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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of March 30, 2015

Gov. Jay Nixon told reporters Friday morning he's releasing $43 million dollars from this year's budget due to an increase in revenue.

The money will go towards a variety of projects including $1.5 million towards pre-K education and $2.7 million that will help local libraries.

Nixon said in a statement the decision reflects strong growth in the state's economy.

"The recent uptick in revenues reflects the broad-based growth we’re seeing in our economy and allows us to make additional dollars available for education, economic development and other key priorities." Nixon said.

The state's public defender system, local fire departments and the Missouri Highway Patrol also received previously withheld funding.

A new audit released Thursday, April 2 criticized the state transportation department for violating the Missouri Constitution by spending more than $7 million on paid leave for employees and other expenses.

According to state law, money coming from the road fund must be used to improve the state highway system.

The audit also faults MoDOT for paying nearly $1.2 million worth of salaries to employees who were not working, violating the Missouri Sunshine Law and the department's decision to reimburse an employee who was unable to sell their house.

The Senate passed a bill that would allow a government database to monitor the prescribing and dispensing of narcotic-type drugs.

Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles County, called the bill's passage an important step to making Missouri more safe.

"We took an important step forward this week and for the first time in several years we found a way to work through the privacy concerns and pass legislation instituting a prescription drug monitoring program," Dempsey said.

But many said they still view the bill as unconstitutional and voiced concerns about privacy.

Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County, said he doesn't think it's right to take personal information from individuals who have done nothing wrong.

"I understand the desire of the body to move a bill that's going to protect citizens," Kraus said.  "But for me, I think that whenever you take an innocent person's information and put it in a database, that just takes away their liberty, that takes away their freedoms."

The bill now awaits vote in the House.

The House passed its version of an ethics bill Thursday, Apr. 2 that would bar any current statewide elected official and General Assembly members from becoming lobbyists or paid political consultants upon leaving office.

The passage of the bill comes after the Senate passed it nearly two months ago.

Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, handled the bill in the House and said the bill is a good start.

"The goal of what we're trying to accomplish here is solidify the trust of the folks who have elected us to look at our process, to look at the things that we do, the way in which we do them, and to have confidence in the integrity of the process," Rowden said.

The version of the bill the Senate passed in February excluded current lawmakers and statewide elected officials from the so-called "revolving door" ban.

On the floor Thursday, House Speaker Pro Tem Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, offered an amendment that would reduce the "cooling off" period from two years to one year, but it would include current lawmakers.

The amendment passed by a voice vote.

Another amendment offered by Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, would limit any gift a lobbyist gave to a lawmaker, his/her staff and family to $50.

That wasn't enough for Rep. Justin Alferman, R-Hermann, who offered to change Barnes' amendment to a $25 gift ban.

After a long and sometimes contentious debate over Alferman's amendment, it was adopted by voice vote.

House Majority Leader Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, said members who are dissatisfied with the bill should not feel that way.

"This bill is a step in the right direction," Richardson said. "It's a step that moves [the General Assembly] to a better place. It's a bill that moves our state to a better place, and that needs to be the story about this bill.

The bill passed by a bipartisan 132-14 vote and heads back to the Senate which can accept the House changes or send the differences to a House-Senate conference committee.

    A bill that would mandate a police officer be suspended without pay after using deadly force on an unarmed person more than twenty feet away.

    Rep. Tommie Pierson, D-St. Louis City, is the sponsor of the bill. He said it is time to do something to make police officers think before they shoot.

    "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."

    The chair of the House Public Safety Committee -- Rep. Shawn Rhoads, R-West Plains -- said the bill needed to be changed.

    "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."

    Pierson said the bill would make officers think twice before they decide to draw their gun.

    "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 Ferguson.

    "But, Ferguson is not just Ferguson," Pierson said. "Ferguson is all over this 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 be suspended until a full investigation is complete.

    The House approved and sent the Senate Thursday, April 2, a measure to require the Pledge of Allegiance be recited in English in a public school class every day.

    The sponsor argued if the state did not begin enforcing the English language in classrooms, Missouri could start to see different cultures take center stage.

    "Unfortunately the vagueness of laws have allowed loopholes and we have found that if we don't specifically state stuff like things have to be said in the English language, it gets taken advantage of and the next thing you know we are reciting our Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic," said Rep. Shane Roden, R-Jefferson County.

    Roden, sponsored a bill requiring schools who receive public funds to recite the Pledge of Allegiance daily.

