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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of October 28, 2013

Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin, released the first draft of a new gun rights bill Thursday. He said it'd be the first bill introduced in the Senate next year.

The bill would nullify all past, present, and future federal gun laws and would lower the concealed carry age to 19.

Republican leaders Richard and Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County, voted against a veto override of a similar bill in September.

Richard said he'd made the bill stronger than the one vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon.

"I think we've made it more forceful and the ability to stay out of the courts that way, I think it'll get signed and I think it will get passed," Richard said.

Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis County, disagreed. She said the bill is unconstitutional and said there's an ulterior motive behind the new bill.

"It's designed to sell weapons," Newman said.

Missourians will see a cut in their food stamps starting tomorrow, as part of a $5 billion cut to the program.

Under the cuts taking effect tomorrow, a family of four will receive $36 less per month, which adds up to $396 less in aid between November 2013 and September 2014.

Roughly 15 percent of the state's population, or 933,000 people, rely on food stamps, according to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The report says all of the Missourians on food stamps will be affected by the cut.

The 2009 stimulus bill contained a dramatic rise in food stamp aid to states. The bill was passed in response to the major economic downturn that started in September 2008.

The U.S. House and Senate are negotiating on a new 5-year farm bill, which could include further cuts to food stamps. The House passed a bill that included $39 billion in cuts, while the Senate version had $4.5 billion in cuts over 10 years.

Missouri school districts have a choice in how they will evalutate the performance of teachers.

The Joint Committee on Education met Wednesday to hear experts tell them how school teachers and administrators would be evaluated based on two seperate models.

Directors from both the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Missouri Regional Professional Development Center reported on how their systems benefits districts.

Committee vice-chair Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, was pleased with what they had to say. 

"There is an ongoing effort to train and evaluate our teachers," Pearce said. "What I think this hearing here today talked about were two very, very good models."

Both models are currently being used in hundreds of schools districts across the Show-Me-State.

Some Missouri lawmakers are continuing the debate on Medicaid expansion.

A House committee met Tuesday and Wednesday to look at different approaches to reforming Medicaid.

The committee discussed two-fold Medicaid plans on Tuesday in states that expanded eligibility and helped fund competitive private insurers.

Committee chair Rep. Jay Barnes, R- Jefferson City, questioned the success of the recent hybrid plans.

"How do we even know the system is working on other states?" Barnes said, proposing contracts structures with set health goals for providers.

According to the Missouri Hospitals Association, nearly 800,000 Missourians are uninsured.

Missouri's Medicaid Transformation chairman recommended privatizing Medicaid Tuesday.

Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, proposed privatizing expansion so the state can contract it out to businesses.

Barnes acknowledged federal bureaucrats would have to support any plans Missouri made.

"Anything that's going to be transformative is going to require a discretionary waiver from the federal government," Barnes said. "Discretionary waiver means they can say yes or no for any damn reason they want to."

Barnes plans to introduce a revamped Medicaid bill in the upcoming legislative session.

The House shut down Barnes' first attempt to expand Medicaid eligibility last April.

Less than a month after a former Department of Agriculture official resigned citing workplace hostility, a former Department of Labor official said Tuesday she was fired for raising similar concerns about Governor Jay Nixon's administration.

Gracia Backer served as the head of the Labor Department's Division of Employment Security from 2009 until March when she was fired 17 days after she had sent a letter to Commissioner of Administration Douglas Nelson regarding her concerns about former labor department head Larry Rebman.

Backer said Rebman would interfere in lower level decisions and was often time critical of older women who worked in the department.

Earlier in October Agriculture Department head John Hagler left the post shortly after a former employee criticized his department for creating a hostile work environment.

An initiative petition ballot issue has been filed that would impose restrictions on campaign contributions to legislative candidates.

The measure also would prohibit lawmakers and their staff from accepting any gift from a lobbyist of a value greater than $5.

Also under the proposed constitutional amendment, legislators and their staff would be banned from working as lobbyists for two year after leaving office.

The restrictions cover only the legislature, but not statewide office holders or candidates for statewide office.

The proposal was submitted by St. Louis Attorney Brad Ketcher, who had been the legal counsel for former Gov. Mel Carnahan.

Missouri's current, Gov. Jay Nixon, warned legislators earlier this year that he would support a ballot issue to limit campaign contributions if the legislature failed to pass restrictions.

Missouri voters had approved contribution limits by a wide margin in 1994. But that provision subsequently was repealed by the legislature several years later.

One of the state's major campaign contributors, Rex Sinquefield, had filed suit earlier this year seeking to block another petition proposal that would restrict campaign contributions to candidates for statewide and legislative offices.

In a 5-2 decision, Missouri's Supreme Court upheld the state's decision to deny surviving-spouse benefits to the gay partner of a deceased member of the Missouri Highway Patrol.

The case was filed by Kelly Glossip who had been for more than 14 years an unmarried partner of a highway patrolman killed in the line of duty, Dennis Engelhard.

