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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of October 1, 2012

The National Rifle Association endorsed Democrat Chris Koster this week in his re-election bid for the Attorney Generals' office. Koster is the only Democratic candidate running for statewide office to receive an endorsement from the NRA.

Koster received an A rating, which is given to candidates who have a proven record supporting the second amendment. The NRA gave Kosters' Republican challenger, Ed Martin, an AQ rating.

AQ ratings are given to candidates who answer a candidate survey on gun rights favorably, but do not have a proven record. Campaign spokeswoman Rachel Levine said Koster has proven a commitment to the second amendment throughout his political career.

When Koster was a prosecutor in Cass County in 1999, he appeared in a NRA television commercial.

Hitting almost every Bass Pro Shops in the state of Missouri this week, Governor Nixon is challenging hunters to donate 10,000 deer to help feed the hungry in the state.

The Share the Harvest program is now it it's 21st year. Cheryl Fey heads up the program for the Missouri Department of Conservation.

"Let's not let that deer meat go to waste in today's economy. And for some folks, deer meat is healthier," said Fey.

Last year, hunters donated more than 6,000 deer across the state.

During this weekend's urban hunt, the Missouri Conservation Federation is footing all the fees associated with donating a deer to the program.

The Environmental Protection Agency has announced it will give Joplin $2.4 million to help the city test for and cleanup soil contaminated with lead and cadmium.

According to EPA Region 7 spokesperson Chris Whitley, parks and residential areas are being targeted for the cleanup.

"It's up to the city of Joplin to prioritize those properties. Essentially what they'll be looking for are areas frequented by children," said Whitley.

The EPA estimates around 1500 to 2000 areas in Joplin will need the soil remediation.

Governor Jay Nixon announced on Aug. 1 the state would be funding Missouri high school and college programs.

The programs will aid students and prepare job opportunities around Missouri by expanding advanced placement courses across the state for high school students and creating jobs for college students.

Spokesperson Mary Stoltz of the Missouri University Science and Technology said the school is prepared academically, but is confused on how the money is going to be distributed by the state.

The President and CEO of the Economic Development Center, Greg Prestemon, said state funding is non-traditional.  Traditional funding for education comes from the Department of Education or a Workforce Development program.

Prestemon said the center does not know how the money will be distributed to them. Another concern he has is that the state will provide money to the center to create jobs, but the state loses money if no jobs are created.

The Governor's office did not return phone calls or emails by the time of this posting.

Republican U.S. Rep. Todd Akin failed to report $129,000 in pension income that he has received over the past decade working in the Missouri House, his campaign said Thursday.

Akin spokesperson Steve Taylor verified that Akin failed to include the money in his Congressional disclosure forms and that he has amended them to fix the errors.

Akin acknowledged the mistake in a letter to the House Ethics Chairman Jo Bonner on Tuesday, according to a report from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

"This is an unintentional oversight and I regret any inconvenience this may cause," Akin wrote.

This is the second time Akin has failed to adequately complete the disclosure forms. Akin amended about $350,000 in property holdings in 2010, according to the Post-Dispatch.

This November Missouri voters will decide if the state’s cigarette tax will increase.

Proposition B would increase the tax of a pack of cigarettes by 73 cents, bringing the total to 90 cents a pack. Missouri currently has the lowest tobacco tax in the country.

According to the state auditor's fiscal estimate, Prop B’s passage would bring in an estimated $283 to $423 million a year. Twenty percent of these proceeds would go to tobacco abstinence programs, 50 percent to elementary and secondary education and 30 percent to higher education.

Supporters said Prop B’s increased tax will discourage smoking and provide important educational funding.

“For potential teenage smokers, there’s a strong correlation between price and starting to smoke. And so, we know the tax will produce revenue that we need, and we also hope that it will discourage teenage smokers,” Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said.

Opponents said raising the tax will produce a loss in revenue when people travel to border states with cheaper taxes to purchase their tobacco. If Prop B passes, half of Missouri’s eight border states will have lower tobacco taxes.

“Prop B’s outrageous and unfair 760 percent tax increase is devastating because it will hurt Missouri consumers, it will force small businesses to close, it will cause people to lose their jobs, and it will generate less tax revenue for local and state coffers that are already stretched thin because of the great recession,” said Ron Leone, executive director of the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association.

