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NewsBook: Missouri Government News for the Week of May 5, 2008

. A top aid secretly recorded a private conversation with the chief of staff. (05/08/2008)

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Thursday that it had been given a secret recording of the conversation in which Scott Eckersley was fired last fall by the governor's chief of staff, Ed Martin.

The recording was made by Eckersley.

Eckersley has sued the Martin and the governor, charging that he was fired for advising the governor's office that their destruction of e-mails could violate the law.

However, in the conversation cited by the Post-Dispatch Martin gave  Eckersley the same reasons the administration has since raised with reporters  --  Eckersley's use of his government computer for private legal work and finding sex-site literature on his computer.

. Women lawmakers say discrimination remains in Missouri's statehouse. (05/08/2008)

Although one half of Missouri's statewide elected officials are women, some women in Missouri's legislature say gender equality has not been extended to the state legislature.

In Missouri, women hold four of the eight statewide elected offices -- secretary of state, state auditor, state treasurer and one of the two U.S. Senate seats.  But of the 197 state legislative positions, only 39 of the seats are held by women. 

The lower numbers in the legislature leads to special problems, say some legislators.

. Voter Photo ID would be required with a joint resolution that passed through the House. (05/08/2008)

The House joint resolution would amend the Missouri constitution to require photo IDs for voting.

The resolution brings up concerns by Democratic representatives of voter disenfranchisement.

However, there is doubt that this resolution has a chance to pass with only a few days remaining in the legislature.

. Law makers finish the budget one day ahead of the deadline. (05/08/2008)

Missouri lawmakers slashed nearly $150 million in state funds from the operating budget that cleared the legislature Thursday.

For several months, budget leaders have been expressing concerns about the governor's original budget proposal that would spend most of the state's projected surplus.  Since the governor announced his budget proposals in January, there have been some monthly drops in tax collections.

One of the largest hits in the governor's budget proposal was elimination of his Insure Missouri program to expand government-funded health care for lower income.

The governor had recommended a 7.1 percent increase in General Revenue spending for the fiscal year that will begin July 1.  The legislature approved a 5.4 percent spending increase.

. Gov. Blunt demands e-mail records from state representative (05/07/2008)

Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, is on the defensive after Gov. Matt Blunt's office requested all of his e-mail records dating back to 2003.

Harris said he will comply with the Sunshine Law and questioned if the governor was going to do the same after a lawsuit he received for his own e-mail scandal.  

Gov. Blunt's office refused to comment.

. Missouri House gives preliminary approval to a bill that would require voters to show ID (05/07/2008)

The Missouri House voted to perfect a bill that would require Missourians to show a valid photo ID when they vote in elections.

Republicans say that the legislation is common sense for the franchise of voters, but Democrats disagree and claim the potential legislation would alienate the elderly and African-Americans.

. Missouri legislators send Bombardier legislation to Gov. Blunt. (05/07/2008)

Missouri lawmakers passed a bill that would allow a state incentive for a Canadian aircraft company to land in the Kansas City area. Now it's on the governor's desk.

This would also offer a tax break for Boeing, another Missouri aircraft company.

Legislators say this could bring 2,100 jobs to Missouri.

. Missouri's House votes to provide Missourians more rights with ID thefts. (05/06/2008)

Victims of identity theft in Missouri may have one more tool in protecting themselves from credit fraud.

The Missouri Senate approved a bill that will give Missourians the right to a free security freeze of their credit score if they think someone has hijacked their private information.

. Blunt in trouble for ordering destruction of e-mails (05/06/2008)

Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, voiced his strong support for the lawsuit against Gov. Matt Blunt for ordering the destruction of e-mails and keeping them from being public records.

Attorney general candidate Harris says this lawsuit illustrates some serious problems of the current administration.

. House committee won't vote on Insure Missouri until hospitals sign off on regulation changes (05/06/2008)

Gov. Matt Blunt's Insure Missouri plan for expanding government-funded health care has become a hostage in a fight about government regulation of medical facility expansion.

Despite its 30-4 passage in the Senate, Insure Missouri is lingering in a House committee as the committee's chair, Rep. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, refuses to bring the bill to the floor until the Missouri Hospital Association accepts changes in the "Certificate of Need" law, a state law that regulates construction and expansion of medical facilities.

. The attorney general sues the governor's office. (05/05/2008)

The lawsuit was filed by a task force appointed by the attorney general to investigate electronic record destruction by the governor's staff.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Tuesday that the lawsuit charges top staff of the governor had ordered various state officials to destroy e-mail records in violation of the law.

A former attorney for the governor's staff has made a similar allegation in a private lawsuit he has filed.

. Telecommunication deregulation bill sent to Missouri governor (05/05/2008)

The Missouri House voted that a bill that would partially deregulate state telecommunication companies be sent to the governor's office for final approval.

Republican Rep. Ed Emery, the bill's sponsor, says deregulation will provide more competition in rural areas in need of better telecommunication services.

Some Democrats disagree, however, and say that deregulation will lead to companies raising prices in rural areas, defeating the purpose of the bill.

. Four groups met Sunday's petition submission deadline (05/05/2008)

Missouri Citizens for Property Rights submitted two petitions for constitutional amendments that would restrict the use of eminent domain by both governmental and private entities.

Groups also delivered petitions for initiatives that would create a Missouri Quality Home Care Council and require utilities companies to generate 2 percent of sales from renewable energy by 2011.

Troy Stremming of Ameristar Casinos Inc. submitted a petition to repeal the cap on gambling losses, stop construction of new casinos and create an education fund supported by the gambling tax.

