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MPANewsBook: 1/23/2009: Archived file

Bill would allow consumer rate increases for energy plants under construction «Entered: 01/23/2009»

A bill filed Thursday by the Missouri Senate's senior member, Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City, would repeal a three-decade-old law preventing utility companies from raising consumer rates to finance power plants that are under construction.

The bill is designed to accelerate when AmerenUE could charge ratepayers for the interest costs of building a second nuclear power plant in Missouri.

While stockholders of a utility company cannot charge ratepayers for a new plant, the company can increase utility rates to pay for the interest costs from borrowing money to build the plant.

Missouri's largest electric provider, St. Louis-based AmerenUE, has proposed the more than $6 billion project. Should it become a reality, construction would not begin until at least 2010.

Under current law, passed in 1976, a privately-owned electric utility cannot include those interest costs in their rates until the plant begins operation.  Scott argued that delaying those rate charges until a plant begins operation actually costs the ratepayers more, in the long run.

"If you wait and pay the financing costs and actually interest on your credit card as you build it, then the cost is going to be a lot greater, and then you're going to have a huge spike in electric rates at the time the plant goes online. This way it will be a minor, gradual increase, with less of an increase at the end, and so we'll continue with low-cost energy and plenty of energy for the state of Missouri."

Scott noted that his bill would remove the rate-restriction not just for nuclear plants, but also alternative forms of energy production including wind, solar and biomass. "This will be an incentive to get alternative forms of energy in the state of Missouri and get us to where we have plenty of power and can even export power if these three different forms of energy plants are built."

The leading Senate opponent of repealing the rate restiction is Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County.  "Missouri voters put this law into effect, and it has been done before that the legislature overrides the will of the voters, but I think we have really, really careful before we do," Bray said.

Scott countered, "The time that the voters passed (the 1976 statute) was a time of anti-nuclear energy," Scott said. "It wasn't necessarily a time of anti-financing and rate structure. That was an anti-nuke vote, and those days are over."

Since AmerenUE would still have to pay for the principal of any financing tool used, the company has been looking for investors for a second nuclear plant including municipalities, cooperatives and other organizations, said Warren Wood, executive director of the utility industry lobbying firm, the Missouri Energy Development Association. Municipalities the company is in talks with include Columbia and Springfield, said Wood, who is also an advocate for AmerenUE.

It is unclear whether the Missouri Clean and Renewable Energy Construction Act would allow AmerenUE to charge its customers for the cost of applying for the second nuclear reactor, which reportedly totaled $46 million.


Democrats given a stronger voice in Missouri's Senate «Entered: 01/22/2009»

The poltical rehtoric about bipartisan cooperation took a step forward Thursday when, for the first time in at least four decades, a minority party member was made the chair of a Senate committee.

Sen. President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, announced the appointment of the Senate Democratic leader -- Sen. Victor Callahan, D-Independence --to chair the Senate Progress and Development Committee.

Long-time Senate staffers said they could not remember the last time, if ever, that a minority party member had been made chair of a Senate committee -- something the House has done in recent years.

Not only was Callahan given chairmanship of the committee, Democrats hold a majority of the committee seats.

"Not every good idea's restricted to the Republican Party," Shields said of his decision to appoint Callahan. "There's some good ideas over there. We wanted to create a process to let (Democrats) get through their good ideas ... This provides the opportunity to move some of those bills out to the entire Senate floor for debate."

Shields has spent the majority of his years since first being elected to the state Legislature in 1990 as a member of the minority party. Shields said he knows full well the frustration felt by watching a bill languish in committee.

"Hopefully this will alleviate some of that frustration," he added.

Asked for his reaction, Callahan said, "We (Democrats) are very appreciative to President Pro Tem Shields ... I think we recognize that all of these problems are not Republican problems or Democratic problems; they're our problems and the solution should be our solution. 

" ... I have been an advocate for some time in this body that if you give important pieces of legislation that include the minority party, it becomes the Senate's product, not just the majority party's product."

