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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of May 7, 2012

After weeks of gridlock, late-night filibusters and personal attacks, the Missouri House of Representatives and Senate sent the state's $24 billion budget to Gov. Jay Nixon's desk one day before deadline with higher education coming out as a big winner.

Despite starting the year with a $500 million budget shortfall, the budget holds flat funding for public universities and local school districts. Colleges were facing a 15 percent cut under Nixon's proposed budget, but House and Senate leaders said they made a policy decision to give higher education the same amount as this year.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said the downward trend in higher education funding had to stop this year.

"I am glad we put that money back in, and that is not to imply this was not an extremely tough budget year," Schaefer said. "We simply had to set the priorities where we saw the priorities should be, and that is in education."

The top House Democrat on the budget committee, Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, said she was glad the cuts were reversed, but said the current funding trends could not continue.

"With our reductions in funding every year, college and university budgets are now so lean with more cuts they will be laying off teachers, professors and researchers," she said.

Schaefer said the ride to pass the budget was "bumpy" but that he was glad to have the budget passed without raising taxes. The Senate spent many late nights debating the budget with insults and personal attacks being leveled against Schaefer and Senate leadership.

This measure would replace one of the judges on the Appellate Judicial Commission, with its fourth governor appointed member.

It would increase the number of individuals the Governor nominates for vacancies in the Supreme Court or Court of Appeals from three to four and decrease the number of lawyers to three.

Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, is the sponsor of the bill in the House. He said the bill would ensure the source of power behind the selection of judicial are Missourians.

“The member of the Supreme Court should not choice their own colleagues,” Cox said.

Rep. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, said the bill appeals to be anti-lawyers.

Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, a lawyer as well, said he supported the bill because it would allow the people of Missouri to make the decision.

Rep. Rory Ellinger, D-St. Louis County, said it could a very dangerous law.

“I do not want any one person to have that kind of authority,” Ellinger said.

House members on Thursday gave the proposal final approval with a close 84-71. It has passed the Senate last week.

Residential homes and structures built before 1978 may contain lead based paint.

John Cable, risk assessor with Triangle Environmental, said that children are most at risk because if they ingest lead dust or consume lead based paint chips.

Lead is stored in the bone and affects every organ. Lead poisoning causes a range of health issues varying from lethargy, behavioral problems, paralysis, and even death.

Representative Dwight Scharnhorst, R-St.Louis County, sponsors a bill that prohibits the Department of Health and Senior Services from enacting or regulating lead abatement laws that are stricter than federal laws. He said, "I think we're fully aware of the repercussions of it and the problems that we have with it."

Dr. Jennifer Lowry, medical toxicologist and pediatrician at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, said we've neglected an entire generation of physicians regarding the education of lead poisoning and high lead levels in blood.

Currently, Missouri has implemented a Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program which increases education of lead risks and prevention. It requires universal testing annually for children until they are six years of age.

There have been several protests to prevent Republican House Speaker Steve Tilley's decision to induct Rush Limbaugh into the Hall of Famous Missourians.

However, Tilley has yet to say when he plans to formally induct Limbaugh.

On the House floor, the bust of Dred Scott was unveiled for induction. Tilley said Scott represents one of the most famous figures in American history.

Governor Nixon has not responded to requests to ban the induction of Rush Limbaugh into the Hall of Famous Missourians.

Missouri House Representatives gave first round of approval for a provision that would allow lawmakers to have control of the state Capitol rotunda. 

A few hours after a compromise was brokered by state senators, a House-Senate conference committee finalized negotiations over Missouri's budget.

Senate Budget Chair Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said the budget was balanced and $50 million less than the governor's proposed budget.

The $24 billion operating budget:

  • Maintains level funding for higher education with slight increases to some of Missouri's universities, including Southeast Missouri State University. The University of Missouri and Missouri State University are left out of these increases.
  • Sets aside extra gambling boat money for veterans' homes.
  • Keeps a health care program for blind people in Missouri. The budget provides $25 million for the program, about $3 million less than full funding.