    Roden offered an amendment to the bill on Wednesday specifying that the Pledge has to be spoken in the English language.

    His statement caused a strong reaction among the chamber and the audience in the side galleries.

    "What's enlightening about this is that with every layer of this when we started with these bills and these amendments and such that are of discriminatory nature," said Rep. Genise Monticello, D-St. Louis County. "With every layer of it we get closer and closer to the heart of what the underlying problem is. He immediately mentioned Arabic. He's fearful that we may have students, I can't imagine it happening, but heaven forbid that we have students in the state of Missouri that might be reciting the Pledge in Arabic."

    Other representatives in the chamber defended Roden's statement by saying English is the primary language of the United States.

    "I would like to remind everyone in this chamber that we are Americans," said Rep. Donald Rone, R-Portageville. "We are not Arabic. We are not Spanish. If you have the ability to come to this country and become a citizen of this country you should owe us the respect to learn to speak our languages. We not only are supplying you with an education, but with teachers. You should be humbled to be in this country. The greatest country on the face of the earth."

    Roden said that he sponsored the bill because students in his district had approached him with this idea.

    Roberta Broeker will serve as the Transportation Department's interim director after its current director, Dave Nichols, retires May 1.

    The chairman of the state transportation commission Stephen Miller said in a news release Wednesday, April 1, that Broeker will help MoDOT transition to a long-term director.

    "Roberta has the skills and experience to guide the department while we search for a permanent replacement,” Miller said. "With Roberta’s help, we are positioned for a seamless transition for employees, customers, and stakeholders."

    Broeker has served as MoDOT's chief financial officer the past 10 years and has worked for the state government for more than 30 years.

    Miller also said the department plans on naming a full-time replacement sometime this fall.

    House Speaker John Diehl told reporters Wednesday morning, April 1, that he's backing the House version of a Senate bill that'll change the Mack's Creek law. 

    Diehl, R-St. Louis County, said the House plans to take up and pass its verison Senate Bill 5 before the end of session. House Republican leaders came under fire from the Legislative Black Caucus in March for not passing Ferguson-related bills.

    "Missourians deserve a fair and responsible municipal court system that helps protects the best interests of the people rather than uses them as an additional source of revenue," Diehl said in the release. "We have seen too many municipalities abuse their power with excessive fines and fees, and it is time to put an end to this taxation by citation that is a clear abuse of the trust of the people."

    Diehl said the House Civil and Criminal Proceedings Committee version of SB 5 will include provisions to reduce the amount of revenue municipalities can take from traffic violations, require municipalities to submit an annual report detailing how much of their total revenue came from traffic violations and give the State Auditor the authority to enforce the compliance of municipalities.

    Although many Republicans have voiced opposition against Medicaid expansion, the Senate gave first-round approval to  a bill that would provide greater coverage for those with disabilities. The bill would raise the asset limits for those with disabilities to qualify for Medicaid.

    Legislative staff estimate the plan would expand Medicaid coverage to 4,769 more people.

    People with disabilities must keep their monetary assets below a certain level in order to receive Medicaid.

    The bill's sponsor -- Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles -- said the asset level hasn't been raised since 1968 and Missouri's asset limit is the lowest in the country.

    Currently, the limit for individuals is $1,000 and the limit for married couples is $2,000. The bill would raise the limit to $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for married couples. By 2019, the limits for individuals and married couples would increase to $5,000 and $10,000 respectively.

    "By raising the limit people will be able to save money so that individual has a way to pay for services they need that aren't typically covered by Medicaid. It will also encourage individuals to save for unexpected emergencies," said Dempsey, R-St. Charles County.

    Dempsey's proposal, however, covers substantially fewer people in comparison to Gov. Jay Nixon's plan for Medicaid expansion. By covering those who make less than 138 percent of the poverty line under Nixon's plan, legislative staff estimate approximately 263,000 more people would be covered.

    Among those supporting the Dempsey bill was Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, who has been one of the few Republicans in the legislature to call for the broader expansion of Medicaid.

    "I support the proposal that's coming before us today but I want to make sure everybody understands what it is we're doing," said Silvey, R-Kansas City. "I mean we are expanding Medicaid today. This bill is an expansion of Medicaid."

    The Jefferson City Police Department disclosed the contents of former state auditor spokesman Spence Jackson's suicide note Tuesday afternoon in a news conference.

    The note reads, "I'm so sorry. I just can't take being unemployed again."

