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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of September 5, 2011

Plans to award contracts for beginning the process of implementing the federal health care in Missouri were postponed after a group of state senators objecting to the efffort had converged on the agency meeting on Thursday.

The issue arose at a meeting of the Senate Interim Committee on Health Insurance Exchanges.  The legislators were told that that the Missouri Health Insurance Pool was meeting that day to award contracts to private groups.

“What are we doing here? The Constitution is out the window, the republic has dissolved and we’re going to have dictatorship by fiat,” said Sen. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville.

AThe Health Insurance Pool provides health insurance coverage for persons unable to get regular insurance.

After the committee session, three senators rushed over to the agency's board meeting to protest their planned action.

At issue is a $21 million federal grant the agency received to begin planning for development of the exchanges, one of the key provisions in the new federal health care law.

Under federal law, Missouri must construct its own exchange plan by 2014 or the federal government will impose a plan on the state.

A spokesperson for the Insurance Department said much of the money would be used to develop a computer system for the exchange.

After hearing of the senators' objections and a closed door meeting with the board's president, the board postponed action on the proposal.

The governor can implement a health insurance exchange plan for the state at any time.

Missouri Senators have passed a modified version of the bill regarding the China trading hub at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport. On Tuesday, Senate President Pro-Tem Rob Mayer dropped $300 million worth of funding for the hub from the bill, and a day later it passed in the Senate 26 to 8.

 Senator Jim Lembke, R- St. Louis County, voted against the bill. It still fails to protect small businesses, said Lembke.  

"I'm concerned about those small businesses in the first senatorial district that have never come to the state and asked for one red cent of tax credit money," said Lembke.

Senators who voted in favor of the bill say it will promote local business and foster economic growth.

Not a single motion was made in either the House nor the Senate to override vetoes by the governor earlier this year.

Gov. Jay Nixon had vetoed a 14 non-budget bills. His veto of congressional redistricting was overridden during the regular session.

The state Constitution provides that the legislature is to meet in mid-September to be able to consider vetoes made by the governor after spring adjournment of the regular session.

The Senate majority leader had said they did not intend to make any motions unless there were the votes to actually override.

Missouri representatives and leaders from surrounding areas examined various means of 911 call center improvements.

Missouri 911 centers are struggling as more residents disconnect their land lines and replace them with cell phones. This decreases 911 funding financed by a land-line charge.

The fact wireless system funding did not previously exist in Missouri state legislation baffled Tennessee Emergency Communications Board Executive Director Lynn Questell.

"911 has become something that people expect," she said. "Tennessee is a national leader in 911."

The state adapted a wireless 911 system in 2005. Questell said the success of the centers comes from the structure of the board members.

Tennessee collects funding from a 911 service charge implemented since 1998. The state charges users a $12 service fee every year to their cell phone bill.

Funding for call center improvements in Missouri would come from a sales tax. However, Missouri Republican Senator Jim Lembke said voters have shut down this proposal twice.

According to the Save911 website, every state but Missouri charges a wireless 911 user fee.

Questell said wireless emergency communication can also lead to texting to 911 down the road. Kansas 911 Mid-America Regional Council Keith Faddis discussed how Kansas is trying to implement a 911 texting system, but it is ultimately left in wireless providers' hands whether or not to administer the service.

According to the Missouri Advisory Committee Strategic Plan, Missouri does not have a 911 state program. Each county jurisdiction is responsible for the establishment of their own 911 center, public-safety answering points and the funding for these systems.

Improvements in 911 communication will also aid hearing loss victims.

"[A new 911 system] will help the deaf immensely, especially wireless capabilities," Deaf Empowerment Awareness Foundation Inc. General Counsel James Marks said.

The committee will submit a 911 call center improvement report to the Speaker by Dec. 31.

After devastating tornadoes and massive floods have left Missouri ravaged, a House special committee is taking the next step to aid those affected.

Representatives from the Department of Economic Development, Health and Senior Services, Department of Corrections, Department of Natural Resources, and many others were at a House Disaster Recovery Committee hearing Tuesday.

The committee has been tasked to give recommendations to the legislature on how the state can aid in recovery efforts of the natural disasters that effected the state this past summer.

Public Safety Deputy Director Andrea Spiller told the committee that tornadoes in Joplin, St. Louis, and Sedalia and the floods in Northwest and Southeast Missouri have kept responders busy.

"Since April 22, when the tornado hit St. Louis, we have - as a state - been in disaster mode," Spiller said.

Chairman of the Committee, Shane Schoeller, R-Willard, said with Northwest Missouri still underwater, the committee has a lot of work to do before the December 31 deadline.

Just a few days after former Gov. Bob Holden cited Mamtek as a successful project that benefits local economy in Moberly, the Columbia Tribune reported the company is now in financial trouble.