House Budget Chair Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, said the House and Senate should vote on the budget Thursday, beating the constitutionally-mandated Friday deadline.

A budget gridlock that blocked the Senate from work for two straight days came to an end Wednesday afternoon.

After a series of backroom negotiations, the Senate approved a complicated deal to silence a few senators whose filibusters had stalled the Senate.

Under the deal, the legislature would:

  • Ban the state from continuing a system evaluating early childhood education programs.
  • Earmark extra gambling boat money for veterans' homes.
  • Change distribution of funds to higher education institutions giving more senators' home-district schools extra funds.

Adoption of the compromises increases the chances lawmakers can meet the 6pm Friday deadline for passing the budget.

Left out of the compromise bill were demands to eliminate the Sue Shear Institute at the University of Missouri's St. Louis campus.

The Senate met briefly three times Tuesday without taking up a single bill, finally calling it quits around 4 p.m. They adjourned for the day approximately 12 hours after a day long filibuster which blocked any action on Monday went into early Tuesday morning.

Passing the state budget is the only thing the Missouri Constitution requires the General Assembly to accomplish during the session. The legislature is facing a Friday 6 p.m. deadline to send the budget to Gov. Jay Nixon. The budget must be sent to Gov. Jay Nixon's desk by May 11 at 6 p.m.

Sen. Majority Leader Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said an appropriation to Southeast Missouri State University remains a sticking point in the budget debate but there might be a possibility of a way through that. Dempsey wouldn't elaborate but said ideas were being discussed to resolve the issue.

During Monday's debate, Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, vowed to block votes on the budget and every other piece of legislation unless there are several changes in the budget including $2 million increase passed by the House for SEMO.

While no action was taken on the Senate floor, work on the budget continues behind the scenes.

"I'm allowing other avenues to try to reach an agreement and allow other senators to maybe see if they can bridge the divide that we have, and we're getting closer," Dempsey said. He said the next time the Senate convenes it will take up another point of contention on the budget, increased funding for veterans' homes.

While the House third read a Senate Militia bill, Rep. Sue Allen, R-St. Louis County, added an amendment regarding a child care rating system.

The measure would prohibit any rating or evaluation system for early childhood care providers.

Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, said children should be rated at the very early level of life.

Rep. Margo McNeil, D-St. Louis County, said she is concerned the measure will make it harder for schools to measure whether children meet the pre-requirements for admission.

Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County sponsored a similar version of bill in the Senate.

The amendment was added to the bill, which then passed through the House. The bill now must go back to the Senate for approval.

Missouri will bring 35 new elks from a Kentucky capture site to Peck Ranch Conservation Area in West Plains to restore the state's elk herd population.

A spokesman for the Kentucky Conservation Department, Mark Marracini, said Missouri's tourism industry will shoot up as a result.

"Elk are a tremendous tool for tourism and they're a great addition to the nature," Marracini said.

Chairman of the MU Anthropology Department, Lee Lyman, said he disagrees with Marracini.

"I'm concerned that traffic hazards will go up," Lyman said. "My understanding is that they're in a fenced area at the moment, but the plan is to remove the fence and the elk will be able to go anywhere they want to go."

The new elk herd population will arrive in Missouri on May 18.

The Senate filibustered a bill that would direct up to $30 million to Missouri veteran's nursing homes. Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, said he has issues with the budget - such as $2 million directed to Southeast Missouri State University - that need to be acted on first. Others participated in the filibuster for the same motives. Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, said state funds going to Sue Shear foundation or any other entity promoting political action should cease.

The money would be shifted within a casino entrance fee fund from early childhood education and put forward the homes. While this awaits a vote in the Senate, Bill Fairbairn, of Stover, is on a hunger strike. Today is his sixth day of the hunger strike.

House leaders have said they will not act on the budget, due May 11, until the Senate passes the bill.

Several bail bondsmen testified in favor of a bill cracking down on unlicensed child care providers. However, they testified in favor of a provision added on to the bill - not on the main language of the bill.

