Posted 05/13/2015: This weeks marks the end of my MDN career. I have learned so much since I started here in August last year. Phill and everyone involved has taught me so much and has made my experience so much more enjoyable.
So, let me tell you a little bit about what I covered this week during the last week of session.
A Senate committee approved legislation that moves Missouri closer to becoming a Right to Work state.
In a hearing of the Senate Small Business committee, senators heard from a long line of union workers in opposition of making Missouri a Right to Work state.
Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, is the chairman of the committee. Many of Parson's calls for testimony in support of the bill went unanswered.
One of the testimonials in support of Right to Work included Missourians Right to Work representative Greg Johns.
"It's proven that out union membership will build if we have a right to work law in the state of Missouri," Johns said.
Terry Nelson, a representative of the Carpenters' District Council of greater St. Louis and Vicinity, does not share his views.
"If you take the opportunity away from me and my union to negotiate reasonable living wage plus benefits again I say shame on you!" Nelson said. "Let the general public decide what needs to be done. Do not put shackles on the arms of the unions by not allowing us to do what we do best and that's to have a partnership with the people we survive with."
People in the hallway outside the packed hearing room were heard applauding and cheering after opposing comments were made on the bill.
The committee voted 5-3 in support of the legislation sponsored by Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield.
Sen. Paul Wieland, R-Jefferson County, voted no on the bill.
"The poll that we did when I got elected, 56 percent of labor households supported me," Wieland said. "The labor people put me here, I have family in the unions. For my district, it's the right thing to do."
The bill would prohibit an employer from requiring an employee to: join or refuse to join a union, pay fees or other charges to a union, or pay any third party or charity instead of paying a union.
Laurie, an employee of Schnuck's in St. Charles, said lawmakers should put the issue on a ballot to let Missourians decide for themselves.
"I have a voice and Right to Work will take that voice away from me and I'm not willing to give it up," Laurie said. "I think that if we want this to be put out there, then it should be the voice of the people that says whether or not we go Right to Work and it should be put on a ballot, not put on a plat and given to us."
The House approved the bill in February.
If Missouri becomes a Right to Work state, it will be the nation's 26th state to adopt Right to Work legislation.
The Senate approved the bill May 12 sending it back to the House. The House approved it May 13 sending it to Governor Nixon's desk for approval, but he is expected to veto.
This week I did a story on the involvement of Gov. Jay Nixon.
Some lawmakers are saying that Nixon did not stand true on a promise he made back in January during the State of the State address.
The governor said in his address that he would "visit the third floor more often" - meaning he would spend more time engaging with legislators and give more of his two-sense on bills.
"Now, I'm willing to do my part," he said. "Rumor has it that I don't spend enough time on the third floor. I hear you...and I'll be coming around more often."
Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, said he "hasn't seen his at all" and that Nixon "hasn't been very involved."
"In fact, even when things came up to override, I haven't heard from him like 'Please don't override' or 'Thanks for not overriding' or anything like that," LeVota said. "So, I think he has continued his very hands off approach to the legislature."
He said not having Nixon around is making lawmakers' jobs more difficult.
"It makes it a little more difficult to try to have to overcome those things," LeVota said. "I'm still waiting on a decision item that affects my area and I still don't know what he's going to do with the budget."
Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, spoke in similarity, saying he hasn't seen much of the governor either.
"I think I had two meetings with him, which is probably two more meetings than I had with him over the budget last year," Schaefer said. "But, he really hasn't been that engaged other then the past two days."
In the aftermath of Ferguson, Sen. Maria Chapelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, called for the governor's resignation on the first day of the legislative session in January. She accused him of "failed leadership" and being absent in the activities surrounding the situation in Ferguson.
Gov. Nixon's office did not respond to a request for comment.
There is a bill in the legislature that would keep Missouri from being pushed further into debt because of the cost of building a new sports complex in St. Louis.
The bill would prohibit Gov. Jay Nixon from using bonds to pay for the new Rams football stadium without legislative or voter approval.
The House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage, gave no commitment on whether there will be a vote on the bill before session ends in about two weeks.
Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, said if the bill doesn't pass, lawmakers will not pay for the bonds.
"If the Governor goes and manages to get bonds issued and go into debt to build a stadium without the vote of the legislation, we're probably not going to pay on those bonds," Schaaf said.
He said it wouldn't be right to make the citizens of Missouri pay for something they didn't authorize.
"My concern is that the people of Missouri won't be on the hook for paying for bonds that we didn't ask for," he said. "We are the legislature that represents the people. If they go and issue bonds, just don't expect us to pay for them."
Lawmakers have until May 15 to pass any proposed legislation.
