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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of October 15, 2012

There has been little explanation as to why the Missouri Department of Social Services has yet to issue a single TANF drug test, though the law was signed over one year ago.

Rebecca Woelfel, communications director of the department said they are doing what they can to move the process along.

The budget was approved for the program in July, and the law has currently been opened up for public comment.

The public comment session will end on November 15. Once it has finished, department heads will begin making contracts with the drug testing companies.

State officials said this delay shows some of the downfalls in bureaucracy.

"The wheels of government grind slowly," said bill co-sponsor Melissa Leach.

Scott Holste, spokesperson for Gov. Jay Nixon said the department is trying to move things along.

There is some speculation as to why the department waited until after the bill became law to design the rules for the program. Department heads have yet to respond. 

The Missouri Republican Party is demanding Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Susan Montee release her tax returns.

They have asked to see the tax returns in light of a federal indictment of a license fee office employee in St. Joseph. The office is run by the candidate's ex-husband James Montee. The Missouri GOP said it is curious if Susan Montee benefited financially through the scandal.

"We would be very interested to see if any of this money ended up making its way somehow into Susan Montee's pocket," said Missouri GOP communications director Jonathon Prouty.

Susan Montee’s communications director John Knoll said her statement is the same as it was in 2010 when the same issue was raised. That statement said the fee office bidding process is open and transparent, and as they divorced in 2007, they were no longer related when James Montee gained control of the fee office. Also, it said she has issued a public financial disclosure report.

“She laughs at the Republican Party trying to get anyone to release tax returns,” Susan Montee’s communications director John Knoll said when asked if Montee would release her tax returns.

Prouty says he does not know if Kinder has released his tax returns. Kinder’s campaign refused to comment.

The Joint Committee on Transportation met Thursday to discuss a new option to provide funds for Missouri's aging highways.

MoDOT has requested between $2 and $4 billion in funding to fix Interstate 70, which department director Kevin Keith said in January would become a "gravel parking lot" if left unrepaired.

The committee met to analyze a Georgia tax plan that would have appropriated funds for the state's own transportation system by implementing a 1 percent sales tax on food and over-the-counter medicine.

At Thursday's committee meeting Keith said a similar tax plan to Georgia's could generate $750 million in revenue for Missouri. However, this amount still falls far short of the multi-billion request from the transportation department.

MoDOT's Outreach Coordinator Bob Brendel said the department's funding has drastically decreased over the past few years, leaving new construction projects out of the question.

"At the level we're funded at right now we're in virtually a maintenance only mode," Brendel said.

The tax plan is not the first idea the Committee has discussed.

Lawmakers have previously discussed increasing Missouri's gasoline sales tax and making I-70 a toll road as a way to provide funding for infrastructure repairs.

American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic super PAC, is mailing talking brochures across Missouri, which feature Republican U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin's remarks on "legitimate rape."

The mailers, which are set to hit mailboxes on Thursday, state "Todd Akin would like a few words with you" on the cover. When opened the brochures play sound bites of Akin discussing political issues such as rape, student loans and medicare.

Matt Thronton, a spokesman for American Bridge, said the group spent about $37,000 on the mail campaign, which is focused toward indepent women in rural Missouri counties. Thornton said he did not know exactly how many people would recieve the mailers, but that intended recipients numbered in the "thousands."

Since the comment, Akin has repeatedly said he misspoke during the interview and apologized for his comments.

Akin's opponent, incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, has also been using Akin's comments against him in a string of recent ads. Three ads released last week feature three women, all of whom say they are victims of sexual assault, discussing why they cannot vote for Akin because of his views on contraception and abortion.

McCaskill and Akin will square off at Clayton High School in St. Louis Thursday night at 7 p.m. for their second debate. No other debates between the two U.S. Senate candidate are scheduled.

The Missouri Department of Social Services said Wednesday that it has not drug-tested a single person receiving state welfare benefits, more than a year after lawmakers voted to allow the testing of some recipients.

