NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of August 26, 2013

Governor Jay Nixon vetoed the bill in July because he said it violated Missouri's constitution by containing two independent provisions.

The bill attempts to even out the interests of keeping children in foster care safe while making it easier for foster parents by limiting how many times parents have to give their fingerprints to federal and state departments.

Nixon said in his veto letter that the bill is unnecessary because of a new online system that stores fingerprints.

The bill was passed unanimously in the House and Senate.

Missouri Rep. T.J. Berry, R-Clay County , renewed a call for an override vote on the recent tax veto bill despite Attorney General Chris Koster's opinion that an override could cost the state upwards of one billion dollars.

"Using the newly revised rate, the taxpayer would have overpaid by $455 each year," Koster wrote in his letter. "The taxpayer, relying on the retroactively revised tax tables, may seek a refund."

Republican Party spokesman Matt Wills spoke out against the letter and Gov. Jay Nixon. He said the governor and his staff acted in "bad faith" during the legislative session by not working with the Republican led House during the creation of the bill. He added the letter was just rhetoric.

"It's very difficult to understand why he would do that," Wills said in regards to the governor's veto of the tax bill. "He simply thinks he can spend taxpayer money better than the taxpayers."

Berry also called for a special session concurrent with the veto session in the event that the override vote fails. He said he is open to fixing concerns lawmakers have with the bill including the potential tax increases on prescription drugs and textbooks.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster issued a formal opinion Thursday, Aug. 29,  to warn of the consequences of overriding the governor's veto of the legislature's tax-cut bill.

In his opinion letter, Koster confirmed the governor's position that the bill could award refunds for taxes Missourians already paid for the past three years.

"In the opinion of this Office, the plain language of the new legislation suggests that, if certain triggering events set forth in the statute occur, taxpayers may seek refunds of taxes paid in the three preceding tax years," Koster wrote in the second sentence of his three page letter. The underlined emphasis was in Koster's letter.

The argument that the state's current budget could have to pay for tax cuts from previous years was one of the governor's arguments for withholding about $400 million in appropriations for agencies, mostly from higher education and education.

"With a price tag of at least $800 million, House Bill 253 contains flawed provisions that would explode these costs immediately - to the tune of $1.2 billion - if Washington passes the Federal Marketplace Fairness Act," Nixon said when announcing the withholding.

Koster's opinion focuses on a provision that creates a tax reduction for Missourians if Congress passes a pending law letting states impose taxes on Internet sales. If that federal law, pending before Congress, is passed, Koster concluded that the reduction would cover not just the current year, but all prior tax years for the entire history of Missouri -- although state law provides that a taxpayer can file an amended return, seeking back tax refunds, for no more than three years.

"...a tax payer could seek a refund for the three previous tax years," Koster wrote.

The Congressional bill regarding Internet sales tax passed the Senate in May this year and is currently in the House Judiciary Committee.

Koster's opinion letter was written in response to a request from House Speaker Tim Jones. It came on the same day that Texas Gov. Rick Perry was addressing groups in St. Louis promoting efforts to override Nixon's veto.

On the same day, Nixon was traveling across the state in his ongoing campaign speaking against the bill.

The legislature meets Sept. 11 to take up bills vetoed by the governor.

A Cole County judge struck down two laws on Tuesday that limit municipalities ability to regulate construction of new cell phone towers.

Circuit Court Judge Patricia Joyce ruled that the statutes unfairly restrict municipalities and government agencies ability to regulate the new construction of cell phone towers.

“The implementation, enforcement, application, or assertion of any provision of HB 331 or HB 345 will subject the plaintiffs to the unwarranted burdens of unconstitutional laws.” Joyce said in her ruling.

Most Missouri laws passed in the 2013 legislative session went into effect Wednesday, including changes for drivers, students and gun owners.

Drivers will be able to show electronic proof of insurance on a mobile device like a smart phone, rather than only on a paper card copy. Also, drivers face higher fines for passing emergency responders on the highway.