Deputy Auditor Harry Otto said the expenses belonging to the employees of the governor's office should be paid for using the money appropriated to the governor's office.
"The auditor's office believes that there are bodies, there are people on the second floor of the governor's office, inside the walls of the governor's office doing governor office duties, but their expenses are being charged to and paid by other places," Otto said.
Since 2012, when the last audit was conducted, $1.9 million has come from other government agencies to cover costs of the governor's office and mansion.
Otto said the governor's misuse of funds is not allowing other agencies to pay for what they need.
"A budget is adopted and then the spending in that budget is being manipulated to some extent because elementary and secondary education gets "x" dollars to spend but then they've got to save some money or use some money to spend some expenses that were incurred buy the governor's office," Otto said. "So, therefore, they didn't get everything that they were supposed to get."
The audit stated that $948,000 went toward the salaries of six employees within the governor's office. Their travel expenses were also covered. Another $732,000 was used to cover other costs involving the governor's office and residence.
Otto said the governor's office charging other state agencies for its expenses was their "No. 1 finding."
Noted in the audit, the Departments of Elementary and Secondary Education, Natural Resources and Public Safety are three of fourteen agencies that had money taken from them.
In addition, the report shows $1,300 were used to pay for a float trip for Gov. Nixon, his family, and four employees in the governor's office.
The Missouri House Civil committee heard from supporters and opponents of the bill. The bill would change the amount of revenue that can be supplied by traffic fines and court fees. Schmitt's bill, also known as Macks Creek Law, would reduce the current threshold for the general operating revenue for cities, towns, villages or counties from thirty to ten percent.
Schmitt said some cities that are allowing more than the current thirty percent to fund their budget are doing it unfairly.
"So as the economy has gone downward, these cities are grabbing for more and more revenue," Schmitt said. "And maybe they can get it from their citizens, but what they shouldn't be able to do is set up a speed trap to go find it."
Mel Gilbert is an attorney from St. Buffalo. He said he doesn;t think the bill is a good idea because some counties do not generate enough revenue from visitors.
"The ones that don't have tourism dollars," Gilbert said. "Ones that don't have a Walmart. Ones that don't have sales tax generation to have a city budget capable of independently supoporting a police department. It's apples and oranges with the metropolitan areas and back in the country regarding this Macks Creek Law."
Schmitt said local municipalities need to enforce their city ordinances more effectively and not worry about how much money they're making from it.
"At the heart of it, it is about the over reach of government," Schmitt said. "It is about government finding a new and innovative way to reach into your pocket without ever asking you if it's OK. Is it true that people are speeding? Yes. But when you have a certain number you're trying to hit every year, to me, that's less and less about enforcement and more and more about revenue generation."
The revenue is excess of the current thirty percent limit must be sent to the Department of Revenue where it is then distributed to schools in the same area where the fees were collected.
The new development in this story since the last time I covered it is that it has moved further into the legislative process: The Senate passed the bill on Feb. 12 with a vote of 34-0.
Rep. Tommie Pierson, D-St. Louis City, is the sponsor of the bill because he said it's time to do something to force police officers to think before they draw their weapons.
"I think that too many African American teenagers and males, in particular, are getting shot down by police officers unarmed," Pierson said. "They don't seem to be violating any law."
Rep. Shawn Rhoads, R-West Plains, is the chairman of the House Public Safety committee. He said he thinks current Missouri law regarding police use of force needs to be updated but the language in the bill needs to be changed before it passes.
"I think it needs a little bit of work and we're going to do that to it," Rhoads said. "We're really needing to kind of help out our laws in Missouri as far as use of force."
Rhoads said the wording of the bill as it stands does not reflect the Supreme Court's decision in Tennessee v. Garner in 1985.
The Supreme Court said when an officer is in pursuit of a suspect, the officer cannot use deadly force unless they believe the suspect poses a significant threat to their or others safety.
Pierson said this bill would help save people's lives.
"Every time we can cause a police officer to think before he shoots, it saves somebody's life," Pierson said. "Police officers have to understand that they're not the judge, jurors and executioners. Their job is to arrest people, not kill them."
He said this bill is "absolutely" a result of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson.
"Ferguson is not just Ferguson," Pierson said. "Ferguson is all over the country. That's why it spread like it did. Because it has an affect on so many people's lives across this country."
The bill would require the officer to remain suspended until an investigation is complete.
Rhoads also said he thinks there will be plenty of support and it will have no problems passing. I was a little surprised to hear that coming from a Republican. I was expecting him to say something negative about the bill and that it was unnecessary. I guess it's nice to see both sides working together.
That's all from this week. Check back next week to see what the General Assembly is doing as session gets closer to coming to an end.
