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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of May 10, 2010

Missouri's governor faulted state lawmakers for passing a "watered-down" ethics bill on the last day of the legislative session.

Jay Nixon also criticized the legislature for failing to pass a jobs bill that would provide tax breaks to businesses that bring new jobs to the state.

But the Democrat governor also praised the Republican-controlled legislature for mandating some health insurance policies cover autism and for passing a budget.

Although, the legislature failed to pass the all elements in a package of bills to save money that the administration said was needed to make the budget balanced.

At a post-session news conference, Nixon did not rule out calling lawmakers back into session later this year to take another try on a jobs bill and reductions in other tax credits.

The Missouri House passed the ethics bill previously approved by the Senate by an overwhelming 153-5 margin.

The bill would ban committee to committee transfers, make it a crime to lie to the ethics commission and allow the ethics commission to conduct its own investigations.

Members including House Minority Leader Paul LeVota, D-Independence and Ethics Committee Chairman Kevin Wilson, R-Neosho, lamented the loss of provisions that appeared in previous versions of the ethics bill.

At one point Wilson described the bill before the body as "ethics lite."

The Missouri House passed a measure also approved by the Senate which places new regulations on abortion providers.

Under the bill, abortion providers would be required to provide women seeking a procedure printed materials detailing the risks associated with abortion and the opportunity to view a ultrasound at least 24-hours before an abortion is performed.

Rep. Bryan Pratt, R- Blue Springs, urged support for the measure, but lamented the loss of provisions which were contained in an earlier abortion bill he sponsored and was approved by the House earlier in the session.

Under Pratt's earlier legislation, it would become a crime to coerce someone into having an abortion. The earlier legislation would have also required doctors to report to a prosecutor anyone under the age of 18 who was seeking an abortion.

Pratt said the current bill, even without his earlier provisions would"decrease the number of abortions in the state of Missouri."

Rep. Beth Low, D-Kansas City, spoke in opposition to the measure and described the bill as a "charade."

"Abortion is going to continue," Low said, "so long as there are unwanted or unhealthy pregnancies."

The bill will now move to the desk of Gov. Jay Nixon for his approval or veto.

On the next to the last day of this year's legislative session, the Missouri General Assembly sent to the governor's desk bills to toughen driving while intoxicated laws and impose stronger restrictions on the adult entertainment industry in the state.

As of Thursday, Lawmakers had yet to agree on legislation regarding ethics reform and economic development -- which were identified as priory issues for Gov. Jay Nixon and leaders in the legislature -- as well as proposals to impose cost-saving measures and help balance the budget for the next fiscal year.

Pending final approval by Nixon, the DWI bill would extend jail sentences for offenders and create a central repository with the Missouri State Highway Patrol to track offenses across the state.

Nixon, who had formed a task force last year to outline reforms on DWI statutes, issued a news release after the passage of the bill thanking legislators for its passage.

The Missouri House Wednesday night voted to rename the section of "Mark McGwire Highway."

Under the measure sponsored by Mike Parson, R- Bolivar, the stretch of highway will be renamed after the author Mark Twain.

Twain is a Missouri native.

The highway was named for Mark McGwire in 1999 a year after he hit 70 homeruns, shattering the longtime homerun record held by Roger Maris.

Democrats and Republicans agree with Governor Jay Nixon that legislature should move on Ethics Reform legislation this session.

Less than 24 hours remain in the legislative session.

Nixon with House Democrats each proposed four "pillars" of ethics reform: campaign finance, limiting gifts from lobbyists, bans political consulting once out of office, and transferring funds across political committees.

Both Republicans and Democrats say the measure currently in conference primarily deals with campaign finance, however each party recognizes ethics could be an issue that goes on for years.

Gov. Jay Nixon told reporters Wednesday that legislation giving tax breaks to businesses that create jobs in Missouri were vital to helping the state out of the recession.

But he said bills that would hand out those tax breaks have stalled in the legislature's final days.

The Senate will not pass tax breaks without restricting tax credits in the same legislation, said Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville.

Nixon has also pushed restricting tax breaks, saying there's currently no way to make businesses accountable. But those plans have stalled in the House over Republican opposition.\

Republican House Speaker Ron Richard issued a formal statement Tuesday afternoon attacking the Republican-controlled Senate for adjourning early to let some members play golf.

"While I am pleased that Missouri tourism will benefit from their outing, there is still a considerable amount of priority items left undone in the Senate," Richard was quoted as saying in his release.

Republican Richard's statement prompted criticism from the Senate's top GOP leader, Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields.

"In this building, in this process, we're always better off when people talk to each other rather than about each other," Shields said.

Shields said that even with the Senate out of session, staff and committees continued work on legislation.

The attacks underscore what has been a growing divide among Republicans in the House and Senate on key issues before the 2010 legislative session.

The Missouri House voted Tuesday to let voters decide if Missouri should participate in and be subject to the federal healthcare law.

Missourians will be asked on the August ballot whether or not they should allow the federal government to penalize them for not buying health insurance.

22 Democrats aligned with every Republican in the Missouri House in approving the bill.

Since it is a referendum, it does not need to be signed by Governor Jay Nixon in order to reach the August ballot.

