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NewsBook:  Missouri Government News for the Week of April 6, 2015

Gov. Jay Nixon sharply criticized the Senate passed budget in a letter Friday afternoon, calling the proposed cuts to social programs unnecessary and draconian.

“With our economy improving and revenues increasing, there is no reason whatsoever to make cuts to services that rescue children from abusive homes, provide low-income seniors with healthy meals, treat Missourians with severe mental illness and help Missourians with disabilities live more independent lives.” Nixon wrote.

Just one week ago, Nixon released over $40 million in withholdings due to an increase in revenue.

Senate Appropriations Kurt Schaefer's, R-Columbia, budget includes over $300 million in cuts to welfare programs while increasing funding for higher education.

Schaefer and House Budget chair Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage, are expected to work out differences between the competing budget proposals in the coming days.

The Missouri Cattleman's Association tweeted Friday that Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, told them he'll be seeking the Republican nomination for governor in 2016.

Parson, a former sheriff and US Marine, has served in the Senate since 2010 and previously served in the House from 2004-2010.

His entrance into the Republican primary is not a surprise to many within the statehouse.

Many believe he would enter the race following the death of then-candidate for governor and State Auditor Tom Schweich.

Former U.S. Attorney and House Speaker Catharine Hanaway and former State Rep. Randy Ashbury are the only two Republican candidates who have officially entered the race.

Two others, former-Navy SEAL Eric Greitens and businessman John Brunner, are considering a run for governor.

Attorney General Chris Koster is the only candidate running as a Democrat.

Gov. Jay Nixon signed the Dairy Revitalization Act and another agriculture bill into law at a dairy farm in Berry County Friday, April 10.

The dairy bill will help dairy farmers pay the cost of crop insurance using a percentage of sales tax revenue from the sale of dairy products. The other bill reduces some weight limits on Missouri highways during the harvest while adding livestock to the current weight restriction exemption.

MoDOT's chief engineer testified against the bill in committee. Transportation department director Dave Nichols released the following statement after the governor signed the bill.

"MoDOT supports Missouri’s agricultural industry and understands the desire for increased weight limits," Nichols wrote. "But we would like to see that in concert with adequate funding to address roads and bridges that will see additional wear and tear from heavier vehicles."

Similar legislation has been proposed in years past, but this is the first year a dairy bill will become law.

Last session's bill was vetoed due to language changing how the state classifies deer. That language has since been removed.

A new law in California is affecting Missouri's agricultural industry. In order to sell eggs in the state of California, the chickens that produce the eggs must be raised in enriched cages.

The senate passed a resolution that would urge California to repeal the law.

"The point of the resolution is if California is going to impose ridiculous standards on producers within the state they are free to do so," said Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City. "But they cannot pass laws that dictate practices to Missouri farmers."

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said he supports Kehoe's resolution because California's egg law is unconstitutional.

"It is a textbook law school example of a commerce clause violation," Schaefer said.

The resolution passed 33-0.

House Speaker John Diehl, R-St. Louis County, told reporters Thursday, April 9 that he will let budget negotiations between the House and Senate play out before he makes conclusions.

On Wednesday morning, the Senate passed a controversial plan to grant lump sums of money to the Departments of Mental Health, Health, and Social Services.

The plan advocated by Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, would also include a 6 percent across the board cut to DSS and a 4 percent cut to Health and Mental Health.

The passage of the bills funding those departments came after a filibuster by Sen. Rob Schaaf that stretched deep into Wednesday morning.

Diehl said he understand the Senate approach to the budget they passed.

"I think they have a good-faith approach on how they want to look at it," Diehl said. "One thing I've learned in this [budget] process is there's always more than one way to do something. So we're going to listen to what Sen. Schaefer and the conferees have to say about this. I think our end goal is the same. How you get there... We're going to obviously have some disagreements."

One of Diehl's Republican caucus members railed against the Senate's approach on the House floor Thursday.

Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, who is a former senator himself, said the Senate's approach is misguided.