The actual influence of the committee will depend on what bills are assigned to it by Shields.  While the initial bills assigned to committee included liberal Democratic bills that stand little chance in the Senate, the committee also was given two Republican bills to require drug testing of some welfare recipients.

First elected in 2004, Callahan is considered by some as a right-leaning Democrat. He has supported imposing tougher penalties on companies who employ undocumented immigrants and was one of only three Senate Democrats to vote for a 2007 bill that required licensing for abortion clinics and prevented schools from using Planned Parenthood services for sex education. 

Economically, Callahan voted against awarding up to $240 million in tax credits to locate an aircraft manufacturing plant in Kansas City in 2008, and he has also penned bills to increase income tax exemption for residents receiving retirement pay or pensions as well as an effort to tighten regulation of tax increment financing projects.

Senate Committee chairs are as follows:

The House committees can be found at http://www.house.mo.gov/print.aspx?info=/bills091/commit/commlst.htm


Nixon, education leaders recommend holding university funding, tuition levels steady «Entered: 01/22/2009»

Even with a looming statewide budget crunch, Gov. Jay Nixon announced an agreement to prevent tuition increases at Missouri universities in return for a promise not to cut state funding in fiscal year 2010.

Nixon made the announcement in addresses at MU, the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Harris-Stowe State University on Wednesday (Jan. 21).

Should the Missouri Legislature approve Nixon's recommendation in the coming weeks, state higher education leaders, including University of Missouri System President Gary Forsee, have agreed, in principle, to hold tuition fees at their current rate.

Forsee said the agreement had been forged over several weeks of talks and was necessary "to stimulate the economy and do that with high-quality jobs and high-quality education for our students and families."

According to statistics prepared by Gov. Nixon's office, tuition at Missouri's public, four-year universities has risen by an average of 7.5 percent annually during the past 10 years.

A resident who paid $4,600 per year to attend MU during the 1999-2000 school year paid almost $8,500 in 2008-2009, those figures show. If tuition increased by 4.6 percent as it did last year, that would equate to a nearly $8,900 expense for 2009-2010.

Since passage of Senate Bill 389 in 2007, public institutions have been prevented from increasing tuition more than the yearly inflationary rate. But in going a step further, Nixon's proposal for no increase whatsoever would be the first of its kind in more than a decade.

"We're turning a corner here and saying for the first time in a long time that that pool of money that goes to higher education is not the place we're going to go hunting for cuts," Gov. Nixon said at MU Wednesday. "I'm just very pleased that we've been able to balance a 'no tuition increase' with that. It gives us a win-win on both sides."

He added that, by comparison, other states are cutting fuding for higher education by as much as 8 or 9 percent, and The Associated Press reported that midyear percentile tuition increases were in the double digits in states like New York and California.

State legislators, who will have the ultimate authority in appropriating funds for universities in fiscal 2010, said they had not been informed of the governor's proposal before it was made.

"I understand it's the governor's prerogative to go out and make some of the announcements," chairman of the House Budget Committee Allen Icet, R-Wildwood, said. "I certainly respect that. But in some cases, I certainly look forward to working with the governor on just a little bit of a heads-up prior to making announcements."

Nixon is scheduled to speak to state House and Senate members in a joint session Tuesday (Jan. 27), where he is expected to outline further budget recommendations for 2010.

With a statewide shortfall projected as high as $342 million, Nixon did acknowledge Wednesday that if reductions in funding for higher education are not made, those cuts will necessarily have to occur elsewhere. He did not elaborate on where those might be, however.

"Certainly there will be some other parts of government and services that have to feel a little of the pruning knife of time, but it's not higher education's time," Nixon said. "We have to invest in these kids. We just cannot cut the seed corn when we have to harvest it."

Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, also acknowledged that in a zero-sum state budget, "When you promise one segment of the budget that you're immune from cuts, I think essentially you're telling the rest of the segments that you will be cut, given the revenue situation that we're going to be in next year."

Shields added, "I understand (Nixon's) intent -- nobody wants to cut higher ed --  but I don't know that that's entirely possible given the situation that we face."


Legislators, MoDOT director talk funding options for Missouri roads «Entered: 01/21/2009»

Missouri Department of Transportation director Pete Rahn warned state senators that without innovative funding mechanisms, Missouri's highways would begin to deteriorate as early as next year.

Rahn's warning was made at an informational Senate seminar Tuesday.  

He raised the possibility of a sales tax, fuel tax and even toll roads but also acknowledged that necessary statewide voter approval of those measures would be hard to come by.

All the same, Rahn said, "Overall, I think a sales tax is a pretty desirable revenue stream because it grows as fast as inflation."

State Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, suggested that a state matching funds program, in which local agencies share in at least 20 percent of eligible engineering and construction costs of certain projects, could be better utilized.

"If communities are willing to do some local match, then they might get ownership of some state highways that go through a town ... so they have more authority to do things," he said.

Rahn countered that even if more communities agree to match state funds, MoDOT still wouldn't have enough revenue to participate in all construction projects. He added that many localities do not have adequate revenue to match state funds either.

The transportation director said discussions on how to fund the department will span this year and said he hopes that a plan of action is determined before Missouri roads and bridges begin to crumble.

"My hope is that in November 2010, we would know what Missouri wants, how much it costs, and that we would have a proposal," Rahn said.

According to a 2005 report by the State Auditor's office, "Missouri ranked 37th nationally in how much it spent to preserve and maintain its roads, spending 53 percent less than the national average."

Another ranking by the Los Angeles-based Reason Foundation put Missouri near the top of the list of states with "deficient bridges."

Missouri Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, who chaired the Senate's Transportation Committee in 2008, said it would be up to Missourians to decide how to fund the state's transportation system.

"There's no best way [of funding it]," Stouffer emphasized. "It's whatever gets 51 percent."


Jay Nixon promises a "new day" as Missouri's new governor. «Entered: 01/12/2009»

After 16 years of service as Missouri's attorney general, Jeremiah "Jay" Nixon was officially sworn in as the state's 55th governor Monday (Jan. 12) on the south lawn of the Capitol building in Jefferson City.

With wife Georganne and sons Jeremiah and Will looking on, Gov. Nixon, a Democrat, delivered an inaugural address that centered on the phrase, "A New Day for Missouri."

He used the words "new day" 12 times in the 11-minute speech.

"To bring a new day in Missouri, we'll need to implement new policies. But this new day will not be possible unless there is a new tone in Jefferson City," Nixon told a crowd of more than 4,000 gathered. "For too many years, politics and partnership have stood in the way of progress. And the people of Missouri are tired of it."

Although Nixon's comments could have been interpreted as critical of his Republican predecessor, Gov. Matt Blunt, top Republican leaders in Missouri praised the sentiment behind his words.

"I thought it was a successful speech," said Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican, who also took the oath of office Monday. "It struck themes that all Missourians can unite around looking forward to the future."

Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields and House Speaker Ron Richard, both GOP members, said they agreed with Kinder's assessment that the speech was a success.

In addition to Nixon and Kinder, also sworn in to four-year terms were Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, State Treasurer Clint Zweifel and Attorney General Chris Koster.

The day's events ended with the traditional Grand March and Inaugural Ball in the Capitol.

Nixon is a Democratic governor facing Republican majorities in both chambers of the Missouri Legislature as well as a projected $342 million shortfall this budget cycle.

Since the November elections, the new governor, along with House and Senate leaders, has consistently called for an effective bipartisan relationship and open lines of communication between the state's predominantly Democratic executive branch and a Republican Legislature.


Nixon eyes job creation in first full day «Entered: 01/16/2009»

In his first full day as Missouri's chief executive, Gov. Jay Nixon issued Tuesday (Jan. 13) three executive orders dealing with job creation in the state.