One amendment to the bill would require a court to take, in lieu of a cash only bond, a guarantee in compliance with the general laws regulating bail bondsmen.

Proposed by Rep. Charlie Denison, R-Greene, the amendment would provide for people who could not afford a cash-only bond to get out of jail.

While there were two witnesses who testified in favor of the child care component of the bill, three people testified in favor of the bail bonds portion of the bill. Witnesses agreed that the amendment was a good idea.

However, the bill's sponsor, Rep. Linda Black, D-St. Francois, thinks the bail bonds issue could stand on its own.

"It (the amendment) didn't fit very well within the scope of the bill," Black said. "It may be questionable as to whether or not it should stay in the bill."

When asked about the amendment's connection to the bill, Denison stumbled over his words before replying that the amendment and the bill were linked because they both addressed criminal activity.

The main body of the bill is known as Sam Pratt's Law. It would regulate child care providers by creating higher fines for unlicensed childcare providers. Any child care provider who lies about their licensure would be fined $200 a day, up to $10,000.

Another condition would allow judges to determine whether or not a provider could continue providing child care services for pay in a case involving neglect, abuse, or death of a child.

The bill is named after Sam Pratt, a baby who died while in the care of an unlicensed child care provider. The provider was charged with involuntary manslaughter and child abuse resulting in Sam's death.

The bill made its way through several hearings throughout the session, alongside a similar bill also known as Nathan's Law. Nathan's Law was named after Nathan Blecha, an infant who died June 26, 2007 in the care of his unlicensed child care provider. He was placed face down in a crib and accidentally suffocated.

The committee did not take a vote on the bill, which awaits executive session.

The top leaders of Missouri's Senate came under blistering attacking during an all-night filibuster that lasted until the early morning hours Tuesday that blocked the chamber from taking any action.

Leading the filibuster was Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, who essentially called his Senate leaders liars.

"It used to mean something when someone said the word of a senator. It actually used to mean something. But this leadership team has so destroy that concept that a word of a senator means nothing," Crowell charged during his filibuster.

"Their words don't matter, their commitments don't matter, honor doesn't matter. It's all about the pursuit of power, the pursuit of the next higher office, the pursuit of the campaign contributions."

Crowell and a few other senators were demanding a number of separate concessions on the budget including eliminating an Education Department employee's salary, shutting down a women's study program at the University of Missouri and cutting a House-passed budget increase for Southeast Missouri State University.

Later Tuesday morning, Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer said Crowell had apologized.  Mayer acknowledged the Senate was in a stalemate on the budget.

One senior Republican charged the group were "terrorists" who were holding the state's budget hostage for their own agenda.

The Senate gave up shortly after 3am Tuesday, May 8, ending a filibuster that had run more than ten straight hours.

The Senate gridlock threatens the legislature being able to meet the 6pm Friday, May 11, deadline to pass the state's budget.

Failure to pass a budget would force Gov. Jay Nixon to call lawmakers into an immediate special session to work on the budget.

One of the filibustering senators said he welcomed the possibility of a special session.

Missouri's representatives passed a measure Monday that would defund the Sue Shear Institute and bar any public institution from taking part in political activity.

The institute, which provides training for women interested in entering politics, is based out of the University of Missouri-St. Louis and is named after a former St. Louis representative who was originally elected to the state House of Representatives in 1972.

The House approved the measure with a 93-59 vote after contentious debate between mostly Democratic and Republican women about the institute's importance. While Democrats argued that the institute is a vital organization for women interested in joining the world of politics, Republicans said the organization participates in political activity, which they said should not be allowed.

The House passed the provision during a Republican-led filibuster in the Senate about the same issue. Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, began the filibuster earlier in the afternoon after a similar amendment to defund the institute was not added to a bill that would determine funding for veterans' homes.

Cunningham was assisted in her effort to hold the floor by numerous other senators, including Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, who was leading the filibuster at the time of the House vote.