The Missouri Non-Partisan Court Plan was established over 70 years ago in an effort to eliminate partisanship in the nominating commission for Missouri judges.

Senator Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, supports Amendment 3, which would make a few changes to the Missouri Plan. The main changes would allow Missouri's governor greater control over appointing nominating committee members.

Currently, the nominating commission is made up of three lawyers, three governor appointees and one Supreme Court Judge. The amendment would eliminate a Supreme Court judge and add another governor appointee. Lembke said this will allow the citizens of Missouri to have someone to hold accountable for the commission.

Lynn Whaley Vogel, president of the Missouri Bar Association, said there is no reason to amend the plan because it has served as a model for other states to eliminate partisanship.

The Missourians for Fair and Impartial Courts said it does not expect Amendment 3 to pass on the November ballot.

Missouri voters will decide if St. Louis police will gain local control on the November ballot.

St. Louis and Kansas City are the only two cities in the country that have a police force controlled by the state.

For the past few decades, St. Louis police tried to gain local control, but legislature has not passed any of their proposals.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay is a longtime advocate of local control. He says this issue will better serve citizens.

"We're looking for accountability, we're looking for efficiency, we're looking to save money and we're also looking to make a better department that is going to help reduce crime in our city as well," Slay said.

Supporters said this proposition will hold police officers more accountable and will help eliminate the high levels of crime in the city.

The American Civil Liberties Union says this proposition will limit citizen input and deny them a civilian review board.

Slay said the ACLU has taken this issue to court and it was dismissed.

The proposition is a compromise between the St. Louis Police Officer's Association, A Safer Missouri, and Slay.

Brooke Foster, spokesperson for A Safer Missouri said the compromise reflects the interests of police.

Some provisions are the protection of pension plans and the protection from political meddling.

Former Mamtek CEO Bruce Cole will be coming back to mid-Missouri after ending his fight against extradition from California, according to the office of Missouri's Attorney General.

Nanci Gonder, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Chris Koster said Cole appeared in an Orange County, Calif. court on Wednesday. Cole faces multiple felony stealing and security fraud charges in relation to the failed Mamtek artificial sweetener plant in Moberly.

Gonder also said the Randolph County Sheriff's Office will arrange for Cole's transportation back to Missouri and the Attorney General's Office will be leading the prosecution.

A firm being investigated in Florida for alleged voter registration fraud said it has not had any operations in Missouri since 2004.

State republican parties in seven other states have fired Strategic Allied Consulting, a firm based in Tempe, Arizona, after some its members were accused last week of registering fake voters in a dozen Florida counties.

David Leibowitz, a spokesman for the firm, said it hasn't worked in Missouri for eight years and has no plans to set up operations here.

Stacie Temple, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Secretary of State's office, said voter fraud is a class C felony, which is punishable by up to seven years in prison.

She confirmed that state authorities are not looking into the firm in Missouri.

Rep. Scott Sifton, D-St. Louis County, is one of more than a dozen lawmakers pledged to not take gifts or meals from lobbyists while serving in the legislature. The lawmakers included in this group include former Speaker of the House Steven Tilley.

"It's just out of control. The report released by the ethics commission earlier this week, that just in the first 8 months of this year, Missouri lawmakers and staffers have received more than 23 hundred gifts," said Sifton.

Sifton is currently running for state senate against incumbent Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, to represent St. Louis County.

The Missouri Ethics Commission reports Sen. Jim Lembke is one of the biggest beneficiaries of these gifts.

Lembke said Sifton is avoiding issues that matter in the election.

Supporters of the Missouri Plan amendment said the explanation of the changes by Secretary of State Robin Carnahan's office is biased and will not give voters a fair view of the amendment.

The legislature did not write its own ballot summary, so the task was left up to Carnahan's office. Supporters claim the writing is insufficient and does not give enough detail to voters.

This comes as opponents of the amendment continue to raise money to fight against the amendment. The Missourians for Fair and Impartial Courts said in a statement that they will continue to educate Missouri voters on why the amendment is dangerous.

A bacon shortage in the U.K. left many Americans worried the tasty meat might become scarce in the U.S. as well.

According to Missouri Pork Association Executive Director, Don Nikodim, the nation doesn't have to worry about a shortage.

However, Nikodim said bacon prices may increase due to the drought.

