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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of November 26, 2012

House Speaker Tim Jones announced his plans to introduce legislation regarding ethics reformation.

Jones said it will enhance the level of transparency in the political process and ensure accountability from public servants.

Ethics reform legislation was last introduced in the 2010 legislative session, but was ultimately struck down by the Missouri Supreme Court.

On Tuesday, Democrats, including Rep. Kevin McManus D-Kansas City, held a press conference on legislation they plan to introduce regarding campaign finance reform.

McManus said the bill is largely modeled after the 2010 efforts including caps on contribution limits, lobbyist expenditures and other campaign finance provisions.

"There's a lot of resistance on the Republican side of the aisle to contribution limits," McManus said. "But I think theres probably an agreement on the element of transparency that Missourians should get regarding campaign finances."

Lawmakers can begin prefiling bills on Dec. 3.

Missouri hospitals are advocating for an expansion in Medicaid enrollment, citing losses in federal payments that reimburse hospitals serving large numbers of low income patients.

Those losses were one reason Gov. Jay Nixon announced his support of an expansion in Missouri's Medicaid rolls to 138 percent of the federal poverty level on Thursday.

A provision of the federal health care law cuts Disproportionate Share Hospital Adjustment Payments (DSH) in half by 2020. Those federal payments go to hospitals who serve large numbers of low income patients. Missouri received the seventh most DSH funding in the country in 2011.

Dave Dillon, a spokesman for the Missouri Hospital Association, said Missouri hospitals provide $1 billion worth of uncompensated care in any given year.

Dillon said without the expansion, some Missouri hospitals may suffer when the reimbursement payments are cut.

"If they disappear or are substantially reduced and we don't see an increase in Medicaid, or folks enrolling in an exchange, the hospital and health care infrastructure in the state will be significantly hurt by this," Dillon said.

Dillon said "there are hospitals in the state that are operating at the margin or in the red, and it will be more difficult for those hospitals to continue to operate."

The same day Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon announced his support of expanding the state’s Medicaid rolls, the Missouri Chamber of Commerce said it is also endorsing the expansion .

“We support the expansion,” Chamber spokesperson Karen Buschmann said. “While we do not support the Affordable Care Act, we are supporting this expansion as part of it.. It is the law of the land. We do not feel that we should leave the federal money on the table.”

While the Chamber announced its support of the Medicaid expansion, many Republican legislators, such as Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and Sen. Rob Schaaf have voiced their opposition.

“It might look attractive now, but later on it will be too much to afford,” Schaaf said.

Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, did not immediately oppose Nixon's stance.

"I think in order to  make an informed decision we've got to know what the cost to the state is, and really at this point nobody knows what that is," Schaefer said.

Schaefer said he looks forward to sitting down with Nixon and discussing the logistics of Medicaid expansion.

Captain Robin Markham came to the Missouri National Guard in 2009 and learned there had been five reported suicides that year.  The number of suicides motivated her to become the programs manager. She had suicidal thoughts of her own when she was a cadet in the air force in 2003.

"I can recall one night," Markham said, "when I was a cadet taking certain measures with the hopes that I wouldn't wake up the next morning and I just had to grit my teeth and finish out my schooling."

Chaplain Gary Gilmore is her supervisor and a senior leader in the guard. He pushes guard members, like Markham, to get help.

"Soldiers train to be tough," Gilmore said. "But a different kind of tough is knowing when to get help."

Suicides are on high alert for guard members with holiday season underway. Markham says money and children are the primary factors for guard suicides because without money, guard members cannot afford gifts for their children.

Get the radio story here

Gov. Jay Nixon announced his support for Medicaid expansion in Missouri under the federal health care law. Nixon was quiet about the issue during the election, but Thursday morning announced his plans to expand the program citing a University of Missouri study that predicts more than 24,000 jobs can be created in 2014 if the state takes part in the expansion. Nixon plans to include the proposal in his budget he will lay out during his State of the State address in January.

The study, that was commissioned by the Missouri Hospital Association and the Missouri foundation for Health predicts as many as 220,000 Missourians would be eligible for the expanded program.

Under the expansion proposal the federal government would foot the bill of expanding the program for the first three years. In 2017, the state would pay 5 percent of the costs and by 2020 the state would pay up to 10 percent. According to the University of Missouri study, the federal government would pay about $8.2 billion through 2019 while the state would spend about $332.9 million and about $100 million per year after 2019 to cover new enrollees.

But the Democratic Governor faces an uphill battle expanding the program. Republicans have a super-majority in both the House and Senate. Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder said he doesn't think the expansion has a chance of passing through the legislature.