Holden says Mamtek CEO Bruce Cole called him last week to reassure him that Mamtek will stick with the Moberly project.

However, Senate Committees Appropriations Chair Kurt Schaefer says it's his understanding that the company was in default since July.

Senate Committees Appropriations Chair Kurt Schaefer says it's going to hurt local taxpayers.

Holden is serving as the chair of Midwest US China Association, which helped with Mamtek-Moberly business partnership.

Holden says his Association passed the Mamtek's information to the 12 states in Midwest, but didn't check Mamtek's financial status.

Schaefer says they will continue to find out the information about this issue.

The Cici-award winner Mamtek-Moberly project was expected to create 600 jobs, but now is sticking the city with payments on a $39 million bond deal.

The former president of the city’s police association and St. Louis Tea Party member Gary Weigert testified in opposition of the bill passing to the senate floor.

While the bill’s sponsor, St. Louis Democratic Representative Jamilah Nasheed, says she believes that St. Louis should take back control of the police department, Weigert disagrees.

“Right now the city of St. Louis has shown a capacity not to be able to run a school system, hasn’t even been able to show the capacity to run a dog pound, and now the city of St. Louis wants to run the police department. I think that’s irresponsible,” Weigert said.

Weigert says he will lobby to defeat the bill. His position comes after the police association spoke in favor of the bill last week in a house committee meeting.

St. Louis Democratic Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal says she will offer support to the local control bill if her concerns are "addressed and adopted."

Chappelle-Nadal says she has concerns after receiving input from her constituents and organizations both in favor and in opposition of local control.

She says she wants to give a voice to St. Louis officials.

"What my interest is in all of this is to look out for the voices of the rank and file that you have not heard from. There is a distinct difference between the voice of leadership and the voice of rank and file," said Chappelle-Nadal.

Among her changes are increasing fines for interfering in police business and securing health insurance for police widows, partners and children.

The bill will reach the senate floor sometime this week.

As the opponents of China hub blaming the plan will benefit China more than local economy, US-China Chamber of Commerce President Siva Yam says Americans shouldn't expect too much from Chinese investment. He says there has been an illusion that Chinese investment are coming to America and help the economy. So far the in bank investments are not very significant.

Yam says although he is not expecting significant economic values from the China hub, the benefits of this plan are far beyond the airport.

He says it's a good news for St. Louis not from an economic perspective, but having a China hub would basically help St. Louis proceed itself to be more international in the future.

As the Senate continuing discussing the pros and cons of a China hub in St. Louis, US-China Chamber of Commerce President Siva Yam says the values lying in international impact rather than significant economic values.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee was urged to pass a disaster relief bill Tuesday. 

Amendments to a disaster relief bill aimed at aiding destroyed businesses seeks to create new businesses in destroyed areas.

The original bill gave tax breaks to businesses completely destroyed by natural disasters.  Now, changes made to expand the bill include creating incentives for new commercial development in the disaster zone.

These changes were added to encourage development in the areas hit by the May tornado, but sparked debate among some who said they felt these changes could lead to unintended consequences.

One area of concern among senators was the fact that school districts could face serious consequences. 

If this bill passes, the tax base would be much smaller, which would not only impact schools, but the city of Joplin as well.

Governor Nixon already awarded Joplin school districts $150 million in order to avoid increasing taxes for local businesses and residents, but there could still be some gaps in the budget

City infrastructure that was destroyed in the tornado could risk not being repaired if there is no money in the city's fund.

New developments will continue paying taxes, but city collections for those taxes will be frozen at the 2011 base rate.  All other revenue from the taxes will be put in a separate fund to support the rebuilding efforts.  Under the tax-increment financing, referred to as TIF, approved developing districts will receive assistance from the city fund. 

The original bill only included tax breaks for businesses that were completely wiped out after the May 22nd tornado.

The Senate's top leader just announced that he's dropping the major provision of that China Hub proposal saying it just did not have the votes.

Rob Mayer's decision came after a number of senators voiced skepticism about the plan at a briefing session last night. The session was followed by a lengthy, closed-door caucus of Senate Republicans.

Opponents of the bill questioned giving up so much tax money when an outside study showed it would take a decade to recoup the loss. Others questioned how the state would finance necessary highway expansion to cover the extra trucks that would be on the road because of proposal.

The China Hub proposal though, is not completely dead in the statehouse.

Mayer said his new proposal would provide tax breaks for businesses actually involved in forwarding international shipments. But that was a very small part of the Aerotropolis plan.

Mayer dropped the much larger package of tax breaks to build warehouses to attract a Chinese airline to make a major investment in St. Louis.

The total proposal is worth $360 million. The provision that has been removed is worth $300 million, leaving $60 million left to be discussed.

