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NewsBook: Missouri Government News for the Week of March 9, 2009

. Bill brings tractors to parades, laughter to House (03/12/2009)

Some members of the House fear that current laws preventing tractors from being in parades are hurting fund-raising efforts.

But not all bills were taken seriously on the last day before spring break.

Rep. Jake Zimmerman, D-St. Louis County, said "If tractor parades are outlawed, only outlaws will have tractor parades."

His speech ended in laughter, and the debate ended in a 158-0 passage of the bill.

. Nixon's job creation bill stalled in Senate as the legislation takes its spring break (03/12/2009)

Over the past month Gov. Jay Nixon has asked state senators to put aside debate on tax credit reform and adopt his job creation bill, but when the legislature adjourned for spring break on Thursday he did not have the legislation on his desk.

The discussion may carry on for long after the break--a substitute for the bill was introduced Wednesday in Senate and would set a sunset date for all tax credits, create a cap for credits, and mandate that all tax credits go through the appropriations process. 

. Only one 'no' vote as Senate approves regulating private jails (03/12/2009)

With near-unanimous support, the state Senate passed a bill Thursday that would, for the first time, make private jails in Missouri subject to state oversight.  It would also require prisons to notify local police officials when an inmate escapes, a reaction to an incident last September in which two prisoners fled a private jail near Kansas City and the sheriff's office was not informed for hours.

Missouri's two private jails, located in Bethany and Holden, house out-of-state inmates moved as a result of overcrowding.  The latter facility was the site of last year's escape. Bill sponsor, Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, says his legislation ensures all jails that house convicted felons be held accountable for reporting incidents like the one in Holden.

. Senate approves bill which would allow motorcyclists to run "unreasonable" red lights (03/12/2009)

With no opposition, the Missouri Senate gave approval this week to a measure which would allow motorcyclists to run red lights if they spend an "unreasonable" amount of time waiting for the signal to change. Proponents say many motorcycles are not large enough to trip the sensors on many left-turn arrows, which in turn creates never-ending backups for cars.

Both Sen. William Stouffer, R-Napton, and Rep. Cynthia Davis, R-O'Fallon, introduced similar legislation, but the Senate Transportation Committee, which Stouffer leads, passed his bill by consent last month. A hearing was held in the House of Representatives for Davis' bill, but it didn't make it out of committee before the General Assembly left Thursday for its spring recess.

. Bill giving free metered parking to veterans passes House (03/12/2009)

One of the first democrat-sponsored bills to make it out of the Missouri House would give certain veterans free metered parking.

The measure is optional, so cities that want to offer free parking for veterans would be able to make that choice.

The bill passed 152-3 and will now move on to the Senate.

. Senate debate over tax credits ends with no vote (03/11/2009)

Gov. Jay Nixon expected to see a tax credit bill on his desk before the legislative spring break begins on Thursday, but with no vote from the Senate on Wednesday, Nixon will have to wait.

In a heated debate, Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Jackson County, compared tax credits to farm animals.

. Missouri Department of Labor releases latest unemployment numbers (03/11/2009)

Missouri is experiencing its biggest unemployment spike in 33 years.

The rate is now at 8 percent -- up nearly 1 percent from December, according to Wanda Seeney of the Labor Department.

Seeney said about 115,000 Missourians filed for unemployment last month, doubling since last February.

. Democrats and Republicans argue over the House's planned budget cuts. (03/11/2009)

The House Budget Committee late Wednesday night passed the state budget for fiscal year 2010. The 13 bills that comprise the House's version of the state budget will be ready for the House floor in two weeks, committee chairman Allen Icet, R-Wildwood, said.

Debate was long and tedious as Democrats and Republicans debated where to cut taxes and how to use federal stimulus money. Democrats say they believe Republicans broke the rules in the budget planning process. Republicans say the Democrats misinterpreted the rules.

. Appropriations bill for more than $300 million passes through Senate with majority vote (03/11/2009)

The bill passed back into the House with a vote of 30 to 3.

Despite causing little opposition, the bill spurred a heated exchange over appropriations between Republican bill sponsor Gary Nodler and Republican Jason Crowell.

. Red-light camera limit tacked on to a larger Senate transportation bill (03/11/2009)

Two weeks ago, the Senate Transportation Committee voted down a proposal on stop-light cameras around the state.

On Tuesday, that bill's sponsor attached a limit on the cameras as an amendment to a larger transportation measure.

The Missouri Senate passed the amendment with an overwhelming majority.

. Abortion coercion bill passes to Senate with two-thirds approval in the House. (03/11/2009)

A bill that would create harsher punishments for those who coerce women into getting abortions was approved by the Missouri House.

The measure passed into the Senate with at least a two-thirds majority, despite Gov. Jay Nixon's opposition to anti-abortion legislation.

. Missouri senators heard a bill that sparked controversy over the legal liability of those who want to pump CO2 into the ground. (03/10/2009)

Missouri lawmakers were urged Tuesday to prevent legal liability for those who want to pump CO2 into Missouri's soil.

The issue arose because of Springfield's City Utilities, which wants to pump its CO2 into the ground.

Some witnesses were concerned for people's health, saying a leak could cause serious injury or death. 

. Controversial bill seeks to strengthen seat belt laws (03/10/2009)

For the 12th year in a row, witnesses lined up Tuesday to ask Missouri lawmakers to put more punch into seat belt laws.

Rep. Bill Deeken, R-Jefferson City, has sponsored a bill that would give police the authority to pull over drivers if they see them not wearing their seat belts.

No one spoke against the bill, but one Transportation Committee member says the answer is education, not a new law.

. The House Privacy Committee heard a bill that will outlaw forcing someone to have an RIFD micro-chip (03/10/2009)

The Missouri House Privacy Committee heard Representative Jim Guest's bill Tuesday about making sure people aren't being forced to get RIFD chips.

Guest claims that some people in mental health and assisted living facilities are being forced to get the micro-ship against their will.

Guest also said that studies show the devices could cause cancer.

. Nixon taps St. Louis attorney for vacant UM System curator's seat (03/10/2009)

Gov. Jay Nixon has picked Don Downing, a St. Louis attorney, to fill one of three vacant seats on the University of Missouri System Board of Curators.

Downing formerly served as Nixon's chief deputy attorney general in the attorney general's office and was a contributor to Nixon's gubernatorial campaign.

His selection still requires approval by the Missouri Senate.

. Senate committee votes to strip MoDOT of authority to control federal money (03/09/2009)

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed a bill that gives the state legislature control over incoming federal highway dollars. 

MoDOT Director Pete Rahn didn't agree with the decision and said subjecting federal funds to legislative review would lower Missouri's bond rating. He says the state will need to raise its interest rate to attract investors, costing Missouri $58 million and jeopardizing highway projects.

. Noodlers say they hope their favored practice of hand-fishing will be legalized. (03/09/2009)

Some find it fun and daring to stick their arms in dark holes reaching for catfish. Others say noodling should be illegal.

Opponents say legalizing noodling would wipe out catfish populations. Supporters say noodling is a time for family bonding and adventure.

. Bill proposed that would impose a limit on how many embryos could be implanted into a woman (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. 

. 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 on Thursday.

If Thursday's vote is any indication, the bill has support from more than 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)

Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, 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 receive 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.