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NewsBook: Missouri Government News for the Week of January 26, 2009

. Bill would give some veterans free metered parking (01/29/2009)

Rep. Jamilah Nasheed-D, St. Louis City, has filed legislation that would give some veterans free metered parking.

Those eligible under the bill include POWs, sliver and bronze stars, as well as the purple heart.

Nasheed said the bill has strong bipartisan support and that she expects it will pass the house.

. Democrats defend budget in light of Republican criticism (01/29/2009)

House Republicans are saying the governor's budget proposal relies too heavily on a federal government bailout.

Democrats reply that it's perfectly acceptable to use federal money for ongoing operations.

. Hands-free cell phone debate heats up in Mo. (01/29/2009)

Following a pair of high-profile fatal text-messaging related traffic accidents in the state in the past year, legislation has been filed in Missouri's General Assembly to outlaw any handheld use of cell phones while on Missouri's public roads.  

Five bills were pre-filed in the weeks leading up to the start of the legislative session that would impose a $20 first-time fine and a $50 fine each time thereafter for those caught talking on their cell phones without a hands-free device or who are sending text messages while the car is in drive. 

. Missouri officials will face frozen salaries. (01/29/2009)

Missouri's Senate joined the House in rejecting a pay raise for state officials.

The pay plan was rejected by the Senate Thursday with just one dissenting vote.

The state's Compensation Commission had proposed a package of pay raises for statewide elected officials, legislators and judges.

Unless rejected by the legislature, the pay hikes would have taken effect.

Supporters of the pay-hike rejection argued the nation's economic problems made it the wrong time to raise the salaries of government officials.

The sole opponent to the rejection said that elected officials should be treated the same as state government workers for whom the governor has proposed a modest pay increase.

. State legislators discuss federal relief (01/28/2009)

Missouri's Senate Select Committee on Oversight of Federal Stimulus discussed a wide range of issues Wednesday surrounding the $809.2 million in relief funding Gov. Jay Nixon has anticipated in his fiscal 2010 budget proposal.

The 13-member committee has been tasked with developing strategies to maximize and best utilize whatever funds the state does receive from an anticipated federal stimulus package, which is still being considered in both chambers of U.S. Congress. 

Republican senators voiced concerns over committing one-time funds for ongoing state programs, while Nixon's senior counsel on budget and financial issues argued can and should be used to create jobs and balance the state budget.

. Lewis and Clark projects cut due to insufficient MOHELA funds (01/28/2009)

More than 30 capital improvement projects under the Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative Fund are being suspended or reviewed because of insufficient capital in Missouri's student loan agency's coffers.

The Lewis and Clark fund, which was slated to receive $350 million from the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, would have financed 31 projects for 15 state universities.

. Missouri faces public defender crisis (01/28/2009)

State Public Defender Deputy Director Cathy Kelly says Missouri could gain as many as 12 new full-time public defenders this year.

Chief Justice of the Missouri Supreme Court, Laura Denvir Stith, said that Missouri is last nationwide in public defender funding per capita.

. Lt. Gov. Kinder offers GOP response to state of the state address (01/27/2009)

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder said Nixon's budget proposal is not a realistic plan for the long term.

Kinder said it is not a good idea to have a proposed balanced budget be dependent on federal bailout money that has not even been approved yet.

. Gov. Nixon's State of the State address pointed to a Missourian who went to Kansas because of lower tuition. (01/27/2009)

Although most formal addresses to joint legislative sessions by presidents and governors focus on the triumphs of the common citizen, Democrat Gov. Jay Nixon focused on one of the failures of Missouri's higher education system in his State of the State address Tuesday night.

Nixon introduced a Missouri native who was forced by tuition costs to leave the state in order to go to college.

Jennifer Long completed the A+ program -- which allows students to attend a two-year state college if they meet academic and personal qualifications -- at Longview Community College in Lee's Summit.  Despite wanting to stay in her home state of Missouri, she decided to go to Pittsburg State University in Kansas because it gives in-state tuition to nearby Missouri county residents.

Long and her parents were invited to attend the legislative session and were introduced to the chamber by Nixon during his speech.

. AmerenUE rate increase approved (01/27/2009)

The Public Service Commission approved AmerenUE's rate increase request, which will bring another $162.6 million in revenue for the company.

The PSC estimates the average residential bill will go up $5.88.

The measure passed 3-2.

. Gov. Nixon surprised senators with a stimulus package he never mentioned before his State of the State address. (01/27/2009)

Gov. Nixon addressed a federal stimulus package of $800 million that senators had never heard about.

One senator said he was not surprised but does not like playing with money not yet in legislators' hands. The senator said only Nixon's team knew about the package.

. Gov. Nixon plans to eliminate more than 1,300 state jobs. (01/27/2009)

Nixon wants to eliminate needless state jobs by the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

The cuts will allow the governor to increase funding for other programs.

. A House bill that would remove a cap on businesses was unopposed. (01/27/2009)

House Bill 191, which would remove a cap, or limit, to the amount of money the government could give to qualified businesses, ran unopposed.

A representative said that if the cap was removed, it would be like Missouri raising an "open for hire" sign above the state.

. AmerenUE includes request for rate increase for Callaway 2 federal permit process (01/27/2009)

AmerenUE requested its rates be increased to help pay for overall rising costs as well as certain Callaway 2 construction and operating license application costs.

The Public Service Commission did not approve the Callaway 2-related costs since it violates current legislation, but it did vote 3-2 to increase electric rates for Ameren consumers.

. Veterans' remains closer to getting a final resting place. (01/27/2009)

Rep. David Day, R-Dixon, passed legislation out of the House Veterans Affairs Committee authorizing the release of unclaimed soldiers' remains to veterans groups providing final memorials.

