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

Facing the largest revenue decline in Missouri History, Gov. Nixon cut an additional $126 million from the current budget Thursday.

According to a release from Budget Director Linda Luebbering, almost 60 percent of the money will come from Medicaid payments states are currently not required to pay to the federal government under increased federal match rates.

The money from Medicaid payments is a "savings, not a cut in spending," Luebbering said.

School transportation programs and the Public Safety Department's interoperability program were two of the largest cuts that made up the remaining $51.1 million.

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Proposed legislation to extend the texting while driving ban to all drivers, regardless of age, raises questions about the law's enforceability.

Currently, Missouri law prohibits drivers aged 21 and under from texting while behind the wheel. If a bill proposed by Rep. Rodney Schad, R-Versailles, is enacted, that ban will stretch to encompass drivers of all ages. While many have spoken in favor of the legislation's goal, law enforcement officials have voiced concern that such a law would be challenging to maintain.

According to Capt. Michael Smith of the Jefferson City Police Department, texting while driving bans are "extremely difficult to enforce." Smith said he hopes enforcement would become easier with time.

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Former House Speaker Rod Jetton admitted to the Kansas City Star that the Federal Grand Jury meeting in Kansas City is focused on him.

Former Rep. Bob Johnson, R-Lee's Summit, testified before the Grand Jury Tuesday and was asked questions about a bill Jetton assigned to the Rules Committee that he chaired at the time.

The bill in question would have placed restrictions on the adult entertainment industry, but it never reached the House floor.

While Gov. Jay Nixon said Monday that a new statewide database will help prevent methamphetamine production, a trooper from the first state to employ the database said it has actually made it more difficult to arrest suspected meth producers.

The database will keep tabs on buyers of pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in methamphetamine production, and prevent buyers from buying more than the daily limit of 3.6 grams, or the monthly limit of nine grams.

The software has blocked roughly 10,000 grams a month in potential pseudoephedrine sales in Kentucky since June 2008, said Jim Acquisto, director of government affairs for Appris Inc., the Kentucky-based software company that will implement the database and provide training for pharmacists and police officers.

Last Week

  House files last-minute budget bills before recess 03/04/2010

The House announced new budget bills before they left for a week-long recess.

The bills were filed by House Budget Chairman Allen Icet after a week of discussion between Republican and Democratic leaders in both the House and the Senate.

"We have a plan and we'll meet the governor halfway," said Speaker of the House Ron Richard. "Everything is on the table as far as I'm concerned."

  The Missouri House discusses health care and whether state's should be forced to follow the proposed federal health reform laws. 03/03/2010

The Missouri House met today to discuss a bill proposed that would prohibit state residents from being compelled to obtain health care coverage or participate in a health care system.

The discussion ranged from the bill itself to an overall debate on the current health care system and federal reform efforts.

The House voted 113 to 40 in favor of the bill.

  Radioactive material causes U.S. Attorney investigation 03/03/2010

A federal investigation into radioactive gas has been confirmed by the Natural Resources Department .

An official with Missouri's Natural Resources Department confirmed Friday that there was an active investigation by the U.S. Attorney's Office involving radioactive material but declined further comment.

The department cannot "comment on the situation due to an active investigation into the matter by the United States Attorney's Office," said Mark Conner, spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources Waste Management program.

Conner referred all questions to Don Ledford, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office Western District.

Ledford said as a matter of procedure the U.S. Attorney's Office does not comment until charges are filed. Ledford refused to confirm if an investigation was even going on in the matter, referring all questions back to the Natural Resources Department.

A state environmental official said last week that the department found radioactive gas being illegally stored in the Columbia area within the last month. The official asked to remain unnamed.

  Senate hears bill to support METS education 03/03/2010

The University of Missouri System president's October call to the state to provide matching funds for science, technology, engineering and math programs was heard Wednesday, but something was lost in the translation.

UM System President Gary Forsee testified before the Senate Education Committee in support of a bill that would establish the Missouri Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Initiative and create a fund to process donations supporting the program. But under the terms of the proposed bill, the state would not be obligated to provide matching funds for these donations.

  Bills would make K-2 possession a felony. 03/03/2010

If the Missouri General Assembly passes a bill that was debated Wednesday, simple possession of any amount of K-2 could become a Class C felony, on par with involuntary manslaughter and grand theft.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Ward Franz, R-West Plains, would ban substances that mimic the effects of marijuana and that, he said, youths in southern Missouri are accessing with ease.

"I've heard story after story of children being able to purchase this stuff," Franz said. "It's time we deal with this before it becomes a bigger problem."

Franz said he had hoped the bill would come up for a vote, but House Floor Leader Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, said the debate ran on too long. Tilley said he would re-introduce the bill after next week's break, but he wasn't sure he had the votes to pass the bill the way it was written.

  Methane as renewable energy source discussed by Missouri legislators. 03/03/2010

The Missouri Senate Agriculture Committee discussed adding methane to the list of renewable energy sources.

The bill would add methane to Proposition C, which aims to increase renewable energy use across the state during the next decade.

Bill sponsor Frank Barnitz, a Lake Springs Republican, says the bill will make it easier for Missouri to reach its Prop C goals.

  Senate gives first-round approval to bill cutting Missouri's front license plate requirement 03/03/2010

In the name of cutting spending to deal with Missouri's worst budget crisis in years, the Senate has given first-round approval to a bill reversing the requirement that Missourians have front license plates on their automobiles.

Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Jackson County, proposed the amendment on the Senate floor, as lawmakers were debating the overall bill. It would save the state $3 million, Bartle said.

Sen. Yvonne Wilson, D-Jackson County, said police would have a harder time identifying criminals without the front plate.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol doesn't support or oppose the bill, but a spokesman confirmed it would be more difficult to identify an oncoming vehicle without the license plate.

  Budget crisis could lead to restructuring Missouri government 03/02/2010

Missouri will need to restructure the very nature of Missouri government, the House Budget Chairman predicted Tuesday after a series of private meetings between the governor and legislative leaders.

House Budget Committee Chairman Allen Icet, R-St. Louis County, and the committee's senior Democrat -- Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia -- emerged from separate meetings with the governor saying that between $400 million to $500 million would have to be cut from the governor's spending plans for the 2011 fiscal year that will begin July 1.

A cut of that magnitude would be of generational historic proportions. It would be bigger than the entire state appropriations for the University of Missouri System.

  Students, officials react to possible Access program changes 03/02/2010

Students of higher education feuded over who should receive more money at a legislative committee meeting Tuesday.

Officials and students from both public and private institutions testified before the House Higher Education Committee on a bill moving money that can be allocated to private college students to those that attend public universities.

"Our goal is to make this even and equitable across the board," said the bill's sponsor Rep. Gayle Kingery, R-Poplar Bluff. "We do not begrudge our private institutions. However, especially in the economy today, we'd like to equalize these amounts."

  House committee to hear bill on licensing tanning facilities 03/02/2010

Proposed legislation in Missouri could dim the future of some Missouri tanning salons.

Robert Cooper, R-Camdenton, a medical doctor, is sponsoring a bill requiring tanning salons to obtain licenses from the state's Health Department.

In addition to requiring facilities to obtain and post licenses, the bill also prohibits individuals younger than 16 from tanning and requires those under the age of 18 to obtain written parental permission. Under the bill, facilities would be required to get customer signatures before using tanning equipment and prior to every contract renewal for long-term tanning services.

  Senate Hears bill about St. Louis getting local control of police 03/02/2010

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay testified to a Senate committee for the first time saying why the St. Louis City Police Department.

Slay says the department went under state control during the Civil War because state lawmakers were afraid the department could be used as a militia.

Joe Steiger with the St. Louis Police Officers Association says politics should be kept out of what is a professional police department.

  With budget cuts looming, Republicans and Democrats sparred over Gov. Jay Nixon's negotiations behind closed doors. 03/02/2010

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, called them business as usual.

Rep. Chris Pratt, R-Blue Springs, said they stopped progress.

Gov. Jay Nixon's secretive negotiations on budget cuts with Republicans and Democrats today stirred the emotions of legislators trying to solve Missouri's massive deficit.

More than $200 million worth of cuts face the state currently and the debate over what survives continues.

It is a conversation, Kelly said, "that will be interesting and heartbreaking."

  Company preparing to test sequestration of carbon dioxide asks for sovereign liability to protect against possible injuries or death. 03/02/2010

The house committee on utilities heard bill 2038 on Tuesday and debated its need for a limited liability test.

The 2- to 3-year test will inject soda grade carbonation 2000 feet below the ground.

Supporters said the liability protection would cover emergencies even though they don't expect any.

  Bill giving St. Louis local control over police advances. 03/01/2010

A week after a member of the state-run St. Louis police commission resigned following a scandal, a House committee approved a bill which would eliminate that same board and give the city autonomous control over its police department for the first time since the Civil War.

Currently, the police forces of St. Louis and Kansas City are each overseen by a board of commissioners, comprised of Mayor Francis Slay and five members appointed by the governor; this bill, which has divided both parties, would only apply to St. Louis. The bill, which was passed with five votes in favor and three against, would eliminate the board and give control to a commissioner appointed by the mayor.

  Representative's estranged wife seeks legislative action to hasten divorce 03/01/2010

The estranged wife of a state representative is prepared to use legislative action to ensure a speedy divorce.

The wife of Rep. Mike Cunningham, R-Rogersville, issued a letter Monday alleging infidelity on the part of her husband and criticizing a state statute she said is delaying her divorce.

Current statute allows active lawmakers to delay certain court cases during the legislative session. Neena Cunningham hopes to change the statute through a House bill.

  UM System objects to joining Missouri's state employee health care plan. 03/01/2010

Representatives from the University of Missouri System opposed legislation Monday that would consolidate all of the state government employee health care plans.

Betsy Rodriquez, vice president of human resources for the UM System, said one of the system's main reasons for opposing the bill was the legislation's "involuntary nature." The UM System, along with the Transportation Department and Conservation Department, would be required to merge into the health care plan known as the Missouri Consolidated Health Care Plan.

"We don't want to be forced into a plan that would immediately raise premiums," she said.

  The partisan battle over E. coli in the Lake of the Ozarks continues in the dead of winter. 03/01/2010

St. Louis Senator Joan Bray expressed her concerns on Friday when her and two other Democratic Senators released a Minority Report regarding the Commerce Committee's Majority Report about E. coli levels at the Lake of the Ozarks.

The Minority Report addressed factual errors in the committee's Majority Report and offered recommendations.

Bray says the she is disappointed that this serious issue has been dealt with in such a partisan way.

Maryville Republican Senator Lager says the Majority Report was not politically driven and all members of the Committee had an opportunity to consult with him. \