The House and Senate have agreed to create a committee of legislators and administration officials to develop plans for cutting the size of state government.

The final version of the resolution creating the committee was adopted by the House and Senate on Monday.

The committee is charged with preparing a set of recommendations to the the legislature by the end of the current calendar year, in time for the legislative session that will begin in January of 2011.

Passage of the committee formation comes as proposals to actually consolidate state agencies have stalled in the legislature.

Last Week

In a straight-line party vote, Republicans in the House approved a campaign finance bill that would impose campaign contribution limits on statewide elected officials and candidates for local government, but not the legislative candidates.

The measure was passed in a short House debate in which the Republican House speaker refused to recognize a single Democrat to speak on the proposal or offer amendments.

House Speaker Ron Richard said exclusion of legislators was unintentional and could be fixed later in the legislative process

The proposal also would prohibit someone from voting without presenting a photo ID and require secrecy in union votes. It also would impose a limit on how much any one lobbyist could give to a legislator, prohibit legislators for working as lobbyists until two years after leaving office.

The state administration reported that tax collections for April continued the several-month slide.

For month of April, the state collected 3.6 percent less than it had in April of last year.

A while back, the administration had hoped that by the spring the state would begin to see an upswing in revenue collections.

With the continued decline, total revenue collections for the ten months current fiscal year remain well below projections -- 11.7 percent compared to the prior fiscal year.

Missouri Senators passed a ban on synthetic marijuana Tuesday. The drug is also known as K-2.

Senators passed an amendment to the bill which would only classify possession of K-2 as a felony if someone has 35 grams or more.

That measure is different than the House version which made it a felony if someone carried any amount of the substance.

The amendment gives all representatives keys to the Capitol Dome.

Currently only the commissioner of the Office of Administration holds the key.

Similar amendments were vetoed by the last two Missouri governors.

Missouri's Senate has passed and sent the House a proposal to put on the August primary ballot a proposed law to give Missourians the right to refuse to purchase health insurance.

Senate Democrats reached a compromise with Republicans to not block a vote on the measure if it were placed on the primary ballot rather than the November general election ballot.

Supporters argued the federal health care law requirement violates personal freedom.

But opponents questioned whether the state could establish a legal right to ignore a federal requirement, even if approved by Missouri voters.

The requirements are that a woman receives an ultrasound, informational pamphlets, and must wait 24 hours before having the operation.

According the bill, the printed materials must prominently display the following statement: "The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being."

The Committee vote came down to 8 Republicans against 5 Democrats with 1 absentee.

Opposition emerged Tuesday in the House Higher Education Committee to a Senate-passed plan to merge the state's two education departments.

Democratic representatives on the committee expressed their concerns with the consolidation plan proposed by Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, which would combine the Higher Education and Elementary and Secondary Education departments.

"My concern is the loss of expertise," Rep. Sue Schoemehl, D-St. Louis, said, referring to the elimination of the current board members for a smaller board. "I want to make sure when we do this combination that we don't lose valuable people."

Senate Republican Leader Kevin Engler said the Senate will take up this week a contentious political issue that has split the two parties in the past.

The measure would require a government issued photo ID to vote. When the issue came before the Senate a few years ago, Republicans had to vote cloture to shut off debate.

Engler also mentioned a bill eliminating income tax.

Kevin Engler acknowledged that the issue never will get to an actual vote on the Senate floor.

Engler predicted the measure ultimately would get on the ballot through a petition campaign. And, for that reason, he said it would be better for Senators to ask questions and discuss the bill.

The Missouri House narrowly approved an amendment that would prohibit embryonic stem-cell research from being funded by University of Missouri System grants, attached in a bill which would increase five-fold the amount of money UM curators can grant for research on spinal cord injuries.

Before the full House overwhelmingly voted to raise available grants to $250,000, up from $50,000, Rep. Therese Sander, R-Moberly, was narrowly able to add on an amendment that would prohibit any funding recipient from using money on embryonic stem-cell research, which she said "kills children."

The 77-73 vote split party lines, with a number of mostly rural Democrats supporting the amendment with many Republicans voting no, including bill sponsor Steve Hobbs, R-Mexico, and Speaker Ron Richard, R-Joplin. One of the supportive Democrats was Rep. Rachel Bringer of Palmyra, who said it would clearly redefine acceptable norms for UM-funded research.

"Tremendous numbers of Missourians are very concerned about what medical research we do," Bringer said. "We have to make sure we set limits for the moral values of our state."

Hobbs said he feared the "superfluous" amendment would make the state less attractive to researchers and said it was puzzling that she would amend something that is already prohibited, or that could at least be stopped in the appropriations process.

A House committee passed a bill that would extend state universities' ability to sell parts of land without General Assembly approval.

The law that gives them this ability is set to expire in 2011 but would be pushed back to August 2017 under the bill.

This bill, approved by the House Public Institutions Committee, also deals with other land owned by the state.

Many times the state is gifted land to use for a particular purpose, such as to be used as a park or for high school athletics. However, when the land is sold, there is a question of whether these agreements need to be upheld.