The committee heard testimony on two bills that would require Missouri high school to pass a test similar to the test immigrants take when they want to become US citizens.
The bills revise current Missouri law stating high school students have to pass an exam relating to the U.S. and Missouri Constitutions.
Sen. Jeanie Riddle, R-Callaway County, is the sponsor of one of the bills. She said her bill take the future of this country into consideration.
"For our government to function properly for years to come, our children and grandchildren must be active and knowledgeable participants," Riddle said. "If the citizens of this state and country choose not to be knowledgeable or at least active participants then our government will never be of the people, by the people, and for the people."
The test is one hundred questions and a passing grade of at least 60 percent is required.
The bill allows students to take it as many times as necessary to pass it. Riddle said despite the exam change, teachers are doing their job.
"I think our teachers are teaching the appropriate information for students to become competent in these areas," Riddle said. "The question then becomes are the current tests sufficient to validate that they truly know their government and how it works. I think the evidence shows they are not and it's because they don't take it seriously."
Retired social studies teacher Bill Erling said the federally designed test is not what students should be tested on.
"This test is designed for immigrants who are just learning our culture," Erling said. "It was not designed for most students who have lived in the United States all of their lives. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service test does not require any knowledge of Missouri's Constitution."
Erling said it is important for students to apply what they learn in the classroom to a local government.
"Students would not have to know anything about state or local government," Erling said. "I believe it is important for students to have this knowledge to be able to exercise the knowledge with the government closest to them - state and local."
The Senate committee took no immediate action on the bills.
Phill also taught me a few valuable lessons this week.
For example, never use the word "may" in your articles. It sounds like you don't know what you're really talking about and what you're reporting may not be true or may not happen.
Another lesson: broadcast style writing is way more simple than I'm making it. To construct a broadcast style sentence, you just have to write what you would say in a conversation. It's just like talking to your friend about a story.
So all in all, it was an educational week. Next week is spring break, so no reporting next week. But it all resumes the following week. See you then!
My story wasn't very exciting but KMOX wanted something on it so I covered it for them.
It was on a House Health and Mental Health Policy committee hearing of a house bill sponsored by Rep. Sue Allen, R-St. Louis County. If passed, the bill would require the Department of Health to make the public aware if certain infections arise from surgeries.
Allen said this bill revises a previous bill from 2005.
House Staff Member Chris Dunn is working with Allen. He said she reported an alarming statistic in the hearing that this bill would help fix.
"I think [Allen] said about 75,000 people a year die from a hospital acquired infection," Dunn said. "And hospitals don't want that to get out, and I'm not trying to beat up hospitals, but they don't want that to get out. If you find put that a hospital isn't doing a good job with preventing infections, you won't go to that hospital. If you don't go to that hospital, they lose money."
The bill changes current Missouri law to include infections associated with c-section and vaginal births, hip and knee replacements and hysterectomies including abdominal, vaginal, and laparoscopic.
Ventilator associated events and central-line related bloodstream infections must also be reported.
Allen's bill also calls for the Health Department to establish standards for the use of antibiotics.
Committee Chair Rep. Keith Frederick, R-Rolla, said people self-medicate too often.
"If you look at the global problem is probably ten percent hospital administered antibiotics and ninety percent community demand for antibiotics, anybody that's been involved in medical practice, you know what Rep. Kirkton just said, is a daily occurrence," Frederick said. "You know, I just want the antibiotics just in case it's bacterial. I don't care if it's a virus. I just want it in case it's bacterial."
Dunn said the regulations of antibiotics and infection reporting on the books now are not strong enough.
"The standards Missouri has in place today aren't strong enough to help the public make a good decision about where they should be treated or where they should go to have their surgeries," Dunn said.
St. Louis Circuit Judge Robert Dierker dropped convicted felon Raymond Robinson's charge because he said Robinson was acting within his right under Amendment 5 passed last year by voter approval.
Amendment 5 declares that the right to keep and bear arms is an unalienable right and that the state government is obligated to uphold that right.
Dierker also said that the constitutional amendment is unconstitutional because it fails to differentiate between violent and non-violent felons.
Sponsor of the amendment, Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said the text of the amendment specifies just that.
"Amendment 5 says violent felons can't possess firearms," Schaefer said. "It also says that anyone adjudicated mentally incompetent can't possess them."
And just when I thought I had to call up an opposing parties secretary to harass them to put me in contact with someone who could comment, I stumbled upon St. Louis Chief of Police Sam Dotson's online blog, where he posted his commentary on Amendment 5.
