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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of February 8, 2010

The bill, proposed by Rep. Cynthia Davis, R-O'Fallon, would require Missouri driver's license tests to be administered in English, and without the use of interpreters.

Oklahoma State Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, testified in favor of the bill to a House committee via phone Wednesday. Terrill authored a similar bill, which Oklahoma passed into law in the spring of 2009, making all driver's license tests English only.

Terrill said making tests available only in English would "avoid all the costs, the conflicts and the burdens associated with bilingualism and multilingualism."

Social welfare, immigration rights and several religious groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Missouri Immigrant and Refuge Advocates and Jewish Vocational Service, wrote in opposition to the bill.

Responding to the concerns of his constituents, Sen. Rob Mayer saw his bill protecting the Southeast Missouri Water District completely through the Senate.

Mayer said landowners in his area are concerned about the ownership of the water beneath their land.

This new law will protect water from the district from being diverted and used for non-agricultural purposes. It stems from concerns that businesses from the western states may buy land in the area to tap into the precious water supply.

"We want to guarantee farmers with an adequate water supply to grow food and fiber," Mayer said.

He also said the Southeast region is unique compared to other Missouri areas because of their emphasis on cotton and rice production, which requires a larger water source.

"In time, it would be wise to consider a state-wide policy on water ownership," Mayer said.

Republican lawmakers in the House will decide next week whether or not to kill a proposed $800 million bond bill for higher education.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, and co-sponsored by House Majority Floor Leader Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, is a bi-partisan effort to provide funds for higher education construction projects that includes $81 million for the University of Missouri. The bill has more than 50 co-sponsors.

Kelly said the political climate presents a challenge for his bill in the Republican-dominated House.

The bill now stands at an estimated $28 million, a figure larger than previously thought.

Committee members agreed to discuss it further next week.

Dissenters of the bill worry that this bill could raise insurance costs for small businesses.

The House of Representatives killed a similar bill last year, even after it gained Senate approval.

If the legislation passes through the Fiscal Oversight committee, it will move on to a formal vote in the Senate.

Rep. Tom Loehner, R-Koeltztown, proposed a constitutional amendment to his Agricultural Policy Committee this week. If passed, the new amendment would protect animal owners in Missouri from any legislation that may force them to have a large economic burden related to the caring of their animals.

Many groups would like to see the vague language tightened and defined before it leaves committee.

Both the House and Senate heard similar bills regarding drug testing for welfare recipients. Both bills require preliminary screening and random drug tests based on probable cause. Testing positive will make the individual ineligible for TANF benefits for one year.

The Senate stalled their version of the bill just minutes after the House passed its version. The bill is slated to cost about $12 million, according to the fiscal note attached. This caused a point of contention for Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, who questioned where the money will come from. The debate pushed the bill onto the informal calendar for the future.

The House Speaker Pro Tempore Bryan Pratt, R-Jackson County called it a good week for Republicans.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, asked the Senate Thursday whether a bike trail or a cancer hospital would be a better use of state's money.

Schaefer criticized the use of federal grant money to secure a 78-year-old bridge bridge over the Missouri River for the city of Boonville to integrate the historic structure into the Katy Trail.

The Missouri Department of Transportation will give $23 million in federal stimulus funds to Union Pacific for construction of a second rail bridge over the Osage River. As part of this deal, Union Pacific will sell the historic bridge to Boonville for a dollar.

United States Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill criticized Missouri legislators that disapproved federal stimulus money while using it.

St. Louis County Republican Representative Allen Icet says Missouri only took the money so it wouldn't go to another state.

Icet also says the stimulus money hasn't fixed the State's budget, but just delayed the states hard times for another year.

Mental health workers urged the committee to support a bill that would allow caregivers to defend themselves without penalty.

Former Fulton State Mental Hospital worker Jered Crawford gives an emotional testimony on behalf of the bill with his personal experiences.

Crawford said the lost his job after he defended himself from a patient.