"Overwhelming majorities of the legislature are opposed to this and will not go along with a gigantic expansion of welfare," said Kinder.

Republican lawmakers have opposed supporting the state expansion saying Missouri won’t be able to cover the costs in the long run, but supporters of the expansion say the added dollars in tax revenue from new jobs could cover most of it. According to the study, Missouri would generate $856 million in state and local taxes through seven years.

St. Louis-area developer Paul McKee's three-year fight to get millions of dollars in St. Louis tax credits is now in the hands of Missouri's state Supreme Court.

Four residents successfully sued to stop the deal in 2009. They say the credits have not been linked to any specific project. One of the residents, Isiah Hair, said Wednesday that McKee has dodged questions about what he wants to build on that land.

"I'm not opposed to development within my community at all," Hair said. "But what I am opposed to is the method that he's using to try and build something within my community."

McKee was present at the Supreme Court for Wednesday's hearing, but did not take questions from reporters.

The Blue Ribbon Transportation Committee has been meeting with Missourians since July to hear concerns on road systems across the state.

Missouri ranks 41st in the nation terms of revenue per mile of road. Committee Co-Chair Bill McKenna said that the Missouri Department of Transportation will need extra revenue before Missourians see safer roads. The method of doing so is the problem.

"I can't see increasing money to MoDOT unless it would come from a new source of revenue," McKenna said. "Which would be new dollars on top of our existing taxes."

MoDOT Chief Financial Officer Roberta Broeker said Missouri's gasoline and license taxes haven't risen in 20 years.

Committee member and President of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce Dan Mehan said taxpayers will have to foot the bill for their roads to improve. This comes after Missourians voted three times in a row not to increase the tax on tobacco.

"I think that Missourians will trade some sort of a tax increase somewhere in the future if and only if they trust where it's going," Mehan said.

The "fiscal cliff" refers to the end of the Bush tax cuts and a series of spending cuts starting Jan. 1, 2013.

This would raise the federal income tax rate if Congress can not come to an agreement to lower taxes before the new year. Missouri allows a six percent tax deduction on state income taxes for any federal taxes paid, with a limit of $5,000, so the fiscal cliff could lose the state revenue.

Legislators agreed that if the state revenue fell, education funding would take the biggest hit.

"It could be a significant number," said Sen. Robert Schaaf, R-St. Joseph. "I mean 6 percent of a large number can be a very large number." 

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said Missouri is one of few states that allow such a deduction, and that puts the state at a disadvantage.

State budget director Linda Luebbering said other factors, like an increase in state gross domestic income, could offset the revenue loss caused by the rise in income tax.

An audit of the Missouri State Lottery Commission on Tuesday showed issues in long-term contracts, sponsorships, advertising expenditures and violations in sunshine laws.

A sum of almost five million dollars in advertising went unreported to the general assembly. The commission said those expenses were reported elsewhere in their budget, but they did not consider them "advertising."

Gary Gonder, the lottery's chief operations officer, said those expenditures were reported under the same system as all other state agencies follow.

"Every penny that we spend whether it's a ball point pen or it's advertising is reported, there's just different object codes,” Gonder said.

The audit says the commission did not properly document some topics discussed in closed meetings, which violates the state's Sunshine Law. Gonder said the commission agrees with the audit's recommendation to correctly document what will be discussed in closed meetings.

"In order to be able to speak about something whether it's an open or closed meeting you must maintain what's on the agenda and our commission agrees with that," Gonder said.

The audit also showed the commission spent over four hundred thousand dollars sponsoring community events, but a majority had a negative return on investment. Gonder said they decide which events to sponsor based on a mathematical formula.

The commission received an overall rating of "good" and Gonder says the commission agrees with all of the audit's recommendations.

Get the radio story.

New Senate members met on Tuesday for orientation before they begin their new jobs.

The freshmen senate members participated in a mock hearing to learn what to expect in the new legislative session.

The new members were also given a tour of the Capitol and learned about Senate traditions.

Senator Jamilah Nasheed, D-Jackson County, said she was excited to begin her first Senate session.

"I'm looking forward to working with many of my colleges I've worked with in the past by way of the House and many of them that have not ever served, as well."

Nasheed also said she believed there would be stronger cohesiveness in that Senate than there was in the House, where she previously served.

The legislative session begins on Jan. 9.

 

Missouri House Democrats announced at a press conference Tuesday they will file legislation to make changes to campaign finance and ethics laws.

Their bill would require not-for-profit organizations to disclose their donors, which is not required currently.