 

Senators requested updated projections to answer their questions regarding China hub projections on revenue and job creation before a scheduled Senate debate on the measure. Regional Economic Development Inc. presented its projections at an informal briefing.

Several senators indicated they were not satisfied that the information provided proved that taxpayer dollars were being invested responsibly.

"Understanding that every dollar that we invest in this or any other economic incentive is a dollar that we're not going to put in education or we're not going to put in roads or we're not going to put in bigger issues," said Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville. "We need to understand what those returns and opportunity costs are."

The results encompassed multiple scenarios, most of which predicting a small positive return only after ten years of the initial investment.

Another concern presented was that REMI has no data on how accurate it's projections have been in the past, despite being in use since it's creation at the University of Massachusetts in 1980. A REMI spokesman said the accuracy of the data depends on the accuracy of the information presented by the company. However in this projection, REMI's data is based on research and assumptions, not an actual business plan.

Missouri Senators unanimously voted yes perfect the facebook fix law.

Under the new bill, school districts will be required to have a policy in place by March 1st, 2012, regarding communication between employees and students.

Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Jackson County, said her only concern was trying to regulate technology because it changes so quickly.

"I had a couple of teachers over the weekend ask me a question about 'okay, so they fix this on Monday or during special session, can I have a facebook page,' and the answer I think is I don't know," Justus said.

Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, is the sponsor of the bill.

She says whether or not a teacher can have a facebook page will be up to school boards to decide.

The bill now moves on to the House.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed a freshwater brain-eating amoeba in a specimen from a Kansas resident who is now dead.

The Sedgwick County Health Department in Kansas is investigating and says Winfield City Lake is likely the source. Primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, a disease caused by the amoeba, is the probable cause of death, according to the department's investigation.

Miranda Myrick of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said there is no plan to close the lake or test for the amoeba.

"The testing is expensive and it takes a very long time to get results... and you know cases like this are very rare," Myrick said.

Officials from the Missouri Department of Health did not return repeated phone calls, though the death took place less than 200 miles from Missouri.

After making a quick deal meant to bring roughly 600 jobs to Moberly, the city is stuck with a business that's now in financial trouble, the Columbia Tribune reported Saturday.

The company, Chinese- and American-owned Mamtek International Ltd., was to make a zero-calorie sweetener called Sweet-O at a new Moberly factory that was financed with a $39 million dollar bond deal, the Columbia Tribune said. The business deal was sealed in 73 days instead of the normal six months it usually takes to make this type of deal, the Tribune said.

If Mamtek goes under, however, the city would retain assets such as the facility, equipment and sweetener recipe that it was to provide for the company to start production, the Tribune said.

The collapsing business deal comes as lawmakers wrestle with a deal with China to create an air cargo hub for trade at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.

Although the Missouri Health Department severed ties with Medicaid service provider SynCare the first week of September, the department still does not know how many Medicaid recipients are being affected by the change.

Health Department Director Margaret Donnelly said she does not know when the department will receive an exact number for how many Medicaid recipients are currently lacking services due to the split with SynCare. Donnelly said she believes the state staff can take care of the situation.

"As we have assessed the situation, we really believe in the immediate future that it is the quickest and most orderly transition to have the state staff assume all of these responsibilities," Donnelly said.

Rep. Thomas Long, R-Battlefield, said he thinks private providers ought to get involved.

"It would be better for us to involve the providers in getting rid of this backlog and in moving forward," Long said.

Gov. Jay Nixon's decision to block disaster funding from the special session has been rejected by a bi-partisan committee.

The House Budget Committee passed a bill challenging Nixon to add disaster relief funding to his special session.

The bill, which passed 22-1, urges Nixon to tap into the state's rainy day fund instead of using money from the general fund to aid in disaster relief areas like Joplin.

A bill to give tax relief to commercial properties in areas destroyed by this year's natural disasters passed a House committee Thursday.

Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin, sponsored the bill, saying he felt his constituents were being nickeled and dimed without the bill because they are not making any money on former commercial property. The May 22 tornado destroyed more than 300 businesses in the Joplin area.

The bill provides tax breaks to commercial properties that were destroyed in natural disasters, though the bill does not include a definition for "destroyed." The job of deciding what "destroyed" means will be left up to property assessors, who will make decisions on a county-by-county basis. Although the bill does not define a disaster, it does say what a natural disaster is not.

The bill also includes a clause to prevent fraudulent claims against the system. Those who make a claim for tax relief would not reap the benefits of the tax breaks if they continue to use the property for other commercial purposes. Those found guilty of fraud would be charged double the assessed property value and face other legal penalties.

The House Ways and Means Committee passed the bill with an 11-0 vote, and it also faced no opposition in the House Rules Committee. The next step for the bill will be determined Friday [Sept. 9] on the House floor.