    Capt. Doug Shoemaker said the family asked for the note to be released.

    "In the interest of providing some context to this tragedy, or at least to eliminate some of [the] speculation, it's the family's expressed desire that we release the content of the note in its entirety to the media," Shoemaker said.

    Shoemaker went on to say the time of Jackson's death was most likely Friday afternoon and Jackson killed himself with a single gunshot to the head.

    Shoemaker also said the investigation is being conducted on the basis of Jackson committing suicide.

    "There is no reason or evidence to date that would indicate anything at all to the contrary," Shoemaker said.

    Shoemaker corrected media reports that Jackson took a sick day on Friday, saying Jackson took the day off on Thursday, Mar. 26 and reported for a half day of work on Friday, Mar. 27.

    As far as Jackson's employment with the auditor's office, Shoemaker confirmed Jackson's employment at the time of his death.

    Just an hour later, interim auditor office spokesman David Luther said Auditor John Watson had a conversation with senior staff recently about future employment.

    "Everybody was going to be continued to be under employment, but in the political landscape, those things could change and those people know that," Luther said.

    Gov. Jay Nixon appointed Watson as auditor on Feb. 27 and Watson has not spoken to reporters since taking office.

    Just a few weeks after the Chair of the Black Caucus attacked the Speaker on the lack of action on Ferguson bills, a House Committee held a hearing regarding three bills concerning law enforcement.

    Two of the bills sponsored by Rep. Brandon Ellington, D-Kansas City, would require all law enforcement officials to wear body cameras at all times.

    Another bill, sponsored by pastor and Rep. Tommie Pierson, D-St. Louis City, would require an officer to be suspended immediately following an officer involved shooting.

    Ellington said he combined both of his bills due to the lack of interest in law enforcement bills.

    "The bills was initially referred the first week of January," He said. "But it's been extremely impossible to get any type of hearing on any type of law enforcement reform bills that we have."

    Ellington said his bills are the same ones he tried to pass last session, however he said these bills would have made a difference in the investigation following the death of Michael Brown.

    Missouri Republican lawmakers pledged to prioritize tax policy reform during the second half of the session.

    Missouri Senators and Representatives held a press conference Monday and discussed their plans to work together to pass tax reform legislation.

    "We're going to work with them to lead efforts to rein in these out of control practices that see Missouri families and businesses as nothing more than sources for additional tax revenue," said House Speaker John Diehl, R-St. Louis County.

    The legislators who spoke at the press conference said many unfavorable tax policies were the work of the Department of Revenue and Gov. Jay Nixon.

    "It's clear that our governor and his administration are trying to squeeze every penny that they can out of taxpayers and hardworking Missourians," said Rep. Andrew Koenig, R-St. Louis County. "It is also clear that in many cases they are using questionable interpretations of the law. The business community needs certainty and predictability in our tax code in order to prosper in our state. Legislative action is needed to combat this war on the governor."

    One of the bills sponsored by Rep. Koenig requires faster processing of tax refunds.

    "For two years I have been watching as the Department of Revenue has systematically targeted certain taxpayers, mostly businesses," said Sen. Will Kraus, R-Jackson County. "I believe that it is our obligation as the representatives of the people to push back when government overreaches. We must not allow them to continue to change policies to raise taxes and to raise revenue."

    Another bill sponsored by Kraus requires the department to notify businesses when they have made a change to the state's sales tax law.

    As the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Koenig said that the committee has heard and passed a number of tax reform bills that will make their way to the House floor this week.

    The State Auditor's Office released a statement today regarding the death of media coordinator Spence Jackson. However neither Missouri Auditor John Watson or his staff are willing to comment further.

    Spence Jackson was the media coordinator for the late auditor Tom Schweich, who died in an apparent suicide last month.

    Watson Missouri's new auditor, released a statement today offering his condolences to Jackson's family and friends.

    David Luther, the interim media coordinator for the Missouri State Auditor's Office, told reporters the office would be releasing the statement but would not be commenting further.

    Reporters also asked Patricia Vincent, the Director of Administration for the office, she redirected them back to Luther, who told reporters the same as before.

    Jefferson City police said Spence Jackson's death was likely a suicide, but they cannot confirm Jackson's cause of death until an autopsy is completed.

    Police entered Jackson's apartment Sunday night after being contacted by his mother, who was worried that she could not get in touch with her son.

    Officers found Jackson dead in his apartment, along with a note.

