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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of March 15, 2010

Committee members considered more than 250 amendments in an effort to close the gap in the state's fiscal year 2011 budget.

St. Louis County Republican Budget Chair Alan Icet said he does expect to receive $300 million in Federal Medicaid money. This would reduce the cuts needed to about $200 million.

St. Joseph Republican Dr. Robert Schaaf headlined an effort to make big cuts. Schaaf was unsuccessful in making an $88 million cut to public education and an $8.5 million cut in Amtrak funding.

The Senate voted yes to a number of bills today, including one that requires group health care providers in Missouri to cover the autism spectrum.

The bill will cost up to 28 million dollars in administrative fees, because it will allow Missourians to subscribe to foreign health care services.

Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County, says that autism is the number 2 most common neuro-biological disorder in the country.

A proposed crackdown on speed radar cameras has highlighted one division between state and local regulations.

Legislation proposed by Rep. Michael Corcoran, D-St. Louis County, would regulate the installation of speed radar cameras, allowing their use only in school, work and construction zones.

Currently, no state stature regarding automated traffic enforcement systems -- like red light and speed radar cameras -- exists. Instead, individual municipalities have created their own ordinances regarding use of the technology.

"A lack of statewide framework leaves ordinances [like these] ripe for court challenges," said Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart. Roorda, a former chief of police, said he was concerned with the "direct confliction" of a city acting outside of state law. Roorda cited the state Supreme Court's recent ruling against the city of Springfield's red-light camera ticketing process as an example of the authority issue.

Rep. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, is sponsoring a bill laying out hemophilia care regulations for the state's Board of Pharmacy.

The bill would add blood clotting products and services to the state's welfare program and establish rules for the Board of Pharmacy and dispensing of blood clotting products. The bill would also only allow switching blood clotting product with consent between the doctor and patient.

While the U.S. Congress has been ensnared in debate over a bill to reform the national health care system, Missouri Republicans told supporters at a state sovereignty rally that they will advance legislation that asserts the state's resistance to the federal legislature's plan for reform.

A Missouri Senate resolution, which was placed on a Senate calendar for debate on the floor Wednesday, would present to voters an amendment that would seek to keep them from being compelled to participate in a national health care system.

Speaking before a rally of supporters of the resolution, held in the Capitol, Senate Majority Floor Leader Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, said the bill could reach the floor for debate as early as next week.

A hearing Wednesday on a Senate proposal to change the state's policies on bullying in schools emoted strong opinions on both sides of the issue.

The legislation, introduced by Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, would change the wording in state statute regarding bullying, including adding "discrimination" based on "being motivated by actual or perceived race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender (or) sexual orientation."

It would also require every school district to issue a statement specifically prohibiting bullying on those grounds and require them to implement plans for reporting discrimination.

No one yelled "Bingo!" but it was the topic of a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday.

Bingo events could be longer and held more frequently under a Senate bill that would lessen restrictions on the game.

The bill, heard by the Senate Ways and Means Committee, would allow bingo license holders to conduct up to two events each week, rather than one as currently allowed.

Get the newspaper story.

The House passed a bill Wednesday adding a substance referred to as fake pot to Missouri's controlled substances list. An emergency clause was also added to the bill, making fake pot illegal the moment the bill becomes law.

Rep. Jake Zimmerman, D-St. Louis County, was one of 36 members voting in opposition of the emergency clause. While Zimmerman said the bill had wide support among representatives, he said he didn't think it was a good idea to make a previously legal substance illegal on one day's notice.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Ward Franz, R-West Plains, said merchants who are selling fake pot have already begun preparing for the ban due to media coverage of the issue. The emergency clause passed with 119 votes of support.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, who has sponsored a similar bill in the Senate, says he expects senators to pass his bill Thursday.

A bill discussed in the committee Tuesday would stop insurance providers from changing doctors prescriptions.

A representative from a St. Louis-based business called the bill "frankly absurd."

Another called it "cost effective."

Bill sponsor Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) and a slew of supporters criticized insurance companies of meddling with the doctor-patient relationship.