St. Louis and Joplin authorities have implemented systems to increase communication — what they say is the primary security precaution — to ensure the safety of the state and nation in the decade since 9/11.

St. Louis Area Regional Response System Director Nick Gragnani said they installed a terrorism early-warning center where intelligence analysts nationwide work together to share information to prevent terrorist activities similar to those on Sept. 11, 2001.

"The unique thing about [the 9/11 airplanes] were they didn't care about learning how to take off or land," Gragnani said. "They were only interested in flying the plane from one point to another. Now that is a clue. It would have helped a lot if those agencies would have shared that information at the time that they had it."

Gragnani said regional collaboration and coordination are important to unite the country when major incidents or everyday contingencies occur.

The Joplin Police Department has increased its security at Joplin Regional Airport during flight times since 9/11. Lt. Matt Stewart said the department is also working in conjunction with the FBI to investigate any potential threats or suspicious activity the community brings to its attention.

"The communication and sharing of information has increased dramatically since then, and I think that's probably been the biggest positive from that event," Stewart said.

The St. Louis County Police Department's Emergency Communications Network is also working on the implementation of a radio system to increase communication between St. Louis, St. Charles and Jefferson counties -- an idea sparked by the 9/11 attacks. The network's director, David Barney, said he hopes to place everyone on the same radio platform and achieve public safety cooperation.

"9/11 pointed out really the need for public safety interoperability and the need for various public safety agencies to work together," Barney said.

Contracts have not yet been signed, but Barney said the aim is to complete the system in 2013.

A bill pushing back the presidential primary elections to March passed unanimously in the House Elections Committee Hearing Thursday.

Governor Jay Nixon called for this bill to be addressed in his special session agenda. National parties have given Missouri an ultimatum; the change must pass or up to half of Missouri delegates will not be seated at the National Convention.

Fifteen states recently pushed up their primary election date and five more states are considering the change. The early primary arguably increases the probability of being an early primary campaign stop and key player for most states. The bill sponsor and Republican Rep., Tony Dugger of Hartville, says he is not concerned about Missouri losing its reputation as a bell state.

"I think there's a lot of interest in the vote of Missouri," said Dugger.

He also said he is confident Missouri will remain a stop on the campaign map. Though Rep. Dugger is concerned that if Missouri is not fully present at the National Convention, the state may lose attention during the presidential race.

The next step for the bill is action on the House floor later this week.

After two hours of closed-door caucus meetings, the Senate met on Thursday morning to discuss the China hub legislation.

Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, and other Senate leaders called for a weekend break from discussion to give all senators the opportunity to analyze the proposed legislation.

"A bill of this magnitude and of this importance needs the attention of each member of this body," Mayer said.

Mayer said each member needs to scrutinize the bill in order to create the optimal bill.

The Senate will resume discussion on Tuesday afternoon.

The Senate Economic Development Committee showed its support for the China air cargo hub, approving the bill with a vote of 7-2.

With a few amendments by the committee, it will move to the Senate floor for debate and soon be subject to a vote.

The most contested part of the bill limits the Circuit Breaker tax, otherwise known as the renters' tax credit. The cuts were not removed from the bill, members of the committee said they wanted it to remain open for debate on the Senate floor.

"I still believe fundamentally in the Senate," said Sen. Victor Callahan, D-Independence. The committee said this decision should be made by the Senate as a whole, not just one committee.

After hearing hours of witnesses for and against the bill, the committee approved two other amendments to address citizens' concerns.

One allows pre-existing warehouses in the St. Louis area to be eligible for tax credits related to the China cargo hub, answering a concern that the wording was not specific enough on this issue. Another intends to protect jobs in Kansas City, a concern presented by Kansas City Mayor Sly James at the hearing.

A company that flies live animals to China and other countries in Asia for genetic improvements would see decreases in their operating costs with the passage of a cargo hub in St. Louis, it said at a committee hearing.

Tony Clayton, a representative from an agriculture exporting company south of St. Louis, Clayton Agri-Marketing, Inc., addressed the Senate Economic Development Committee about the high demand for Missouri livestock in Asian countries.

Clayton assured senators that Missouri-based exports can match the large amount of Chinese imports.

"If we do this, the planes are going to be full when they go back to China," Clayton said.

Clayton said each of their livestock planes are valued at $1.9 million.

The export of Missouri beef will need to be negotiated with China. No U.S. beef has been allowed into China since an outbreak of "mad cow" disease in 2003.

The mayors of St. Louis and Kansas City spoke to the Senate Economic Development committee in support of creating a trade hub with China at Lambert International Airport.

"We know the Chinese will be increasing air cargo to the U.S." said St. Louis mayor Francis Slay. Slay said flights were set to begin later this month.

Slay estimated 5,000 permanent jobs and 11,000 construction jobs would be created by the hub.