Concealed carry permits no longer come out of the Missouri Department of Revenue. A new law puts the responsibility in the hands of local sheriff's offices.

This is a response to the controversy filling a large part of 2013's legislative session, the Department of Revenue's scanning of personal documents.

Schools will also see changes, including the option of commissioning local police officers to enforce laws on school property.

Another law restricts where electronic benefit transfer card users can use their welfare money. The law prohibits welfare recipients from using those cards at gambling establishments, liquor stores and on other "adult-oriented" items like cigarettes.

Steve Yoakum, president of the Missouri Public School Retirement System (PSRS) called a national story by the Associated Press misleading Tuesday.

The story included Missouri in a list of 20 states where private sector workers receive state covered pensions.

Yoakum said while the story was technically correct, only 36 of the nearly 80 thousand active employees of PSRS (a private entity) actually receive state pension coverage. A Missouri statute also prevents any future private sector worker from doing so, meaning those 36 will be phased out eventually.

"There are a very de minimus number of people that are effected anyways, and that number will actually go away over the years because of a change in the law," Yoakum said.

Former state Senator Jason Crowell said he thinks private sector workers collecting public tax dollars is a rampant practice throughout federal, state, and city government. He said money that goes toward administration and lobbying would be better spent inside the classroom.

"You don't do anything other than lobby Jeff City. And we're allowing each year that they're employed in those special interest organizations to collect state benefits," Crowell said.

The only members of PSRS eligible for government pensions under state law are those who used to be teachers. Also, Yoakum said PSRS pays the state pension money given to its workers back into the public retirement system. That would mean that no tax dollars would actually be spent on these employees.

Yoakum said he did not know if any PSRS members receiving government pensions served as lobbyists.

Crowell said his 2010 efforts to put a stop to private sector workers collecting tax dollars were shut down by pro-education groups.

Attorney General Chris Koster announced that his office has filed a civil lawsuit against Walgreens for deliberately misleading customers by using deceptive pricing.

According to a press release, the Attorney General’s office made undercover visits to several different Walgreens across the state to find that there were differences in the price of goods on the shelf and the price at the register. Tags regarding sales were also misleading in some cases, according to Koster’s office.

Officials from both Walgreens and the Attorney General's office did not immediately return phone calls on the subject however Koster did comment on the lawsuit in a press release on Tuesday.

“Consumers have a right to expect the price they will pay at the register is the same as the price displayed on the shelf,” Koster said. “Consumers should not have to double-check the price tags or signage and compare them to the prices charged at the register.”

Investigators found that 21 percent of prices listed on the shelf were different at checkout at eight Walgreens stores across the state. Stores were located in Kansas City, Jefferson City, Osage Beach, Springfield and St.Louis.

The Associated Press reported Saturday that Missouri is among about 20 states where lobbyists and employees of private organizations are covered by government retirement pension plans.

In Missouri, school employee retirement benefit coverage was being provided to five private organizations that work in education.

The organizations include the Missouri State Teachers Association, the Missouri Council of School Administrators and the Missouri High School Activities Association.

The chair of the House Government Oversight Committee said the practice should stop.

"Lobbyists for private entities don't deserve public pensions paid for by Missouri taxpayers," said Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City.

"While we can't go back and undo what's already been done, and we shouldn't, going forward we should close the door and make sure these taxpayer-funded pensions don't go to high-priced lobbyists."

Officials at the two retirement systems for public education employees did not immediately return phone calls for further information or comment.

Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, D-Kansas City, resigned from a House Democratic campaign committee after reports he had been arrested for illegal possession of marijuana along with drug paraphernalia.

LaFaver was arrested Saturday, Aug. 25, in Boone County by the Highway Patrol when a scan of the license plate of the car he was driving showed he had unpaid traffic tickets.

LaFaver had been a co-sponsor of a bill in this year's legislature that would have lowered the possession for small amounts of marijuana.

