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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of September 2, 2013

Legislation was passed in 2011 to further safety precautions for athletes with possible brain injuries.

A report on the number of brain injuries from high school sports is now required to be filed yearly. The report for 2013 will be released in late September or early October .

Missouri State High School Activities Association director, Harvey Richards, helped write the legislation in 2011 and says that results won't be able to be evaluated for a number of years.

He worries that the numbers of injuries may actually increase this year. This could be misleading and cause the public to think that the legislation has increased the amount of injuries. Yet, Richards says this possible increase is because athletes and coaches are now required to report injuries, where before they were being ignored.

Two bills vetoed by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon have drawn national attention to Missouri. One would cut income taxes and another would nullify federal gun laws in the state.

But Nixon vetoed 29 bills passed by lawmakers in the 2013 session. That’s the most Nixon has vetoed in a single session.

The vetoed bills range from one seeking to remove some names from the online sex offender registry to a measure banning local governments from restricting the celebration of federal holidays.

And while the Republican party has a veto-proof majority in both chambers of the Missouri General Assembly, that’s no guarantee of success. Recent public statements by several Republican representatives indicate support for the income tax cut bill may not be enough to override Nixon’s veto. Only two Republican representatives or two Republican senators would need to defect from the party to dash the hopes of a party-line override vote.

There have been only eight veto overrides since Missouri’s 1945 constitution requiring a two-thirds majority of both chambers went into effect. Nixon’s veto has been blocked twice – once in 2011 to create a new congressional district map and in 2012 on a bill expanding exemptions for health insurance coverage of abortion, contraception and sterilization.

Some lawmakers plan to try again if veto override efforts are unsuccessful.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, who supported an effort to alter the state’s sex offender registry, said he wants to see another bill next session if the veto cannot be overridden.

The co-sponsor of a bill banning any restrictions on federal holidays by public entities, Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin, said it would be revised and reintroduced if the override doesn’t happen.

The veto session begins Sept. 11 and can last no longer than 10 days. They’ve never lasted that long.

In an audit released by State Auditor Tom Schweich, he found the St. Louis public schools are not meeting grade level standards and bypassing state regulations.

In Schweich's audit, he stated, "the district promoted 88 percent of 3rd and 4th graders who were reading more than one grade level below current grade."

According to the audit, a district official claimed the district does not have the resources to hold back all students below the required grade level because keeping the students would create a financial problem for the district.

The audit also showed the district does not have a formal process to carefully watch Missouri Assessment Program testing irregularities. He said currently it is the responsibility of each individual school to keep track of testing data.

The St. Louis public schools superintendent was not available for comment.

Missouri Congress members are debating whether or not they'll vote to authorize a U.S. military campgain in Syria.

Missouri residents have mixed reactions. St. Louis chapter president of the Syrian-American Alliance Sarah Kuziez said the United States should get involved. But political science professor Brian Kessel in Columbia said U.S. intervention should be limited and won't end civil war.

Bill co-sponsor Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin, said the importance of protecting public entities from lawsuits for celebrating federal holidays ensures the bill will be brought up again.

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the bill in July. Nixon said in his veto letter the bill had public safety and health concerns.

"Local governments would be hampered in their efforts to enforce existing fireworks ordinances around July 4th," Nixon said in his veto letter.

White said the practice of holidays, July 4 in specific, isn't directly related to lighting off fireworks. He also said the bill doesn't restrict local and state governments from regulating the use of fireworks.

This bill and other vetoed bills will be the topic in the legislative veto session beginning Sept. 11.

House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, released a statement denouncing Attorney General Chris Koster's opposition of a bill nullifying federal gun laws.

If lawmakers override the veto, enforcing federal gun laws would become invalid in Missouri, specially appointed teachers could carry guns in school, and publishing the names of gun owners or any identifying information would result in a class A misdemeanor.

In Koster's statement he released Tuesday he wrote though he agrees with some issues the bill addresses, he can't support the bill because it puts too much tension between state and federal law enforcement officers.

