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NewsBook: Missouri Government News for the Week of March 2, 2009

. House bill would place new restrictions on abortion (03/05/2009)

Missouri gave overwhelming approval on Thursday to a measure that places new restrictions on anyone seeking an abortion.

St. Louis County Republican House Member Anne Zerr told colleagues she was raped as a young girl and could have been impregnated. But she supports a bill that requires all Missourians to wait 24 hours before having an abortion and be informed of their options.

Blue Springs Republican Representative Bryan Pratt is sponsoring the bill. He predicts it will pass the Senate with a two-thirds majority strong enough to override a possible governor's veto.  

. Bill proposed that would help avoid Calif.'s 'Octo-mom' in Missouri (03/05/2009)

In response to the now-infamous case of a Los Angeles-area woman who gave birth to octuplets after being implanted during an in-vitro fertilization process with twice as many embryos as is medically recommended, a measure has been filed that would punish doctors who do the same thing in Missouri.

The bill would require that physicians in the state implant no more embryos into a woman than is recommended by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine's guidelines. Those guidelines recommend limiting implants to between two and five fertilized eggs, depending on the woman's age, health and other mitigating factors. 

. New bill proposes to limit the number of embryos that can be implanted in Missouri women. (03/05/2009)

Rep. Rob Schaaf, a family medical doctor in St. Joseph, has proposed a bill that would adopt the recommendations of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine.

. Missouri House approves bill that would mandate 24 hour wait period for abortions (03/05/2009)

A bill requiring a 24-hour waiting period for abortions in the state and mandating those who provide abortions to also supply pregnant women with information on alternatives to the controversial practice was cleared for final passage in the Missouri House Thursday.

If Thursday's vote is any indication, the bill has support from well over two-thirds of state representatives, the majority needed in the House to override a gubernatorial veto, should it occur.

In addition to creating a one-day waiting period, the bill, sponsored by state Rep. Bryan Pratt, R-Jackson County, would also make it a crime to coerce someone to have an abortion by means including assault, stalking or threatening to withhold pay..

. Senate Education Committee hears a bill that would require schools to report any sexual allegations against teachers. (03/04/2009)

Republican Senator Jane Cunningham sponsored a bill that would require public schools to report to the state when a school employee has been accused of sexual misconduct.

Amy Hestir gave a personal testimony of being sexually assaulted by a teacher in high school in an effort to support the bill.

. Bills to end corporate business tax receives little debate (03/04/2009)

Two bills that would phase out the corporate business tax, costing the state $100 million in tax revenue in the first year, received little debate in front of the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday.

Republican Sens. Charlie Shields of St. Joseph and Luann Ridgeway of Cole County sponsored the bills and say ending the tax gives money back to Missouri job producers.

Opponents say the bill allows businesses to skip out on their responsibility to pay for important state services.

. A bill heard by a House committee would regulate the pre-need burial industry due to the loss of 55,000 Missourians' coverage. (03/04/2009)

Already passed by the Senate, the bill would regulate the industry through inspections, licenses and audits.

Most funeral home directors are in favor of the bill, but some smaller owned homes say the current law works fine.

. $39 million in stimulus-funded construction projects approved (03/04/2009)

The Missouri Highway and Transportation Commission approved funding for 32 new road work projects on Wednesday.

The projects total just less than $39 million.

MoDOT said the state's federal stimulus package for transportation, totaling $637 million, has financed 36 projects since President Obama signed the American Recovery and Revitalization Act on Feb. 17.

. A bill to make running some red lights legal for motorcyclists was heard in House committee today (03/04/2009)

Rep. Cynthia Davis, R-O'Fallon, proposed a bill that would give affirmative defense to motorcyclists who run red lights.

The bill specifies the motorcyclist must come to a complete stop, wait for an unreasonable time and look both ways before crossing into the intersection.

The aim is to prevent motorcycle accidents that occur because traffic light signals that are not sensitive to motorcycles.

. The NRA urges lawmakers to expand the state's right-to-kill law. (03/03/2009)

A spokesman for the National Rifle Association urged the House Agriculture Committee to approve a proposal that would expand the state's Castle Doctrine law allowing one to kill an intruder.

