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NewsBook: Missouri Government News for the Week of March 23, 2009

. Jay Nixon defends state police profiling private organizations (03/26/2009)

While criticizing the recent state police agency report on the militia movement, Gov. Jay Nixon defended the agency's objectives.

"Basic police work takes in police work takes in intelligence," Nixon said. "Takes information from various sources that could present a package of how we can chase down the bad guys. That is appropriate use of law enforcement."

Nixon said he was leaving it up to the Highway Patrol superintendent to establish new procedures for the Missouri Information Analysis Center.

And he delivered a mild criticism of those who have criticized the center for its report that linked the militia movement with fundamental Christians, anti-abortion groups and third-party presidential candidates.

"We've got enough bad guys to catch, we shouldn't spend our time looking at good guys."

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder has called on Nixon to place the Public Safety Department director on leave because of the report. The House has approved a budget amendment banning the department from using any funds for "political profiling."

. Missouri's governor expresses hope his health care expansion efforts remain alive (03/26/2009)

On the same day the House gave a final vote to its budget plan rejecting Jay Nixon's health care expansion plans, the governor expressed hope the measure would be revived in the Senate.

Nixon avoided any direct attack on House Republicans.

"We are trying to building civility here," Nixon told reporters at a Thursday morning news conference. "And that requires a level of...oratorical discipline on my part that perhaps is more difficult for me than some others, but manageable," Nixon joked.

The Senate Appropriations Committee chair said there is support in the Senate for doing something for health care expansion.

Last year, the Senate approved a measure for health care expansion for the lower income. A similar measure is awaiting chamber this year.

A major difference with Nixon's approach, however, is that the Senate plan would provide state assistance for private insurance coverage rather than expanding the welfare program Medicaid -- now renamed MO HealthNet.

. Missouri's House rejected Gov. Jay Nixon's plan for using federal stimulus money. (03/26/2009)

By near party-line votes, the House rejected two of  Gov. Jay Nixon's proposals for the state's operating budget.

House Republicans rejected the governor's proposal to expand Medicaid coverage for the lower income.

Also Wednesday, Republicans rejected a Democratic motion to suspend the House rule that prohibits increasing the size of the operating budget proposed by the House Budget Committee.

The committee had rejected Gov. Jay Nixon's proposal to use about $800 million of the federal money for the state's ongoing budget and his Medicaid expansion proposal.

Without that extra federal money, declining state revenues forced the Budget Committee to make deep cuts in a number of state agencies. 

"It is our responsibility, yea our moral obligation, to take care of folks who cannot take care of themselves," said minister and freshman Rep. James Morris, D-St. Louis. "I would ask my friends on the other side of the aisle to once, since I have been in this hallowed house, to show some compassion."

But the House Budget chair repeated his argument that because the federal stimulus runs out in two years, it would cause problems in the future to include the money in the operating budget.

"The purpose of the rule is that we as a state must live within our means, just as families and businesses do," said Rep. Allen Icet, R-St. Louis County. "This prevents the concept that we can just offer amendments to spend, spend, spend with no fiscal restraint whatsoever."

. Missouri's House votes to ban the Public Safety Department from "political profiling." (03/26/2009)

The House budget amendment came after disclosure of a report from the agency that linked fundamental Christians, anti-abortion groups and conservative presidential candidates to the militia movement.

"Anti Abortionists have been known to take up arms in support of their beliefs," the report reads. "Militia members most commonly associate with 3rd party political groups...These members usually are supporters of former Presidential Candidate [sic]: Ron Paul, Chuck Baldwin, and Bob Barr."

Earlier in the day, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder demanded the governor put the Public Safety Department director on leave until an investigation can be conducted into the matter.

The report was issued by the Missouri Information Analysis Center of the Public Safety Department.

After the report had been leaked, the Highway Patrol superintendent distanced himself from it -- claiming neither he nor the Public Safety Department director had seen the report prior to its release.

Col. James Keathley criticized the report and ordered further distribution be ceased.

. Sperm and egg donors could lack anonymity (03/25/2009)

A bill heard in the Health Care Policy Committee would require that sperm and egg donors have their names on the child's birth certificate.

Bill sponsor Rep. Cynthia Davis, R-O'Fallon, says this would be important for both health reasons and the rights of the children.

. Missouri's House blocks members from considering the governor's budget proposal. (03/25/2009)

The House began debate Tuesday on a multi-billion dollar budget that Democrats charge blocks members from considering Gov. Jay Nixon's approach for dealing with the state's budget shortfall.

The governor had proposed using about $800 million in federal "stimulus" funds. But that idea was rejected by the Republican-dominated House Budget Committee, which proposed a budget with cuts in a number of state agencies.

House rules block amendments that would increase the total size of the budget recommended by the committee.

"No matter what we do, this is not going to be an aggressive budget that will help build our economy," complained the House Democratic Leader Paul LeVota. "It will not do enough for health care in our state. It will not do enough for the cause of education."

But in an interview before the House debate, House Budget Chair Allen Icet said the state should not base the state's operating budget on federal funds that will continue for only two years. "Because if it runs out and the economy continues to go downhill, which I think there is a greater chance than not, then next year I'm probably back on this House floor with more reductions in state budgets."

Icet said that within the next couple of weeks, he will file a bill to use the federal funds on one-time expenditures such as building construction projects.

. Missouri's legislature hands the governor his first legislative defeat. (03/25/2009)

Missouri lawmakers have rejected Gov. Jay Nixon's proposal to lower the costs of state-funded health care coverage for about 20,000 children.

The House gave final approval Tuesday to a supplemental appropriation for the remainder of the current budget year that does not include the governor's proposal.

"Do we need spend $28 million of taxpayer money to cover a bunch of kids?" asked Rep. Jeff Grisamore, R-Jackson County, during the House debate.

"To cover a bunch of kids that need health care, absolutely," responded Rep. Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County.

. The Senate votes to mandate autism coverage in health insurance. (03/25/2009)

The Senate gave first-round approval to a proposal that would require health insurance policies to cover both diagnosis and treatment of autism for dependents under the age of 21.

The proposal would set a cap on the maximum cost covered, based on the child's age.

Approval came after an emotional plea by Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, who told the chamber of his own child's struggle with autism.

Critics argue the bill would increase the cost of health insurance. Legislative staff estimate the measure would impose a nearly $9 million increase in the health care coverage costs for state government workers.

The measure faces one final Senate vote before going to the House.

. The Missouri Senate votes to expand the state's no-call law. (03/25/2009)

Missouri's Senate gave first-round approval to add FAXes and cell phones to the no-call law. 

The law prohibits telemarketers from calling phones on the list maintained by the attorney general's office.

The measure also would impose restrictions, but it would not outright ban automated calls by political campaigns. Legislators argue the free speech rights restrict banning political calls completely.

The measure faces one more Senate vote before going to the House.

Long pushed by Jay Nixon when he was attorney general, similar measures regularly have died in the House after clearing the Senate.

. A Senate filibuster stalls action on an anti-abortion bill. (03/23/2009)

A filibuster that lasted into the late evening hours Monday blocked a Senate vote on a measure to impose additional requirements on abortions.

The bill would require that a doctor provide a woman with information on the alternatives and consequences to an abortion as well as the opportunity for an ultrasound of the fetus. The proposal also would require a 24-hour waiting period after that information was provided before an abortion could be performed.

The measure is similar to a measure passed by the House earlier this month that secured enough House votes to override any possible veto by the governor.

The abortion measure was the first bill taken up by the Senate after it returned from the legislature's weeklong spring break. 

. 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.