    Jefferson City Police Captain Doug Shoemaker said the contents of the note will not be released due to the ongoing investigation.

    Shoemaker did tell reporters officers recovered a 357 magnum revolver from Jackson's home, which had one shot spent.

    Police are going through Jackson's electronic devices and said they will likely talk to co-workers in the auditor's office.

    Shoemaker said there was no reason to believe Jackson and late State Auditor Tom Schweich's deaths were related, but said the department is working with investigators in Clayton, where Schweich died last month.

    Shoemaker told reporters the department, "was very aware of the political issues" surrounding Jackson's death, but would not comment on those issues.

    The Jefferson City Police Department issued a statement Monday morning that they are investigating the death of the state auditor's media coordinator, Spence Jackson, as a suicide.

    The department reported they had responded Sunday night to a call from a relative asking to check the well-being of Jackson after he did not respond to phone calls and other efforts to reach him at his apartment.

    "Initial assessment of the scene indicated that Jackson died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound," the department reported.

    "Physical evidence at the scene, along with an examination of the apartment, did not indicate any signs of forced entry or struggle."

    However, the police department said it was still an open investigation with an autopsy planned for later Monday.

    The department has scheduled a news conference for 11:30am.

    Multiple reports emerged Sunday night that Spence Jackson died from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot.

    Jefferson City police refused comment except to say information would be available Monday morning.

    Jackson had been a long-time Republican fixture in the statehouse, serving as the top spokesperson for Matt Blunt when he was secretary of state and later governor.

    After Tom Schweich's Feb. 26 suicide, Jackson had called for the resignation of the state GOP chair whom Schweich charged had conducted a whispering campaign about his religious faith.

    Former Joplin police chief Lane Roberts was nominated by Gov. Jay Nixon Thursday, Mar. 19 to run the Department of Public Safety.

    Roberts was at the helm of the Joplin Police Department during the 2011 Joplin tornado and, according to the statement announcing his appointment, spent 42 years in law enforcement.

    Nixon addressed Roberts' experience in a statement.

    "Lane’s extraordinary skills, experience and leadership abilities will make him an invaluable asset to the Department of Public Safety and all Missourians." Nixon said.

    The nomination is subject to confirmation by the Missouri Senate.

    The Missouri General Assembly adjourned for their spring break Thursday, Mar. 19 having taken up some hot-button issues, but has either left some issues hanging or ignored some issues altogether.

    One of the issues the House passed is a reduction in the time people and families can access food stamps and TANF funds.

    House Speaker John Diehl, R-St. Louis County, said the bill is needed to address strains on the state's budget.

    "One thing we know is that there's an increasing burden on our budget because of social welfare programs," Diehl said.

    House Democrats took issue with the welfare bills that have passed in their press conference.

    "12,000 kids in Missouri will no longer have the assistance they need to have a meal or clothes on their back," House Democratic Leader Jacob Hummel, D-St. Louis City, said.

    An issue the legislature has acted on is some-Ferguson related bills.

    A Senate committee passed three bills relating to the use of deadly force Wednesday and revision's to the Mack's Creek Law are moving forward.

    However, Diehl said using these bills as examples of what happened in Ferguson may go a bit too far.

    "I don't think anything of this is Ferguson-related," Diehl said. "I think it's a mistake to try to fashion legislation to address a specific situation. I think we have to look at the culture and look at the overall issue that's happening."

    Hummel chastised Diehl for not taking up bills relating to Ferguson.

    "It appears that House Speaker Diehl, who on opening day said that we're not going to have a Ferguson agenda in the House, is being true to his word," Hummel said.

    One program the General Assembly has done nothing about is Medicaid expansion.

    Advocates for expansion rallied at the Capitol Thursday morning, delaying the start of the Senate for just over an hour.

    Diehl said the protesters have a right to come to the Capitol and "speak their peace," but he didn't commit to any specifics when asked about what Medicaid reforms the House may take up after spring break.

    "I think we're going to take a look at some reforms," Diehl said. "That's part of what we're working on as part of our second half agenda."

    Hummel said House Republicans are leaving those without health care in the cold by not expanding Medicaid.

    "By not expanding Medicaid, 300,000 Missourians will continue to needlessly go without health care access," Hummel said.

    Lawmakers return to the Capitol on March 30.

    Missouri scored the lowest of all states on the Heartland Institute's most recent welfare reform report card. The news came only days after the House passed a bill that would place even tighter restrictions on welfare than were originally proposed by the Senate.