Kansas City Mayor Sly James supported keeping jobs in Missouri to prevent his constituents from relocating across the border to Kansas.

"Help us retain the jobs we have as we continue to provide 22 percent of the revenue in the state of Missouri," James said.

The Senate will be voting on the China hub bill during the special session next week.

Lawmakers, educators on board with fresh Facebook bill 09/07/2011

Missouri's contested "Facebook law" got a makeover from legislators and education groups Wednesday when they unanimously agreed to have local districts create their own policies regarding teachers' communication with students via Facebook, texting and other private means.

The Senate Education Committee voted 8-0 in favor of the bill's new wording, sending it to the full Senate.

However, the measure goes beyond the specific special session call of Gov. Jay Nixon, who limited the legislature to considering a simple repeal of the social media restriction.

Governor spokesman Scott Holste said Nixon does not intend to expand his call.

Represenatatives from state education groups, including the Missouri State Teacher's Association, Missouri School Board Association and Missouri National Education Association, spoke in favor of the revisions at Wednesday's hearing.

Earlier this summer, MSTA filed a lawsuit against the law charging it violates First Amendment rights of teachers. The lawsuit describes the law as being "so vague and overbroad that the Plaintiffs cannot know with confidence what conduct is permitted."

"The only communication prohibited in Senate Bill 54 was hidden communication between a teacher and student," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County. Cunningham met with education organizations earlier this summer to address their concerns and amend the bill.

The amended wording requires local school districts to create their own policies regarding electronic communication by March 1. It also broadens the wording to apply not just to teachers but to all school staff.

Tea Party members voiced their opposition to funding a cargo trade hub with China Wednesday afternoon at the state Capitol.

Speakers Cindy McGee, chairwoman of Show Me Patriots, and Ron Calzone, board member of Missouri First and Missouri Citizens for Property Rights protested Gov. Jay Nixon's plan to provide $360 million in tax credits to subsidize a China hub at Lambert International Airport in St.Louis.

They also complained that the practice of government picking favorites at the expense of others has to stop.

"No to the China hub. No to 'aerotropolis.' No to whatever you want to call this atrocity. No to picking winners and losers, and no more abusive power at the expense of the taxpayers," McGee said.

McGee and Calzone said that the government has no right to decide who succeeds in the public sector.

These Tea Party members plan to meet again Thursday.

Missouri's former governor Roger Wilson is under federal investigation for his link to illegal campaign donations, the Kansas City Star reported Wednesday.

State records show that an unnamed St. Louis law firm donated $8,000 to the Missouri Democratic Party in 2009. Sources told the Star that authorities are investigating whether these donations were reimbursed by Wilson or by public insurance company Missouri Employers Mutual Insurance Co.

This July, Wilson was fired as president of Missouri Employers Mutual Insurance Co., which provides workers compensation insurance to small businesses in the state.

If these donations came at his direction, Wilson could have been in violation of state and federal laws that prohibit contributions made in the name of another person, the Star said.

Wilson told the Star he could not comment on the issue.

The key sponsor of the plan to award tax breaks to businesses for a China hub in St. Louis appeared to have been switched Tuesday night — the opening day of the legislature's special session.

Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer filed his own bill after acknowledging that his Ways and Means Committee chair had voiced concerns during a closed-door GOP caucus earlier in the afternoon.

The chair, Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield, was identified as the lead sponsor of the compromise worked out by the governor and top GOP legislative leaders on the package to provide tax breaks to businesses in return for cuts in other tax credits.

But Tuesday night, Purgason told a few reporters he was uncomfortable handling a bill he had not been given the opportunity to read.

"I'm not willing to go through a process where I get handed a bill and say this is the bill you need to go out and pass it," Purgason said.

Purgason said he also objected to the speed at which the leadership was pushing a bill hundreds of pages in length and that few had the opportunity to read.

"When we're spending taxpayer dollars, we need to move slowly because we're spending some else's money and our kids' money, and we're spending money that goes to education," Purgason said.

A three-hour personal attack against the governor and Senate leadership dominated the opening day of the legislature's special session.

Sen. Jason Crowell attacked the governor for his restrictions on what topics the legislature could consider during the session and also attacked his fellow Republican leaders in the Senate for agreeing with Gov. Jay Nixon's approach.

"The governor's not my dad and I don't live under his rules," Crowell said. "This is crazy. This is unbelievable. We have never had a governor try to tell on such a micro-level what the Senate can do on such a variety of topics."

Missouri's constitution restricts a legislative special session to only those specific issues cited by a governor in his special-session call.

In his call, Nixon tightly defined what lawmakers could and could not consider.

Frequently using the word "repugnant," Crowell attacked his own leaders in the Senate for going along with the governor's approach.

"It's undemocratic to be here in this special session," Crowell said. "It's an abortion to be here under these specific, tightly noose-like parameters that only the governor wants."

Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, filed two bills on Tuesdat that would prevent unmandated disaster relief spending.

Silvey said he took action because he believes Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's withholding of funds for natural disaster relief is unconstitutional.

"We've told him that, the auditor’s told him that, and yet he’s so far refused to seek any other avenues," Silvey said. "So because he promised it initially, we just thought we’d help him out and make sure we went ahead and filed the bill."

Silvey says although the governor promised to address the appropriations in various speeches over the summer, he did not include legislation in the agenda for the special session.

Silvey also wants to establish a joint committee to address disaster funding in the future.

Nixon has said he did not include natural disaster relief funding in the special session call as he earlier had announced because a final estimate of the costs has not yet been determined.

Both Democrats and Republicans were not concerned by the near 20 percent attendance. Carthage Republican Representative Tom Flanigan believes full attendance for a technical session would be a waste of time and money for the state.

“You don’t want to bring in this many people for a short period of time without accomplishing anything. It’s a waste of taxpayer funds and it’s a waste of time of the legislature," said Representative Flanigan.

Lawmakers read five bills during today's session. Two major bills address tax credit reform and the local control of the St. Louis Police Department.

The House will meet Wednesday morning for another technical session.

MU-based tax policy expert Brenda Procter criticized a proposed cut to property tax breaks.

Procter says the proposal only hurts the poor and mentally handicapped who depend the tax credit.

However, State Sen. Brian Munzlinger (R-Adair) in favor of cutting the program says the state already provides for these groups.

The legislature began a tenatively schedule two-week special session Tuesday.

Although the agreement of passing tax breaks and a China hub in St. Louis is still up in the air at the beginning of the special session, former Missouri governor Bob Holden says he is always in support of the plans that could benefit international business relationships.

Holden serves as the chairman of Midwest US-China Association after serving as the state governor. It is a non-profit bipartisan organization that dedicating in US-China business cooperation.

"Anything that we can do to strengthen those relationships so they will turn into partnerships, which will lead to opportunities and jobs, we are supporting them," Holden said. "Once the opportunities are established, wherever they are established in the Midwest, I think it helps all Midwesterner businesses expand trade with China and create jobs in Midwest."

However, opponents are concerning that the jobs would be actually moved overseas as opposed to benefit local community. Sen. Jason Crowell has previously said he was concerning the China hub will boost import more than export.

Chinese government has imposed safety restrictions on imported food from U.S., including beef and pork. Although Holden said there are opportunities in building up trades, he said he doesn't know what would be shipped once the hub is constructed before the restrictions are removed.

"That's a issue that Chinese government and our government have to deal with," Holden said.

Holden is planning a business trip to China in October, bringing the delegations from the 12 Midwest states to meet with U.S. Commerce, U.S. Embassy staff and China Council. Holden said Gov. Holden will join their trip as the Missouri delegation.

Four people died on Missouri waterways over the holiday weekend, the Missouri Water Patrol said Tuesday.

That's the same number of people that died on the water on Labor Day weekend in 2010. Spokesman for the Missouri Water Patrol Gerard Callahan said that's pretty normal for a weekend with so much water traffic.

"Four fatalities in a weekend; it's what we saw last Labor Day. It's not unusual, but it's higher than we would like to see. We'd like to see a fatality-free weekend every holiday weekend," said Callahan.

The Missouri Highway Patrol said 10 people died on Missouri roadways during the holiday weekend — that's also the same number of people who died on Missouri roads on Labor Day weekend last year.

Missouri's Health Department director announced Thursday cancellation of contract with a company providing services for screening Medicaid recipients.

Cancellation came after published reports that SynCare's failure to provide services under the contract was causing delays in health care coverage for recipients.

The cancellation announcement came after the House Budget Transparency Committee heard more than two hours of testimony from the health department about the company's poor performance. The Health Department's Director, Margaret Donnelly said, "The company is not able to meet the terms and conditions of their contract."

Although legislators are unsure of a permanent solution, House Budget Chairman Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, said the department is doing the right thing.

"This has been a disaster since day one and I will be demanding that the department take any measures necessary to make the Missouri taxpayer whole," Silvey said.

Twelve community pools in the Kansas City area have been closed due to an outbreak of a germ called Cryptosporidium.

This parasite, also known as Crypto, can causes diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and fever. The Pollution Control Director of the Johnson County Environmental Department, Betsy Betros, said there are currently 75 confirmed cases of Crypto in the Kansas City, Kan., area.

Betros also said she hopes the pools' actions to close or extensively chlorinate for Labor Day will put a cap on the growing problem.

For a normal person, symptoms will come and go. The concern is when the infection spreads to children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with a weak immune system. According to Betros, after symptoms have subsided, individuals should continue to keep away from pools for two weeks, as the Crypto parasite is still being shed at this time.