"Since the Senate, in their wisdom, has made just giant appropriations and said 'OK, here it is! Here's all your stuff. We don't care how you spend it, just cut 4 percent because we don't want to make the tough decisions,'" Engler said. "I think that's abdicating their responsibility for the budget process."

Diehl also discussed the Senate including a statewide expansion of the Medicaid managed care program, which led to Schaaf's filibuster Wednesday morning.

"The House bill didn't have managed care," Diehl said. "We left the option for fee-for-service. The Senate took a different position. That's just something we're going to have to sit down and figure out the economics of."

Leaders from both chambers have appointed budget conferees and they are expected to get to work next week as they hope to have the budget to Gov. Nixon by the end of April.

The House passed a bill Thursday, April 9 that raises the burden of proof for someone who has been fired by requiring workers to show that discrimination was a "motivating factor" instead of a contributing factor in wrongful termination cases.

Opponents like Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis County, said the bill also hurts those who have been sexually harassed in the workplace.

"I don't know about you, but to me, prohibiting lawsuits against individuals responsible for sexual harassment is something that I find offensive," Newman said.

Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, said that is not the case.

"We've gotten so far off track here," Engler said. "We talk about sexual harassment [that] we can't sue anymore. That's not what this does. You can sue the employer if they allow sexual harassment."

Other Democrats raised the point the workplace culture of men in charge and "women as secretaries" can often lead to discrimination, intimidation, and wrongful termination.

"I certainly think there's a workplace environment where men are typically bosses and women are in the secretarial or support services and I think that it's very easy to intimidate women into doing something that maybe they want," Rep. Deb Lavender, D-St. Louis County, said.

Rep. Kevin Austin, R-Springfield, said his bill would not lead to any discrimination.

"Returning to the motivating factor standard will not allow discrimination," Austin said.

The final objection Democrats made to the bill is an exemption for religious organizations.

"Why do we believe that it's OK?" Rep. Gail McCann-Beatty asked. "I get that we are protecting people's religious beliefs and I think we all want to do that, but I do have some concerns that we then protect religious organizations to allow them to discriminate."

The bill passed by a 95-60 vote and now heads to the Senate.

A bill that would allow Missouri taxpayers to deduct the tax penalty on their Missouri income tax they incur on their federal income tax for not having Affordable Care Act compliant health care.

The bill is sponsored by Republican Sen. Kurt Schaefer of Columbia and was heard by the Ways and Means Committee on Thursday, April 9.

Schaefer said Jefferson City must do this because Washington D.C. will not.

"The premise is if the federal government isn't going to watch out for Missouri taxpayers, we'll do whatever we can do," Schaefer said.

Jeremy Cady of the Missouri Alliance for Freedom was the only person to testify in favor of Schaefer's bill and nobody testified in opposition.

The committee took no action on the bill and it must be voted out of committee before the whole Senate has a chance to debate it.

Missouri's Supreme Court was told Wednesday, April 8, that the latest law to impose restricts on municipal traffic fines hampered enforcement of public safety.

The lawsuit filed by the Missouri Municipal League challenges a law passed in 2013 that strips a city's courts of authority over traffic fines if more than 30 percent of the city's budget is financed by traffic fines.

"They're not stopping the policeman from issuing the violations and that there in lies the problem, your honor," said the Municipal League's attorney, Jane Dueker. "The cause of action for the municipal violation still exists, they're just preventing access to the courts to have it adjudicated."

Under the law, traffic fine revenue that exceeds 30 percent of a city's budget is supposed to be distributed to public schools. The action stripping municipal courts of authority to hear traffic cases occurs if the city fails to transfer the excess revenue to the state Revenue Department for disbursement to schools.

The Municipal League charges the law violates provisions in the state's Constitution authorizing municipal courts.

The state attorney general's office argued that was not the case.

Those municipal divisions, I think clearly under the Constitution, only exist to the extent that the legislature has authorized them," argued Ronald Holliger.

Holliger noted that the legislature creates and moves other types of courts. "The legislature decides how many circuit courts there are going to be and where they're going to be located."