The state rejected Glossip's original claim for spousal benefits on the basis that the two were not actually married.

But in his court filings, Glossip cited a voter-approved provision in Missouri's Constitution that bans government from recognizing same-sex marriages.

Because of that ban, Glossip argued, denying benefits for a same-sex partner who legally could not get married in Missouri amounted to an unconstitutional discrimination based on sexual orientation.

But in its decision, Missouri's Supreme Court noted that the two could have gotten married in another state.

And the court concluded that would have raised a quite different issue for the judges, in a passage noted by one of Glossip's attorney's.

"If Glossip and the deceased patrolman had been married in another state (or country), Glossip could have challenged the statute that prohibits recognizing same-sex marriages for purposes of Missouri benefits," the majority decision suggested in an opinion that was not attributed to any one of the judges.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Richard Teitelman argued the combination of Missouri's constitutional ban on gay marriages and statutes that require marriage for governmental spousal benefits was a violation of the Constitution.

"This type of intentional, invidious and specifically targeted discrimination is fundamentally inconsistent with the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law," Teitelman wrote.

Glossip's case had attracted nationwide attention in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down provisions of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

A number of major Missouri political figures had filed a brief supporting Glossip's claim including St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis.

Cardinals fans will not have to worry about one thing in the World Series home games—their safety.

The Missouri National Guard will detect any trace of a nuclear threat at the World Series games in St. Louis before each fan enters Busch Stadium.

The two dozen soldiers and airmen will detect any trace of a nuclear threat at the World Series games in St. Louis before each fan enters Busch Stadium. They will also sweep the stadium to check for any chemical, biological, or nuclear threats.

Deputy Commander Dominic Sansone has been in the Missouri Guard for 10 years—he says it’s a thrill keeping his hometown safe.

“It’s always refreshing because again, you know, everyone in Missouri National Guard is a Missourian,” said Sansone. “So we live here, we’ve been around since 1636, that’s longer than active duty or anybody else.”

The incident involving a rodeo clown imitating President Obama at last year's State Fair didn't stop attendance from rising.

According to a report released today attendance is up three percent from the previous year.

Missouri State Fair Director Mark Wolfe says the incident may have even been an incentive for certain citizens to attend.

"I'm sure there were some people who felt like they wouldn't participate because of that and some that did participate because of it. So I guess it just depends on how you look at those things."

The state's ACLU is suing the Mo. Department of Corrections for adding the supplier of the drugs used for Missouri executions to the "execution team."

The execution team is made up of anyone who provides direct support to an execution like doctors and nurses.

However, state law prohibits individuals from naming any member of the execution team without consent of the department's director.

The ACLU said people should have access to the names of those supplying the drug for the executions.

Get the radio story.

Governor Jay Nixon announced Thursday his administration is withdrawing support for his administration's proposal to modify the state's existing waiver under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP.

The decision comes two weeks after the proposal to cut nearly 60,000 able-bodied adults from the state's food stamp rolls.

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, welcomed Nixon's decision and proposed a solution to help food stamp recipients.

"If we truly have a problem with feeding the homeless by way of the government, then we need to create jobs for those individuals so that they can feed themselves," Nasheed said.

Governor Jay Nixon addressed a room full of educators Wednesday afternoon in order to show the importance of public education at the k-12 levels.

Nixon says he plans a "significant down payment" toward fully funding the state's public school funding formula, but failed to give any specific numbers or solutions.

The budget for fiscal year 2014 provides $3.1 billion in funding to elementary and secondary schools. This amount falls over half a billion dollars short of the target amount for next year's budget.

Nixon also said he would like to see the law dictating how students transfer from unaccredited school districts changed, but again provided no solution.

Democratic Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, acknowledged the language of the law is "a little dicey" and that lawmakers need to change it.

"That's a heavy burden on those kids that decided to stay. Okay, a lot of those funds are leaving as a result of individuals playing that game [transferring]," Nasheed said.

After controversy led the Department of Corrections to change lethal injection protocol, department officials declined to answer more questions about the issue.

Due to earlier controversy with the drug propofol, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon halted the execution of inmate Allen Nicklasson, originally scheduled for Oct. 23. The department said it has not set a new execution date for him.

House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, said the Governor is not being upfront with either taxpayers or elected public officials with any of the information they have.

“There’s becoming a real atmosphere of closure, of non transparency, non cooperation of obfuscation, by Governor Nixon’s administration,” Jones said. “This is just one of the latest examples. I find all of it very troubling.”

The next execution in Missouri will take place Nov. 20 for Joseph Franklin.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon was named chair of the National Governors Association Security and Public Safety Committee Wednesday.

According to a statement from the governor's office, the committee helps ensure governors' views are heard when making federal policy decisions about homeland security, the National Guard, homeland defense, criminal justice, public safety and veterans affairs.

Nixon's office released a statement which quoted Nixon as saying "I'm honored to head up this vitally important committee. Keeping communities safe, and helping them prepare for and respond to national disasters, has been a key focus of my administration."