The measure was put forth by Rep. Sue Allen, R-St. Louis County, and was attached to a bill that had the original intention of modifying the duties of the Coordinating Board of Higher Education to include creating a listing of courses that could be transferred between all public universities.

The House passed the overall bill, as amended, with a vote of 95-56, while the Senate filibuster continued.

Missouri voters in the St. Louis area might be asked to decide whether to raise the local sales tax to help fund improvements of the Gateway Arch grounds.

The Missouri House of Representatives gave final passage to the bill that would create the ballot issue and sent it to the governor's desk on Monday.

The bill would authorize a local election on a 3/16 percent sales tax. Part of the money would go to the Gateway Arch grounds and the other part to local parks.

Proponents said the sales tax would fund $120 million in bonds to put toward the $553 million plan to improve the grounds around the Arch.

As the Missouri House of Representatives and Senate continue negotiations about the state's $24 billion operating budget, a filibuster in the Senate has stalled debate about funding for veterans' homes.

The original bill would prohibit cities from restricting non-profit organizations from selling donated items, but a House amendment sets aside $35 million from a tobacco settlement for early childhood programs and to create an investment fund for the Veterans Commission.

The House has demanded the Senate pass this bill in order for budget negotiations to continue.

Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, led the filibuster because an amendment to the bill did not include a provision that would defund the Sue Shear Institute for Women in Public Life. The institute is an organization based at the University of Missouri-St. Louis that provides training for women interested in entering politics.

Cunningham said the institute was a "cesspool" because it influences women to join the Democratic side of the aisle and takes part in campaigns.

During the filibuster in the Senate, the House became caught up in the same issue when a representative offered an amendment dealing with transfers of college credit that would also defund the institute.

Rep. Tishaura Jones, D-St. Louis City, who spoke in favor of keeping the funding, said the amendment would eliminate opportunities for women and force them to stay at home.

"Why not just have women stay home, barefoot and pregnant, and stay in the kitchen?" Jones said. "Because that's exactly what this amendment does."

The House bill was laid over for future debate while the Senate filibuster continued.

The Missouri House of Representatives and Senate entered the last few days to finalize the state budget on Monday having resolved most of their differences, but a dispute on health care for veterans has put another health program in jeopardy.

Among the top issues ironed out between the House and Senate is a 2 percent pay raise for state employees making less than $70,000 a year. The raise would affect 54,000 state employees, which is 97 percent of the workforce.

The pay raise has not been without controversy; the Senate narrowly defeated an effort to eliminate the increase when they passed the budget two weeks ago.

Despite coming to an agreement on the pay plan and other areas of the budget, the fate of a special health care program for the blind has become attached to a decision funding the state's veterans' nursing homes.

The House has put forth a plan to raise $31 million for the veterans' homes by switching casino revenue away from early childhood programs. The early childhood programs would then be funded with money from a national settlement with tobacco companies. The Senate, however, has yet to pass the House plan — an action that has stalled negotiations and endangered the program for the blind, according to House Budget Chairman Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City.

Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, has not brought the veteran's bill to a vote, leaving Silvey to question whether more budget cuts will be necessary.  

"Senate leadership has not had a real good track record of following through," Silvey said.

After an eight hour filibuster by the Senate's only medical doctor, a bill to create a prescription drug monitoring program is dead.

Although the Senate gave first-round passage to the measure, Senate Majority Leader Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said the bill creating a government database of medications prescribed to patients will not be considered for final approval given the lack of time remaining in the legislative session.

Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, led the effort against the bill and said prescription drug monitoring by the government would be an infringement of a patient's right to privacy.

"This bill causes every citizen to be forced against their will to give up their privacy and their personal information," Schaaf said.

The measure is sponsored by Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, and creates a database of people on certain drugs for doctors to check before writing prescriptions. The drugs that would be included in the database are mostly narcotics and pain killers. A patient's name and information would have been purged from the database after six months.

Engler confirmed the issue would not advance further and said more Missourians are going to die from overdoses because of it.

He said the database would help weed out people addicted to narcotics, who "doctor shop" and get multiple prescriptions from different doctors.