Get the newspaper story.

Get the radio story.

The House approved an amendment Tuesday that would allow the use of deadly force to remove an intruder from private property.

The current law, known as the Castle Doctrine, allows the use of deadly force to remove an intruder from one's residence, but not the entire piece of property.

The amendment, sponsored by Rep. Bryan Stevenson, R-Webb City, was approved 130-22.

Get the roll call vote

A day after the House voted to oppose a similar amendment, the Senate voted Tuesday to oppose legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis County, gave an impassioned speech in favor of the amendment. Green recounted the suffering experienced by his mother at the end of her life.

The amendment, added onto a bill to ban fake pot, was defeated 26-5.

The Senate did give first approval to the fake pot measure.

Get the roll call vote on the medical marijuana amendment

A legislative assistant stepped out of the office on Tuesday to tell lawmakers about six stomach ulcers she found after her insurance left her no choice but to take a drug not prescribed to her.

In a Senate Commerce committee, Tracy Joyce, an aide to Rep. Bryan Stevenson, R-Joplin, testified in support of a bill regulating third-party prescription drug program administrators.

The week following the governor's plan for consolidating Missouri's two education departments, the issue has yet to emerge in Missouri's legislature.

After slashing $126 million from the budget, Gov. Jay Nixon said the state needs to combine Missouri's two education departments -- the Higher Education Department and the Elementary and Secondary Education Department.

"We need to have one Department of Education that prepares students from the day they walk into preschool to the day they walk across the stage with their college diplomas," Nixon said in his speech Thursday.

Get the newspaper story.

For the first time ever, the Senate will spend an entire day evaluating ideas submitted by Missourians on how to streamline state government on Tuesday, March 23.

Senators are divided into eight work groups ranging from Tax Structure to Social Programs to General Government.

Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, says he plans to act on these ideas to make state government more cost-effective.

The work groups are tasked to submit five or more ideas they agree on to introduce into legislation or the budget process.

Missouri residents can continue to submit their ideas by going to the Senate's website and clicking on the Rebooting Government logo.

The house voted 109 to 46 to pass what supporters called the health care freedom act.

Those opposed to the measure argued that health care should be left to the federal government.

Rep. Timothy Jones, R-St. Louis County, said Missouri would lose 2 million dollars under the proposed health policy without the passage of this amendment.

The measure now goes to the Senate.  If approved by the legislature, the proposal would require statewide voter approval to take effect.

The House Budget Committee chairman said he will leave it to the Senate and Gov. Jay Nixon to make the roughly $500 million in cuts to next year's budget that were proposed by Nixon last week.

Rep. Allen Icet, R-Wildwood, said the House joined the Senate Monday in agreeing to Nixon's request for revised budget numbers for next year.

While State Budget Director Linda Luebbering said it would be feasible to develop a new projection within a few days, Icet said the numbers won't come in time for his committee to incorporate them.

A plan to collect sales tax on Internet purchases ran into a major glitch in the Senate Monday.

The debate descended into comebacks and name calling with one conservative Republican, Jason Crowell of Cape Girardeau, called another conservative Republican a "tax-and-spend liberal."

Joplin Sen. Gary Nodler and Crowell argued whether the bill would create a new tax for Missourians.

The House voted 133 to 22 against an amendment that would legalize medical marijuana.

A small group of Democratic representatives tried to attach the amendment to a bill that would ban K-2, a fake form of marijuana.

Rep. Tim Flook, R-Liberty, said a lot of people who get a prescription for marijuana in states where it's legal aren't really sick.

Democrats said legalizing medical marijuana would relieve crowding in jails and ease terminally-ill patients' pain.

Two belly dancers were part of the entertainment for the Census Road Tour.

St. Louis County Republican Sen. Jane Cunningham says the belly dancers seem to be an inappropriate way to promote a government activity.

Cunningham also said she did not like spending taxpayer money on entertainment.

Last Week

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.

Get the newspaper story.

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.

Get the newspaper story.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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."

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.

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.

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