to the Canadian firm Bombardier, which is looking for a location to manufacture a new line of passenger jets -- for a total that could reach $880 million.

Supporters argue the plant would be a major economic boost for the entire state.

But critics in the Senate questioned awarding tax breaks to a foreign corporation that are not provided to Missouri firms. Others argued the legislature should have power to review whatever deal the administration works out with Bombardier.

. Democrats drop their filibuster against the top aid to former Congressman Dick Gephardt. (04/10/2008)

Senate Democrats allowed a vote Thursday on the confirmation of Kevin Gunn to the state's utility-regulating Public Service Commission -- after several Democratic candidates got funds from Gunn's campaign organization.

Two weeks ago, Senate Democrats had blocked a vote on Gunn. They complained he still had an active campaign fund for his Senate race. Gunn had been a Democratic candidate for the state Senate seat held by the Senate's president pro tem, Mike Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, who is leaving the Senate.

Gunn dropped his candidacy after his nomination, but had not closed out his finance committee until Tuesday -- just two days before Senate confirmation.

In addition to refunding contributions to a number of donors, Gunn's campaign also distributed funds to several Democratic campaign organizations. Among the largest transfers was $35,000 to the St. Louis City Democratic Central Committee and $20,000 to the state Senate Democratic Campaign Committee.

. MOHELA's loan bill wins quick House committee approval. (04/09/2008)

The House Higher Education Committee has approved a measure to let the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority originate federally backed college loans directly to students.

Under a compromise reached with the financial industry, the bill would limit the number of loans MOHELA could issue to 10 percent of the prior year's total federal-backed college loans issued in Missouri.

Under current law, MOHELA is restricted to purchasing and taking over loans that are issued by other financial institutions.

MOHELA officials have said they need the right to originate loans to assure the agency's financial stability. Earlier this month, the agency reduced a scheduled $5 million transfer to the state to help fund the governor's statewide building construction program.

. The House approves a bill to put sanctions on illegal foreigners in Missouri (04/09/2008)

House passage came after hours of debate on the measure that roles together a number of different proposals to crackdown on illegal foreigners in Missouri.

The bill would outlaw sanctuary cities. It would also enlist law enforcement to be responsible for reporting illegal foreigners and it would make English the exclusive language on the Missouri driving exam.

. Insure Missouri makes its way to the floor (04/08/2008)

The Senate Health Committee approved Tuesday a major expansion in government-financed health care coverage for the lower income population.

The bill sponsor, Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County, hopes to bring it to the floor as early as next week.

Under the measure, more than 200,000 more Missourians ultimately would be covered at a cost to the state exceeding $90 million per year. Some would be charged for the coverage at a rate based on income.

. A bill that proponents say would reduce the risk of future adverse incidents in hospitals faced no opposition (04/08/2008)

The bill would require hospitals to report incidents that could adversely affect patient health to the federally sanctioned Patient Safety Organization.

Richard Royer, former chair of the Patient Safety Organization, said this educational approach of this improvement project is intended to reduce and prevent medical errors from occurring.

. The death of a legislator's child prompted a bill that would provide tax deduction for funeral costs (04/08/2008)

Rep. Jeff Grisamore, R-Jackson County, identified with his own bill on a personal level. It's been more than five years since the loss of his seventh child.

Grisamore mentioned the difficulty of dealing with expensive funeral costs while suffering the loss of a loved one.

. St. Louis would gain control of its police department if a bill can make its uphill battle to the House (04/08/2008)

A bill to give St. Louis control of its own police department was delayed by the addition of an amendment that proposed control for Kansas City of its police force.

The bill is in the House Rules Committee and needs to be approved to reach the House. 

. House Environment Committee hears a bill against trash monopoly program (04/08/2008)

The House Special Committee on Energy and Environment heard a bill that would prohibit St. Louis County's attempt to establish a trash monopoly program in its unincorporated areas.

Councilman John Campisi from St. Louis County testified at the hearing that the new bill will allow households to contract with trash haulers for recycling and bulk pickup on an as-needed basis, just as was done before the monopoly program.

. State House passes resolution for "Ronald Reagan Day" (04/07/2008)

The House passed a resolution to make Feb. 6 known as Ronald Reagan Day.

Rep. Beth Low, D-Jackson County, said a better honor would be to support stem cell research to find a cure for diseases such as Alzheimer's, the disease Reagan died from.

. Goodman stands alone at Senate judiciary hearing (04/07/2008)

Not one supporter testified in favor of a Senate bill that makes forcible rape or sodomy of children under 12 a crime punishable by death.

Witnesses expressed concerns that the bill would have a chilling effect on rape reports, as so many victims are abused by older family members. 

. Missouri Republican Party spokesman resigns (04/07/2008)

The state's GOP spokesman, Paul Sloca, has resigned, the Associated Press reported today.

According to the AP, Sloca said his resignation was driven by his desire for a change, and he said he plans to pursue professional consulting opportunities.

As of Monday, the Republican Party has not hired a replacement for Sloca, who had been with the party since 2003.

. Senate Finance Committee unanimously passes petition reform bill (04/07/2008)

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, would require that all petitioners in the state be Missouri citizens. The bill would also prohibit petitioners from being paid for each signature they collect.

Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, who sponsored a similar bill in the Senate, said he is relying on the momentum of the House bill to get the measure passed. 

Special interest groups such as the National Rifle Association have come out in favor of the bill.