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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of September 19, 2011

The Missouri General Assembly effectively ended its work for the special session on Friday [Sept. 23] afternoon, but left the door open to continue if the two chambers manage to compromise on the China cargo hub/tax break bill that has divided them.

The legislature adjourned and agreed to set technical sessions, which few members are required to attend, to simply keep the session going in case they strike a deal, but leaders have said chances that will happen are slim. The special session effectively ended without the legislature passing many of the major issues presented to lawmakers by the governor.

Gov. Jay Nixon issued a blistering attack of the legislature shortly after it called it quits in a statement that reflected the clear understanding by the governor that the special session effectively was over.

"Today, quite frankly, the General Assembly is letting real opportunities to move our state pass us by," Nixon told a news conference. "When it comes to job creation, the General Assembly has missed opportunities to position Missouri for competition in the global economy and the emerging technology of the future."

In the morning, the House passed and sent the governor two measures - a fix to the restriction on school staff using social media, like Facebook, to communicate with students and a bill providing tax breaks to businesses involved with science, health and technology.

The House did not even take up the main issue of the session: the package of business tax breaks for a China air cargo transport hub and cuts in existing tax credits.

The House had resisted cuts as deep as the Senate had passed in tax credits for developers, lower income Missourians and special activities like adoptions. The Senate rejected the largest portion of tax breaks for the China air cargo transport hub in St. Louis pushed by the House.

The two measures the legislature passed face an uncertain future. The technology tax breaks bill includes a provision that it will not take effect unless the legislature passes the China hub bill.

The "Facebook fix" goes beyond the governor's call to the legislature. Missouri's constitution restricts the legislature to the specific recommendations of the governor. At his news conference, Nixon would not say whether he would sign the bill nor whether he would expand his call to remove any legal questions about the "Facebook fix."

Special session requests by the governor that did not clear the legislature are:

  • Give St. Louis city control over its police department
  • Give the Revenue Department extra powers to go after persons owing back taxes
  • Move the president primary from February to March
  • Reduce property taxes for business property destroyed by a natural disaster

Without passage of the China hub/tax credit bill, it will be only the third time in the past half century that the General Assembly has failed to pass the main issue for which the governor called a special session.

Top Senate sources say the Senate will adjourn the special session when it meets this afternoon without taking action on most of the major issues presented by the governor.

Legislative leaders had set Friday as a self-imposed deadline to reach an agreement on the China hub bill that could couple tax breaks for an international air cargo center in St. Louis with other business tax breaks and restrictions in tax credits.

But the House Economic Development Committee adjourned without acting on the bill Thursday night, assuring the Friday deadline could not be met.

In both the House and Senate, Republican leaders have acknowledged strong opposition among members of their own party -- particularly after published reports that another economic development program with China had failed.

If the legislative session does end without action on the bill, it would be only the third time in the past half century that the General Assembly has failed to approve the main issue for which the governor called a special session.

Missouri's House approved and sent the governor a measure to assure that school districts can allow their staff and teachers to communicate with students through social media like Facebook.

The bill amends a law passed by the regular session of the legislature earlier this year that critics charged banned social media communication.

A state court has enjoyed enforcement of that provision.

The revision approved by the legislature requires that school districts adopt policies for using social media.

The legislative measure exceeds the governor's special session call that limited lawmakers to simply repealing the provision. The state constitution restricts special sessions from going beyond the specific recommendations of the governor.

At a Friday afternoon news conference, Gov. Jay Nixon would not say if he would sign the bill nor whether he would expand the legislature's call to remove any legal questions about the measure.

The Facebook fix is the first, and likely the only bill to be passed by a special session that began September 6.

House Republicans ended a two-hour closed-door caucus with no decision announced on whether to continue efforts to pass a package of tax breaks for a China air cargo transport hub in St. Louis.

House Speaker Steve Tilley told reporters his GOP members had agreed to have their leadership make the determination of what to do next.

"The leadership team is going to talk about it, determine whether we feel we can bridge the gap. If we can, I think we're going to continue to try. If the consensus is they don't we can, then we won't," Tilley said.

The House speaker said the House definitely would not take up the China hub measure on Friday -- assuring that if the issue remains alive, it pushes the special session into another week.

The special session of the legislature could near its end with little to show for itself after two weeks. If representatives and senators cannot come to an agreement on the China hub bill by Friday, the special session will be dead.