The day following his arrest, the House Democratic caucus issued a statement that LaFaver had resigned as chairman of the Democratic Victory Committee. The committee raises and distribute funds for Democrats seeking legislative seats.

"The goal of electing Democrats to the House is too important to the middle class men and women of Missouri from my personal embarrassment to become a distraction," LaFaver was quoted as saying in a statement from House Democrats.

"I have therefore asked the Minority Leader to let me step down from the chairmanship."

LaFaver is serving his first term in Missouri's House.

He had been sopped for failing to respond to a Moniteau County charge of driving with an expired license tag and without insurance.

Shortly after 11pm on the day of his arrest, the House Democrat's spokesperson emailed to reporters an apology from LaFaver.

"I made a serious mistake, I apologize for it, and I am prepared to face the consequences of my behavior. I want to stress that I was not operating under the influence," he was quoted as saying.

Last Week

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s push to attract businesses from other states drew criticism in a letter from Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander.

Kander said the governor should focus on fostering new businesses in Texas to create jobs and economic growth. In the letter, he noted large companies such as Monsanto and Express Scripts that began in Missouri had remained in the state and created hundreds of jobs.

“The evidence shows that if a company comes to a state because of a sales pitch, there’s a good chance it’ll leave for a better deal in some other state in the future,” Kander said.

Television ads emphasizing the lack of income tax and the regulatory environment in Texas have aired in the St. Louis, Springfield and Jefferson City-Columbia markets. Perry plans to visit Missouri on August 29.

An interim House committee met to begin discussing ways of improving how the House does business.

Chief Clerk of the House Adam Crumbliss talked to the committee about the current state of the legislative branch and how it does not serve the public as well as it could.

Crumbliss highlighted several ways the House can improve itself including eliminating several committees and creating sub-committees, allowing for a more in-depth look when needed. Crumbliss also recommended using former representatives as a resource since many representatives are inexperienced.

According the chairman Dwight Scharnhorst, the Interim Committee on Legislative Institutional Infrastructure and Process will meet again during the veto session.

House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, announced a new initiative allowing Missouri residents to decide the next members of the Hall of Famous Missourians.

This is the first time members of the public will have input on the decision, which had previously been made solely by the Speaker. Residents can submit their nominations online until September 13. Missourians and visitors to the capitol will then have the chance to vote on their final choice. The nominees with the two largest vote totals will be enshirned in the hall.

“During my time as a member of the Missouri House I have heard from citizens from all around this state who have strong opinions about great Missourians that should be included in the Hall" Jones said in a press release, "This is their opportunity to have their voices heard."

Last year's inductees in to the Hall of Famous Missourians include the first African-American baseball coach Buck O'Neil, Dred Scott and conservative radio show host Rush Limbaugh.

Gov. Jay Nixon urged Republicans Wednesday to not override his veto on a House bill that would that would remove 870 names from the sex offender registry.

The bill would remove adults who committed sex offenses as juveniles from the state and county sexual offender notification websites.

Nixon said removing these names poses a risk for public safety.

"The leadership of the House may be ready to help violent sex offenders hide from the public and law enforcement, but their victims, and the millions of Missourians who use these websites to help keep their families safe, are not."

Republican legislators have said that a veto of the bill is likely.

Some supporters say adults who committed sex offenses as juveniles deserve a second chance.

The veto session will take place on September 11, where Republicans will be given the opportunity to override Nixon's veto on the bill.

Attorneys with Great Rivers Environmental Law Center filed suit on Monday against several Missouri government entities, saying they helped stop the implementation of a renewable energy law.

The Renewable Energy Standard Law requires utility companies like Ameren Missouri, Kansas City Power & Light and Empire District Electric Company to increase their use of renewable energy to at least 15% by 2021.

Attorneys claim that the Missouri Secretary of State did not publish important aspects of the law. They said this left it unclear whether utility companies needed to create new energy infrastructure.

One plaintiff in the case, Vaughn Prost of Missouri Solar Applications, said that renewable energy policies are working in 28 other states, and it should be in Missouri, too.