The department's spokeswoman, Rebecca L. Woelfel, told a Missouri Digital News reporter that no drug tests have been administered to applicants or recipients of the state's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program because the department is still formulating rules to implement the drug testing law, which Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon signed in July 2011.

In September, the Missouri Digital News filed a legal request under the state's open records law to obtain records of communication between the DSS Interim Director Brian Kinkade and department staff who would implement the law.

An MDN reporter went to Allen's Jefferson City office Wednesday and waited for more than two hours to see the state attorney in person and get the requested records. Allen did not talk to the reporter during this time period, and his staff said that he was in meetings throughout the afternoon. Late in the afternoon, Woelfel came to Allen's office to talk to the reporter.

Ed Martin's campaign said Wednesday the Republican candidate is meeting with newspaper editorial boards around the state to seek their endorsement in the state's Attorney General race, contrary to a column written by the Post-Dispatch earlier this week.

In a Monday column titled "Fair or Foul," the Post-Dispatch gave Martin a "foul," writing ( that Martin "is refusing to meet with newspaper editorial boards during this election cycle."

The newspaper said that Martin had instead sent editorial boards a video asking for their endorsements, which the column said would be insufficient to earn an endorsement.

"You talk, we ask questions, you talk some more," the newspaper wrote. "Of course, you'd have to show up."

But Martin campaign spokesman Gabe Jones said Martin has already met with reporters or editorial boards from the St. Joseph News-Press, The Rolla Daily News, The Lebanon Daily Record and the Columbia Daily Tribune.

The state education board voted unanimously to grant the St. Louis Public School District accreditation at its board meeting Tuesday.

The district lost accreditation in 2007, and a state-appointed board took control of operations.

Last year the district met seven out of 14 academic standards set by the board, one more than necessary for provisional accreditation.

"This is a moment for celebration," said Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro. "A brief, realistic moment for celebration while we applaud the efforts of the entire St. Louis Public Schools community on significant progress. We urge everyone to keep working."

Carnahan High School Senior Daezon Cummings said faculty involcement played a substantial role in the academic turnaround.

"It was big," Cummings said. "I had just been hearing about it for weeks and weeks. Just constantly talking with them about it and just to hear how much that it mattered to them for that to happen it was just taking a monkey off our back pretty much."

Nicastro said this is only the beginning of a long journey for the struggling district. Despite this turnaround, the district is still one of the worst performing academically in the state.

"No one would ever suggest provisional accreditation is the end goal," Nicastro said. "We all want and believe that the children of the St. Louis Public Schools deserve a district that is fully accredited.

The district will be reevaluated in Sept. 2013 under a new set of academic standards.

In a report issued by the Associated Press, Gov. Jay Nixon and gubernatorial candidate Dave Spence both voiced opposition to the November ballot provision that would eliminate Missouri’s non-partisan court plan.

But only Spence's office would comment on the issue.

Jared Craig, spokesperson for Dave Spence said Spence is content with the non-partisan court plan and thinks economic issues should be the main focus for Missourians.

“He is comfortable with the non-partisan court plan as it is now and we’re focused on trying to get more Missourians back to work,” Craig said.

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County said this will allow citizens to hold the governor more accountable.

“The executive branch would have restored a check over the judiciary, and the people would have somebody to hold accountable,” Lembke said. “Under the current system, we don’t have anybody to hold accountable.”

Nixon's office declined to comment on the issue.

With the election less than three weeks away, McCaskill continues to face a close race against opponent Todd Akin.  

Claire McCaskill met with voters in Columbia Tuesday at Flat Branch Pub and Brewing, and while she refused to comment on Akin's campaign tactics, she was willing to talk about his policies. 

"Only rich kids will go to college under Akin's world view because the government would have nothing to do with public education," McCaskill said. "This is just a way that I can underline that policy difference and sear it into people's brains and hopefully get a few votes."

Akin's press secretary, Ryan Hite, said via email "McCaskill's economic policies have resulted in one in six Missourians living below the poverty line while McCaskill's businesses receive $40 million in taxpayer money."

People eating at the resturant were divided between the two parties.  

MU student and Flat Branch Pub and Brewing customer Mitchell Perne said McCaskil already had his vote before the event.