The current law covers intrusions only into a building, home or automobile. The measure before the House would extend the legal protection to include intruders onto private property outside a building.

. Lawmakers are urged to try again to win voter approval for a tax increase on cell phones. (03/03/2009)

The Senate Commerce Committee was urged to put back onto the statewide ballot a cell-phone tax hike idea that twice before has been rejected by Missouri voters.

The proposal is designed to raise funds to finance a new emergency 911 system for cell phones.

In 1999 and 2002, Missouri voters rejected a 911 tax.

The current measure before the committee would impose a 25-cent monthly fee on a cell phone to finance the enhanced 911 service.

The committee took no immediate action on the measure. It plans on hearing from opponents to the proposal next week.

. The office of Missouri's former governor is accused of breaking the law. (03/03/2009)

The final report from the attorney general's task force investigating record destruction by the governor's office concluded that Matt Blunt's office had broken the law.

The 46-page report by two former Highway Patrol officials concluded that Blunt's office had failed to comply with the state law requiring retention of official records.

The investigation was prompted by reports of widespread e-mail destruction after reporters had requested copies of e-mails by the governor's staff.

The two-person team concluded they could not determine the governor's personal responsibility for the violations because of Blunt's refusal to be interviewed.

"Absent the opportunity to conduct an interview, the team is unable to determine the extent of his involvement in the development and implementation of the record retention and Sunshine Law policies and practices of his office, and his administration's non-compliance with these laws," the report concluded.

. A House committee hears a proposal to regulate city red-light enforcement systems (03/03/2009)

The House Public Safety Committee heard testimony on a bill that would impose state requirements on systems cities use for automatic, photographic enforcement of traffic red lights.

The committee hearing came days after a Senate committee rejected a proposal to outlaw the systems.

In each legislative session the past four years, lawmakers have heard attempts to eliminate red-light cameras or limit their fees, only to not see a single resolution passed. This year, a bill has been introduced that would seek to make getting caught running a red light on camera the same punishment as being pulled over by a police officer for the same offense.

A bill introduced by state Rep. Brian Yates, R-Lee's Summit, would implement state regulation of local jurisdictions' red-light cameras. 

The only reference of cameras in state law currently is that Missouri allows them to be imposed locally.

. AmerenUE may be able to increase its rates ahead of building a second nuclear power plant (03/03/2009)

The House Utilities Committee voted 12-1 to pass a measure allowing energy companies to increase their rates in order to finance the construction of an energy facility.

The bill would repeal a law approved by voters in 1976 barring energy providers from raising their rates to pay for construction.

AmerenUE has proposed to build a second Callaway County nuclear power plant.

. House budget chairman recommends eradication of a health care program that would benefit the UM System (03/03/2009)

The House budget chairman recommended slashing about $20 million of funding for the University of Missouri from Gov. Jay Nixon's budget proposal.

The funding would have benefited the Caring for Missourians initiative, which would expand health care education to increase the number of health care professionals in rural areas.

. Still no vote on a constitutional amendment that would clarify the right to pray in school. (03/03/2009)

Senate members heard a resolution that would clear up confusion on whether a person has the right to pray in school or other government-owned properties.

One witness said a parent spoke with him when her child failed a "free-writing" assignment because he talked about religion.

The bill's sponsor stressed the importance of adding this "plain language" to Missouri's Constitution.

. Hospitals and insurance companies urge the Missouri Senate to expand health care. (03/03/2009)

Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County, revived a bill providing health coverage to Missouri workers too rich for Medicaid, but too poor for private insurance.

Hospital and insurance company representatives turned out to voice their support for the program that would cover more than 200,000 uninsured Missourians. 

. One senator introduces bill to give financial help to those who have lost limbs (03/03/2009)

Sen. Rita Days, D-St. Louis County, introduced legislation that would mandate that health insurance companies cover certain prosthetic devices.

One woman said that the costs for her prosthetics run into the thousands.