"It's a critical issue because if utilities aren't required to deliver renewable energy to Missouri, the law is largely meaningless," Prost said. "Missouri isn't getting new jobs or the new renewable energy that should be built here."

The four defendants in the lawsuit are the Missouri Joint Commission on Administrative Rules (JCAR), Secretary of State Jason Kander, the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) and Governor Jay Nixon.

ACT released national and state-wide reports of how the 2013 high school graduating class scored on ACT tests.

Missouri students scored slightly better than the national average, but the report showed more than half of Missouri students did not meet college-readiness standards in all four of the subjects tested.

The ACT considers benchmarks the scores needed for a student to have a 75 percent chance of receiving a C or better in the corresponding college course. Of the Missouri students researched, only 28 percent met those standards on all four parts of the exam, and 24 percent met no benchmarks in any category.

Missouri students scored the best in English, where 72 percent of them met the standards.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has enlisted outside help to fix the state's failing school districts.

At a Missouri State Board of Education meeting Tuesday, the board announced a partnership with CEE Trust, a consulting firm based out of Denver.

Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro said it's all part of an effort to address a crisis in several of the state's unaccredited and under performing school districts.

CEE Trust will be operating primarily out of the Kansas City Public School district. It will analyze data and gather feedback from residents in order to submit

its recommendations to the school board.

DESE spokeswoman Sarah Potter said the state is also considering hiring another firm to directly analyze potential fixes for St. Louis area districts.

"We go to an outside consultant for two reasons," said board president Peter Herschend. "One, we don't have the manpower internally, and two, an outside consultant is just that. They have a broader exposure to what has and hasn't worked around the country."

The contract between the two allocates $385,000 for CEE Trust, which Nicastro said is funded by outside foundations.

Nicastro said the board will have to give final approval before any action is taken on the company's recommendations. She said the public will also be instrumental in enacting any of the recommended changes.

CEE Trust is expected to submit its recommendations for potential solutions by January of 2014.

A Kansas City health provider confirmed another case of Cyclospora Tuesday. There have now been five cases of Cyclospora confirmed in Missouri this year.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is working with the Centers for Disease Control and other agencies to investigate whether or not these cases are linked to cases in other states.

The parasite has been much more prevalent in the Midwest than on either coast this year.

There are only 11 reported cases in Illinois and four in Kansas, but 155 cases were reported in Iowa, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

The state with the most cases this year is Texas, with 247 of the 539 cases reported in the United States.

Cyclospora is a parasite that can cause a variety of intestinal issues for a few days to over a month if left untreated. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services urges individuals experiencing prolonged gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea, severe stomach cramps, or nausea to seek medical attention.

About nine percent of those infected were hospitalized, but the parasite is not usually life threatening and most people with a healthy immune system recover without treatment eventually. The median age of those infected is 51. 

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s push to attract businesses from other states drew criticism in a letter from Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander.

Kander said the governor should focus on fostering new businesses in Texas to create jobs and economic growth. In the letter, he noted large companies such as Monsanto and Express Scripts that began in Missouri had remained in the state and created hundreds of jobs.

“The evidence shows that if a company comes to a state because of a sales pitch, there’s a good chance it’ll leave for a better deal in some other state in the future,” Kander said.

Television ads emphasizing the lack of income tax and the regulatory environment in Texas have aired in the St. Louis, Springfield and Jefferson City-Columbia markets. Perry plans to visit Missouri on August 29.

An interim House committee met to begin discussing ways of improving how the House does business.

Chief Clerk of the House Adam Crumbliss talked to the committee about the current state of the legislative branch and how it does not serve the public as well as it could.

Crumbliss highlighted several ways the House can improve itself including eliminating several committees and creating sub-committees, allowing for a more in-depth look when needed. Crumbliss also recommended using former representatives as a resource since many representatives are inexperienced.

According the chairman Dwight Scharnhorst, the Interim Committee on Legislative Institutional Infrastructure and Process will meet again during the veto session.