"It is not every day the Senator waits your table," Perne said.

Customer David Pickering said he is glad to see she is serving the public in a way other than over-taxing the public.

"She needs to leave the private sector alone and get government out of the way so small business can prosper," Pickering said.

According to Real Clear Politics, most polls have McCaskill holding a slight lead over Akin.

Campaign finance disclosure reports filed Monday with the Missouri Ethics Commission showed record levels of funding.

Democrat Jay Nixon and Republican Dave Spence reported, collectively, getting more than $21 million so far in their campaigns for governor.

Four years earlier, in 2008, the two leading candidates for governor reported just over $13 million in contributions.

The reports cover the election cycle until Oct. 1.

For the remaining five weeks, Nixon enjoys a substantial advantage in cash on hand left to spend with $4.9 million compared to Spence's $1.5 million.

St. Louis Public Schools are asking the State Board of Education to restore their accreditation status Tuesday.

The school district has been unaccredited since 2007, but has achieved enough points on a 14-point scale to be considered for provisional accreditation.

Even with the school district's improvement, provisional accreditation can still be denied by the state board. Education officials have expressed concern that the district's progress may only be temporary.

Peter Herschend, president of the Missouri State Board of Education, said this is part of what he calls the "yo-yo effect."

"The school goes up and down, and up and down, and never gets itself up to an accredited level," Herschend said.

Since the school lost its accreditation, a three-member state board has overseen the district in place of the elected school board. Should the district attain partial accreditation Tuesday it is unclear which board would oversee district operations.

"Simply attaining provisional accreditation for one year would not be sufficient for my vote to turn the education of 25,000 kids back to the local board of education that was a major part of the problem going in," Herschend said.

For the last few years, St. Louis county schools have been fighting a legal battle over a law that gives children in the city's unaccredited school the right to attend an accredited school.

People have filed lawsuits against districts adjacent to the St. Louis public schools for not accepting transfer students from St. Louis.

Sen Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, said the school gaining provisional accreditation status would nullify the lawsuits.

Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, said the governance of the district could be an issue for lawmakers to consider in January.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Dave Spence filed a defamation lawsuit in Cole County Circuit Court against Gov. Jay Nixon for calling him a "banker" in a television advertisement.

The lawsuit alleges that Nixon used misleading information in his ad to suggest Spence used his position at a bank and Troubled Asset Relief Program funds to purchase a vacation home.

"I filed this lawsuit for one simple reason, we need good people in politics," Spence said in a written statement.

"You see a lot of crazy stunts during the course of a campaign, but this frivolous lawsuit is misguided and desperate," said Nixon's campaign manager Oren Shur to the Associated Press.

Spence served on the board of Reliance Bancshares Inc. beginning in May 2009 after the bank took $40 million in TARP funds from the U.S. Treasury. According to the Associated Press, Spence took out a $1.1 million loan for a vacation home the next year, but he said there was no connection between the two events.

Last Week

In less than a week, the State Education Board will decide whether the St. Louis Public School District is fit for regaining provisional accreditation.

The district lost accreditation in 2007, and a state-appointed board took control of operations.

The CEO of the state board Richard Sullivan said a long-range recovery plan was set up by the board in April of 2008 that outlined goals to reach the required academic standards set by the state.

"We spent a lot of time in town hall meetings and gathering people from the community just listening and getting feedback from the community," Sullivan said. "By staying focused on the kids and focusing on the plan and working with our superintendent we have been able to make the progress we have made."

The district will hear on Tuesday, Oct. 16 whether or not it is granted provisional accreditation by the state. The state standard for provisional accreditation is that a district must meet six out of the 14 standards required. The district met seven of those requirements after the 2011 academic year.

Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, or DESE, spokeswoman Sarah Potter said the district still may not gain accreditation.

Read the newspaper story

Eight public safety officers from across Missouri were awarded the state's highest honor for demonstrating courage and risking their lives to save others.

St. Louis Police Officer, Daryl Hall, is the first officer to receive the award posthumously.