Committee took no immediate action on the bill but plans to continue the hearing next week.

A Missouri bill will allow students to enroll in district of their choice in the upcoming school year.

The bill excludes schools within the Kansas City and St. Louis public school districts, but could provide students trapped within a district another schooling option.

Senator Gary Nodler spoke on the importance of kids,stating, "It was my understanding that the Education Committee was about the kids."

Bill opponents were concerned about the impact of open-enrollment on struggling schools, and stated the bill did not address the real issue of needed improvements for Missouri public schools.

Former drug users would receive food stamps though a pair of bills that would allow Missouri to opt out a federal law barring all former drug felons' eligibility.

The ban was created under the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996, which provides that any individual convicted of a drug felony after Aug. 22, 1996, isn't eligible for cash welfare benefits or food stamps.

"The bottom line is that everybody should be able to eat," said Wilson, who sponsored the bill. "I feel we're sending them back on a path that does not benefit society."

Sen. Jason Crowell said he opposes legislation that gives federal help to drug offenders. Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, is on the Senate Progress and Development Committee that heard the bill Wednesday. Wilson filed similar bills last year, which Crowell opposed.

The House Budget chairman has a career change recommendation for U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.

"If your aim is to be a participant in the Missouri budgeting process, I encourage you to come back and run for state representative once again," Rep. Allen Icet, R-Wildwood, wrote Wednesday in a letter to McCaskill.

In a conference call with reporters earlier Wednesday, McCaskill accused Republicans in the legislature of political posturing.

"They're saying the stimulus is evil, and then they're shutting the door as they do their budgets and saying thank God we have a stimulus," she said.

Missouri public school students outside the St. Louis and Kansas City districts would be allowed to enroll in any district they please beginning with the 2011-12 school year under a bill heard by the Senate Education Committee.

Although the issue has long been pushed by metro-area lawmakers, it was a rural Missouri Senator who sponsored the bill before the committee Wednesday.

Proponents said open enrollment would account for flaws in the drawing of the state's 523 districts and increase competition. Opponents said the bill would favor wealthy or educated students, while leaving the disadvantaged further behind.

Get the newspaper story.

The House Crime Prevention Committee heard Rep. Bryan Stevenson's, R-Webb City, DWI bill for the second time Wednesday and again, there were no witnesses to testify against it.

The committee mainly tossed ideas around about different forms of record keeping. Members did express some concern that some municipalities don't even keep electronic records of DWI and other offenses. Committee Chair Rep. Scott Lipke, R-Jackson, joked that it's possible these paper records end up in a box in a basement making it impossible to keep track of repeat offenders.

Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, said he agrees there needs to be some kind of DWI reform, but the issue of how to keep DWI records shouldn't be a big issue. He said an offender's driving record should suffice as a good indication of their prior offenses.

The Department of Health and Senior Services reports Missouri has the fourteenth highest gonorrhea rate and the sixteenth highest chlamydia rate.

The House Health Care Committee heard the bill Wednesday that would allow doctors to treat both patients even if only one is present.

If a partner is too embarrassed to come to the doctor, both could still be treated.

STDs are highly contagious and if one partner has it, it is likely the other does as well.

The opportunity Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich had to shop a U.S. Senate seat would be banned in Missouri under a bill the House gave first-round approval to Wednesday.

House Republicans said Missourians should get to vote on vacancies for U.S. Senate, secretary of state, and the state's attorney general, auditor and treasurer.

In a heated debate on the House floor that ended in a party line vote, Democrats said people should have faith in their elected governor to make appointments. Filling vacancies is one of the governor's duties.

Don Calloway, D-St. Louis, proposes keeping out Missouri high school student athletes from playing if they suffer a concussion.

He presented the bill to the House Healthcare Committee.

Committee members weren't exactly sure how long an athlete should kept out of playing if he or she suffers a concussion, but agreed that for students' safety they would have to be kept out for at least a while.