. A Missouri representative pushes for extension to the Castle Doctrine. (03/03/2009)

The House Agriculture Business Committee discussed a bill that would give individuals the right to kill if threatened anywhere on their privately owned or leased property.

Currently, the Castle Doctrine allows individuals the right to kill if threatened in their home or automobile.

Supporters noted farmers as the individuals in most need of this legislation as cattle theft has become commonplace, especially by meth manufacturers.

There is currently no law in place that allows individuals to use force in protecting themselves outside their home or vehicle.

. Columbia representative proposes $700 million bond package (03/02/2009)

A resolution sponsored by Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, would give Missouri voters the final say in giving the state the ability to issue up to $700 million in bonds.

The money would go toward construction projects at colleges and universities around the state.

. After 55,000 Missourians lost pre-need funeral coverage, the Senate has passed a bill that would regulate the industry. (03/02/2009)

New regulations on the pre-need funeral contracts industry would provide consumers with greater insurance and funding.

The measure would keep an additional 5 percent of the total fund for consumers.

Providers, sellers and agents in the industry would also have to pass licensing tests to become certified to provide coverage.

. Bill would have abandoned cars on state highways towed faster (02/26/2009)

Cars left on the state's highways for more than 10 hours would be considered abandoned and be subject to towing under proposed legislation.

But Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis County, said he was concerned 10 hours was too quick and could create a windfall for towing companies.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, said that he would consider changing the number to 24 hours.

Currently cars in non-urbanized areas are only considered abandoned after 48 hours.

. Missouri receives $223 million in federal stimulus money (02/26/2009)

Gov. Jay Nixon deposited more than $223 million of federal stimulus money into a newly created bank account in the state treasury.

In order to house this check and any other upcoming federal funds, Nixon created two bank accounts to separate the old money from the new.

. Missouri says no to new cell phone laws (02/26/2009)

It's the latest threat to motorists: death by text messaging, when drivers keep their hands on their cell phones instead of on the wheel.

Rep. Joe Smith, R-St. Charles, is sponsoring a bill that would require Missourians to use hands-free cell phones or headsets while driving.

But other lawmakers say the bill would be too much government and impossible to enforce. 

. Missouri's House votes to cut business taxes. (02/25/2009)

Missouri's House gave first-round approval Thursday to a measure that would exempt a larger portion of inventory from the state franchise tax.

Current law exempts the first $1 million from taxation. The House-approved measure would exempt the first $10 million. 

Legislative staff estimate the proposal would cost the state about $12 million in the 2011 budget year.

. New bill would give state funding to Missouri's virtual schools. (02/25/2009)

Lawmakers want state funding for Missouri's virtual school program.

The computer-based courses are offered to students who couldn't otherwise attend classes regularly because of medical, financial or other reasons.

Bill supporters say state funding would help improve the program.

. Red-light camera ban stopped by Senate Transportation Committee (02/25/2009)

Republican Jim Lembke's proposal to ban red-light cameras throughout the state was voted down in committee Wednesday by a vote of 8-2.

Lembke argues the cameras are just a revenue generator that could impede on drivers' constitutional rights.

Opponents to the ban say the cameras have decreased traffic violations and crashes.

. Bill seeks to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation (02/25/2009)

Supporters told the Senate Progress and Development Committee that the bill makes all Missourians equal, while others say companies who don't discriminate provide a better workplace atmosphere for their employees.

Meanwhile, opponents say people who have been fired because they simply were bad workers will take advantage of the law to sue their former employers for discrimination.

. Lieutenant governor says Missouri will have to turn away funds from federal stimulus (02/25/2009)

Peter Kinder said expanding unemployment will lead to the state's unemployment compensation fund to run out of money in two years.

He said any change to the state's system for unemployment benefits would have to be a change made by the legislature.

Without that change, Kinder said, no money for unemployment benefits could be accepted by the state.

. Noodling, the act of hand fishing in Missouri streams, would be legal under a proposed agriculture bill. (02/25/2009)

The bill would regulate when "noodlers" can fish.

The season would last from June till July and allow noodlers to catch five catfish per season.

