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NewsBook: Missouri Government News for the Week of April 21, 2008

. Missouri's House rejects cutting the minimum wage for waitresses. (04/24/2008)

The House defeated a bill that would have cut the minimum wage level for workers who get tips.

Defeat came after women legislators charged the bill discriminated against women.

They argued that the bill targeted waitresses, a majority of whom they argued argued are women.

Bill supporters argued that those getting tips could afford a lower minimum wage because of the income they get from tips.

. Senate debates a bill that would legalize midwifery (04/24/2008)

A bill that would legalize midwifery was held over after debate on the Senate floor Thursday.

This is a second attempt after a Cole county judge threw out part of a health insurance bill, that passed through the legislature last year, that would have legalized midwifery.

. Changing the rules for DWI offenders (04/23/2008)

The  Missouri House gave first round approval to a bill saying any driver who's lost their driving privilege to an alcohol related offense will be required to use a Breathalyzer before driving.

The bill's sponsor Neal St.Onge says there are too many DWI offenders still on the road.

The Missouri House also fixed a loophole in a bill concerning DWI's constituting as a felony. If passed, any person with three or more DWI's would be charged with a felony no matter where they received them.

. A bill intended to reduce pollution recieved first round approval in the Senate. (04/23/2008)

The Carthage Missouri community struggles with strong odor caused by a recycling plant that converts animal parts into petroleum. A senate bill will attempt to curb pollution violations that cause the odors.

The Senate bill recieved first round approval on Wednesday. If passed the bill will clarify punishments and fines for those who violate air and water pollution standards set by the city.

. Mo. House gives first-round approval to bill that legalizes Aquila plant (04/23/2008)

The House endorsed a bill Wednesday that saves Aquila Inc. $150 million and a controversial plant near Peculiar.

Opponents said the bill, which allows the Public Service Commission to retroactively approve power plants, undermines local authority and puts powerful companies above the law. 

. Rep. Shannon Cooper denies any wrongdoing in receiving money from casino lobbyists (04/23/2008)

Rep. Shannon Cooper, R-Clinton, received almost $1,000 from the Ameristar Casino in Kansas City and says that his staying there doesn't affect his votes at the Capitol.

But some Democrats think there are questionable ethical issues involved because of Cooper's status in the House as the chair of the Rules Committee and as a member of the Joint Committee on Gaming and Wagering.

. Legislature's concerns over MOHELA continue after first payments (04/23/2008)

Senate Democrats have expressed concern over the financial stability of the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority despite the agency's first partial payment last week to public universities for building projects.

MOHELA's executive director said a portion of the payments for building projects were postponed based on the agency's minor losses in recent months.

While some legislators say they fear for the future of MOHELA, others say loan agencies across the country are experiencing the same difficulties.

. Insure Missouri lingers in Senate (04/22/2008)

Missouri's Senate began debate Tuesday on a measure designed to provide low-cost health care coverage to an estimated 200,000 Missourians.

The measure would expand the old Medicaid program, but require a co-pay from higher-income recipients. A Democratic critic charged the bill was designed to meet the interests of medical-care providers including hospitals.

. Senate debated a measure to restore health care coverage to those cut in 2005 (04/22/2008)

Democratic senators debated a bill that would not fully restore health care coverage to the more than 90,000 people who were cut in 2005.

Republican senators say the cost of full restoration would be too high.

. The bill that would consider cyber-bullying a crime passed out of committee in the House. (04/22/2008)

Tina Meier, the mother of Megan Meier, a Missouri teen who committed suicide after being harassed online, was at the House Crime Prevention Committee testifying on behalf of the bill.

For cases like Meier's, this legislation would impose stiffer penalties for harassment committed by an adult against a child.

Meier said the lack of prosecution for online harassment allows cyber-bullies to say anything they want, which, in turn, destroys lives.

. Missouri Corn Merchandising Council funds study of ethanol (04/21/2008)

A study released Monday and paid for by the Missouri Corn Merchandising Council suggests ethanol could save Missourians almost 10 cents per gallon of gasoline this year.

As of Jan. 1, 2008, gasoline sold in Missouri must contain 10 percent ethanol, which is produced in part from corn and soybeans.

Sen. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville, said requiring consumers to use ethanol fuel, which uses almost 30 percent of the state's corn, could have a devastating effect on Missouri's economy.

. Child Bill of Rights meets controversy in Senate committee (04/21/2008)

With Gov. Matt Blunt hoping to extend the death penalty to child rapists by the end of his term, Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Jackson County, voiced strong opposition to a bill giving new rights to child witnesses. Bartle said the bill may keep defendants from having a fair trial.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, said the bill would create consistency in child abuse cases. Supporters of the bill also say it would prevent children from becoming scared and lying on the stand.

. Gov. Blunt seeks death penalty for child rapists (04/21/2008)

Gov. Matt Blunt renewed his call for legislation that would allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty in cases of forcible rape of a child. 

Members of both the Senate and House applauded the governor's effort, but Jackson County Senator and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Matt Bartle said he thinks the best chance of passing the bill is waiting until next session.

. Missouri House passes bill banning coercion of abortions (04/21/2008)

The state House passed a bill Monday that would make it a crime to coerce a woman into having an abortion.

It also reinforces a law passed in 2003 that calls for a 24-hour period between when a woman consults a doctor about an abortion and when it can be performed.

Opposition to the bill says that it is further restricting the rights of a woman to an abortion and of doctors to perform them.

. 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 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 tackle 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.