Hall was killed in April by gunshots outside a downtown nightclub in St. Louis.

Another recipient of the award is medic Joseph Heath of the St. John's Ambulance Service in Springfield.

Heath risked his life to save two young girls from a house fire in January.

He said he is grateful for the award because there are officers who save lives all across Missouri who do not get the same acknowledgment.  

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, and Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, are working on a bonding bill for the 2013 legislative session that would ask voters to pass the largest state bond issue in thirty years.

The two lawmakers said the nearly $1 billion bond issue would make improvements on university campuses, mental health facilities, the state capitol building and state infrastructure.

Kelly said this is the fifth consecutive year he will push for a bonding bill. He said the state needs to take advantage of the current low interest rates, low construction costs and the state's AAA credit rating to make capital improvements.

If passed, the bill would be named the Fifth State Building Bond. Kelly said he hopes the bill is passed early in the session so it can appear on the April ballot. If voters were to approve the bill, it would be the largest state bond issue since the Third State Building Bond, which was issued in 1982 and worth $600 million.

The Silver-Haired Legislature met at the state Capitol Thursday to discuss propositions from seniors throughout the state.

The legislature is a group made up of Missouri citizens 60 years. The group is comprised of Representatives and Senators from ten areas throughout Missouri. The Senate and House meet to come up with proposals from all the areas that they will present next year to the General Assembly.

On Thursday, the Senate and House met separately to vote on the 18-25 bills proposed. On Friday, the two chambers will meet to pick the five most important bills to present to the General Assembly during it's 2013 legislative session.

Mary Lou Brennan, the Senate Majority Leader, has been part of the legislature for 15 years now. Brennan said there is often not much controversy because all members are focused on the quality of life for seniors throughout the area. Brennan said if there is controversy, it is usually if they should cut taxes.

"Meals have always been my number one priority as is to most people because it is so important," Brennan said. "In the home delivered meals, many people have no touch with outside world other than home delivery."

State Auditor Tom Schweich released an audit of the Missouri State Public Defender this week, which stated the system is suffering from a case overload.

The public defender system has been seeking relief from the overwhelming amount of cases they receive each year, according to a press release from the system. The audit shows the caseloads have increased 70 percent since 1990, but staffing has only increased by 58 percent in the same amount of time.

In the statement, Cat Kelly, the director of the Missouri State Public Defender, said she disagrees with the report’s “Citizen’s Summary.” However, in a later interview, Kelly said the audit is helping the system determine the best way to measure its overload and that she agrees with much of the audit.

The Citizen's Summary is a one page breif with important information for taxpayers, written by the state auditor. 

“I don’t think there is any question that we are overloaded,” Kelly said in the interview.

She said while the audit clearly shows the problems of trying to precisely measure the issue of too many cases and too few lawyers, the summary skips over the issues and “paints with too broad of a brush.”

The audit revealed the public defender system lacked the information necessary to determine the amount of staff hours needed per caseload.

The audit also shows the public defender system spends approximately $1.7 million a year on employee travel but they have not tried to come up with ways to cut these costs and increase employee productivity.

After a day of interviews and deliberations, Missouri's Appellate Judicial Commission has selected three nominees to fill a vacancy on the state Supreme Court.

The nominees, according to a statement from the commission, are:

Wilson had been a long-term aide to Jay Nixon as both attorney general and governor. Nixon appointed Wilson to fill a Cole County circuit court vacancy in 2010. Wilson subsequently was defeated when he sought election to a full term on the bench.

The nominating commission was tasked with picking a successor to state Supreme Court Justice William Ray Price JR. after he retired in August.

The commission selected the nominees from a list of 18 candidates. Gov. Jay Nixon now has 60 days to appoint one of the nominees to fill the vacancy, according to state law. If the governor does not appoint one of the nominees, the commission will choose one in his place.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Teitelman currently chairs the commission, which includes three lawyers selected by the Missouri Bar and three non-lawyers appointed by the governor. The non-lawyers on the current commission include two who were appointed by Gov. Blunt and one that was appointed by Nixon.

