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NewsBook: Missouri Government News for the Week of March 16, 2009

. New health care plan would require private insurance companies to reimburse VA hospitals. (03/17/2009)

President Barack Obama is proposing a new plan to save the Veterans Administration $540 million by mandating private insurance companies to pay back VA hospitals for services used by veterans with service-connected injuries. 

Missouri veterans groups and Rep. David Day, R-Dixon, have expressed concern that this will cause an undue financial burden for veterans and deprive them of the health care they depend on after returning home from war.   

. The Missouri Supreme Court holds that punching, spitting on and cursing at a handcuffed arrestee is excessive force by police. (03/17/2009)

The Missouri Supreme Court viewed a police video of a September 2003 arrest by Kansas City police officer Timothy Coffer and found that the officer used excessive force.

The state's highest court ruled unanimously, upholding the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners' decision to terminate Coffer.

During the 2003 arrest, Coffer pulled over Halgene Lucas on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. When Lucas's hand made contact with Coffer's gun as he was being dragged from the car by the officer, Coffer punched Lucas twice. The Missouri Supreme Court held that the video showed that even when Lucas was handcuffed and restrained, Coffer punched the arrestee, dropped him face down onto pavement and spat on him. Although the video was not accompanied by audio, witnesses said that Coffer also cursed at Lucas during the arrest.

. Teachers: May the force be with you? (03/17/2009)

If the Senate approves a new bill, force could at least be an option.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Maynard Wallace, R-Thornfield, gives school employees the right to use force in defense of students or property.

Aimed at increasing teachers' immunity, the school employee would only be liable if a sexual harassment allegation followed the incident.

The bill requires schools to add safety practice and training to their list of facility accreditation standards.

It passed the House unanimously.

. State employees called by Uncle Sam want same pay (03/17/2009)

Two House representatives are sponsoring a bill that would that keep salaries in place for Missouri employees who get called to active military duty.  

Although their bill comes with a million-dollar price tag, they say the money is already allocated in the state budget.

. Much of stimulus money to go to transportation and education (03/17/2009)

Sen. Frank Barnitz, D-Lake Spring, says MoDOT and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education are requesting a lot of money from the federal stimulus grants.

Cities, counties and individuals are all requesting money, but Barnitz says there have been no outlandish requests.

. Two private jails in Missouri aren't regulated by state law, but some House and Senate bills could change that. (03/17/2009)

Private jails are owned and operated with no government surveillance, and currently there aren't even state laws regulating these jails.

After a breakout at one of the jails, the local police couldn't even arrest the escapees. With no laws in place, it isn't even illegal for someone to escape from a private jail.

Identical legislation in the House and Senate will make rules for these jails close to county regulations.

. Raw milk an issue in the dairy world (03/16/2009)

A bill, sponsored by Rep. Belinda Harris, D-Hillsboro, would clarify the state's position on raw milk.

It was inspired by a situation in which the State Milk Board sent violation notices to farmers who were selling raw milk from their farm or through delivery.

. 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 fundraising 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 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 nearly 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 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.