    According to Logan Pike, the Government Relations Manager for the Heartland Institute, the grade took the following factors into account: work requirements, cash diversion programs, limiting time limits, integrating services and having strict sanctions. The Heartland Institute is a nonprofit research organization based in Chicago, but Logan said the institute collected all data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

    With a 'F' in overall welfare reform, House Speaker John Diehl, R-St. Louis County; Rep. Diane Franklin, R-Camdenton; and Sen. David Sater, R-Cassville called to pass a set of restrictive measures.

    "Sometimes with government acronyms you forget what something stands for. TANF, what's the first letter stand for in TANF? Temporary," said Diehl. "This program was started and initiated to a temporary assistance for needy families. Not permanent assistance for needy families."

    The bill the House passed yesterday would decrease the life-time limit on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families from five years to two. The Senate's version of the bill would set the limit at four years. The bill would also have those eligible for the TANF program participate in a face-to-face orientation and follow-up meetings.

    "As every bill that comes through the House and the Senate at this point, there's a House position, there's a Senate position," said Diehl. "We're going to go to conference on this bill and we'll get it figured out."

    But some are questioning the validity of the Heartland Institute's report. Empower Missouri, a welfare-rights organization, issued a statement saying the way the institute distributed points for diversion programming was skewed since states with only a few diversion cases still get the full 100 points. Missouri gets zero points in that category because it does not have a diversion program.

    And as Diehl, Franklin and Sater were discussing the report card and bill, a group in opposition of the bill gathered inside the Capitol to call for Medicaid expansion. One woman said she sees expansion as the solution to a moral crisis.

    "We want to let the Senate and the House, we want to let the legislature know before they leave for spring break that they are leaving perhaps their most important piece of work this year undone," said Reverend Molly Housh Gordon. "And we need them to come back and have the debate and expand Medicaid and save lives."

    The Senator responsible for Missouri being the only state without a prescription drug monitoring program has agreed to support the bill this year.

    The bill, which Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph has filibustered in the past, would require Missouri pharmacists to record prescriptions for drugs that have a high potential of abuse on a database.

    During debate in the Senate, Schaaf said he agreed to support the bill on the floor, but would not vote for it.

    Senators who oppose the legislation are concerned about the database being hacked, which is the reason why Republicans are divided on the bill.

    "This is certainly not a free market, individual sovereignty, individual liberty, Republican principle bill," said Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County.

    The database will controlled by and only accessible to the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD) with the hope of tracking individuals who are abusing prescription drugs.

    "This bill will cut down on a lot of excessive drug usage by way of legal prescription drugs," said Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City.

    The bill also requires the database to notify the pharmacist and the BNDD if a patient has a suspicious drug prescription pattern.

    "It's gotten better and better over the various iterations," said Schaaf. "I think now we have something that the state of Missouri, in comparison to other states, can be very proud of. We're protecting our citizen's liberty much better than any other state is protecting theirs."

    Legislation changing rules for welfare and food stamps is back in the Senate after the House passed its version of the bill Monday.

    The life-time limit to be on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, would be adjusted from the current five years to two, causing families to receive $2,700 less a year as well as food stamps.

    The bill the Senate passed would change the amount of time to be on government assistance to four years, and the House version is two.

    The restrictions will not only be on TANF but also Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP, or commonly known as food stamps.

    The food stamp program would require those receiving them to be searching for a job, have a job, or working on their education.

    Those who are in support of cutting the life-time limit say that government assistance is called temporary for a reason.

    “It is not meant for years and years, not meant for two or three years and not meant for five,” Rep. John McCharety, R- St.Louis County said.

    Lawmakers opposing the bill said that Missourians in poverty will lose benefits.

    "Over sight estimated that 4,700 people will lose benefits, that's alot of hungry people," Rep. Sue Allen R-St.Louis County said. 

    This bill was approved by the Senate and the House has improved it.

      Director of the Missouri Department of Mental Health, or DMH, Dr. Keith Schafer will be retiring this summer, ending his second tenure at the helm of the department.

      Schafer has ran DMH since 2007. He previously lead the department from 1986-1994.

      In a statement, Schafer thanked those he has worked with over the years.

      “I have always felt that public service is the noblest of professions,” said Schafer. “My greatest satisfaction has been to take part in shaping a lasting system change that makes a difference in the lives of the individuals DMH serves.”