"I don't want to spend any more taxpayer dollars than I have to," Republican House economic development committee chair Anne Zerr.

The House committee passed the Missouri Science and Innovation Reinvestment Act on to House floor debate but the Senate will not discuss it on Friday if the China hub bill is killed.

This decision stemmed from a series of meetings throughout the day.

Senators called a press conference at 1 p.m. to outline taxpayer protections in Senate Bill 8 for the House to consider.

House economic development committee hearing met at 2 p.m. and after roll call immediately adjourned. Various Republican representatives and senators convened in Republican Senate Leader Rob Mayer's office.

Mayer said the House and Senate leaders discussed provisions they had differences with to see if they could conjure some sort of a compromise to move the bill forward.

When asked if the special session would be a failure if leaders did not find a compromise, Mayer responded, "We're still working and channeling our energy to try to get this completed and get it done."

However, House members felt differently when asked who or what would be the blame if the special session fails.

"I think it's a failure in the governor's leadership and the governor inserting himself into this process and convincing a few senators to send us a bill that the house has never supported in the form of Compete Missouri," Republican House representative Timothy Jones said.

The House rejoined at 4:30 p.m. and again adjourned without discussing the China hub bill. Mayer stressed that Friday is a tight deadline.

UMSL and the Missouri University of Science and Technology are preparing to build a new campus and offer a variety of courses in Sichuan Province in China.

University of Missouri-St. Louis Chancellor, Thomas George said the project is a good cultural exchange between China and the US.

American students can study at the new campus for one semester and Chinese students can also choose to transfer to the University of Missouri system after studying at the new campus for two years.

Director of Communications at Missouri S&T, Andrew Careaga said two campuses will work together with Tian Fu College in China to contribute to creating curriculum and hiring teachers.

The new campus will be an English-language university and it is being built now.

The project is waiting for final approval from the Chinese Ministry of Education later this fall.

House and Senate Republican leaders emerged from an hour-long closed door session Thursday afternoon without an agreement on the governor's proposal to award tax breaks to businesses to develop an air cargo transport hub with China in St. Louis.

"We're still talking" was the response from one leader. Another said they need to poll their members.

They're facing a Friday self-imposed deadline to resolve their differences on the business tax break bill or call it quits for the special session.

Earlier today, the two top House leaders acknowledged that there's a near majority within the House Republican caucus that would like to just adjourn and go home.

Earlier this week, the Senate's top Republic leader reported the same sentiment from his own caucus.

The merging of Missouri's Water and Highway patrols was supposed to save money, but now will cost the state almost one-point-eight million dollars.

After the merger, many Water Patrol workers switched to Highway Patrol due to its better retirement policy.

Deputy State Auditor Harry Otto says the consolidation of the two agencies did provide more manpower for responding to the Joplin tornado.

But he says he's still not sure the benefits outweigh the costs.

"They couldn't have done that had they been two separate organizations, but combining themselves into one organization they were more easily able to react. But we don't know how to put a dollar value on that," said Otto.

Otto also says the state and agencies should have been more careful in calculating the costs of this decision.

In a state audit released Wednesday, the auditor's office faults Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder's involvement in two potentially conflicting groups.

In 2009, Kinder served as chairman of the state's Tourism Commission. He voted to send $2.5 million in taxpayer money to Tour of Missouri, a non-profit. Kinder, however, was chairman of that company at the time.

Deputy State Auditor Harry Otto said this created a possible conflict of interest.

It should have been disclosed and a refusal should have occured," said Otto.

In a press release, Kinder's office called this "accidental failure" and noted that Kinder had no financial interest in Tour of Missouri.

House members drafted a substitute bill regarding the China trading hub at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.

But when senators met, they still hadn't received a copy of the bill, and were unable to discuss the compromise.

House Economic Development Committee Chair Ann Zerr was hesitant to answer questions regarding the substitute bill.

"Well, and see that would be going into the details and my committee doesn't even have the details yet. I want to get the actual sub to my committee before I go public with it," Zerr said.

House members say they will go home without a signed bill before letting the special session drag on past Friday.

The top leader of the Missouri Senate emerged a Republican caucus Wednesday afternoon, saying a majority of his members favor simply ending the special session without passing the governor's tax bill.

Earlier in the day, Republican leaders in the Missouri House of Representatives announced what they termed a compromise plan for providing tax breaks for a China air cargo transport hub in St. Louis.

But Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer told the Senate he had not been given a copy of the plan nor had he been involved in any discussions.

Mayer said the House version is not acceptable to the Senate because, among other things, it does not make deep enough cuts in special interest tax credits that cost the state more than $500 million per year in lost tax revenue.

The Senate has recessed until 7 p.m. Wednesday. Mayer said he plans to talk with the governor and House leaders before a final decision is made on whether to adjourn the special session without taking action.

While the China air cargo hub legislation is under fierce debate, a group of activists are showing graphic paintings depicting Chinese repression and brutality toward a peaceful spiritual group.

Falun Gong activist Sara Effner said she wants lawmakers to think a little harder about the bill.

"I think China's human rights record is definitely something to take into consideration," Effner said. "I don't see why they wouldn't take that into consideration."

Rep. Barney Fisher, R-Richards, declined to speak about China specifically but did say he wouldn't want to do business with governments that "trample human rights."

$21 Million was nearly voted on by a health care board last week. The health care exchange would be the first step in implementing Obama's federal health care plan in Missouri.

Senator Jane Cunningham expressed absolute concern over the implementation process because voters struck down "Obamacare" last year in Proposition C.

Cunningham also said she felt that the legislative process was completely ignored and that senators had no idea about this exchange.

The room of the original House meeting for the proposed China Hub trade bill was empty Tuesday morning and the big "canceled" notice outside told legislators the meeting had been canceled.

Sen. Anne Zerr, R-St. Charles, the chair of the committee said the members of the committee need more time to digest everything they heard at the Committee hearing on Monday night.

Sen. Paul Curtman, R-Pacific, said there were more people to testify during the meeting than they originally thought, so the members have a lot of things to consider.

The committee will hold a meeting on Wednesday for further discussion and voting.

The Missouri State Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to pull the Kansas City school district's accreditation.

For the state of Missouri, this means unaccredited schools in its two largest cities.

This not the first time the Kansas City school district have been unaccredited. The school district also passed as unaccredited in 1999, which took affect in 2000.

Then in 2006, the school district was improved to a provisionally accredited status.

The Missouri School Improvement Program, also known as MSIP, recommended this downgrade to the board after the school district failed to meet state progress and assessment standards.

The loss of accreditation puts Kansas City schools on a two-year probation where the district will work closely with the state board of education.

According to Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro, this is the best action for students and children of the school district. Nicastro says she hopes that it will in fact galvanize some definitive action on the part of the district, the community and the department.

Out of the 18 school districts reviewed at the hearing, Kansas City was the only district to lose its accreditation.

The school district will officially become unaccredited January 1, 2012.

A Western Missouri kindergarten student drew nation-wide attention by bringing his mom's crack pipe and drugs to school for a class assignment.

The Sweet Springs Elementary school faculty found a crack pipe and an estimated value of $3,000 of methamphetamine in the boy's backpack before he presented it to the class on Sept. 6 and informed the Sweet Springs Police Department about the situation.

"I've been doing this for all my career and I have never had a Show and Tell; not like this," Chief of Police Richard Downing said. "You don't expect something like this from a kindergartner."

The boy's mother, Michelle Cheatum, was charged with child endangerment and possession in Saline County Circuit Court on Sept. 12.  

The local police department will continue to conduct two yearly canine inspections throughout the kindergarten to high school building.

Superintendent Donna Wright said she currently does not know if the student was bringing the paraphernalia in place of the picture assignment or not.   

"This is a situation where you have a child who, in my opinion, had no idea what he had," Wright said.  

A vote on the China hub bill has been further delayed by the House Economic Development Committee canceled the planned executive session.

The Associated Press quoted the House bill handler as warning that the House might adjourn without passing a bill unless a consensus can be reached on the measure.

House leaders and the Senate have taken different approaches on how to award tax credits to businesses for building the infrastructure to attract a Chinese air cargo shipper, like warehouses.  House leaders argue the Senate's approach would give the governor's administration too much power to pick winners and losers in awarding business tax breaks.

After four hours of testimony in favor of the China hub Monday night, Bob Wood from Glasgow, Mo. was the first to speak in opposition.

"I don't represent anybody but myself," said Wood. He said he spent the last 20 years using a St. Louis warehouse to house Chinese goods and opposed giving tax credits to developers for the same thing.