House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, announced a new initiative allowing Missouri residents to decide the next members of the Hall of Famous Missourians.

This is the first time members of the public will have input on the decision, which had previously been made solely by the Speaker. Residents can submit their nominations online until September 13. Missourians and visitors to the capitol will then have the chance to vote on their final choice. The nominees with the two largest vote totals will be enshirned in the hall.

“During my time as a member of the Missouri House I have heard from citizens from all around this state who have strong opinions about great Missourians that should be included in the Hall" Jones said in a press release, "This is their opportunity to have their voices heard."

Last year's inductees in to the Hall of Famous Missourians include the first African-American baseball coach Buck O'Neil, Dred Scott and conservative radio show host Rush Limbaugh.

Gov. Jay Nixon urged Republicans Wednesday to not override his veto on a House bill that would that would remove 870 names from the sex offender registry.

The bill would remove adults who committed sex offenses as juveniles from the state and county sexual offender notification websites.

Nixon said removing these names poses a risk for public safety.

"The leadership of the House may be ready to help violent sex offenders hide from the public and law enforcement, but their victims, and the millions of Missourians who use these websites to help keep their families safe, are not."

Republican legislators have said that a veto of the bill is likely.

Some supporters say adults who committed sex offenses as juveniles deserve a second chance.

The veto session will take place on September 11, where Republicans will be given the opportunity to override Nixon's veto on the bill.

Attorneys with Great Rivers Environmental Law Center filed suit on Monday against several Missouri government entities, saying they helped stop the implementation of a renewable energy law.

The Renewable Energy Standard Law requires utility companies like Ameren Missouri, Kansas City Power & Light and Empire District Electric Company to increase their use of renewable energy to at least 15% by 2021.

Attorneys claim that the Missouri Secretary of State did not publish important aspects of the law. They said this left it unclear whether utility companies needed to create new energy infrastructure.

One plaintiff in the case, Vaughn Prost of Missouri Solar Applications, said that renewable energy policies are working in 28 other states, and it should be in Missouri, too.

"It's a critical issue because if utilities aren't required to deliver renewable energy to Missouri, the law is largely meaningless," Prost said. "Missouri isn't getting new jobs or the new renewable energy that should be built here."

The four defendants in the lawsuit are the Missouri Joint Commission on Administrative Rules (JCAR), Secretary of State Jason Kander, the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) and Governor Jay Nixon.

ACT released national and state-wide reports of how the 2013 high school graduating class scored on ACT tests.

Missouri students scored slightly better than the national average, but the report showed more than half of Missouri students did not meet college-readiness standards in all four of the subjects tested.

The ACT considers benchmarks the scores needed for a student to have a 75 percent chance of receiving a C or better in the corresponding college course. Of the Missouri students researched, only 28 percent met those standards on all four parts of the exam, and 24 percent met no benchmarks in any category.

Missouri students scored the best in English, where 72 percent of them met the standards.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has enlisted outside help to fix the state's failing school districts.

At a Missouri State Board of Education meeting Tuesday, the board announced a partnership with CEE Trust, a consulting firm based out of Denver.

Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro said it's all part of an effort to address a crisis in several of the state's unaccredited and under performing school districts.

CEE Trust will be operating primarily out of the Kansas City Public School district. It will analyze data and gather feedback from residents in order to submit

its recommendations to the school board.

DESE spokeswoman Sarah Potter said the state is also considering hiring another firm to directly analyze potential fixes for St. Louis area districts.

"We go to an outside consultant for two reasons," said board president Peter Herschend. "One, we don't have the manpower internally, and two, an outside consultant is just that. They have a broader exposure to what has and hasn't worked around the country."

The contract between the two allocates $385,000 for CEE Trust, which Nicastro said is funded by outside foundations.

Nicastro said the board will have to give final approval before any action is taken on the company's recommendations. She said the public will also be instrumental in enacting any of the recommended changes.

CEE Trust is expected to submit its recommendations for potential solutions by January of 2014.


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