The drought increased the price of feed, which has made caring for livestock more expensive for farmers, forcing them to charge more for meat.

Nikodim said it is too soon the know how high the price of bacon will rise, but the cost should not increase more than a few dollars.

Nikodim said bacon lovers should pig out on their baconators while they can.

"Just enjoy bacon, enjoy it often and go out and stock up if you think you need to," Nikodim said.

The drought will likely effect bacon and other pork products next year.

The Cape Girardeau City Council voted 4-3 Monday against repealing an ordinance that would allow deer hunting within city limits.

Council members in favor of the ordinance said urban hunting is a good way to deal with the growing deer population.

"It was by determination that I thought urban deer hunting was the way to approach that and similarly it's been implementing in, I believe, 13 additional cities within the state of Missouri," said Mark Lanzotti, one of the council members in favor of the odrinance.

Cape Friends of Wildlife opposes the ordinance. The group claims the ordinance is not safe and is ineffective. Stephen Stigers, the head of the group, hoped the council would repeal the ordinance before it goes to special election.

"It was their opportunity last night to repeal the ordinance, to put it behind us, and not have to take it to a special election which will cost approximately $20,000," Stigers said.

The special election will be held in April.

Last Week

The former CEO of Mamtek would not agree to be extradited to Missouri in an Orange County, Calif. Court Thursday.

Bruce Cole faces felony stealing charges and security fraud charges following the failure of the planned sucralose plant in Moberly, Mo.

Cole is currently in custody and being held on a $500,000 bond.

Without Cole's consent, California Gov. Jerry Brown must request an extradition to Missouri.

Cole is due in court next on Oct. 3.

There have been four reported suicides in the Missouri National Guard so far in 2012 and 116 in the U.S. Army.

Members and soldiers are coming together to put and end to growing numbers by holding suicide intervention programs in various states.

The first Army 'stand-down' has army soldiers taking a break from their normal workouts and allowing them time to hold personal discussions covering depression and suicide topics.

The Missouri National Guard is planning their own 'stand-down' in October, but the date is not set yet. State Chaplain Gary Gilmore of the Missouri National Guard announced that it will be occurring during 'drill weekend,' where members are normally required to attend various workouts.  

Potential outcomes of the suicide intervention programs will be reduced numbers of suicides and giving members the sense they are not alone.

Ameren Missouri has asked the Missouri Public Service Commission for permission to increase its rates.

Residents will have to pay 14 dollars more per month if the Commission approves the request.

The utility company says it has been denied "reasonable opportunity to earn."

Attorney Lewis Mills says Ameren can only get away with increasing rates because the company has no competitors.

The commission will make a decision on Ameren's request after the hearings end on October 12th.

During a press conference at the state Capitol Thursday, Todd Akin said he believes Claire McCaskill and her campaign are worried about the incumbent's chances for reelection.

Akin said McCaskill was aggressive in their debate, differing from her 2006 debates against Jim Talent, where Akin said she was more "ladylike."

The Akin campaign also received an endorsement from the Senate Conservatives Fund Thursday. The group announced it will contribute $290,000 to the Akin campaign.

Two Missouri lawmakers who pushed for reforms on local economic development projects said Wednesday that an audit report this week confirms the need for such measures.

Rep. Jay Barnes said Wednesday he will keep filing legislation that imposes stricter due diligence requirements for economic development projects, such as the failed Mamtek sweetener plant in Moberly.

Barnes, R-Jefferson City, sponsored a bill in this years legislative session that would have required several changes to how municipalities lend money to new businesses. One change would have been a requirement for towns to hold a public meeting before issuing bonds backed by that towns budget.

State Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County said the recent audit of the Department of Economic Development confirmed the need for Barnes' proposal because a community should not use be able to use its general revenue fund for new companies without a town meeting.

Two years ago, Missouri voters cast ballots on the concept of a health insurance mandate. This year they will get to vote on another aspect of the federal health care overhaul passed in 2009: exchanges.

The measure would ban Governor Jay Nixon or any state agency from setting up a health insurance exchange through an executive order.

A health insurance exchange is a web-based marketplace for consumers to compare insurance plans. The exchanges are a central part of the federal measure. Federal law requires there to be an exchange in every state by 2014. Federal authorities can even set up an exchange without a state's permission.