The governor continued a theme of job creation after meeting with young businesspeople and entrepreneurs immediately following his inaugural address Monday.

According to a spokesperson with the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, unemployment had reached 6.7 percent as of November 2008, the most current figure and also the highest rate in Missouri last year.

In the Tuesday morning news conference, Nixon ordered the creation of automotive jobs task force, the formation an economic stimulus coordination council and the allocation of a pool of funds for low-interest and no-interest direct loans directed at small businesses.

The 12-member automotive jobs task force is geared toward recommending legislative and policy initiatives that would foster manufacturing job growth in the long term; the 15-member economic stimulus coordination council will attempt to maximize any funding received from a potential federal stimulus package; and the final order, Nixon stated, would create a pool of approximately $2 million from fees collected on Missouri Development Finance Board loans for small business loans.

"Quick, decisive action is necessary if we are to get Missouri's economy moving forward again," Gov. Nixon stated. "To do that, we have to get Missourians back to work by creating new opportunities and by helping Missouri business grow and thrive."

Nixon's executive order for the business small loans had a small problem -- the governor has no authority to mandate the loans that are issued by the Missouri Finance Development Board. The board, chaired by Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, is independent of the governor. Kinder said he had not been briefed by the governor on his proposal. The board has a meeting scheduled next Tuesday (Jan. 20).


Cell phone request stirs Capitol press corps «Entered: 01/16/2009»

A request from Gov. Jay Nixon's staff that reporters hand over their cellular phones before entering the new governor's first news conference elicited a push back from Capitol reporters Tuesday.

Nixon press secretary Scott Holste told the media the request was for security reasons.

When at least one reporter threatened to boycott the news conference if they were forced to relinquish their cell phones, Holste went back into the governor's office and returned, rescinding the cell phone ban.

The governor's communications director later said the actual reason for the cell-phone ban was Nixon's desire to not have disruptions of attention in his office. While the ban was lifted for reporters, it remains for other visitors to the governor's office.

Just a few hours after the journalist cell-phone confrontation, the office of sole Republican statewide office holder, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, sent out an e-mail offering Blackberry chargers during news conferences put on by his office.

"During capitol newsers, we will gladly provide Blackberry phone chargers for use during your reporting," wrote Gary McElyea, the director of communications for the lieutenant governor's office, in an e-mail to statehouse reporters. "It is my goal to do what I can to allow you to better inform the citizens of Missouri."


Missouri's Supreme Court strikes down a law restricting health care coverage. «Entered: 01/16/2009»

In a unanimous decision Tuesday (Jan. 13) Missouri's Supreme Court struck down a state law that had been used by the state as grounds to deny coverage for personal care assistance to a physically disabled person.

The case involved a 39-year-old woman with both physical and mental disabilities who lives with her mother who serves as her guardian

In 2005 as part of the plan to cut back on Medicaid costs, the legislature approved a provision that essentially denies personal care assistance to any person under the care or living with a guardian.

The state high court found that the 2005 law violates federal laws prohibiting discrimination against the disabled.


Nixon: Driver license offices to be competitively bid «Entered: 01/16/2009»

Gov. Jay Nixon on Wednesday announced a plan to revamp how local motor vehicle and driver license offices are awarded in the state, claiming, "The era of license office patronage ends today."

Previously, most of the openings for contract agents who operate the offices were not competitively bid, and Nixon said the appointments were often made on the basis of political favoritism.

Nixon's new plan calls for competitive bidding, a process that began Tuesday when requests for proposals from interested vendors were posted for six of the state's contract offices by the Missouri Department of Revenue. He said the first six locations to be bid are in Columbia, Mexico, Moberly, St. Charles, Liberty and Springfield.

The governor, in his third day in office, told reporters that those six fee offices -- where taxes are collected, drivers licenses are issued and motor vehicles are titled and registered -- netted $2.7 million in processing fees last year.