"There's a lot of money going to people who maybe don't need that help," said Wood.

Another witness, Ron Calzone, compared the government handing out tax credits as Mercantilism similar to the colonial Tea Act of 1778. Calzone and other witnesses asserted that tax credits were unconstitutional and did not treat people as equals. Several witnesses that identified as members of the Tea Party wanted government to step aside using models such as John Locke's Wealth of Nations.

"Unfortunately the world has changed and it seems like working hard and doing the right thing isn't enough," Rep. Michael Brown, D- Kansas City, said. Brown engaged in heated conversations with multiple witnesses, saying the free market approach would not work in "undesirable" areas like his district.

"Where I come from, if you have a chain and there's a weak link in the chain, the smartest thing to do is support the weak link," said Brown. "So that the overall chain is strengthened. And I think that's what we're trying to do."

Specific opposition arose regarding cuts to the low-income housing and historic preservation tax credits. A representative from Places for People, Francie Roderick, said that low-income housing credits are needed to develop special needs housing.

The House Economic Development Committee did not vote on the bill. Committee chairwoman Anne Zerr said they need more time to consider everyone's testimony.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay testified that if the bill is not passed, China will lose interest in trade with Missouri. Slay said that China is also looking at other cities like Cincinatti, some of which are also preparing incentives. The deal could open trade to other areas like Brazil, South America and Africa. China wants to use the Midwest to open trade with other countries, Slay said.

The first Chinese flight will be landing at Lambert International Airport this weekend, with flights once a week to test if exports can match flight activity, Slay said.

"If some reasonable form of this does not pass then my prediction is that we will lost the opportunity and they will go someplace else," Slay said.

The Missouri House Education Committee unanimously approved a bill to make changes in restrictions on school teachers using social media to communicate with students.   

As opposed to current law that critics charge prohibits use of social media, the bill would require school districts to adopt a policy regarding electronic communication between teachers and students that fits their values. Each school district will be responsible for implementing the policy.

The measure easily had cleared the Senate earlier in the legislature's special session.

"I, myself, favor local control for two reasons, well, for three reasons," said Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia. "One, it's good public policy to govern as close to home as possible. Second, Chillicothe may do it right and West Plains may do it wrong and the rest of the districts will learn from Chillicothe. Third, Columbia may do it right, and Springfield may do it right, both constitutional, but different. Reflecting the different values of the two communities."

Changes in the law's language focus on prohibiting improper communication instead of all electronic communication, a complaint made by teachers the original law was adopted by the legislature's regular session earlier this year. Representatives from the Missouri State Teacher's Association, Missouri National Education Association and Missouri School Board Association spoke in favor of the bill's new wording.

Representatives said the biggest objections to the bill were because the original wording was taken out of context. The restriction was intended to prevent inappropriate communication and protect teachers and students, supporters said.

The bill will now go to the full House for a vote.

The current restriction, was signed into law by Gov. Jay Nixon in July, but a Cole County judge blocked the law from taking effect at the end of August due to concerns about free speech violations. 

The legislature's version exceeds the governor's agenda he set for the special session. Nixon's agenda for the special session limited the legislature to simply repealing that provision of the law; he did not specify that legislators could make changes to the law's language.

Although the St. Louis air cargo hub has been the center of attention during legislature's special session, another part of the bill seeks to boost economic development by putting Missouri on the map as center for digital data storage.

These data centers are warehouses storing computer servers storing digital information.

The data center tax credits would create incentives already in place in neighboring states in hopes of luring a data center to Missouri. The bill is based on a prediction that the center would bring up to $600 million in revenue over 25 years and create thousands of construction jobs.

The national technology industry is expected to invest $12 billion in the next three years, said Karen Buschmann of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce.

A site in Columbia, Ewing Industrial park, is being advertised as ideal for a data center. The location has access to various forms of power, a newly expanded water main and underground Internet cables. The utilities could be a large source of revenue for the city, commercial properties are taxed 33 percent.

"The potential tax revenue from that site is literally mind-boggling, if we should be lucky enough in our wildest dreams to land one of these sites," said Dave Griggs, chair of Regional Economic Development Inc. Griggs said Columbia's exact revenue from a data center can't be determined until they know the size of the investment.

Companies have been looking for locations for data centers for several years, but no company has come forward to commit to Columbia. The exact benefits of a new data center cannot be determined until the amount invested is known.

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.


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