"Prescription drugs are being abused. It's the number one drug abuse problem in the country. We are going to be the only state that doesn't monitor prescription drugs in the country," Engler said.

The Missouri Senate's only registered physician has filibustered the "Prescription Drug Monitoring Act" yet again in this legislative session.

Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-Buchanan, blocked the legislation, which would establish a government database to monitor all doctor prescribed controlled substances.

"This bill causes every citizen to be forced against their will to give up their privacy, their personal information," said Schaaf.

Sen. Kevin Engler, R- St. Francois, the legislation's sponsor, says the bill will reduce the number of deaths by drug overdoses and prevent "doctor-shopping".

"Prescription drugs are being abused. It's the number one drug abuse problem in the country. We are going to be the only state that doesn't monitor prescription drugs in the country," said Engler.

So far, 48 states have passed prescription drug monitoring legislation.

Formal negotiations between the House and Senate over the state's $24 billion budget have become unusually tense.

One of the issues between the two chambers has been a disagreement on how to fund veteran's homes.

House Budget Chairman Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, said he blames Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, for the gridlock.

He said Mayer was "playing games" with the budget and accused him of playing chicken with the lives of veteran's and kids.

Mayer responded to Silvey's criticism and referred to him as the "junior budgeter in the House" and said he canceled scheduled meetings between negotiators.

The House passed their veteran's plan Wednesday which shifts casino revenue away from early childhood programs to the veteran's home. The House replenished the early childhood funds with money from a national settlement against tobacco companies.

The Senate has yet to take up the House position, but has crafted their own.

A draft proposal by the Senate Veterans Committee Chairman Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, keeps the House plan, but adds language eliminating professional training programs for women.

The House passed a bill that would require employees and students to report incidents of bullying and to notify the families of the victim.

This bill would not only implement programs to prevent bullying, but it would also educate the student body and faculty of the harmful side effects.

Representative Sue Allen, R-St. Louis County, who sponsors the bill said, “Teachers, families, students, bulliers all have an opportunity to be better and safer.”

Under the bill, schools would allow people to anonymously report incidences of bullying in order to help eliminate this problem in the best way possible.

The bill reforms teacher tenure and sets criteria for firing teachers. It doesn't eliminate tenure altogether, but does not allow seniority to be one of the factors when eliminating staff.

The criteria is as follows:

  •  Individual performance makes up at least 70 percent of the consideration, including evidence of student achievement such as standardized test scores, which would be determined by the district.
  •  A record of misconduct or criminal activity is considered a negative factor.
  •  Significant contributions to the school as a whole such as sponsoring an extracurricular or tutoring program.
  •  Special training or certification such as a master's degree will be considered a positive factor.
  • Each contract and collective bargaining agreement authorizes use of evaluations as the basis for firing decisions. 

    Majority Floor Leader Tim Jones said this bill is a tough decision, but it is about recognizing good teachers.

"This is about rewarding and accelerating and exalting those great teachers so you don't have to get rid of them based upon an antiquated, horribly ham-stringing policy set up by some special interest group in some contract," said Jones.

Opponents of the bill argued it would end teacher tenure.

"Seniority is the same thing as tenure, they are one in the same...That seniority equates to salary so when we say, in the bill, that salary shall not be a controlling factor...we are setting up a condition for lawsuits," said Rep. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City.

The bill passed the House by a vote of 83 to 76 after keeping the board open for more than ten minutes and now moves to the Senate.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, was at the state Capitol Thursday to meet with state lawmakers and speak to the Missouri House.

Blunt spoke about what is going on in Washington D.C. and the current direction of the country. He told Missouri's legislators they need to be a part of national debates that affect the state.

“His speech is educational and we were thrilled to have him,” said House Speaker Steven Tilley.

Blunt is not up for re-election this year but declined to choose a favorite among this year's Republican candidates running for U.S. Senate. He said he would assist whoever wins the August Primary.

A conference committee planned for the afternoon was canceled Wednesday, delaying formal discussions between the House and Senate over the state's 2013 budget.

