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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of March 22, 2010

With just seven weeks left in the session, the major goals outlined by the governor and legislative leaders at the beginning of the year remain unmet.

Even the subsequent budget-cut agenda identified by the governor has been left unresolved by the legislature.

Besides the budget, issues unresolved include stronger restrictions on conflicts of interest, drunken driving and economic development.

A House committee approved a ethics reform bill Thursday containing provisions removed from a similar bill passed by the Senate last month.

By unanimous vote, the House Ethics Committee approved a bill containing 28 provisions pertaining to conflicts of interest, campaign finance laws and ethical conduct by legislators. The bill was proposed by the committee's chairman, Rep. Kevin Wilson, R-Neosho.

The House bill would cap contributions to campaigns for state office at $5,000, prohibits members of the General Assembly from acting as paid political consultants while they are in office, and makes bribery by elected officials and appointees a class D felony.

These provisions were not contained in the Senate's ethics reform bill, which on March 4 passed the upper chamber 31-0.

Get the newspaper story.

Missouri's House approved by an overwhelming margin a measure that includes expansion of the the so-called "Castle Doctrine" that provides a legal defense for killing an unwanted intruder on one's property.

The House measure would add private property and leased property to the grounds upon which one can use deadly force against an intruder.

What supporters call the "Castle Doctrine" allows one to use physical force to defend against an intruder if the person believes the intruder is or is going to harm them with "unlawful force."

"I don't have a problem with 'Castle Doctrine,'" Kelly said. "People should be able to defend their property. I think a lot of the issues with it are 99 percent perception, and one percent reality."

Get the newspaper story.

Jones charged, pointing his finger at Jeff Roorda. Jones was taken out of the Chamber.

The action was a response to Roorda's words about revisionist history and between House Democrats and Republicans.

Leaders from both parties were arguing over the state budget and the legacy of each party in the budgeting process.

The House gave its first-round approval to a budget for the next fiscal year which Republican leaders said was balanced after a cut to K-12 education.

The House version of the budget is more than $200 million below the budget recommendation submitted by Gov. Jay Nixon in January.

It would cut funding to the K-12 Foundation Formula by $18 million, freezing funds at this year's level, cut nearly $100 million from social services and cut more than $10 million from the agriculture department.

The Transportation Department announced the planned resignation of Pete Rahn to become a vice president of a company involved with one of the department's largest contracts..

Rahn's new company, HNTB, is part of a consortium that won a contract last year to repair and maintain more than 500 bridges across the state.

At the time, the department estimated the value of the contract at nearly $500 million with an ultimate expected cost of $700 million for more than 800 bridges.

HNTB has been involved with planning other projects funded by the Transportation Department during Rahn's time as director.

Rahn's resignation takes effect in April 23.

Gov. Jay Nixon's Economic Development Department director announced plans at Wednesday's Senate working groups to cut the state's $650 million tax credits in half.

Tax credits can mean a loss of revenue to the state. The revenue estimates for the fiscal year have been historically low, causing a growing budget gap. 

In the face of a statewide budget crisis, Missouri senators spent much of Tuesday gathered in small work sessions to have what Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau called "one of the most fascinating and intensely honest discussions this government needs to have."

The eight groups met to review more than 1,500 e-mailed suggestions from Missourians on how to cut the budget. They were reviewed alongside suggestions from legislators and agency officials, some of which already proposed as legislation.

Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, said the process was a more "informal" method of seeking budget solutions, with more of a "give-and-take" between legislators and agency officials than is normally seen in committee hearings.

The Missouri House voted to cut $106 million from the Foundation Formula.

Rep. Maynard Wallace, R-Thornfield, brought the amendment to the floor. He said $106 million expected from general revenue might not come, and it would be impossible to guarantee schools the money.

Wallace had been opposed to underfunding the formula.

"It has to be done," Wallace said. "The absolutely worst thing is to promise schools money they wind up not getting."

Four senators discussed adopting a consolidated health care system, where different state agencies could share medical insurance plans.

Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, says this would result in a $50 million savings.

It also gives state employees greater flexibility in choosing their health coverage.

The break-out session on public safety sought to cut $52 million from this section of the state budget. Missourians from all walks of life came to discuss potential changes. The Senate got 1,500 e-mails with suggestions.

Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Jackson County, led the session and expressed his excitement at all the feedback from the day. Several large money savers were related to cutting costs in prisons and the judicial system.

In a hastily planned news conference, Missouri Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder, a Republican, says he will combine forces with the 13 states' attorneys general suing the federal government in Florida.

Kinder said he does not know how much it would cost the state for him to get involved but that "if you were to spend a few thousand dollars to save hundreds of millions, that's a good bargain."