Not-for-profits, such as Missourians for Low Utility Costs, organized shortly before the election and donated thousands to political committees. Missourians for Low Utility costs gave $275,000 to committees to influence Senate elections.

The new provisions also include changing state law to make obscuring the source of contributions a crime, and prohibiting contributions from being invested in anything other than savings or checking accounts.

House Democrats are recycling provisions of a 2010 bill drafted by the bi-partisan House Special Committee on Government Accountability and Ethics Reform. That bill capped individual donations to one candidate at $5,000 and capped what politicians could receive from lobbyists at $1,000, and gave the Missouri Ethics Commission the power to initiate investigations, among other provisions.

Rep. Kevin McManus, D-Kansas City, is sponsoring the bill. McManus said "We believe that this is not only a priority of our caucus, but a priority of Missourians throughout the state who want transparency and accountability in their government."

Democrats are addressing the issue after a Republican ethics bill in 2010 was ruled unconstitutional due to procedural violations.

Get the radio story.

Freshmen representatives met Tuesday at the state Capitol for an introduction to the committee process. The newly elected representatives went through a mock hearing to learn the correct process and ask questions.

The orientation allowed for all the new House members to get to know one another before the legislative session begins.

“We look at each other as people that have come here with the same kind of passion that each one of us have to do the best job that we can do,” said Rep. Steve Lynch, R-Waynesville. “We may disagree on some issues, but there is no doubt that there are some sincere, determined people here.”

Rep. Glen Kolkmeyer, R-Wellington, echoed Lynch’s excitement to begin the legislative session.

“It’s a little overwhelming but it really is an honor to be here,” Kolkmeyer said. “I’ve met a lot of nice people and everybody has been really helpful.”

The legislative session begins on Jan. 8.

Utility companies had a chance to meet with each other and with the Missouri Public Service Commission Monday to discuss the cyber safety of critical state infrastructure,

Public Service Commissioner Terry Jarrett said the problem the state faces is the evolution of the hacker.

"It's not just the lone man in the basement anymore doing it for fun or to embarrass the company," Jarrett said. "The Chinese have been trying to hack into businesses here in the United States, and the Iranians have been trying to hack into businesses here in the United States."

Jarrett said this poses a threat to the security of Americans.

"Attacking the grid and knocking the utilities out to Air Force bases and Army bases would be something that would be of concern," Jarret said.

Jarrett said the state's efforts mirror recent attempts at improving cyber security by the federal government.

Get the radio story

In a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Gov. Jay Nixon said the state would not be able to comply with a departmental deadline for states to set up state-based health insurance exchanges through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

In the letter, Nixon referenced Proposition E, a measure passed in last week's election by Missouri voters that prohibits the establishment of a state-based insurance exchange.

Lawmakers tried to pass legislation in 2011 setting up a state-based exchange, but it never passed.

Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder said the legislature doesn't need to be in any hurry to set up a state-based exchange.

"The people of Missouri have twice been heard on this," Kinder said. "They have twice rendered a negative verdict on Obamacare in a super majority."

Missouri will face another deadline next February for states to decide whether or not to apply for a state-federal partnership exchange, but Nixon made no comment on what the legislature's next move might be when session begins on Jan. 9.

Missouri is one of 13 other states that have taken steps to reject the Affordable Care Act.

The Missouri Public Service Commission is looking to create a separate residential rate class with a lower rate specifically for low-income residents.

Kathleen Chitwood, who represents low-income residents like herself in Missouri, said the bad economy put her and many others she works with in a bind to pay for necessities like groceries and utilities. She serves as an alternative board member for the Jefferson Franklin Community Action Corporation.

Chitwood said this new rate class would directly benefit her and those she represents.

Rep. Darrel Pollock, R-Lebanon, said he doesn't see the new rate class as something the commission should be looking into. Pollock, who is the chairman of the House Committee on Utilities, said he opposes a new rate class because there are already programs and laws in place to help low-income residents.

Opponents are also concerned a cut in a rate class for low-income residents will mean a spike in rates for others. Missouri Public Service Commissioner Robert Kenney said other rates may rise, but they may not.

"The whole idea of rate design for utilities is so complex anyway that it's really an oversimplification to say 'well, if we set up a low income class then everyone is paying more,'" Kenney said.

In September the commission created a docket for stakeholders to comment on the possibility of the creation of a new rate class. It is currently reviewing and evaluating the responses. Kenney said the next step is to hold a face-to-face workshop of all the stakeholders to determine the best thing to do.

For 137 years, it was legal to kill a Mormon in Missouri. The state's violent history with this religious group is far in the past, however.