He said in part: "Missouri's Amendment 5 does very little to further the rights of law-abiding citizens, who have ultimate protection under the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution," Dotson wrote. "What Missouri's Amendment 5 does do is give criminals the cover to have firearms, and it makes it harder to hold them accountable for their actions. It makes the jobs of police officers more dangerous and the jobs of prosecutors more difficult."
But Schaefer said the crime in St. Louis is a reoccurring problem every year.
"They are as restrictive on guns in the City of St. Louis as they can be and their crime has gone up every single year," Schaefer said. "The prosecutor Jennifer Joyce and Sam Dotson have both admitted they have a crime problem that they have no solution how to fix."
Schaefer said the intent of the amendment was not to allow convicted felons the right to possess firearms but to have the decision to remove the right justified by the crime.
"Should somebody who has a felony for criminal non-support for tax evasion, should they loose the right to own a hunting rifle for the rest of their lives?" Schaefer said. "Probably not."
Schaefer said those who want to repeal the amendment are just playing political games.
"You know, this is a political ploy by people who are simply anti-Second Amendment," Schaefer said.
I've never mentioned anything about the people I work with on Wednesday's and I think that's long overdue.
Jill, Matt, Kolbie, Hannah and Phill - thank you for making Wednesday so enjoyable for me. I have a blast at the Capitol with all of you, even though the hours can be long and sometimes boring. I look forward to going every week to do great work with all of you and I can not imagine a better, more fun, more dynamic group of people to work with, and I wouldn't want it any other way. So thank you!
State Auditor Tom Schweich died from self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Schweich announced his GOP candidacy for governor after being re-elected to another term as State Auditor. He was 54 and leaves behind a wife and two kids.
Some of my coworkers told me they have never seen the Capitol in such a somber mood and that some lawmakers had to go home to deal with the grief.
I think it's going to be weird walking by his office from now on because his death was so sudden and unexpected. I'm keeping his friends and family in my thoughts and prayers.
This week, I covered a hearing in the Senate Education committee. The bills being reviewed would prohibit public higher education institutions from denying religious student associations benefits available to other student clubs.
Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, is the sponsor of one of the bills and he said that religious freedoms are at the core of a constitutional form of government."Those religious beliefs are at the core foundation of our constitutional system of government and it is not the place of an institution of higher learning to tell people what they should or should not believe in the religious context or what religion they can practice," Schaefer said.
Sen. Dan Brown, R-Rolla, questioned where the line separating religious freedoms and theocracy was drawn and said he thought these bills would be too theocratic."America was founded on religious freedoms, but where do we cross the line that were aiding and abetting a theocracy?" Brown said.
University of Missouri Law Professor Carl Esbeck testified in front of the committee in support of the bill and said it's a good idea but Missouri is not leading the way."Missouri is hardly breaking new ground here," Esbeck said. "That seven other states have already passed similar legislation: Ohio, Tennessee, Idaho, Oklahoma, Arizona, Virginia, North Carolina. So, Missouri is seeing the need here but it's certainly not breaking new ground."
I covered a hearing dealing with a bill that would disallow Gov. Jay Nixon from being eligible to be appointed to the UM Board of Curators. The bill restricts any current members of the board from voting to appoint or hire the person who appointed them to their position on the board.
No body testified for or against the legislation but Sen. Jason Holsman said it’s unnecessary because it’s never been a problem in Missouri.
I produced something for KMOX, but the exciting stuff came a little later…
I, along with three of my colleagues, covered the first Joint Committee hearing on Government Accountability. Their topic? The decisions made by the governor’s office regarding the Missouri National Guard in Ferguson.
The hearing lasted about three hours and media from all over the state was there to cover it.
The Mayor of Ferguson James Knowles was there to testify. To me, I heard a lot of “I don’t know” in response to the committee’s answers. That leads me to believe he was not kept in the loop during this and decisions were made without consulting him.
He said he didn’t even know about the FAA issuing a no-fly zone over his city until he read about it a few days later in the newspaper.
I noticed some of the lawmakers shaking their heads as Knowles was answering their questions.
Fire officials were also there to testify and they said they had to leave fires while they were still burning because they did not have force protection, as they were promised. They said they even had to leave a person inside a burning building because they feared for lives.
Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal offered her apologies to the officials for everything they and their firefighters had to endure that night because of the decisions made by the governor that night.
After the hearing ended, we were able to write a web story and six stories for KMOX!
I’m really glad I got to stick around to see it and help my colleagues out. We headed out around midnight, but I was really happy with the result of our hard work.
I was in charge of tweeting for MDN and we gained at least 25 followers as a result!
Chair of the committee Sen. Kurt Schaefer said there will be subsequent hearings featuring Ferguson police officers and some other officials involved in the incident. I’m excited to see what comes from those.Stay tuned! MDN will be there to cover it all for you!
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