Four St. Louis residents filed a brief in the case supporting limits on how much of a city's budget can be financed by traffic fines 

Their arguments were presented to the state highest court by a St. Louis University law student, Marie DeFer.

She cited the situation faced by one of the clients, Aireal Walters.

"Miss Walters is homeless. She's a single mother and she owes almost $5,000 in fines to various St. Louis County municipal courts. Miss Walters must decide between paying those fines or forfeiting her driver's license which will cause her to lose her job."

As is customary, the Supreme Court gave no indication as to when it would issue a decision.

The Municipal League lost its case in circuit court.

Later in the day, a House committee heard testimony on a Senate-passed bill that would impose stricter limits on how much traffic-fine revenue could be used for city budgets -- eventually to 20 percent. In 2017, the cap would be lowered to ten percent for larger municipalities and those in urban areas.

The Senate voted to exclude fourth-class cities located outside of a charter county or first class county.

Rural senators argued smaller towns in their rural counties depended upon revenue from traffic fines to finance their law enforcement and public safety activities.

The bill as well as the current law under challenge are termed the "Macks Creek Law" in reference to a central Missouri town which had gained a national reputation for it's speed trap on U.S. 54 leading into Lake of the Ozarks.

Traffic fines financed most of the town's budget.

Macks Creek filed for bankruptcy three years after the legislature passed the first law to limit use of traffic fines to finance city budgets in 1995. Several years later, in 2012, town residents voted to dissolve the Macks Creek city government.

The author of the original Macks Creek Law, then House Rep. Delbert Scott, had gotten a traffic ticket from the town.

  • Get the original 1995 Macks Creek bill, HB 118
  • Get the current bill before the legislature, SB 5

Former Senate Majority Leader and current Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, gave a strong speech Wednesday saying he wants sexual orientation to be added to work place discrimination law.

"I don't have enough votes," said Engler. "I proposed it last year to add sexual orientation to this discrimination. But I would hope that if I am still here for three more years, sometime during that period, it will be added to this piece of legislation."

The bill in question would prohibit an individual employer from being sued for discrimination, instead the corporation would be responsible for damages.

Engler said he agreed with what the bill was trying to do in regards to raising the level of proof for employees who pursue discriminatory lawsuits, but he wished this state and the chamber would allow sexual orientation to be listed along with the other minorities.

"So I'm going to vote for this bill because it needs to be done, the level needs to be raised to show people that you're firing them because of that reason, but we should be including sexual orientation in that."

The bill, which drew opposition from Democrats, was later given initial approval.

A bill that would impact budget's of local governments across Missouri moves further through the General Assembly.

The Missouri House Civil Committee heard more testimony from proponents and opponents on Wednesday on legislation that would change the amount of revenue that can be supplied by traffic fines and court costs. The 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.

Sponsor of the bill Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, said some cities are generating revenue using unfair methods.

"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, an attorney from St. Buffalo, said he opposes the bill on behalf of the counties that do not generate revenue from tourism.

"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 supporting a police department. It's apple's and oranges with the metropolitan areas and back in the country regarding this Macks Creek Law."

The revenue in excess of the thirty percent threshold of the budget allowed by current Missouri law must be sent to the Department of Revenue where it is then sent to schools in the same area where the fees were collected.

The bill passed the Senate on Feb. 12 with a vote of 34-0.

Patients in a long-term care facility would have the option to place a monitoring device within their rooms if a measure is passed by the House.

The Health and Mental Health Policy Committee held a hearing about the bill, which would establish what is called a Patient Monitoring Act. The bill would require the patient to purchase and install the monitoring device if they choose to have one.

Rep. Andrew McDaniel, R-Deering, sponsored the bill and said it's a solution to the trend of abuse within nursing homes.

"What my bill doesn't do is ask for taxpayers to pay for this like we do in correctional facilities," said McDaniel. "Nor does it ask for the health care facility to pay for it either. It will all be at expense of the patient, guardian or surrogate."

The bill would also requires a sign to be posted outside of the patient's room stating that there is a camera inside.

People in favor of the bill shared their stories about dealing with their family members being abused in nursing homes.