Nixon's choice to be director of the state Revenue Department, Karen King Mitchell, estimated that bids could be awarded within eight weeks at the six aforementioned locations, with requests for proposals for other offices to be sent out on a weekly basis until all 183 locations, excluding a state-run office in Jefferson City, are competitively bid.

She said that current contract agents would not be excluded in the bidding process.

"There will be folks who currently have these offices that will be bidding; there will folks who have had offices in the past that will be bidding, and we'll be looking at those as well," King Mitchell said.

She referred to a new point-matrix system that would be used to evaluate potential bidders. That system includes 45 points for efficiency of operations, 30 points for personal qualifications and five points each for being a civic or not-for-profit organization, being a woman or minority applicant and being willing to direct a portion of the office's processing fees back to the state's coffers.

King Mitchell also noted that the requests for proposals called for a one-year contract with three additional one-year renewals possible.

In concluding Wednesday's news conference, Nixon said, "This is a big financial step; now is the time to take that step."

Nixon's announcement was not without its own political overtones. One of the agents for the St. Charles County office to be bid out is the father of former House Republican Leader Tom Dempsey, now a state senator. Another fee office to be bid is run by a GOP campaign contributor.


Energy policy a big-ticket item in Senate seminar series «Entered: 01/16/2009»

With Missouri Senate committees yet to be named, legislators have instead been meeting in informal Senate seminar sessions to discuss a range of topics -- from transportation and health care to economic development and energy policy.

The seminars have been arranged by Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph.

A seminar Tuesday focused on AmerenUE's effort to build a second nuclear power plant in Callaway County. Representatives from AmerenUE, the state's largest electric provider, joined members of Kansas City Power & Light, St. Louis-based Peabody Energy Corp., Wind Capital Group and consumer advocate John Coffman in addressing several senators gathered.

Senators were urged by AmerenUE's representative to repeal a decades-old, voter-approved law that bans increasing consumers' utility rates in order to pay for construction of new power plants.

Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, who opposes a repeal, said, "I don't see the justification in asking the customers to take on the risk of the private corporation."

She added, in regard to the seminar, "I'm not sure there was enough time to get a really good discussion going."

A Republican colleague who has served with Bray on the Senate's energy committee -- Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville -- expressed support for repealing the law.

"The consumers in Missouri have benefited from the power producers here being an exporter of energy," he said. "Meaning up until this point, our power companies have been able to generate more energy than they've used, and as a result, they've been able to take the extra capacity and sell it off at a pretty decent premium. And as a result, they've been able to use those profits to buy down the rates for consumers here."

Although construction of the facility would not begin until at least 2010, discussions on it have already been initiated by Missouri legislators. In his first address as House Speaker last week, Ron Richard, R-Joplin, called the proposed power plant a top priority.

Senate seminars are scheduled to continue with discussions on transportation and agriculture, early childhood and K-12 education and economic development and higher education.


Jay Nixon promises a "new day" as Missouri's new governor. «Entered: 01/12/2009»

After 16 years of service as Missouri's Attorney General, Jeremiah "Jay" Nixon was officially sworn in as the state's 55th governor Monday (Jan. 12) on the south lawn of the Capitol building in Jefferson City.

With wife Georganne and sons Jeremiah and Will looking on, Gov. Nixon, a Democrat, delivered an inaugural address that centered around the phrase, "A New Day for Missouri."

He used the words "new day" 12 times in the 11-minute speech.

"To bring a new day in Missouri, we'll need to implement new policies. But this new day will not be possible unless there is a new tone in Jefferson City," Nixon told a crowd of more than 4,000 gathered.

"For too many years, politics and partnership have stood in the way of progress. And the people of Missouri are tired of it."

Although Nixon's comments could have been interpreted as critical of his Republican predecessor, Gov. Matt Blunt, top Republican leaders in Missouri praised the sentiment behind his words.