      The search for a successor will begin March 20.

      The Missouri House advanced legislation requiring high school students to take the same test immigrants take prior to becoming citizens.

      The legislation would remove a current statute requiring high school seniors to take an exam about the U.S. and Missouri Constitutions. Instead, they will take an exam similar to the test taken by naturalized citizens.

      One more vote is needed to send the bill to the Senate.

      The Missouri Senate Education committee heard testimony on bills that would require high school students to pass an exam given to immigrants in order to graduate.

      The bills revise current Missouri law that requires high school seniors to take an exam about the U.S. and Missouri Constitutions. Instead, they will take an exam similar to the test taken by naturalized citizens.

      The civics test is designed by the United States government. The tests required by current law are produced by the state.

      Sen. Jeanie Riddle, R-Callaway County, is the sponsor one of the bills. She said this bill takes the future of this country into account.

      "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.

      Retired social studies teacher Bill Erling said he doesn't think the tests need to be changed. 

      "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. We have that requirement now. If we adopt this law that will go by the wayside." 

      The Senate committee took no action on the bills.

      The Senate Judiciary committee passed three bills onto the Senate floor that would change when a police officer can use deadly force.

      Currently in Missouri a cop can kill a fleeing suspect.

      "It is not everything that I thank needs to be in there," Sen. Committee Leader Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, said. "Nor my colleagues. But we do not want this bill to sit in committee over spring break and we don't really have time to get into making the bill what it ought to be today."

      Sen. Scott Sifton, D-St. Louis County, said he agreed with Dixon but also said more work needs to be done.

      "We do have more work to do on it," Sifton said. "The bill that's before the committee now, in my view, does not do that. But I think we need to continue the discussion. This bill needs to get to the floor."

      The bill passed with a six to zero vote.

      The Senate Judiciary committee heard testimony from three Missourians who are in favor of a bill that would make it a felony for an adult to provide alcohol to a minor.

      One mother, Nancy Elliott, told the story of her teenage son Austin who died in a drunk driving accident.

      "My son passed my house nine minutes before he was killed," Elliott said.

      On May 23, 2014 Elliott said she received a phone call around 10:30 p.m. informing her of an accident.

      "That moment something just didn't set right," Elliott said. "And I jumped and I couldn't get a hold of my son, and that was odd."

      Elliott's son was riding in the car of a friend who had been drinking.

      The driver had been provided alcohol from two adults.

      Currently in Missouri it is a misdemeanor for an adult to provide alcohol to a minor.

      "I can go out and write a five hundred dollar bad check and get a felony," said Elliott. "But they can go out and kill, and get a misdemeanor."

      Two different sheriff's from two different Missouri counties testified in favor of the bill.

      "Our young people do not have the ability to drink responsibly," said Ozark County Sheriff Darrin Reed. "And without hurting themselves or others."

      When asked by a committee member if this bill would be used by prosecutors and law enforcement officers Reed agreed.

      "I think it would be a very valuable tool," said Reed. "To the prosecutors and the law enforcement across the state of Missouri."

      No one testified in opposition of the bill.

      The committee took no immediate action.

      The House gave their initial approval to a bill Tuesday, Mar. 17 that would prevent cities from imposing plastic bag bans or fees and that would give a retailer the option of providing a paper or plastic bag.

      Rep. Dan Shaul, R-Jefferson County, sponsored the bill and says the bill does four things.

      He says the bill allows consumers to decide what type of bag they want, retailers to run their business as they see fit, the consumer having ultimate control, and the consumer going in with $20 and coming out with $20 worth of groceries because they don't have to pay a fee for a bag.

      Rep. Mary Nichols, D-St. Louis County, said Shaul's bill is a bad idea.

      "It would be a very bad idea to ban the banning of plastic bags and thereby making them a protected class," Nichols said.

      However, one of Nichols' fellow Democrats supported the measure, saying consumers should have choice.

      "We should have choice: paper, plastic reusable," Rep. Alan Green, D-St. Louis County, said. "I'm speaking in favor of this bill because it's what we as a people decide."

      The bill has become a hot topic of debate because the city of Columbia proposed a ban of single-use plastic bags, but the proposed ban with withdrawn because city staff said they needed more time to educate the public about the issue.

      The bill was given initial approval by a voice vote and must receive one more vote before it goes to the Senate.

      The House endorsed a bill Tuesday, Mar. 17 that would allow religious student organizations on college campuses to select their members based on their organization's religious beliefs.