NGA Chair Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and Vice Chair Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper selected Nixon as the committee's leader.

The Missouri Department of Corrections released a statement Tuesday announcing it had found a new lethal injection to use in place of propofol.

Officials will use the drug pentobarbital instead, after controversy over whether or not the department should use propofol.

The European Union warned the United States to not use the drug for lethal injections, or they would limit the supply of propofol imports. Propofol is used as an anesthetic, and many doctors worried about the impact of a limited supply.

Eventually Gov. Jay Nixon called on the Department of Corrections to find something other than propofol for executions and halted the execution of inmate Allen Nicklasson, originally scheduled for Oct. 23.

The next execution in Missouri will take place Nov. 20 for Joseph Franklin, sentenced to death for a 1977 murder in St. Louis.

The Missouri State School Board decided Tuesday that despite recent gains, Kansas City Public Schools are still not ready for provisional accreditation.

The board stripped the district of its accreditation in 2012, and in the past year the school has seen a slight upturn in its performance.

Despite attaining performance levels that would qualify the district for provisional accreditation, board President Peter Herschend said it wasn't a difficult decision for him to vote against the request.

"They're trying very, very hard but they didn't win the ball game this year," Herschend said. "The process is a three-year process, and there is good reason for that. Because it takes that long for results to be made permanent."

Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, sent a letter to the board Monday urging it to grant temporary provisional accreditation. Silvey said doing so would allow lawmakers to revisit school transfer laws that are currently putting unaccredited St. Louis districts in financial peril.

However, the controversial issue barely surfaced in the short period before the board made its decision.

"It would be foolishness to say the board is not aware of the potential ramifications of the school transfer law," Herschend said. "But that was not the guiding concern with our standpoint."

Some state laws allow previously furloughed federal workers to receive double their usual pay for not working during the government shut down -- but not Missouri.

Federal employees filed for unemployment benefits across the country during the government shut down. The issues is whether or not those employees have to give their unemployment benefits back to the state now that they will receive back pay for time missed during the shut down.

If not, those workers can "double dip" by holding onto their unemployment benefits and receiving their back pay.

The Missouri statute that applies states in a situation where a claimant already received unemployment benefits, "the employer shall withhold from the employee's back pay award the amount of benefits so received and shall pay such amount to the division and separately designate such amount."

Basically, the federal government would have to give the back pay to Missouri instead of the employee, according to the statute; However, Missouri Department of Labor spokesman Tom Bastian said the statute was designed to apply to private companies, not the federal government.

The Department of Labor's website actually states the employee is responsible for paying Missouri back, which would not be in accordance with state law. But whether the federal government pays the state back or the employees pay, taxpayers will not be forced to double fund time off for federal employees.

Missourians may yet again get a chance to vote on raising their taxes if a new ballot measure gets enough signatures and passes a statewide vote.

Lobbyist Rodney Gray submitted the proposed ballot measure to Secretary of State Jason Kander on Tuesday.

The initiative would increase the sales tax one percent, or one cent, if passed. All of the proceeds from the proposed tax increase would go toward improving Missouri roads.

The proposed measure is similar to a bill that failed in the Senate in May.

Rep. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, voted against the proposal in the House and remains opposed to a tax increase. Koenig said it was similar to the failed tobacco tax increase.

"A one cent sales tax is a huge tax increase for Missourians," Koenig said. "That's something I'm going to be opposed to."

The wording of the proposal still needs to be approved by Attorney General Chris Koster before Missourians can sign the petition.

Nixon met with higher education leaders from around Missouri to discuss funding for the coming fiscal year.

While Nixon says he doesn't have any concrete numbers for the education budget, he insists that funding will increase substantially.

He also says the public defender system's threats of furloughs are not a priority because many other departments are in similar situations.

"They weren't picked out any different than anybody else and they won't be treated differently as we move forward. As revenues become available we'll look at releasing restrictions as the dollars become available."

The government shutdown didn’t mark the end of temporary state employee layoffs.

If Governor Jay Nixon does not release any additional money for Missouri’s public defender system, they say they will face a hiring freeze starting Nov. 1.

State Public Defender Cat Kelly said if the appropriation isn’t released, they will begin furloughs on Jan. 1.

Kansas City Division Director Joel Elmer said they have been working to avoid these measures.

“We have been in continuous contact with the governor’s staff since the withhold occurred,” Elmer said. “We continued to ask that the money be released and we remain hopeful that it will be.”

Representatives from the Cities for Educational Entrepreneurship Trust (CEE-Trust) testified in front of the Missouri State Board of Education Monday with their plans for Kansas City's unaccredited urban school system.

The Kansas City Public School district has been stripped of it's accreditation after several years of below-proficient performance.

"There is no urban system anywhere in America that is performing at the level that our students deserve," said Ethan Grey, Executive Director of CEE-Trust.

Grey and his team are in the research phase of a six-month long process to develop recommendations for the Kansas City district to follow.

CEE-Trust expects their final recommendations to be ready in February of 2014.

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