Opponents of the bill say noodlers would greatly affect and decrease the catfish population in Missouri.

. Autism mandate bill finally hears opposition (02/24/2009)

Last week's Senate Small Business Committee was so packed with supporters of a proposed insurance mandate on autism that witnesses in opposition had to be rescheduled.

What at one point was an impassioned gathering with a room full of parents, some teary-eyed, went back to business as usual as a slew of insurance lobbyists offered testimony in opposition.

. House gives a preliminary yes to the four-day school week (02/24/2009)

Despite accusations from members of both parties that children do not spend enough time in school, the House gave first-round approval to a bill allowing districts to adopt a four-day school week.

The measure would only be optional and leaves the decision to school boards. Supporters say it would cut costs, but critics' concerns included how to care for children on the extra day off, what times kids will be waiting for the bus, whether the day would be too long for the best learning and even if teen pregnancy rates would go up.

. Forsee recommends UM System Extension project also be spared from budget cuts (02/24/2009)

The University of Missouri System president told Missouri lawmakers he was as surprised as anyone when Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon proposed to slash UM Extension's state funds by half for the 2010 fiscal year.

UM System President Gary Forsee said when he reached the January agreement with Nixon that could keep state funding of the higher education at the same level as last fiscal year in exchange for tuition staying the same, he viewed the extension program as part of the system's budget .

Forsee recommended restoring the extension program's state funding to the budgeted amount for the 2009 fiscal year during a hearing with the House appropriations committee.

. One commissioner says Missouri is married to coal. (02/24/2009)

The Public Service commissioner, Jeff Davis, also said, "Money isn't growing on Wall Street's trees anymore."

The Senate heard four public service commissioners discuss coal dependencies and nuclear power in Missouri, as well as the impact the bill would have on the Public Service Commission and its ability to regulate Missouri utilities.

There is still no vote on the bill that would give AmerenUE the ability to recover financing costs related to the construction of a second power plant in Callaway County.

. Repeat alcohol offenders could soon face tougher penalties. (02/24/2009)

The House Public Safety Committee debated a bill Tuesday that would require the courts to consider continuous alcohol monitoring for repeat offenders.

The bill defines continuous alcohol monitoring as the automatic testing of alcohol levels at least once an hour regardless of the person's location.

The bill would allow for repeat offenders to be eligible for reduced sentences if they remain alcohol-free for a specified amount of time.

. Health bills propose changes to autism insurance laws. (02/24/2009)

Several lawmakers introduced bills requiring insurance companies to cover treatment of autism.

Insurance companies don't currently cover many associated treatment costs, leaving Missouri families in financial straits.

. Missouri senators discuss spending of the state's federal stimulus money (02/24/2009)

The Senate Select Committee on Oversight of Federal Stimulus met today and had a conference call with the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The NCSL answered questions about the rules of spending options and what Missouri's options are. After the conference call, Gov. Jay Nixon's policy director spoke on behalf of Nixon's office and shared what the governor has been looking into as far as spending.

. Coercing women to receive an abortion under a proposed bill created heated debate. (02/23/2009)

A proposed bill would make influencing a woman to receive an abortion a crime.

Both supporters and opposition spoke in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Opponents say the bill would cause harm to women who are in abusive relationships, and supporters say the bill would protect women from further health complications after receiving an abortion.

. Tax credits would be aimed at helping small businesses (02/23/2009)

A bill that would create tax credits for small and start-up businesses faces opposition in the Senate.

Sen. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville, an opponent of the bill, said she thinks the bill is tailored to help only those businesses that can afford to send lobbyists to Jefferson City to create specialty legislation.

. Stimulus helps unemployed Missourians; businesses will pay (02/23/2009)

The state's unemployment insurance fund will run dry on Tuesday, and Missouri will start borrowing $260 million from the federal government over the next three months to continue payments.

The federal stimulus law says all unemployed Americans will receive an extra $25 per week until the end of the year.

Missouri's Labor Department spokesperson Wanda Seeney says jobless Missourians will start receiving those benefits March 3.