MSHSAA Executive Director Kerwin Urhahn said regardless of whether or not this legislation becomes law, the state's governing body for high school activities will implement some sort of concussion guidelines for the next school year.

The Senate Rules Committee heard both sides of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy Tuesday.

Carroll County Republican Senator Bill Stouffer presented his resolution urging Congress to maintain its support of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.

Openly gay Senator Jolie Justus, a Kansas City Democrat, sponsors a contradicting measure and says she hopes Stouffer's doesn't pass through the Missouri Legislature.

Former Air Force Academy graduate Beth Schissel testified in support of replacing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" with a policy that did not discriminate, and told the committee a gay soldier is no different than any another soldier.

Senator Scott Rupp (R-Wentzville) sponsored a bill protecting people from higher credit scores if their identity is stolen.

Rupp says the bill would force credit agencies to block some information about identity theft victims.

Calling the bill "common sense," Rupp believes it will pass through legislation without much hassle.

The committee did not take any immediate action, however.

A bill proposed by Rep. Rodney Schad, R-Versailles, was heard by the House's Public Safety Committee Tuesday. The current law bans people under 22 years of age from texting while driving. Under Schad's proposal, all drivers regardless of age would be outlawed from texting while driving.

Rep. Scott Dieckhaus, R-Washington, expressed concerns that the bill was zeroing in on only one factor of inattentiveness.

"This makes about as much sense to me as outlawing putting make-up on while driving, reading the newspaper while driving, shaving before you go to work...How far do we wanna go with this?"

Get the newspaper story

The House Agribusiness Committee approved a Senate-passed resolution that will officially reject a rule set by the State Tax Commission to raise taxes on some farmland.

Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, cites market volatility and increased input costs as his reasons for sponsoring the resolution.

This resolution will now move to the House floor for final approval.

The House amended the Balanced Budget Resolution, saying the purpose is not to force the federal government to go to a Constitutional Convention.

Rep. Allen Icet, R-Wildwood, says he wants to clarify the motivations behind the resolution.

He says the purpose of the bill is to hold Congress accountable for balancing the federal budget the same way that state governments do, not to review the Constitution.

Some Representatives from both parties say they want to constrain federal spending as a way to keep the federal government from expanding its power.

A proposed amendment to regulate the use of red light cameras was withdrawn after heavy debate in the senate Tuesday.

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, sponsored the amendment which would require automated traffic enforcement systems such as red light cameras to photograph the car's driver.

If passed, the bill would mandate cities using the devices to issue criminal charges instead of civil infractions.

This is the second year in a row Sen. Lembke proposed some kind of reform for red light cameras.

A bill heard in committee Monday would prohibit felons from commercially using fireworks.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, would prohibit anyone guilty of a felony or anyone without proof of liability insurance from getting a permit to sell, make or ship fireworks. It would also allow the state fire marshal to examine sales records to make sure businesses buy and sell only from those with a permit.

Permits cannot be issued to anyone under the age of 18.

Senators who would be responsible for reviewing tax credit applications under a bill proposed by Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, are mixed on whether they should have the authority to do so.

"I think it's still a very tangled situation," said Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee that would review the tax credits.

The more than 50 tax credits cost Missouri nearly $600 million in revenue not collected last year, a figure which has grown exponentially in recent years, Bray said.

The state Development Financing Board is going to own a planned $29 million parking garage at the former St. Louis Centre.

The state had to step in to keep a major law firm from moving away from downtown, costing St. Louis 500 jobs, the board said.

But the state won't see any of the garage's potential profits, even though taxpayers are on the hook for $5 million worth of tax credits to the owners of US Bank Tower, who are helping pay the garage's cost.

The board will now own three parking garages downtown. The St. Louis Centre is an abandoned mall, and it has a mostly vacant 25-story office tower above it. The city is planning to redevelop the office tower to bring in more tenants.

There will be no hit to general revenue, and the payoff for redeveloping the site is huge, said Jeff Rainford, an assistant to Mayor Francis Slay.

Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, sponsored a resolution asking the attorney general to look in legal action the state can take concerning the federal health care bill's Nebraska Compromise.

He said he sent a letter to Attorney General Chris Koster Jan. 7 and hadn't received a response.

"My office faces the Supreme Court building (where the Attorney General's Office is located)," he said. "He could have sent a smoke signal."

Opponents to the resolution questioned why debate and resources should be diverted to an issue that hasn't become law.

Newspapers are no longer the most efficient medium for local governments to post financial information, Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County said.

A Senate Committee heard testimony on Bray's bill which would allow government financial reports and candidate announcements to be posted online instead of in newspapers -- currently required by law.

Bray said some citizens in the St. Louis don't have access to community papers and the cost of running ads is detrimental to local government budgets, under strain from the current financial crisis.

Richard Gard, Missouri Press Association President, said allowing governments to post the notices themselves provides an "invitation for mischief."

Maj. Ronald Replogle was named superintendent of the Missouri Highway Patrol by Gov. jay Nixon Monday.

Replogle "has shown that he is tough and smart, two qualities vital to leading a statewide law enforcement agency of 2,200 men and women charged with protecting 5.9 million Missourians," Nixon said.

According to a press release from the governors office, Replogle joined the Highway Patrol in 1984 and became director of the Division of Drug and Crime Control in 2001. As director, Replogle has worked closely with homeland security and has been trained in counterterriorism measures both nationally and internationally.

Last Week

A lawmaker has waltzed into the House with new legislation giving students the option to get class credit for ballroom dancing.

Rep. Tim Flook, R-Liberty, has written a bill allowing students in public schools to take a ballroom dance class instead of a physical education or fine arts class.

"Maybe you're not good at volleyball, or running, or playing soccer," Flook said. "But you could take a ballroom dance course for P.E. class credit."

Citing popular dance shows such as So You Think You Can Dance, Flook said he believes if the choice were offered, schools would likely offer the option for student demand.

Get the newspaper story.

A ballot initiative sponsored by Barbara Schmitz, the Missouri director of the Humane Society of the United States, is facing opposition by the agriculture community.

The initiative is being called the "Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act" and would propose further regulations on dog breeders in the state.

In an December interview with Brownfield Ag News, Jeff Windett, executive vice president for Missouri Cattlemen's Association, said that Missouri will not let a ballot initiative like this pass because it opens the door for further legislation by the activist group. Such legislation could be focused in the production agriculture sector, according to Windett.

"As most people know, once they initiate something like this and get it into law, it's very easy to go back and change the wording to include livestock," Windett said.

Just days after testifying in front of a federal grand jury about the fate of a similar 2005 bill, Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Lee's Summit, received final approval for printing of a bill which regulates the Missouri adult entertainment industry.

The bill would require strip clubs and sex shops to close at 12 AM and would prevent them from opening within 1000 feet of churches and schools.

Bartle says the timing of the events was "not coordinated," and added that the bill is "a long way from being done."

The House gave first-round approval to a measure that would require the Social Services Department to set up a system for drug screening of applicants to the welfare program Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

The measure is less drastic than some earlier versions of the idea.

An actual drug test would not be required unless the initial screening indicated the possibility of illegal drug use.

Eligibility for the welfare benefits would be suspended for one year, but only if the applicant failed to complete a drug treatment program for failed a subsequent test.

The measure faces one more House vote to get to the Senate.

A bill to add designer drug K2, or "Spice", to the list of illegal controlled substances has been written.

The substance is currently legal, but according to officials, it gives off chemical reactions in the brain similar to that of the drug THC.

State Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, drafted the bill over the summer and plans to introduce it to the Senate floor. According to Schaefer, the substance has already been banned in some European countries.

Kansas is currently the first state to try to outlaw the substance. The Kansas Senate passed their version of the bill two weeks ago and the Kansas Senate heard the bill yesterday. Missouri is the second state to file a bill against this drug.

This is the first time legislators have