. A state Senate candidate is knocked off the ballot. (05/02/2008)

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Friday that Rep. Juanita Walton was removed from the ballot for the St. Louis area seat held by Sen. Tim Green.

The paper reports that the secretary of state's office removed Walton from the ballot on the basis of a Revenue Department finding that the Walton family owed the state more than $39,000 in back taxes.

The claim arises from the early 1990s, when the Waltons were involved in operation of a Revenue Department fee office, according to the paper.

. Alternative teacher certification signed. (05/02/2008)

Gov. Matt Blunt has signed a bill that provides an alternative method for a person to become certified to teach in a public school.

The new law will allow persons without education degrees, but certified by the the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, to teach in public schools.

Supporters argue the new law will allow high-level professionals to teach. Critics charge it will allow into the classroom persons without training in effective teaching techniques.

. Missouri's Senate approved a $240 million tax credit to a Canadian aircraft company (05/01/2008)

Missouri's Senate voted to give up to $240 million in tax credits to a Canadian aircraft company that proponents argue would bring 2,100 new jobs to Missouri.

Senate leaders scaled back the original $880 million plan after facing stiff opposition from members in the Senate.

The measure now goes back to the House, which had approved the administration's original $880 million package of tax credits for the Canadian firm.

. Missouri representatives are skeptical of gas tax repeal. (04/30/2008)

The Missouri House gave preliminary approval to a plan that eliminates gas taxes for the entire summer.

Gas payers would receive a reimbursement after a three-month period ending in September of this year.

But with a couple of weeks left in the legislative session, the measure faces a long haul to ever get to the governor's desk.

. Missouri legislators agree that children need more protection at school. (04/30/2008)

A bill passed in the house was reviewed by the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday. If approved, the bill will require annual background checks for all schoolteachers and administrators.

The bill's sponsors say the legislation is a bipartisan effort to stop sexual abuse in schools. It will also create a way for school districts to receive information about sexual complaints filed against potential employees.

. A proposed Medicaid amendment came from an unexpected source in the Missouri House. (04/30/2008)

The Missouri House spent the majority of the afternoon debating the state's 2005 Medicaid cuts after a restoration proposal came from an unlikely source -- an anti-tax Republican.

Rep. Steve Hunter, R-Joplin, put Democrats on the spot by proposing an amendment to a tax bill that would increase taxes more than $300 million in order to restore the cuts.

House Democrats such as Judy Baker of Columbia cried foul over Hunter's proposal, calling it unconstitutional and a convenient political tool.

. A bill that would give almost $1 billion in tax breaks to a foreign company gets voted down in committee (04/30/2008)

A bill that would give almost $1 billion in tax breaks to Bombardier, a Canadian transportation technology company, was voted down 5-2 in a Governmental Accountability and Fiscal Oversight Committee hearing.

But the bill will be brought up again tomorrow with changes that some legislators hope will sway voters the other way.

. A clerical mistake was caught after Missouri legislature accidentally voted to outlaw chemical abortions. (04/29/2008)

For the second time, Missouri legislators passed a bill that they did not read. Senators said they made a mistake when they passed a provision without debate that would have outlawed chemical abortions.

Legislators said the provision that slipped through was caused by a clerical mistake when the bill sponsor was handed the wrong copy of the bill.

. Amtrak continues running twice daily across the state (04/29/2008)

The Missouri House and Senate budget negotiators agreed to provide $8 million in operating subsidies to keep two passenger trains running between St. Louis and Kansas City.

Sen. Bill Stouffer of mid-Missouri says it was important to work out the on-time performance of the trains.

. Gun rights ralliers voiced support for a bill that would protect gun ranges. (04/29/2008)

The bill would protect gun range owners and users from civil and criminal liability.

It was met with great vocal support from those at the gun rally held at the Capitol on Tuesday.

. Sex offender registry laws applied retrospectively. (04/29/2008)

Republican Sen. Jason Crowell presented a constitutional amendment before the House Crime Prevention Committee.

The amendment would force more sex offenders to register even if they were convicted prior to the adoption of the registration requirement.

Any laws requiring the collection of DNA analysis or restricting sex offenders from residing near a school or child care facility would also be applied retrospectively.

. MoHELA given power to issue student loans. (04/29/2008)

Missouri's House sent the governor a measure that will allow the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority (MoHELA) to directly issue federally backed loans for college students.

Under current law, MoHELA is restricted to purchasing loans issued by other financial institutions.

MoHELA has argued it needs the measure to secure its financial health.

Under the proposal, the agency would be limited to issuing no more than 10 percent of the total of federal loans issued in the state.

. State government buildings will fly flags at half-staff for fallen military residents (04/28/2008)

A bill passed through the Missouri House will require all government building to fly the state and national flags at half-staff when any Missouri resident is killed in the line of duty.

Bill sponsor Rep. Tim Meadows, D-Imperial, received praise from both parties for pushing the legislation along so quickly.

. Missouri lawmakers say the U.S. Supreme Court decision on voter IDs will have little impact on state (04/28/2008)

State officials said Monday that a U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding a voter identification law in Indiana will not likely affect the state policy regarding such IDs.

The state Supreme Court struck down a voter photo ID requirement in 2006, finding that such a law placed a "heavy burden" on voters.

. House Democratic leader raises stir over campaign contribution limits (04/28/2008)

Missouri House Democratic Leader Paul LeVota, D-Jackson County, asked three House Republicans to not vote on an upcoming bill dealing with campaign contribution limits.

The three House members would stand to gain more than $100,000 combined from excess contributions gained during a seven-month lift on limits last year.

LeVota says the three should not vote because the passage of the bill would directly benefit their campaigns.