Kinder did not take questions from reporters and four reporters followed him to elevator where he did answer some questions in regard to his position on the federal healthcare law.

Four Senators presented the need to consolidate schools, services, and administration to the Missouri Senate after a work session Tuesday.

Department mergers, early childhood special education programs, and higher education funding will also be saved for further discussion.

The senators were torn on the need for expansion of virtual schools, but plan to present the topic as part of their "Reboot Missouri" suggestions.

Sens. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, Gary Nodler, R-Joplin, Yvonne Wilson, D-Jackson County, and Rita Days, D-St. Louis County, were a part of the education committee that was one of eight subgroups working during the Senate's attempt to reboot state government.

Senators Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County, Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield, Brad Lager, R-Maryville, and Robin Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis City came up with 5 recommendations for legislation during Tuesday's "Reboot Missouri" workday.

1. A global tax credit cap on the Department of Economic Development. There will be no immediate budget impact until tax credits are spent.

2. Creation of an interim committee to create an Optimal Tax Policy. Everything will be left on the table, including the Flat tax, Fair tax, and other ways to streamline the tax process.

3. Quantify the Sales Tax Exemptions.

4. Give a discount for timely filed electronic tax payments.

5. Improve revenue collection and tighten enforcement of delinquent tax collections.

By voice vote and without opponents being allowed to voice objections, the House approved a measure that imposes additional requirements on abortions.

In addition, the measure would require a health care provider notify a local prosecutor if a woman under the age of 18 seeks an abortion, unless the minor had a court-ordered consent.

One Democratic member of the House complained that the House presiding officer refused to recognize him when he rose to raise objections to the bill.

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

Through tears, a former vice president of a St. Charles County credit union told her story of being fired in 2000 because she was gay. She said she had just received two large bonuses for meeting goals but soon after was fired for "bad business decisions."

"I'd have to say that this is probably the most humiliating and embarrassing thing that's ever happened to me in my life," Heidi Martin said. "I suffered about a year of extreme depression over this."

Her testimony came during a bill hearing by the House Urban Issues committee. The bill would add sexual orientation as a category protected under the Missouri Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in the areas of employment, public accommodation and housing.

Kansas City Democratic Representative Mike Talboy says he wanted to have a discussion with the sponsor regarding the bill, but was ignored by the chair.

The bill would make coercion illegal, require abortions performed on minors to be reported to the prosecuting attorney in both the county the abortion takes place and the county the minor lives in, and would impose further implied consent to be given at least 24 hours before the abortion is performed.

Talboy says other Democratic Representatives wanted to speak but sat down as they saw him standing there the entire time.

The bill will go before the House again before it can move onto the Senate.

Just one day after the U.S. House of Representatives passed its landmark healthcare legislation after negotiations with anti-abortion Democrats, state senators pushed a bill through committee to impose additional restrictions on health-insurance abortion coverage.

In a rare move, members of the Insurance Committee voted immediately after testimony to advance a bill that would prevent consumers from purchasing optional insurance that would cover abortions. Current Missouri law restricts abortion insurance coverage to optional riders, or a health insurance plan to which someone can opt in.

The Senate bill would extend that restriction to include this optional health insurance coverage, specifically for abortions.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County, said the issue became even more relevant with the passage of federal healthcare legislation Sunday. In order to win over anti-abortion Democrats, Pres. Barack Obama agreed to issue an executive order providing that no funds from the federal bill could be used to pay for abortions.

Rupp said that agreement is not forceful enough.

The Missouri Senate received more than 1500 e-mails in its campaign to cut spending in state government.

Committees are set to review the e-mails and propose ideas Tuesday to deal with the largest budget gap in recent memory.

House Democrats are preparing a flurry of amendments as the House begins its debate of next year's budget on Tuesday, said Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia.

The committee responsible for sending the budget to the floor approved it Monday, but the vote was split according to party lines, with Democrats unanimously opposed to it because of concerns that it is not balanced, said Kelly, who sits on the House Budget Committee.

Rep. Leonard Hughes, D-Jackson County, who also sits on the committee, said he was not pleased with the budget that came out of it.

Asked whether he thought the final House vote on the budget would be split along party lines, as it was in the Rules Committee on Monday, Hughes said, "Refer to history and let that be your guide."

Members of the Senate Governmental Organization Committee cut down a bill Monday that would have created a commission to recommend consolidating state agencies' health care plans into a single statewide division.

The University of Missouri System had opposed a similar bill earlier this month. System representatives said the system has lower premiums than other state agencies and wanted to keep them that way.

The committee tied, 4-4, but ties mean bills go down.

Last Week

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.