Tea Party groups oppose the federal law and see the ballot measure as one way to delay the federal law's implementation. But not all Republicans favor blocking the exchanges. At least one Republican in the state House says Missouri should craft its own exchange instead of waiting for federal authorities to impose their own system.

The Special Administrative Board in charge of St. Louis Public Schools is asking the State Board of Education for provisional accreditation.

The state board requires school districts to meet six out of 14 academic standards to reinstate provisional accreditation, and St. Louis Public Schools surpassed that number as of the 2012 year and now has seven.

The St. Louis Public School district lost its accreditation in 2007, and a state-mandated board, known as the Special Administrative Board, was put in control of the district.  

Despite meeting the number of standards required for provisional accreditation, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Communications Director Sarah Potter said the district still may not qualify.

"The department and the board said that one year is not enough to change classification," Potter said. "The Missouri School Improvement Program moves on cycles and they've been five year cycles and we have been looking at five years of data when making these classification decisions."

Since the district just passed this year, it will have to plead its case on Oct. 16 that the improvements are not temporary.

Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, said the district should get its accreditation.

"I don't know why if they have met the requirement to be provisionally accredited why they wouldn't be," Nasheed said. "We need to do away with mediocre. St. Louis public schools need to meet full accreditation."

Spokesperson Joe Jerek of the Department of Conservation says that forests are getting greener as rain in Missouri increases.

As a result, fish population in ponds and lakes are also increasing.

Executive Director Bob Garino of USDA says that although water levels are rising after the drought, water is still a main concern.

Today's the last day for Todd Akin to drop out of the race for U.S Senate.

Senator Bill Stouffer says it's easy for public officials to say things they may not mean during TV interviews. Stouffer said, "Todd is genuine and he made a mistake and he's apologized for it."

Stouffer would not say whether or not he supports Akin, but did say he does not support his opponent.

In six weeks, Akin will square off against Democratic incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill.

State auditor Tom Schweich said the department of Economic Development could have done more to prevent the Mamtek scandal in an audit today.

Schweich said the department's Division of Business and Community Services failed to perform adequate due diligence for an artificial sweetener plant, which was supposed to create 600 jobs for Missourians. Schweich said due diligence is a set of common practices used to evaluate a business' credibility.

"You look diligently at whether they [Mamtek] have these capabilities. Mamtek was going to produce sucralose. They claimed they had a plant in China, they had patents and had money in the bank," Schweich said.

However, according to Schweich's audit, the department "did not ensure due diligence procedures were adequately designed, performed, and documented to protect the interests of all parties, and the company was forced into bankruptcy in January 2012."

The department stated in a response in the audit that "BCS performed substantial due diligence related to the Mamtek project."

U.S. Rep. Todd Akin is changing his tune on earmarks as his race with incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill moves forward.

Akin has been a supporter and defender of earmarks even after many Republicans in Congress called for a moratorium on the practice of attaching funding for local projects onto legislation.

But, the National Journal is reporting that Akin has agreed to a ban on earmarks should he defeat McCaskill and serve in the Senate. The report alleges the six-term Congressman shifted his position to receive the support of a Super PAC controlled by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., a critic of earmarks.

Rick Tyler, an Akin campaign aide, told the National Journal on Friday, Sept. 21, that the Congressman has agreed to a ban on earmarks. Tyler previously worked for former House Speaker and Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, who is stumping for Akin's campaign.

Akin's official House website, however, says that Akin supports earmarks and has made several funding requests during his tenure. The website also lists of all Akin's earmark requests from 2010 to 2011.

"The fact is that without the appropriations process, distant bureaucrats would be deciding whether local projects are worth funding," Akin's website says.

Tuesday, Sept. 25, is the last day from the St. Louis Congressman to heed the calls of fellow Republicans to exit the U.S. Senate contest, but the GOP nominee is showing no signs of quitting.

In fact, Gingrich is joining Akin in St. Louis Monday, Sept. 24 at a $500 a plate lunch fundraiser. The congressman is also scheduled to begin a bus tour around the state on Tuesday.

The change in his position draws Akin closer to his opponent's view on earmarks. McCaskill has supported a ban on earmarks in the past.

"During his 12 years in Congress, Todd Akin repeatedly funneled taxpayer dollars to his campaign donors, which is exactly the kind of Washington behavior that led Claire to fight for an earmark ban," said Erik Dorey, a McCaskill campaign spokesman.