Even though formal budget negotiations are now pegged to begin on Thursday, budget conferees are still holding informal meetings to discuss the budget. Debates over whether to cut funding for a blind health care program and whether to raise wages for some state employees are among some of the top issues before the budget conference committee.

The House and Senate also remain divided on the passage of a $70 million tax amnesty program, which the House accounted for in their budget proposal, while the Senate did not.

The state's $24 billion operating budget was held up on the Senate floor last week in an unprecedented move by nine Republican senators. The "gang of nine," as they have been dubbed by some fellow legislators, said they would hold up the budget process until a list of demands was met by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, who is the Senate Budget Chair.

After the Senate finally approved the budget last week, House Budget Chair Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, said he was disappointed that senators did not want to negotiate on the tax amnesty measure.

Legislators have until May 11 to deliver a budget proposal to the governor.

An amendment was added to the bill, originally intended to reform the teacher evaluation system, that essentially counteracted the entire legislation.

The part the amendment kept was a change to the "last in, first out" policy, where teachers with seniority are protected from layoffs.

The bill now sets up a several "criteria for reduction in force," saying seniority can not be one of those criteria.

  • Individual performance makes up at least 70 percent of the consideration, including evidence of student achievement such as standardized test scores, which would be determined by the district.
  • A record of misconduct or criminal activity is considered a negative factor.
  • Significant contributions to the school as a whole such as sponsoring an extracurricular or tutoring program.
  • Special training or certification such as a master's degree will be considered a positive factor.
  • Each contract and collective bargaining agreement authorizes use of evaluations as the basis for firing decisions.

Several representatives expressed concern that the individual performance part of the consideration placed too much of an emphasis on standardized test scores. However the bill's sponsor, Education Committee Chairman Scott Dieckhaus, R-Washington, said the bill does not specify what that evidence would be. The district would be required to set those standards for each district.

Several Democrats spoke against the bill, each having spend more than 29 years in public education, with the argument that the bill would cause anxiety among teachers who want job security.

The House bill was adopted with a vote of 80-78. A similar bill to reform tenure was debated in the Senate, which amended the bill to extend the years of service before tenure is granted instead of eliminating the practice altogether.

Charter schools could expand across the state, but not without meeting a higher standard of accountability. The House Education Committee adopted a bill Wednesday to change the law regulating charter schools.

Charter schools are public schools that operate independently of traditional school districts. The schools are held to performance standards by their sponsor or a governing board. Students at charter schools still take the statewide Missouri Assessment Program test but are not subject to MO School Improvement Program accountability procedures.

Legislators have been attempting to hold charter schools to the same standards as traditional public schools. Charters school performance by state testing standards is as varied as performance of traditional public schools. Charter schools are also not required to report their financial status, an issue that recently played a role in the state voting to close six charter schools in St. Louis.

Under the bill, charter schools would be held to the same accountability standards as traditional public schools, just outside the official MSIP procedure. They would report their financial and performance data to the sponsor of the school, which would be responsible for intervention. Sponsors have the option to intervene immediately or close a school if standards are not met.

While this bill would not create charter schools, the bill's sponsor Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, said it provides another option for rural school districts that are trying to avoid consolidation or districts where there is demand for an alternative form of public education. According to a poll presented by Students First, a student advocacy organization, 69 percent of Missourians supported expanding charter schools outside of St. Louis and Kansas City.

Charter school is one of the major education issues of the current session including public school funding and dealing with the unaccredited St. Louis and Kansas City school districts. The bill will now go to the House floor for debate and if no changes are made, it will go to the governor.

 

A Republican state representative publicly announced that he was gay and is denouncing legislation that would limit open discussions of sexuality in public schools.

At a press conference held Wednesday morning Rep. Zach Wyatt, of Green Castle, said he would no longer lie to himself about his own sexuality and that being homosexual should never be a Republican or Democratic issue.

Wyatt's announcement comes in response to a Republican-backed bill that would make it illegal to teach subjects or have extracurricular activities that talk about sexual orientation, unless the subjects relate specifically to the science of human reproduction.