Missouri voters selected Mitt Romney, a Mormon, in this year's presidential election.

The Mormons began moving to Jackson County after Joseph Smith pronounced Independence as the location of Zion. Conflict soon broke out on the frontier. Patrick Mason, author of the book "The Mormon Menace," said other white settlers were not fond of the theocratic politics, abolitionist sentiments and polygamy practices of the Mormon settlers.

Mason said Mormonism changed in the late nineteenth century to conform with American norms, as it gave up polygamy and its political party. Throughout the 20th century, Mason said Americans grew more tolerant of religious pluralism.

 A surge in Chinese students is driving an increase in the overall number of international students attending colleges and universities in Missouri and across the country, a new study has found.

The survey, done by the Washington-based Institute of International Education, showed that Missouri ranks 13th in the number of enrolled international students with 16,061, a six percent increase from 2011, which mirrored the nationwide growth.

Peggy Blumenthal, a spokeswoman for the institution, said many of the students think an American education will better prepare them for jobs in an increasingly globalized economy.

"They think its worth the investment," Blumenthal said. "The kind of training they're going to get here in the states is going to give them a better chance at a really good career back in China or here in the states or wherever around the world that they decide to go."

More than 200,000 Chinese students came to the US for a college education last year, as did about 100,000 Indian students.

Missouri's minimum wage will increase from $7.25 to $7.35 in 2013.

In 2006, Missouri voters approved a ballot measure that linked minimum wage to the cost of living.

"Not something as important as minimum wage," said Karen Buschman, spokeswoman for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce. "It shouldn't be tied to something that automatically increases."

Buschman said the high minimum wage will drive businesses, and the jobs they create, to Missouri's bordering states. Illinois is the only adjoining state with a minimum wage higher than $7.35.

"The last few years we have pursued legislation to try to disconnect the minimum wage from the mandates it is currently tied to," Buschman said. "We have been unsuccessful, but it will likely be part of our legislative priorities for the upcoming year."

Lara Granich, director of Missouri Jobs With Justice, said the fear that businesses will suddenly flock to bordering states is unfounded.

"All the research shows that that does not bear out. That's just a scare tactic in the public today to try to keep the minimum wage down," Granich said.

The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a state law giving the state power over the city of St. Louis in residency requirements for firefighters.

Residency requirements are dictations of where a city employee must live.

The court ruled that because regulating residency requirements is not fixing the powers, the legislature can create laws about them.

"We're very disappointed. We really believe that personnel rules for city officials should be left up to the locally elected officials- it's a real local control issue," said Missouri Municipal League director Richard Sheets.

Sheets said he believes St. Louis and Kansas City are the only cities affected at the moment because they are the only charter cities with disaccredited schools this law applies to.

Dean Katerndahl, Mid-America Regional Council Director of Government Innovations said he doesn't think the Kansas City area will be affected greatly.

"The residency requirements by and large were put in decades ago," Katerndahl said.

Katerndahl adds that because Kansas City residency requirements cover such a large area of suburban and urban housing, he doesn't see a large change coming.

The House Interim Committee on Government Bidding and Contracting met on Tuesday to discuss ways to better improve the process of government bidding.

Yet the meeting was at a stalemate after the director of the Department of Revenue refused to attend for the third time.

"She's refused to show up three times, and instead what she does is send persons within the department that can answer some factual questions but won't give any answers on how policy might be improved, and that's just unacceptable," said Rep. Jay Barnes R-Jefferson City.

Committee members said the department lacks a strict set of rules for which to be held accountable.

"If they do not have written specific rules to follow, how can anyone determine if their process is consistent," said committee chairman Rep. Sue Allen R-St. Louis County. "If anyone who loses a bid comes back, there could potentially be 183 lawsuits or more."

Committee members held the meeting to find ways to improve the process of bidding in Missouri, but without the presence of the director, they were unable to address policy.

Barnes said he expects the director to appear at a meeting in the future, but will exercise subpoena power if she does not.

"Representative Barnes indicated that the expectation is that the director will show up to one of our meetings," Allen said. "However, the speaker of the House has the power to subpoena someone, so that should happen."

The Missouri Department of Economic Development released the State Jobs Report for Missouri from the month of October on Tuesday.

John Fougere, spokesman for the MDED, said payrolls added 13,000 new jobs for the month of October.

Missouri's unemployment rate remained unchanged at 6.9 percent. The rate has been lower than the national unemployment rate for 38 consecutive months

Fougere also said the Missouri labor force grew by nearly 10,000 people in October.


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.