Missouri State Highway Patrol arrested Arizona citizen Jose Lopez in Callaway County on Wednesday [Aug. 31] after discovering 132 pounds of marijuana in his vehicle. However, this is a regular occurrence on Interstate 70, according to Missouri State Highway Patrol Sergeant Paul Reinsch.

According to a highway patrol officer, the expressway's central location running east and west is a prime outlet for drug traffickers.

"Drugs of all kinds are traveling up and down our highways every day," Reinsch said.

Marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin are all natives to I-70, he said. Reinsch also said prescription drugs are increasingly common on mid-Missouri roads.

"Prescription drugs are the second-most popular source of intoxication in Missouri," the Transformations Drug and Alcohol Treatment Center states on its website. It also says painkillers and anti-depressants are a trend that is spreading rapidly across the stretch of Missouri.

Lopez has been charged with possession of marijuana and trafficking drugs. Reinsch said the highway patrol does not know where he was planning on making a sale, but they are confident he had full intention of distributing it. The fact Lopez traveled through four states indicates how vital I-70 is to drug traffickers, he said.

His case will be debated in court because the charge is an accusation, not evidence of guilt. Lopez will be held at the Callaway County Jail until then.

With one of the biggest holiday weekends approaching for the Lake of the Ozarks, the Missouri State Highway Patrol is increasing the amount of police presence on both highways and waterways starting Friday.

The potential for water and traffic accidents increases during summer holiday weekends at the Lake of the Ozarks, officers said.

"Make sure you designate a sober skipper if you're going to have alcohol as part of your plan this weekend. Do that before you leave the dock so that there's no question about it," said Gerard Callahan, spokesman for the Missouri Water Patrol.

In addition to increased visible police presence on the lake, there are likely to be more sobriety checkpoints. Officers also plan to increase patrol on all major Missouri highways to cut down on aggressive drivers.

Last year, four people were killed on Missouri waterways over Labor Day weekend. An additional 10 people were killed and 515 injured in traffic accidents. Police responded to more than 1,000 traffic crashes.

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In a letter addressed to Republicans, Peter Kinder is encouraging people to focus on more than just stories in the media.

After undergoing scrutiny due to his affiliation with an ex-stripper, Kinder is trying to rebuild his reputation and says he still plans to run. Kinder's spokesperson Jared Craighead says he believes the letter will do just that.

"The reaction has been very positive and people are very anxious for us to begin talking about the issues that matter. And that's exactly what we plan to do," Craighead said.

Kinder was originally supposed to announce his decision to run after Labor Day, but has decided to wait until he has the chance to talk with residents around the state.

Budget Committee members questioned health department officials about why they are still working with a private contractor that failed to fulfill the terms of their $11.4 million contract. The company, Syncare LLC, was hired to provide support and assessment of care plans but has not been able to handle the sheer volume of calls.

Syncare has been allowed to bill the state for 50 percent of their work and has already fallen behind.

"How long can we expect Syncare to bleed the way they're bleeding and continue to perform," Rep. Randy Asbury R-Higbee said.

Members of the committee also said the department was partially to blame for awarding Syncare the contract.

"We're not satisfied with the performance on a number of fronts," said Deputy Director of the department Peter Lyskowski. "But it would be irresponsible to just point the finger at Syncare."

Committee chair Ryan Silvey R-Kansas City, read concerns about Syncare from the Office of Administration evaluation. It including the fragmented nature of providing service, poor ratio of supervisors to staff, lack of detail in their execution model and no back-up plan. According to the document "there is concern with the plan with oversight to ensure satisfactory performance."

"I think the department has failed here miserably," said Rep. Dave Schatz R-Sullivan.

Arguments continued for the immediate termination of the contract but there is currently no plan to do so. Lyskowski said they did not want to create a void in service.

"It would seem that the missteps in the last few months have created a void and it's a crisis," said Rep. Jeff Grisamore R-Lee's Summit.

JEFFERSON CITY - While defending the arguements raised in the lawsuit, Rep. Chris Kelly D-Columbia, says State Auditor Tom Schweich has no legal standing to sue Gov. Jay Nixon.

"I agree with Schweich that this was an overreach on the part of the governor," Kelly said. "I disagree with him constitutionally."

In a previous Budget Committee hearing, Kelly blamed the legislature for the executive spending power. He said they failed to control a provision giving the governor the power to use estimates to determine disaster relief funding.

The estimate provision allows money from the treasury "to provide for expenses of any state agency responding during a declared emergency at the discretion of the governor provided the services furnish immediate aid and relief.

One of the complaints listed in the lawsuit was that Nixon's budget cut funds from Republican offices but not Democratic.

"I think the suit is political," said Kelly.