Bill sponsor, Rep. Steve Cookson, R-Fairdealing, has said that his bill is misunderstood and that he would not withdraw the legislation. Cookson has also said that he thinks public schools should focus on core subjects of teaching, such as math and reading, and not sexuality.

The committee heard bills dealing with everything from COPD to child care laws. All were unanimously voted through to the House floor.

One of the bills modified the bill known as Sam Pratt's law by establishing higher fines. No one spoke in opposition of the bill. One representative asked how providers would be notified about the legislation should the bill become a law. The sponsor replied that it was difficult to do so since no one knows which providers are unlicensed.

Another bill would establish more regulations for reporting child abuse.

A resolution to recognize November as "COPD Awareness Month" was also discussed, in addition to a bill on food stamps and another resolution on child abuse.

A bill to require county assessors to consider market factors in determining value of real property for tax purposes unanimously passed the House Governmental Affairs committee on Tuesday night.

With the economy fluctuating so much within the past few years, this bill would require county assessors, when assessing properties every two years, to take the market into account.

The bill was already passed in the Senate and Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, said this is the fair thing to do.

"Thirty percent of the homes on the market right now are foreclosures. It's not fair people to have to be paying for something that the value is not there," Cunningham said.

Cunningham said the purpose of the bill is to provide more accurate and reflective property values to taxpayers.

St. Louis County assessor Jake Zimmerman expressed his support for the bill in the Senate committee hearing.

The bill is now headed to the House floor, and if passed heads to the governor's desk.

This bill would require the Department of Transportation to establish minimal yellow light change interval times for traffic-control devices.

This set interval time would be adjusted in accordance with nationally recognized engineering standards.

Rep. Rick Stream, R-St. Louis County, who sponsors the bill, said, "Once the red light cameras were installed several years ago, several municipalities around the state shortened the length of time for the yellow lights so that they could get more offenders actually going through the red lights." 

Rep. Margo McNeil, D-St. Louis County, opposed the bill.

She said the state is short in budget and cannot afford to do this. She also added that the new system would not make a huge difference.

Missouri Republican U.S. Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer sponsored the Mark Twain coin act, allow the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury to issue five dollar gold coins and one dollar silver coins.

Cindy Lovell, the executive director of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum in Hannibal, says the proceeds from the coins will be dedicated towards the four non-profit Mark Twain sites.

"It's a very big deal not just to honor Mark Twain, but to actually generate real cash for non-profit especially during these type of times" Lovell said.

If approved by the U.S. Senate, Mark Twain coins would be available in 2016.

The Missouri House voted down an amendment that would create a scholarship program that allows students transfer to another school district if they are being bullied.

Opponents argued that bullies are in every school district and transferring student is not the right solution.

Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-St. Louis, said, as a parent, she believed that her son should understand how to deal with bully, instead to run away.

Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, said bullies should be helped and educated in addition to punishments.

The amendment failed and the House took no action on the underlying bill.  

  House and Senate Discuss Expansion of No Call List. 05/01/2012

The House Committee on Utilities has approved a bill that would expand "Missouri's No Call List" to include automated phone calls and cell phones.

Automated calls from school districts, Amber Alerts, and work-related phone calls would be exempt from the proposed legislation.

The bill would bar companies from using a fake aliases on caller-IDs. Violators would be subject penalties up to a $5,000 fine.

Groups making political phone calls would also be required register with the Missouri Ethics Commission.

The bill would also block solicitors from text message solicitation.

The Senate Commerce Committee also head testimony Tuesday regarding a bill that would add cell phones to the "Missouri No Call List".

A bill that would attempt to remove the requirement of employers to provide medical coverage for birth control was debated by insurance company representatives and pro-life organizations in a Missouri House committee.

Under the bill, employers would only need to provide birth control if an employee has a medical need for it.

This bill, however, goes against the Affordable Care Act, which the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on in June.