Joplin tornado victims still living in emergency trailers will soon have to pay rent--and at least one Missouri politician says it might be too expensive.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, said this week that it will begin charging rent in December. A two-bedroom trailer in Joplin will cost $595 per month and a 3-bedroom unit will cost $757 per month.

But state Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin, said people who are still living in the FEMA trailers 18 months after the tornado are people who don't make enough money to pay fair market prices.

"If you have a single-parent family working a minimum-wage job, there isn't a lot of places you're going to be able to afford."

White said the high prices could force low-income disaster victims to search for alternative housing, in a city that saw much of its low-income housing stock destroyed by the 2011 twister.

FEMA regional spokesman Michael Cappannari said the rates are based on a federal formula that aims to find the "fair market" price for housing in disaster areas. Low-income families will also be able to ask the agency for a lower rent by filing an appeal within the next 60 days.

Missouri’s Appellate Judicial Commission interviewed 18 candidates Wednesday to find a successor for state Supreme Court Justice William Ray Price Jr., who retired in August after 20 years on the bench.

The commission interviewed lawyers and judges from all across the state, seven of whom also applied last year when another spot on the court opened up after the retirement of Justice Michael Wolff.

Throughout the interviews, candidates stressed their diverse legal backgrounds and qualifications for the job. One candidate, state Court of Appeals Judge Mark Pfeiffer, said whoever gets the job will be taking over for "a legend."

"I don't think you can come into the interview process and say 'I can fill his shoes, I can be the next Judge Ray Price,' because I don't think he would want that and I don't think any judge on this board would want that," Pfeiffer said.

Another, St. Louis lawyer Benjamin Lipman said that previous judicial experience shouldn't be the only factor considered. Some Supreme Court Justices have come to the bench without ever having served as a judge--including Price himself.

"In private practice you have such a diversity of the issues that you deal with as well of course as you're dealing directly with the actual people who come before the court," Lipman said.

The appellate commission, established under the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan, is responsible for narrowing down the field to a final three to send to Gov. Nixon for consideration.

The current group is chaired by Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Teitelman and includes three lawyers selected by the Missouri Bar, and three non-lawyers appointed by the governor. The non-lawyers on the current commission include two who were appointed by Gov. Blunt and one that was appointed by Nixon.

According to state law, once the commission submits its three nominations to the governor, he will have 60 days to appoint one to fill the vacancy. If Nixon fails to appoint one of the three nominees within 60 days, the commission will choose one to fill the vacancy.

With election months tend to come political phone calls telling people why or why not to vote for a particular candidate.

Missouri lawmakers have attempted to regulate these calls for years, but the House has shut this motion down every time. This year, Missouri law has expanded the telemarketing no-call list to include cell phones.

Traditionally, that legislation also included regulations on political calls, but this year it did not.

"We've tried to add cell phones to the no call list for the last three to five years. Unfortunately, every year those were added together, the bill did not make it. So in order to get cell phones on the no call list, we de-coupled them," Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee's Summit, said.

Now, although Missouri now enjoys a cellular no-call list, political calls are exempt from the law.

Sen. Scott Rupp, R-Wentzville, was pessimistic about a future addition of political calls to the list.

"I think it did become more difficult now that other pieces have passed, and this is the only one left sitting out there," said Rupp.

According to the Associated Press, Spence received a $950,000 contribution from the Republican Governors Association.

This contribution comes after Spence received $1.1 million from the same association last month.

The Democratic Governors Association recently gave $2.5 million to Governor Jay Nixon's campaign.

November's election is the state's first since losing a congressional district, but because of illegal immigrants, Missouri has one less representative in Washington D.C.

Congressional districts are based on the most recent census and the census does not ask about immigration status.

Missouri's State Demographer Matt Hesser said, "It's fairly safe to say that Missouri has fewer or a smaller percentage of illegal immigrants then some other states such as Texas or California. And so Missouri is competing against states that have illegal immigrants when it comes to distribution of seats within the U.S. House of Representatives."

The Center for Immigration Studies reports there were about 10 million illegal immigrants counted in the last census in 2010.