"I am disappointed that our Attorney General has again opted to regurgitate the governor’s talking points rather than stand with a bipartisan supermajority in the House and Senate in defense of the Second Amendment rights of all law-abiding Missourians," Jones wrote in his statement.

Jones said Koster failed to mention how the bill "seeks to affirm our rights as a state by pushing back against a federal government that has far exceeded the authority it was intended to have by our founding fathers."

Jones also wrote he and his staff would further analyze the issues Koster brought up

Lawmakers have a chance to override Gov. Jay Nixon's decision on that bill in the veto session, starting Sept. 11.

Members of the press could face prosecution if state lawmakers override Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of a gun law nullification bill next week.

Wednesday an attorney for the Missouri Press Association sent a warning out to members, telling them to prepare for what could happen if legislators override the veto.

In the bill, anyone who publishes a person's name or identifying information of a gun owner could be prosecuted for a Class A misdemeanor.

The attorney Jean Maneke wrote journalists should be concerned.

"We don't know what is going to happen in terms of prosecuting offenders of this new law. If you are a gun owner, and you write a story that carries your byline, will you be prosecuted? If you publish a story about a member of your community who owns a gun, will you be prosecuted?" Maneke wrote.

This bill also makes it illegal to enforce federal gun laws in the state of Missouri. In this bill's veto message, Nixon said the bill was unconstitutional.

Supporters of the bill said it protects their second amendment right to bear arms.

Lawmakers have the chance to override the veto of this law next Wednesday Sept. 11.

The Mo. Supreme Court heard five cases Tuesday centered around if state government has the authority to impose extra penalties for crimes after a person has already been convicted.

The cases include sex-offender convictions and people convicted of illegal substance possession or distribution.

The state claims the statute prohibiting retrospective laws applies only to civil rights and remedies, not criminal offenses.

Assistant public defender Lauren Standlee said the Missouri Supreme Court historically takes the broad constitutional prohibition on retrospective laws seriously.

Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said Tuesday he would vote to override a vetoed bill that allows certain juvenile sex offenders to be removed from the sex offender registry.

Democratic Governor Jay Nixon vetoed the bill in July. Nixon said the law was too vague and would reduce public safety.

“This language is considerably over broad because it would grant this relief to juvenile sex offenders regardless of the sexual offense for which they were convicted,” Nixon said in his veto letter.

In the same letter, Nixon said that the bill would prevent victims from formally objecting to the removal. The governor also said that the bill did not strike the right balance between providing relief and protecting the public.

Attorney General Chris Koster sent a letter to the entire Missouri General Assembly Tuesday stating his stance against a bill that would prevent the enforcement of certain federal gun laws in Missouri.

House Bill 436 states any federal acts, "whether past, present, or future, which infringe on the people's right to keep and bear arms as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution" will not be recognized by the state of Missouri. Koster said while he agrees with some of the issues the bill addresses, he ultimately cannot support a bill that puts so much tension between state and federal law enforcement officers.

Two of the more controversial acts included are the Federal Gun Control Acts of 1934 and 1968. The bill would not only nullify these laws and prohibit their enforcement by state officials, but it would label any enforcement by state or federal officials a Class A Misdemeanor.

The federal Gun Control Act of 1934 currently requires machine guns, sawed off rifles and sawed off shotguns to be taxed and registered with the U.S. Department of Treasury. If HB 436 passed, these requirements would no longer apply in Missouri.

Attorney General Koster's letter states, "When a police officer in the City of St. Louis recovers a fully automatic machine gun from a drug dealer's car, should the matter no longer be sent to the U.S Attorney's Office because the federal Gun Control Act of 1934 outlawed the weapon."

House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, released a statement Tuesday denouncing Koster's letter.

"“I am disappointed that our Attorney General has again opted to regurgitate the governor’s talking points rather than stand with a bipartisan supermajority in the House and Senate in defense of the Second Amendment rights of all law-abiding Missourians," Jones' statement reads.

The General Assembly passed the bill, but Gov. Nixon vetoed it this July. The Missouri House and Senate passed the bill during session with veto-proof majorities. The legislative veto-session begins Sept. 11.

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.

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