Under the Obama's administration contraception mandate, women would have access to birth control free of charge from their employer or insurance companies.

Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis County, sponsors the bill. He said the measure gives more religious freedom to employers so they don't drop health care coverage all together.

Samuel Lee from Missouri Right to Life testified in favor of the bill. He said the current law lacks a few things.

"One is a clear enforcement mechanism and a clear remedy for an organization or individual whose rights are violated," he said.  

Lee said Lamping's legislation would resolve this issue.

Coventry Health Care representative Cheryl Dillard said this bill would put insurance companies in a difficult legal position, if the bill passes and the Affordable Care Act is approved by the supreme court.

"It appears that Missouri will have a federal health care exchange and those carriers that are not complying with the federal law would probably not be very welcome in the exchange and that would disadvantage us as carriers in a pretty indescribable way," Dillard said.

The bill needs an affirmative vote by the committee before moving to the House floor.

Republican Representative Ward Franz of West Plains is proposing a bill keeping animals from having equal or more rights than humans.

The bill is a pro-active measure sparked by outside groups around the country.

Franz said in a committee hearing it is somewhat related to Proposition-B and the equabilities with dog breeding.

Opponents to the bill said it could lead to animal cruelty.

The Missouri House of Representatives assigned twelve out of thirteen Senate versions of the House budget bills to a conference committee on Monday. Although the bills were assigned to a conference committee, the committee members have not yet been named.

The only budget bill to be passed was a bill that specified the appropriation of money to the Board of Fund Commissioners. The bill passed on a unanimous vote of 146 to 0. The rest will be sent to conference for further discussion.

The House passed two other bills, the first would to require children younger than 17 to have their parents present to give permission to use tanning facilities. The second bill changes laws regarding elections. Both will be sent to the Senate.

The Senate Elections Committee voted 4-1 to pass a bill that would require presidential and vice-presidential candidates to provide proof of birth and citizenship when filing with the Missouri Secretary of State's office.

The bill's effects would not be felt until the 2016 election.

Lawmakers expressed their skepticism on whether this will actually be taken up for debate in the Senate or not.

If passed in the Senate, the bill would go to the governor's desk.

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Only a few weeks remain in the legislative session, but representatives from the Missouri Coalition for the Environment and Renew Missouri took to the Capitol to criticize a bill that would allow Ameren to increase its rates to pay for construction costs before a new reactor is built.

The bill has been debated in one form or another for the past several years but never passed. It would allow Ameren to increase its rates to pay for an early site permit for an additional power plant.

Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, said it's doubtful any action will be taken on this bill before the session ends on May 18.

Less than three weeks after a former state governor and CEO of Missouri Employers Mutual was indicted for misappropriation of funds, a Missouri House committee has moved on a measure to further investigate the insurance company.

The House Government Oversight Committee unanimously approved a bill Monday that would create a committee to investigate the Columbia-based company. The bill's original language only established a Senate committee, but an amendment by a Columbia Democrat, Chris Kelly, would make the future investigation a joint effort between the Senate and the House.

While legislation is not required to establish an investigative committee, Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, said passing the legislation would make it known that lawmakers were dedicated to investigating the issue.

"It could be a good idea to privatize MEM but, on the other hand, I don't like legislating on the fly," Barnes, who is the House committee chairman, said.

An earlier audit of Missouri Employers Mutual stated the company had lavishly spent money on trips and special employee benefits. The audit also stated that this conduct is inappropriate for a quasi-governmental entity, such as MEM.

The best local art students in area dioceses gathered together to sketch parts of the Capitol building as part of Sketch Day.

Sketch Day has been in place since 1949 and benefits both elementary and high school students.

The students are first judged on their artwork at their own school. Once the best are picked from each school, these students are given the opportunity to go to the Capitol to sketch.

At the end of the day the students are judged on their artwork once more.


Missouri Digital News is produced by Missouri Digital News, Inc. -- a non profit organization of current and former journalists.

Missouri Digital News is produced by Missouri Digital News, Inc. -- a non profit organization of current and former journalists.