Steven Camarota, Director of Research for the center, said, "A state like California has one, two, maybe three extra congressional districts because of the illegal immigrants who sent in their census forms back. And a state like Missouri, which doesn't have a lot of illegal immigrants may lose a congressional seat because of it or maybe also an electoral vote in the time of the presidential election." \

Voters who would still like to register to vote in Missouri must have their applications postmarked by Wednesday, Oct. 10.

Secretary of States' Office spokesperson Stacie Temple said that 4.1 million voters in the state are registered and 152,000 registered this year.

Temple said voters have several options if they would like to register in person.

"They can either register in person at their local election authorities' office, or if they happen to be renewing their drivers license they can do it at the Department of Revenue, the library, or an office that offers public assistance," Temple said.

Voters can also download an application at and send it to their local election authority. Voters can also use the site to view the location of their registration and polling place on election day.

Missouri became one of nearly 500 public universities to join Project Degree Completion on Monday.

The program, designed by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the Association of State Colleges, set a goal to have 3.8 million college graduates by the year 2025.

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities said this graduation push is a necessity for the United States economy because it will increase the number of trained and knowledgeable workers.

Other goals outlined in the plan are the improvement of student advising and easier access for students who previously dropped out to return to the university.

Though, ultimately it will be up to the university to decide what changes they will make to reach this goal.

"What we've done is set a big goal," said Paul Hassen, spokesman for the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. "It's really up to the individual campuses to figure out how they can make changes to their own academic programs and other policies to increase the number of students that graduate from public colleges and universities."

The University of Missouri already meets some of the requirements laid out in Project Degree Completion with a 6-year graduation rate of 70.7 percent and a 6.4 percent increase in enrollment in 2011.

Lambert airport is planning to double the price of parking in two public garages for the first two hours.

The price will increase from $2.50 to $5 and 24-hour parking will increase from $21 to $23.

Lambert airport spokesman Jeff Lea said the airport is running out of parking spots in garages because people are using the garages for picking people up instead of for long-term use.

“The demand is so great that we are restructuring some of our rates to be more competitive and offer more services for those who are going to park long-term,” Lea said.

Lea also said the airport understands the difficult financial times some people are currently in.

“We were very mindful to be cost competitive with many of the different services that are around the airport and especially when it relates to parking because we know that money is tight with our customers,” Lea said.

The Airport Commission will vote on the new rates Wednesday.

Missouri high schools and colleges are accustomed to federal funding from the Department of Education and the Workforce Development Program.

However, Governor Nixon's "Campus Innovation Program" is state funded.

Nixon announced on Feb. 16 that he and The University of Central Missouri would train students for career opportunities in high-demand fields and cut the time it takes to earn a college degree.

He later announced on Aug. 1 the same goals with Missouri Western State University.

President Greg Prestemon of The Economic Development of St. Charles said the state funds are taking a lot longer than federal funds because every campus involved in the program is not familiar with how they operate.

Prestemon said he does not know details of the funding, including when and how the funds will be implemented.

President Chuck Ambrose of the University of Central Missouri said there has been more value added to his campus because of the grants.

Ambrose said although the grants are a "mess in process," they will eventually get sorted out and programs will be launched on nine campuses across Missouri.  

Nixon's Press Secretary, Scott Holste, said in an e-mail that he does not have any level of detail on implementing the funding.

Repeated phone calls to Governor Nixon's office were not returned.

Rick Tyler, U.S. Congressman Todd Akin's (R-MO) campaign adviser, said the campaign is very grateful for the contributions. Tyler said the support shows that while McCaskill has more campaign money to spend on misleading ads, Akin is running a robust grass roots campaign about the truth.

Akin has had a very controversial campaign since his "legitimate rape" comment in August. Recently, however, he has received support from big names in the GOP such as former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee as well as a recent endorsement from the NRA.

Tyler said the reason for the support is because the people across the country realize how important it is to have Akin in the Senate in order to, "repeal Obamacare we cannot repeal Obamacare, reverse the trillion dollars of deficit, and restore America to a position of prosperity, freedom and strength."

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