Schweich insists that his motivation is about government transparency. A scathing St. Louis Post-Dispatch named cuts from his own budget as his true motivation.

Kelly has called for legislation to close administrative budget flexibility during the next legislative session.

"The place to resolve this is in the appropriations process," said Kelly. "Not in the courts."

Leaders from Missouri's major business and labor organizations expressed confidence Tuesday that a bill to create an international trade hub at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport will pass the legislature's special session.

Dan Mehan, president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, said he believes leaders from both political parties are coming together on the idea of passing the legislation. Mehan and his colleagues said they are optimistic it can be done, but know that the General Assembly will have to act swiftly.

"If we want to compete in the way that we know we need to, we're going to have to be bold about it," Mehan said.

The business leaders said they hope for Missouri's government to create $360 million in tax breaks to foster trade relations with China by establishing an international cargo airline.

Under the plan proposed by legislative leaders and the governor, those tax breaks would be coupled with reductions in other tax credits including credits provided to historic building developers, the elderly, handicapped and house renters.

The business leaders' news conference came on the same day that indications emerged from a Senate working group of divisions about the plan -- particularly the proposal to eliminate tax credits for lower income elderly residential renters.

Mehan and his partners said they believe that almost 18,000 temporary jobs would be created in the construction field and 11,000 permanent jobs would be created to run the hub. Business leaders said they hope the addition of these jobs will repair some of Missouri's unemployment issues.

Missouri auditor Tom Schweich demands an apology from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which criticized his motives for filing a lawsuit against Gov. Jay Nixon.

The Post-Dispatch suggests Schweich's suit aids only his political agenda.

Schweich refutes these claims.

“When somebody comes out there with such a scandalously, lying argument, such a completely false editorial and misleads the people about what their state auditor is up to, I have to say something about it," Schweich said.

Schweich says Nixon's withholding of state funds for disaster relief violates Missouri's Constitution.

Confronted with the issue, Nixon said he will continue to balance the budget.

The governor's plan to provide tax breaks for business development and a China hub in St. Louis ran into opposition before a Senate work group Tuesday.

Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, termed the proposed tax breaks approaching $500 million as irresponsible.

Many of the tax breaks in the package drafted by the governor's office and legislative leaders focus on development of an international trade hub project at Lambert International Airport in St. Louis.

Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-Caulfield, said the proposal is still a work in progress and a lot more debate is needed during the special legislative session which begins on Sept. 6. After the public session, Purgason and a few other senators also met behind closed doors.

Purgason, one of the Senate's most outspoken budget hawks, has said that the savings in reducing tax credits was worth the cost of the China hub tax breaks.

Crowell said since the state's budget is so tight, he doesn't think there is room for irrational spending.

Recent corn yield estimates forecast a 125-bushels-per-acre yield in Missouri, roughly 20 to 30 bushels per acre less than the average yearly amount.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Director Bob Garino said the farmers are less likely to be affected because corn prices are already very high.

However, a high demand of corn plus smaller yields causes a spike in commodities prices. Garino said 2010 was also a down year, with yields similar to 2011.

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled to standardize suspect lineups to try to avoid influencing eyewitness testimony.

However, representatives from the St. Louis Police Officers Association and Missouri Fraternal Order of Police said they don't think the ruling will affect Missourians.

Jeff Roorda, business manager for the St. Louis Police Officers Association, said Missouri's police officers take care that lineups aren't tainted.

"We, as the Police Officers Association, know that our cops are doing the right thing and will continue to do so whatever the law is," said Roorda.

Roorda said that although this is an area of national concern, he does not believe the New Jersey ruling is representative of police practices nationwide.

"I think it's a public reaction to some very small percentage of cases where the process has been abused," said Roorda.

Roorda said Missouri doesn't have a standardized lineup procedure, but varies by county and he does not know of any plans to regulate police lineups in Missouri.

With the recent damage caused by Hurricane Irene on the East Coast, FEMA's disaster relief funds are wearing thin and Joplin is no longer being prioritized.

FEMA has adopted an "immediate needs" strategy that provides relief to those disaster areas most in need.

Joplin's tornado that hit almost three months ago does not earn the Missouri town a spot on FEMA's immediate needs list. The residents of Joplin must wait until FEMA can afford to send them more funding.

FEMA spokesperson Josh Deberge said that while areas with the most immediate needs, such as the East Coast, will receive funding first, all disaster areas including Joplin will receive promised money.

"Basically what it means is there are permanent projects out there that were associated with disasters, that the money for those projects will likely be delayed. That does not mean that there will be a reduction of funds or that money will be taken away," Deberge said.

FEMA said they will return to normal operations when Congress votes to replenish the fund. However, they don't know when that will happen.

For now, relief is focused on the East. But FEMA promises recovery efforts in Joplin will not be left unfinished.


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