►Anti-abortion bill nears final House vote «Entered: 03/05/2009»
House Speaker Pro Tem Bryan Pratt (left) discusses anti-abortion legislation with Missouri Rep. Timothy Jones, R-Eureka, Thursday on the House Floor. Source: Rebecca Beitsch, MDN
[Get the image at http://www.mdn.org/MPANews/PRATT_B.JPG]
A bill requiring a 24-hour waiting period for abortions in the state and mandating that those who provide abortions also supply pregnant women with information on alternatives to the controversial practice was cleared for final passage in the Missouri House on Thursday, March 5.
In addition to creating a one-day waiting period, the bill, sponsored by state Rep. Cynthia Davis, R-O'Fallon, would also make it a crime to coerce someone to have an abortion by way of assault, stalking or threatening to withhold pay. These and other coercive actions would carry a maximum prison sentence of 10 years, up to a $10,000 fine -- or both -- under Davis's bill.
House Speaker Pro Tem Bryan Pratt, who sponsored a companion bill this session, said if pregnant women were provided with more information about abortion alternatives, they would be less likely to undergo the procedure.
"I think if you give a woman the opportunity ... to know the name of her doctor, to see ultrasounds, to see their unborn child, to have all the information, it is my belief the passage of this bill will decrease the number of abortions in the state of Missouri, and that's my goal," Pratt said.
The proposal received support in the legislature's lower chamber by a more than 3 to 1 margin Thursday. That would be well over the two-thirds majority needed -- in the House at least -- should Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon exercise his veto power.
A spokesman for Nixon commented Thursday, though, that, "This bill, like the others, is a long way from going through the legislative process."
It received approval after House members heard a personal account from state Rep. Anne Zerr, R-St. Charles. Zerr, a self-proclaimed victim of sexual abuse as a child, said a girl who had been coerced into having sex shouldn't also be coerced into having an abortion.
Opponents of the bill, such as Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, said, however, that it was geared more toward putting a halt to abortions than toward protecting a pregnant woman from coercion.
"While you want them to have the baby, you don't want to help provide for those individuals that decide to keep the child," Nasheed told Pratt.
To Pratt's statement that Missouri offers generous welfare benefits to low-income residents, Nasheed replied, "We do have a very strong welfare system -- with corporations. The corporations are getting more welfare than the average mom."
The bill awaits a final vote from the Missouri House before it can be sent to the state Senate for consideration.
►Proposed rate hike for new nuke plant gains steam «Entered: 03/03/2009»
Water vapor billows from an AmerenUE cooling tower at the site of Missouri's only existing nuclear power plant in Callaway County. Source: Ameren.com
[Get the image at http://www.mdn.org/MPANews/AMEREN.JPG]
A spokesman for Gov. Jay Nixon has called it "premature."
A Senate committee chair has questioned whether it even stands a chance of approval.
But meanwhile, the House version of a bill that would allow Missouri's largest electric provider to raise consumer rates to help finance a second nuclear power plant in the state met overwhelming approval Tuesday, March 3.
Members of the House Utilities Committee voted in favor of the bill by a 12 to 1 margin. If ultimately signed into law, it would overturn legislation approved by voters in 1976 that prevents utilities from passing the cost of any construction-related expenditures for new plants onto ratepayers before a facility comes online.
While the effort to repeal the decades-old construction work in progress law received strong support from state representatives, a version of the bill before the Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection, Energy and the Environment Committee is being redrafted after weeks of testimony and debate.
Republican state senator Kurt Schaefer, of Columbia, has said a lack of consumer protection exists in the bill as currently written.
But the bill's sponsor, Sen. Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City, argues that a gradual increase in rates for financing eventual bonded debt would be less burdensome to consumers than an all-at-once spike in rates that could result when construction is ultimately completed.
AmerenUE officials have told legislators that construction would not begin on a second nuclear site in Callaway County until at least 2010, but without clearing this particular hurdle for financing the venture, company CEO Tom Voss said an AmerenUE plant would not become a reality.
Voss added in testimony last month that Missouri ratepayers spend 40 percent less on energy obtained from AmerenUE than the national average, also stating that a new nuclear site is the "least cost option" on the table, would create thousands of jobs and could allow connection with renewable energy sources in the future.
Despite strong approval from the House Utilities Committee, at least one representative who responded favorably to the bill said his vote was "a very reluctant yes."
"The bill as it stands has a lot of problems and some consumer-unfriendly provisions that really need to be changed," Rep. Jake Zimmerman, D-St. Louis County, said Tuesday, "but I want to have a seat at the table and the ability to influence this legislation as it moves forward ... I felt I needed to vote yes to continue the dialogue."
The House bill's sponsor and chairman of the House Utilities Commission, Rep. Ed Emery, R-Lamar, maintained that -- in the long run -- a second nuclear power plant is the most cost-effective method of meeting Missourian's future energy needs, and he said of a future nuclear generation, "It's a safe generation; it's a clean generation."
Just four days prior to the House committee's approval of the measure, a spokesman for Democratic Gov. Nixon issued a statement saying, "This is a two-step process that involves both procuring a license and then deciding whether to build. It is premature at this time to saddle ratepayers with potential construction costs before regulators have awarded a permit and Ameren has made the decision to build."
By AmerenUE's account, the utility has already expended millions of dollars during the federal permitting process.
As of 6 p.m. Thursday, March 5, the House version of the bill had not been added to the House calendar, and another hearing before the concerned Senate committee had not been scheduled.
