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NewsBook: Missouri Government News for the Week of May 12, 2008

. Four Senators say goodbye (05/16/2008)

Four senators have reached the end of their careers as state senators due to term limits.

Two Republicans and two Democrats, with different experiences, each say that Missouri needs to do away with it's current policy on term limitations. 

. Graham's student curator bill makes way to governors desk (05/16/2008)

A bill that would allow the Student Curator a vote on MU's Board of Curators passed the House with a vote of 100-47.

The addition of the Student Curator is contingent on Missouri losing a congressional district after the 2010 Census.

The bill was able to pass despite statements from the curators against the bill.

. Insure Missouri burried in the last week of session. (05/16/2008)

Insure Missouri has flat lined.

Despite a few signs of a pulse on the heart monitor in the last few weeks session, the bill was buried in the last week of session.

There was disappointment on both the House and Senate sides from bill leaders, Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County, and Rep. Robert Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, although the two have diverging plans for next year's session.

. A bi-partisan partnership rules over the close of Missouri's legislative session. (05/16/2008)

When the gavel came down on the 2008 Missouri legislative session, it represented the conclusion of an unusual bi-partisan partnership in Missouri's Senate.

For the last four years, Senate Democratic Leader Maida Coleman and Republican Senate President Pro Tem Mike Gibbons have operated as a team to keep tensions and rhetoric at a minimum between their two parties.

"We'd demonstrated that in today's extremely partisan world, that civility and common sense and courtesy can still be applied even though there is a very vigorous debate or battle on the issues," Gibbons said.

Gibbons acknowledged, however, that they have not always been successful.  Last year, Republicans slammed through several motions to shut off extended Democratic debate.

Both Gibbons, from St. Louis County, and Coleman, from St. Louis city, were prohibited from seeking re-election because of term limits.  Gibbons is running for the GOP nomination for state attorney general.

. A legislative session in a day. (05/16/2008)

Some of the biggest issues before Missouri's legislature were cleared and sent to the governor during the closing hours of the legislative session Friday.

One legislative staffer joked that it had become a legislative session in a day.

Within just hours, Missouri lawmakers reversed a legislative session that appeared to have stalled on key issues facing the state.

Passed and sent to the governor in the the last day were measures to impose limits on property tax increases, a crackdown on illegal foreigners, tougher law enforcement provisions on identity theft and repeal of a law passed last year that allows one person to form his own, personal village.

The governor had threatened to call a special session if the legislature did not pass something on illegal foreigners. 

The illegal foreigner measure would deny welfare and other government benefits to illegals, only with exceptions required by federal law.  The measure also would give the attorney general new powers to investigate allegations of hiring illegals by businesses with public works contracts.

. A Democratic candidate for attorney general is charged with betraying his party. (05/16/2008)

Two candidates for the Democratic nomination for attorney general have accused a third candidate of party disloyalty.

The charge was leveled against Sen. Chris Koster, D-Harrisonville, after he participated in a filibuster that had been blocking repeal of the one-man-village law backed by the Republican House Speaker, Rod Jetton.

"Sen. Koster's decision to support the speaker raises real issues about his integrity and is something that just doesn't pass the smell test," said Rep. Margaret Donnelly, D-St. Louis County. Donnelly noted that only recently, after being elected to the Senate, Koster had switched from Republican to Democratic Party.

Rep. Jeff Harris, D-Columbia and another candidate for attorney general, also attacked Koster.

Koster said he was trying to put pressure on the legislature to pass the bill on illegal foreigners.  Koster ultimately voted for the village law repeal. 

. Repeal of the one-man village law clears the legislature. (05/16/2008)

In a session that ran until 4am in the morning, a filibuster blocking repeal of a law passed last year to let one person incorporate a village was ended the measure approved.

The proposal quickly was approved by the House and sent it to the governor.

House Speaker Rod Jetton had been blocking House action.  Critics charge he was acting on behalf of a contributor who has sought to incorporate into a village property he owns in southern Missouri.

. The speakers one-man-is-a-village law stalls the state legislature. (05/15/2008)

On the next to the last day of the 2008, legislative efforts to repeal a law allowing one person to become a village has stalled legislative action.

The law, backed by House Speaker Rod Jetton, was passed last year in a move that critics have charged was an attempt to sneak the provision into law.

This year, the House has stalled action approved by the Senate to repeal the law.  At various times in the last two days, the Senate has suspended action on House bills in an effort to pressure House leaders into moving on the repeal bill.

Opposition to the speaker's position lead a group of Republicans to propose to Democrats an effort to oust the speaker -- who allowed a House vote on the repeal after the ouster proposal was made.

. Missouri's state treasurer calls state senators "cowards." (05/14/2008)

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that State Treasurer Sarah Steelman called members of the Senate cowards for voting to throw out her policy that has blocked tax credits to relatives of state politicians.

Steelman has adopted a policy that blocks some tax credits to a company with an investor who is a state official or an official's relative.  Her policy has prevented incentives to an ethanol plant in which the governor's brother, Andy Blunt, is an investor.