      Rep. Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, sponsored the bill and said the bill is intended to protect the viewpoints of religious minorities.

      "At the end of the day, the freedom of association on college campuses allows those people to associate together with common interests," Haahr said. "And if you take that away, what you do is that you ruin that minority viewpoint. You basically force upon them the tyranny of a majoritarian viewpoint."

      Democrats spoke in opposition to the bill, accusing Haahr and Republicans of interjecting themselves in a college or university's affairs.

      "You talk about local control," St. Louis Democrat Mike Colona told Haahr. "You want to trust your colleges and universities to do the right thing. Now you want to pass a law that tells colleges and universities 'that's okay, let your religious organizations discriminate by race, creed, national origin, gender, or age.'"

      Rep. Kevin Corlew, R-Kansas City, supports the bill and said organizations need to be protected in what people they accept.

      "Without a policy that properly respects and protects associational rights, students with opposing beliefs could take over a belief-based group simply by overwhelming the vote," Corlew said. He specifically cited examples of a climate change skeptic joining an environmental group or a Muslim group leader suddenly converting to Judaism.

      After an hour-long debate, the bill was given initial approval by voice vote.

      Rep. Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, sponsored the bill and says there's no reason why Missouri can't become a leader when it comes to ridding the world of human trafficking.

      "It sends a message that we will do everything that we can in our power to prevent this from continuing to occur," Haahr said.

      The measure enjoyed bipartisan support from Democrats like Rep. Tracy McCreery of St. Louis County.

      "It truly is a nonpartisan issue that we can get behind," she said.

      Haahr's bill would ban the advertisement of children participating in a commercial sexual act.

      Similar legislation was introduced on the federal level by Missouri Congresswoman Ann Wagner, but it is being held up in the Senate over some anti-abortion language.

      Haahr's bill was perfected by voice vote and must receive one more vote of the full House before it goes to the Senate.

      Only hours before Missouri could execute its second person this year, the Senate gave initial approval to a bill that would have the state auditor conduct a one-time cost analysis of the death penalty.

      The proposed measure would instruct the auditor to look at ten or more first degree murder cases filed on or after January 1, 1990 and compare those with an equal number of cases where the death penalty was used.

      The amendment with this provision was proposed by Sen. Joseph Keaveny, D-St. Louis City. He used both Nevada and California as examples of how much the death penalty can cost a state.

      Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said he personally doesn't believe the studies that are out there claiming that the death penalty costs more than alternatives.

      He also added that he doesn't think cost should be a factor at all when determining whether or not Missouri should allow the death penalty.

      But Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Dependence, said he thinks the amendment would add clarity to the death penalty process for both the General Assembly and the public.

      Later, Schaefer noted that Keaveny's amendment would only consider legal costs and not other costs, such as what it would cost to house and provide medical treatment for someone serving life without parole.

      He then proposed his own amendment to the amendment to include consideration of these additional costs.

      Keaveny's amendment passed along with Schaefer's and the bill was perfected.

      Gender pay equality was discussed during a Senate Small Business Committee hearing Tuesday, March 17, and received overwhelming witness support.

      Sponsored by Sen. Paul LeVota, D-Independence, the measure would require the Department of Labor to create guidelines involving gender equality in salaries and wages.

      "The guidelines will include, but not limited to, what gender pay equality is, why gender pay inequality happens, the benefit of gender pay equality and how to achieve gender pay equality," LeVota said.

      The measure received great support from the witnesses who testified at the hearing. Among them was a representative from the Attorney General's Office and Wendy Doyle, executive director of the Women's Foundation of Greater Kansas City.

      Doyle said the Women's Foundation worked with the University of Missouri's Truman School of Public Affairs to analyze census data concerning gender pay inequality.

      "With few exceptions, this income gap persists across all racial and ethic groups, age, educational level and occupation," Doyle said.

      The only witness in opposition to the measure was Ray McCarty, president of Associated Industries of Missouri.

      "We want to be in opposition of the bill because we feel it's unnecessary," McCarty said. "This bill, if it truly is establishing guidelines, these guidelines could be set up right now by the Department of Labor or really any private group that wants to take it on."

      As is customary upon first reading, the committee took no immediate action on the bill.

      Just two weeks after U.S. Sen. John Danforth eulogized state Auditor Tom Schweich and called for an end to political bullying, the House Elections Committee heard a bill that would prohibit candidates from knowingly publicizing lies about an opponent.