There are currently hundreds of remains in Missouri funeral homes that will otherwise go unburied.

. Bill would mandate insurance companies cover autism (01/27/2009)

Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County, introduced legislation that would mandate insurance companies cover autism.

Currently, autism is considered a pre-existing condition.

. State legislative leaders await balanced budget, bipartisan cooperation in Nixon's State of the State address (01/26/2009)

State Republican and Democratic leaders said they anticipate a balanced budget proposal in Gov. Jay Nixon's State of the State address on Tuesday evening.

If Nixon unexpectedly announces any promises regarding the budget, Republican leaders said they will respond with calls for bipartisanship.

. The Blunt e-mail investigation is dropped. (01/26/2009)

The Associated Press reported Monday night that the investigation into allegations of illegal document destruction by the administration of former Gov. Matt Blunt has been dropped.

The investigation, initially launched by then-Attorney General Jay Nixon, was being pursued by a two-person team appointed by the court. 

The AP cites a letter by the team's lead investigator informing the team there would be no report and that the investigation was ceasing.

Earlier, the governor's representatives had reached agreement to turn over to investigators and reporters many of the e-mails in question.

. Missouri's House votes to reject a pay raise. (01/26/2009)

Missouri's House voted down a pay raise for elected officials and legislators with a final vote of 129 yes and 31 no.

The resolution supporter filed the bill a few days before session and does not think this is the right time for a pay raise.

Under Missouri's Constitution, a commission puts together every two years a salary package recommendation for legislators, statewide elected officials and judges.  The recommendations automatically take effect unless rejected by the legislature.

One legislator made the point that if someone makes more money, they will spend more.

The resolution supporter countered that the money has to be there in order to spend it.

A legislator from the Kansas City District says he disagrees with the final decision made by the House.

He says the resounding 'yes' in the House was due to legislators feeling scared voters will turn against them if they find out their representative voted the other way around.

Senate leadership announced it is fast-tracking this issue so they could take a vote by the end of week.

. Missouri funeral director urges Senate committee to regulate the funeral industry (01/26/2009)

Donald Otto, an executive for Missouri Funeral Directors, said government regulation would ensure Missourians would not fall prey to illegitimate pre-need funeral contracts.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Delbert Scott, would set up regulation for pre-need funeral contracts.

. Bob Holden's budget director takes back her old job. (01/26/2009)

Gov. Jay Nixon has named Linda Luebbering to be his budget director.

Luebbering last held that job during the administration of Gov. Bob Holden.

Luebbering had been a long-term budget specialist in Missouri government when she became Holden's budget director in 2002. She soon became one of the key players in the standoff between Holden's efforts to raise taxes and opposition from Republican lawmakers.

. Missouri budget leaders predict a slight growth in the state's budget (01/22/2009)

Missouri's Republican legislative budget leaders and the governor announced agreement on the revenue forecast for the state.

For the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, they agreed on a modest budget increase of 1 percent -- higher than some of the more dire warnings that had been sounded about the effects of the national economic downturn on the state's budget.

The revenue estimate comes shortly after Gov. Jay Nixon promised to recommend any funding cuts for higher education in return for college promises not to raise tuition.

But the predictions for the remaining five months of the current fiscal year were more somber -- a $261 million shortfall in revenue below the state's current budget.

How the governor proposes to address that budget shortfall may be explained when Nixon unveils his budget proposals to legislators on Tuesday (Jan. 27).

. Bill filed would allow AmerenUE to increase rates to pay for interest (01/22/2009)

A more than three-decades-old, voter-approved law would be revoke if the newly filed bill, sponsored by Sen. Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City, is passed.

Scott's bill would allow companies such as AmerenUE to raise consumer rates before the utilities are provided in order to help build a second power plant in Callaway. The statute that would be removed prevented electricity companies from charging for services not yet being provided.

The bill, if passed, would allow companies to increase their rates to pay for the accumulating interest on the loan taken out to build the plant. The company would still be regulated by the Missouri Public Service Commission.

. Minority party member named to head of Senate committee (01/22/2009)

For the first time in at least 40 years, a member of the minority party has been appointed chair of a committee in Missouri's Senate.

Sen. Victor Callahan, D-Jackson County, will chair the Progress and Development Committee, composed mostly of Democrats.

Callahan said Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields appointed him in an effort to make Senate more bipartisan.

"I think we recognize that these problems are not Democrat problems or Republican problems," he said. "They're our problems, and the solution should be our solution."

. Missouri DSS national accreditation process is coming to an end (01/21/2009)

Twelve circuits in the Children's Division of the Missouri Department of Social Services have yet to meet national accreditation standards.

Efforts to achieve national accreditation through the COA began in 2004.

A spokesperson for the DSS said St. Louis city and the remaining circuits should receive accreditation by the end of 2009.

. Gov. Nixon vows to not cut funding for higher education (01/21/2009)

Gov. Jay Nixon announced that funding will remain at the same fiscal year 2009 levels for 2010.

He also announced that all of the institutions receiving funding will not raise tuition next year in return for no budget cut.

. New bill focuses on minority impact (01/20/2009)

Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis city, has introduced a bill that would require lawmakers to consider legislations impact on minorities in addition to legal and financial matters.

Nasheed cites the $5 billion in grants and loans given to Missouri minorities as a reason to examine their effectiveness.

The bill has not yet been assigned a committee.

. State roads could decline, Transportation Department says (01/20/2009)

The director of the Missouri Transportation Department warned that state roads would begin to deteriorate as early as next year because of rising inflation.

Because the department cannot afford to redirect revenue from one project to another, Transportation Department Director Pete Rahn said funding sources are limited to user fees and tolls.