"They were cowards, and didn't want to do what they did in the light of day, because they didn't want the people of the state to realize they were protecting their personal interests," AP quotes Steelman saying of the early Wednesday morning vote on the Senate amendment to revoke her policy.

. Blunt launches an investigation of the attorney general. (05/14/2008)

Gov. Matt Blunt sent out a FAX to reporters Wednesday announcing his administration would begin an investigation in to how the state attorney general is using funds from a lawsuit settlement with a prescription drugs company.

At issue is $630,000 awarded to the state in the settlement. The state's commissioner of administration charged "possible misuse of state funds."  Nixon's office said expenditure of the funds was made under legislative appropriation.

The governor's announcement came a week after an investigatory team filed a lawsuit against the governor demanding e-mail records and charging the governor's office with seeking illegal destruction of state documents.

. Lawmakers vote to declare an official dessert. (05/14/2008)

The Missouri House sent the governor a proposal that would declare the ice cream cone Missouri's official dessert.

Supporters note that the ice cream cone was unveiled at the 1904 Worlds Fair in St. Louis. 

The measure had been pushed by a group of students.  Meanwhile, a measure to declare an official state mushroom has stalled in the legislature.

. Wednesday filibuster stalls helmet law (05/14/2008)

Senators shut down progress on a Senate bill that would make it optional for motorcycle riders over 21 to wear a helmet.

Several senators, including Columbia's Chuck Graham, filibustered the bill until it was set aside.

. One-man village law on its way to being repealed. (05/14/2008)

The Missouri House approved a bill repealing last year's one-man village law. This comes after House Speaker Rod Jetton was thought to have slipped a last-minute provision in a bill last year that would allow individual landowners to petition to become their own village.

Now the bill faces Senate approval with only two days left in the legislative session.

. A palace coup in the Missouri House is attempted. (05/14/2008)

The House Democratic leader said that a group of Republicans have approached him to see if an agreement could be reached to oust House Speaker Rod Jetton in the remaining days of the legislative session.

Rep. Paul LeVota would not say who approached him, but said they claimed to represent more than a dozen GOP colleagues upset with Rod Jetton's leadership.

One issue is the law Jetton is accused to sneaking into legislation that would allow a single person to incorporate his land as a village. 

Jetton said he was not aware of any coup attempt, but acknowledged there is a group of Republicans who have wanted his replacement.

. Missouri's Senate works into the early morning hours on illegal foreigners. (05/14/2008)

The Senate worked well past 3 a.m. Wednesday, spending most of the time working on a proposal to block state services to illegal foreigners.

The measure also would give the attorney general power to investigate companies that hire illegals.

The Senate had passed a similar measure earlier this session, but the bill has been stalled in the House, where objections have been raised to imposing tougher penalties on businesses.

. Controversial amendment could stall immigration measure (05/13/2008)

Missouri's Senate has voted to give the state general power to investigate companies that try to hide the employment of illegal foreigners by misclassifying them.

The Senate had passed a similar provision earlier this year, but it has been stalled in the House over a fight on whether to crack down on businesses that hire illegals.

The Senate sponsor of the legislation warned that the Senate amendment imposing penalties on business could cause problems for the measure in the House.

. Lack of communication leaves legislature in limbo. (05/13/2008)

In the crucial last week of legislative session, it comes as no surprise that House and Senate leadership are clashing. But this year, there is an unusual lack of collaboration.

A combination of legislators facing term limits and a governor that is noticeably absent has left big issue bills stalled.

. A bill that would create a program for property tax deferral for seniors passed through the House (05/13/2008)

The bill would permit seniors over the age of 60 to defer property taxes until they can voluntarily pay them.

The Senate bill passed through the House with amendments for approval.

. The photo ID voter requirement advances to the Senate. (05/12/2008)

By a straight party-line vote, the Senate Elections Committee approved a House-passed constitutional amendment that would authorize the legislature to require a government-issued photo ID to vote.

Because it amends the state Constitution, the proposal would require statewide voter approval.

The committee also approved a companion bill designed to include, by a later amendment, the actual legal requirement -- that would be conditioned upon voter approval of the constitutional amendment.

Two years ago, Senate Democrats had filibustered the photo ID requirement, forcing Republicans to approve a rarely used motion to shut off debate.

Immediately after committee approval Monday, a small group of Republican and Democratic senators began discussing the possibility of a compromise to avoid a filibuster on the closing days or hours of the legislative session.

. Missouri's legislature begins its final week. (05/12/2008)

A photo ID requirement for voters, limits on property tax increases, abortion restrictions and a crackdown on illegal foreigners are among the major issues facing state lawmakers in the final week of the annual session.

Under the state Constitution, the legislature must adjourn at 6 p.m. Friday -- not to return until September, when it is limited to considering only vetoes by the governor.

Some legislators acknowledge they expect to continue the slower pace of the legislature this year. 

However, two issues pending before the Senate threaten the bipartisan peace and could trigger filibusters. One is a measure to impose further restrictions on abortions. The other would require a government-issued photo ID to vote.

. A top aide 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 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 lead 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.

. Lawmakers 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.