      The bill, if passed, would establish the Political Accountability in Campaigning Act. The act would allow courts to issue an injunction to prevent the publication of false statements. A candidate who violates the act would be forced to publicly retract the statement via the same media used to make the false statement.

      An eligible voter, prosecutor or the Attorney General may also seek damages from a candidate violating the act. If a claim is successful, the amount awarded to a state official would go to local schools. Otherwise, a maximum of $20,000 in damages would be awarded to the person bringing forth the claim.

      The bill does not limit any actions for defamation, libel or slander.

      This is Rep. Joe Don McGaugh's third year sponsoring the bill. He said although the issue is not new, he welcomes the conversations that may result from the events surrounding Schweich's death.

      "I think Auditor Schweich's death brings us to the forefront like it or not," said McGaugh, R-Carrollton. "And I think having a wild west mentality about campaigning is bad for voters, voter turnout and people engaged in the political process."

      Several representatives on the committee expressed their support for the bill. Rep. Bill Kidd, R-Jackson County, even thanked McGaugh for his work.

      "Thank you, representative, I appreciate you doing this since I have access to a corporate jet, hate children and want our money to go to California," said Kidd. "Just some of the few little things that I've been accused of. I would sure like to have that corporate jet for spring break."

      Not all, however, are in favor of the bill. Sarah Rossi, director of Advocacy and Policy at the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, testified against the bill. She said it's purely a constitutional issue for the ACLU.

      "You can't mandate truthfulness," she said. "The government can't decide what is true and false in political ads. It's a free speech issue. It's black and white. Again, I wish a lot of things would stop happening but the government can't decide what people can and cannot say."

      The Senate advanced legislation prohibiting Gov. Jay Nixon from re-issuing bonds to pay for a new stadium for the St. Louis Rams.

      Kansas City Republican Sen. Ryan Silvey sponsored the amendment and similar legislation on the issue.

      "My concern was that we don't allow any process to circumvent this process on the underlying bill," He said.

      The bill allows the state to issue bonds to pay for the renovation of buildings currently owned by the state, such as the state Capitol.

      One more vote is required before the bill heads to the House.

      Legislation before a House committee would allow Missourians to learn more about their adopted parents was met with opposition Monday Mar. 16.

      Rep.Joe Don McGaugh, R-Carrollton, sponsored the bill and said the bill would equalize the privacy between parent and adopted child. He also said it would protect the privacy of birth parents and releasing necessary information.

      McGaugh said that individuals would need more than their birth certificate to learn about lineage and family medical issues following opposition wanting a birth certificate.

      Birth parent Judy Bock said the bill is cumbersome and wastes valuable time. Bock also said that those involved should control the access given to them.

      "The power to determine their own lives should be the right of adopted person, and they should be granted easy access to their original birth certificates without mandated consent."

      Much of opposition to the bill was in areas that were not related to the current bill.

      Ina Lewis said, "HB 1112 would push back progress and it is time rectify outdated laws."

      Supporters of the bill said it would help those wanting to reach out to their birth parents to learn more about the families medical history.

      Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said he supports an audit of the Highway Patrol to determine the numbers they submitted for Ferguson overtime payments are correct.

      Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, asked Schaefer if there was any way to ensure the numbers submitted by the Highway Patrol were accurate, which brought up the discussion of an audit.

      "So when the Ferguson ordeal is all said and done, will that all be audited?" Parson asked. "At some point, can it be?"

      "I think that's discretionary for the auditor," Schaefer said. "We can certainly ask for that to be audited. It should be audited."

      Schaefer said without an audit, there is no system of verification to determine the numbers submitted are accurate.

      "We have to take them at their word that those numbers that we got are the numbers," Schaefer said. "And we have to do that on every one of those budget lines because we don't have any independent verification or auditing on anything."

      Senate Appropriations Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, criticized Gov. Jay Nixon Monday Mar. 16 for a lack of transparency in his past budget recommendations while discussing the House's budget proposal that would match funding for state disaster relief organizations.

      Specifically, Schaefer slammed Nixon's decision to omit concrete dollar amounts from his budget.

      "The governor just keeps giving us this line with a one-dollar E," Schaefer said. "And I think all of us agree that's not transparent."

      Schaefer told the committee it would be better to set an official amount and adjust as needed to prevent anyone from being misled about the budget.

      "It looks like you're spending one dollar, when in reality, you're spending $223 million," Schaefer said.

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