"I thought it was a successful speech," said Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican, who also took the oath of office Monday. "It struck themes that all Missourians can unite around looking forward to the future."

Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields and House Speaker Ron Richard, both GOP members, said they agreed with Kinder's assessment that the speech was a success.

In addition to Nixon and Kinder, also sworn in to four-year terms were Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, State Treasurer Clint Zweifel and Attorney General Chris Koster.

The day's events ended with the traditional Grand March and Inaugural Ball in the Capitol.

Nixon is a Democratic governor facing Republican majorities in both chambers of the Missouri Legislature as well as a projected $342 million shortfall this budget cycle.

Since the November elections, the new governor, along with House and Senate leaders, has consistently called for an effective bipartisan relationship and open lines of communication between the state's predominantly Democratic executive branch and a Republican Legislature.


Nixon eyes job creation in first full day «Entered: 01/16/2009»

In his first full day as Missouri's chief executive, Gov. Jay Nixon issued Tuesday (Jan. 13) three executive orders dealing with job creation in the state.

The governor continued a theme of job creation after meeting with young businesspeople and entrepreneurs immediately following his inaugural address Monday.

According to a spokesperson with the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, unemployment had reached 6.7 percent as of November 2008, the most current figure and also the highest rate in Missouri last year.

In the Tuesday morning news conference, Nixon ordered the creation of automotive jobs task force, the formation an economic stimulus coordination council and the allocation of a pool of funds for low-interest and no-interest direct loans directed at small businesses.

The 12-member automotive jobs task force is geared toward recommending legislative and policy initiatives that would foster manufacturing job growth in the long term; the 15-member economic stimulus coordination council will attempt to maximize any funding received from a potential federal stimulus package; and the final order, Nixon stated, would create a pool of approximately $2 million from fees collected on Missouri Development Finance Board loans for small business loans.

"Quick, decisive action is necessary if we are to get Missouri's economy moving forward again," Gov. Nixon stated. "To do that, we have to get Missourians back to work by creating new opportunities and by helping Missouri business grow and thrive."

Nixon's executive order for the business small loans had a small problem -- the governor has no authority to mandate the loans that are issued by the Missouri Finance Development Board. The board, chaired by Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, is independent of the governor. Kinder said he had not been briefed by the governor on his proposal. The board has a meeting scheduled next Tuesday (Jan. 20).


Cell phone request stirs Capitol press corps «Entered: 01/16/2009»

A request from Gov. Jay Nixon's staff that reporters hand over their cellular phones before entering the new governor's first news conference elicited a push back from Capitol reporters Tuesday.

Nixon press secretary Scott Holste told the media the request was for security reasons.

When at least one reporter threatened to boycott the news conference if they were forced to relinquish their cell phones, Holste went back into the governor's office and returned, rescinding the cell phone ban.

The governor's communications director later said the actual reason for the cell-phone ban was Nixon's desire to not have disruptions of attention in his office. While the ban was lifted for reporters, it remains for other visitors to the governor's office.

Just a few hours after the journalist cell-phone confrontation, the office of sole Republican statewide office holder, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, sent out an e-mail offering Blackberry chargers during news conferences put on by his office.

"During capitol newsers, we will gladly provide Blackberry phone chargers for use during your reporting," wrote Gary McElyea, the director of communications for the lieutenant governor's office, in an e-mail to statehouse reporters. "It is my goal to do what I can to allow you to better inform the citizens of Missouri."


Missouri's Supreme Court strikes down a law restricting health care coverage. «Entered: 01/16/2009»

In a unanimous decision Tuesday (Jan. 13) Missouri's Supreme Court struck down a state law that had been used by the state as grounds to deny coverage for personal care assistance to a physically disabled person.

The case involved a 39-year-old woman with both physical and mental disabilities who lives with her mother who serves as her guardian

In 2005 as part of the plan to cut back on Medicaid costs, the legislature approved a provision that essentially denies personal care assistance to any person under the care or living with a guardian.