"It's so sad today that we know and hear of the abuse and the neglect that goes on in nursing homes, but we sit back and we wait for the next time that we hear the next amount of neglect and abuse that we know goes on," said Martha Eudaley, who witnessed her husband be mistreated in his nursing home.

Opponents of the bill are concerned about privacy issues with the monitoring devices.

Five states already have a Patient Monitoring Act in place.

McDaniel said he has monitored this bill off of New Mexico's version.

In circumstances where there is a shared room, the bill requires written consent from both patients in the room.

Keith Sappington, the Executive Director of Missouri Living Association, testified saying this would be a problem because of how often patients in a shared room are changed.

"If somebody moves out and they get a roommate there's no stipulation in the bill that says that whether or not the camera has to be dismounted immediately," said Sappington. "There's no time frame. It just says that if it's not approved they must remove it."

No action was taken concerning the legislation.

The first veto of the legislative session is also the first to be overriden after the House and Senate voted to override Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of legislation barring superintendents from seeking election to school boards.

Nixon vetoed House Bill 63 Friday, citing implications the bill would have on local elections scheduled for April 7. The bill prohibits former superintendents from seeking election to the school board of a school district where they previously worked.

In his veto letter, Nixon said the law should encourage people to run for public office instead of prohibit people from running. 

The Senate transportation committee approved legislation Wednesday, April 1 raising the state's gas tax by two cents to stave off a sharp decrease in MoDot's construction budget in 2017.

If passed, the legislation would also raise the fuel tax by four cents over the next four years. The bill would also adjust the tax for inflation starting in 2018.

Lawmakers have attempted to pass a tax increase to pay for roadway improvements the pass few years but have been unable to pull together support for the tax hike. A constitutional amendment raising the fuel tax failed at the polls August of 2014.

The transportation department said earlier this year they will be forced to drastically reduce the state's construction budget by 2017 due to a decrease in revenue from the gas tax, which funds the department.  

Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, rose to speak before 10 p.m. Tuesday, April 7 and spoke most of the time until the early hours of Wednesday, April 8 on a subject he said he could talk "for hours" about.

The subject Schaaf spoke passionately about was an item in the Department of Social Services budget that would expand a Medicaid managed care program from just the Interstate 70 corridor to the entire state.

Schaaf, along with Sens. Bob Onder and Ed Emery, objected to that provision because they said it didn't belong in the appropriations process and that there was no public hearing in 2015.

"There's 200,000 Missourians out there that didn't get a chance to come and say 'I don't want to be put on managed care," Schaaf said.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, disagreed with Schaaf's assertion of no committee hearings, saying there were multiple hearings held in the past year throughout the state.

According to Medicaid.gov, Medicaid managed care is a system where they provide Medicaid benefits by entering into contracted agreements with a state's Medicaid agency and a managed care organization.

Onder, R-St. Charles County, joined Schaaf's filibuster and worried the statewide expansion would hurt rural Missourians.

"We're talking about an expansion of Medicaid managed care to our most rural parts of the state where where we don't have well-established provider networks and where we already have a serious shortage of health care practitioners," Onder said. "I think this needs to be vetted more thoroughly."

Around 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, the Senate failed to pass the Department of Social Services budget by a 17-15 vote.

But less than 30 minutes later, senators voted to reconsider their failed passage of the bill and that narrowly passed 18-15.

One vote later, the bill passed by the same 18-15 margin.

Before the over 5-hour-long filibuster, the Senate debated the budgets for the Departments of Health and Mental Health.

Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved lump-sum grants for those two departments and the DSS, the three departments that administer most social welfare programs in the state.

They approved a 6 percent cut across the board to DSS and a 4 percent cut to the other two departments.

Schaefer said this approach was bold and necessary.

"We gotta reign in the out of control welfare spending because it just grows and grows and grows," Schaefer said. "And the more we grow on an annual basis, the more money goes into it."

All of the budget bills passed the Senate and the two chambers will now go to conference where they hope to pass the final version of the budget in the next 2-3 weeks.

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.


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