The state high court found that the 2005 law violates federal laws prohibiting discrimination against the disabled.


Nixon: Driver license offices to be competitively bid «Entered: 01/16/2009»

Gov. Jay Nixon on Wednesday announced a plan to revamp how local motor vehicle and driver license offices are awarded in the state, claiming, "The era of license office patronage ends today."

Previously, most of the openings for contract agents who operate the offices were not competitively bid, and Nixon said the appointments were often made on the basis of political favoritism.

Nixon's new plan calls for competitive bidding, a process that began Tuesday when requests for proposals from interested vendors were posted for six of the state's contract offices by the Missouri Department of Revenue. He said the first six locations to be bid are in Columbia, Mexico, Moberly, St. Charles, Liberty and Springfield.

The governor, in his third day in office, told reporters that those six fee offices -- where taxes are collected, drivers licenses are issued and motor vehicles are titled and registered -- netted $2.7 million in processing fees last year.

Nixon's choice to be director of the state Revenue Department, Karen King Mitchell, estimated that bids could be awarded within eight weeks at the six aforementioned locations, with requests for proposals for other offices to be sent out on a weekly basis until all 183 locations, excluding a state-run office in Jefferson City, are competitively bid.

She said that current contract agents would not be excluded in the bidding process.

"There will be folks who currently have these offices that will be bidding; there will folks who have had offices in the past that will be bidding, and we'll be looking at those as well," King Mitchell said.

She referred to a new point-matrix system that would be used to evaluate potential bidders. That system includes 45 points for efficiency of operations, 30 points for personal qualifications and five points each for being a civic or not-for-profit organization, being a woman or minority applicant and being willing to direct a portion of the office's processing fees back to the state's coffers.

King Mitchell also noted that the requests for proposals called for a one-year contract with three additional one-year renewals possible.

In concluding Wednesday's news conference, Nixon said, "This is a big financial step; now is the time to take that step."

Nixon's announcement was not without its own political overtones. One of the agents for the St. Charles County office to be bid out is the father of former House Republican Leader Tom Dempsey, now a state senator. Another fee office to be bid is run by a GOP campaign contributor.


Energy policy a big-ticket item in Senate seminar series «Entered: 01/16/2009»

With Missouri Senate committees yet to be named, legislators have instead been meeting in informal Senate seminar sessions to discuss a range of topics -- from transportation and health care to economic development and energy policy.

The seminars have been arranged by Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph.

A seminar Tuesday focused on AmerenUE's effort to build a second nuclear power plant in Callaway County. Representatives from AmerenUE, the state's largest electric provider, joined members of Kansas City Power & Light, St. Louis-based Peabody Energy Corp., Wind Capital Group and consumer advocate John Coffman in addressing several senators gathered.

Senators were urged by AmerenUE's representative to repeal a decades-old, voter-approved law that bans increasing consumers' utility rates in order to pay for construction of new power plants.

Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County, who opposes a repeal, said, "I don't see the justification in asking the customers to take on the risk of the private corporation."

She added, in regard to the seminar, "I'm not sure there was enough time to get a really good discussion going."

A Republican colleague who has served with Bray on the Senate's energy committee -- Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville -- expressed support for repealing the law.

"The consumers in Missouri have benefited from the power producers here being an exporter of energy," he said. "Meaning up until this point, our power companies have been able to generate more energy than they've used, and as a result, they've been able to take the extra capacity and sell it off at a pretty decent premium. And as a result, they've been able to use those profits to buy down the rates for consumers here."

Although construction of the facility would not begin until at least 2010, discussions on it have already been initiated by Missouri legislators. In his first address as House Speaker last week, Ron Richard, R-Joplin, called the proposed power plant a top priority.

Senate seminars are scheduled to continue with discussions on transportation and agriculture, early childhood and K-12 education and economic development and higher education.