►Limits on egg implants sought «Entered: 03/05/2009»
An image showing the growth of a human embryo. Source: Bradley R. Smith, School of Art and Design, University of Michigan [Get the image at http://www.mdn.org/MPANews/HUMAN_EMBRYO.GIF]
In response to the now-infamous case of a Los Angeles-area woman who gave birth to octuplets after being implanted during an in-vitro fertilization process with twice as many embryos as is medically recommended, a measure is being considered in Missouri that would punish doctors who do the same thing.
The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Bob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, would require that physicians implant no more embryos into a woman than is recommended by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine's guidelines. Those guidelines recommend limiting implants to between two and five fertilized eggs, depending on the woman's age, health and other mitigating factors.
On Thursday, March 5, Schaaf told members of the House Healthcare Transformation Committee, "The people of this state don't need to be paying millions of dollars for some woman who has eight babies at once. That's ridiculous and we need to stop it."
He was referring to the case of Nadya Suleman, 33, who made national headlines in late January after giving birth to eight children at once. Even at less than two months of age, Suleman's children are already the longest-surviving set of octuplets in history, The Associated Press reports. A Beverly Hills doctor implanted the unmarried, unemployed woman with six fertilized eggs (three more than the ASRM recommends for a woman her age) before two of those split and became twins.
Schaaf, himself a family physician, and bill co-sponsor Gayle Kingery, R-Poplar Bluff, say procedures such as the one performed on Suleman -- in addition to causing a potential burden for taxpayers -- are a hazard to mother and babies alike.
The bill would impose penalties on doctors rather than the mother.
It leaves the determination of how many embryos per fertilization process could be implanted up to the ASRM, whereas similar legislation in Georgia, for instance, would limit that number to two, regardless of health or past births.
►32 road projects approved using stimulus money «Entered: 03/05/2009»
Missouri's drivers may experience fewer potholes on roads in the state, after the approval Wednesday, March 4, of 32 projects by The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission.
The $39 million in mostly resurfacing projects is being funded through an overall $637 reserved for Missouri's transportation needs under the federal government's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
The most costly project on tap is resurfacing of Interstate 70 in Lafayette and Cooper counties at more than $14 million. An $11.8 million overlay for Interstate 29 in northwest Missouri is also scheduled.
Missouri Department of Transportation director Pete Rahn said Wednesday that physical work would not likely begin until April, but he stated in a news release, "These are projects we could have ready to go quickly to create or maintain jobs. They will make our highway system better and safer and save lives."
MoDOT officials estimate that 14,000 jobs will be supported through stimulus funding, with a $2.4 billion impact on the state's economy.
It took the Senate Ways and Means Committee only five minutes to debate phasing out the state corporate income tax Wednesday March 4, but ultimately no vote was taken on the issue.
If a pair of bills sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, and Sen. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville, wins approval this legislative session, the state could stand to lose out on approximately $100 million in unrealized revenue. However, proponents of the bill say it would create jobs by putting more money back in the hands of Missouri employers.
"This is one way to ... get jobs moving in this state," Shields said at Wednesday's committee hearing, "and I think it sends the right message to businesses that want to locate in Missouri."
Missouri Chamber of Commerce Taxation Director Tracy King added that were more businesses to come to Missouri, any revenue lost could potentially be regained.
"You ultimately bring more business into the state, which that hires more employees, those people work, they pay more income tax, they have more money, they spend more money -- their sales tax and property taxes in the state," King said.
Speaking in opposition to the bill, a lobbyist with the Missouri National Education Association argued that cutting corporate income tax would reduce certain services the state provides out of tax dollars.
"There are a lot of public investments that are made, and we believe that people should pay based upon their ability to pay," that lobbyist, Otto Fajen, said. "There are a lot of benefits to corporations for that public investment."
As the Missouri House Budget Committee prepares to make its recommendations for a balanced, multi-billion-dollar budget in fiscal year 2010, committee chairman Allen Icet, R-St. Louis County, has recommended trimming $18 million from Gov. Jay Nixon's originally proposed $470 million allotment for general education.
The cut would eliminate new funding for a "Caring for Missourians Initiative" that is aimed at expanding health care education in an effort to produce more rural healthcare professionals.
Icet said it would be unfair to current programs to fund new programs in a committee hearing Tuesday, March 3. Another part of his proposal includes using $49.7 million in federal stimulus funding to bolster the state's appropriation for education.
When Missouri Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, criticized Icet for not meeting Gov. Nixon's priorities, the House budget chairman replied, "I guess your (proposal) could actually show a line item that says 'Here's the House's honey pot. Go for it.' But I don't think that's the best way to appropriate funds."
Rep. Rachel Bringer, D-Palmyra, in turn, said it was unfair to the people of Missouri to just replace state money with federal stimulus money.
"Instead of taking this opportunity to use these federal dollars to provide services and help to Missouri, we've simply done another fund switch," she said.
If House Majority leader Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, and state Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, get their way, voters would have the finalize say on whether to issue up to $700 million in bonds for building projects affecting state universities.
A joint resolution sponsored by the representatives on both sides of the aisle would create a new bond and interest fund under the state constitution, should it be placed on the ballot in Missouri's next general election.
The measure comes in the wake of Gov. Jay Nixon's suspension and review of more than 30 capital improvement projects that would have been funded through the sale of the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority's assets.
Kelly said Monday, March 2, that the resolution "would meet the first priority capital need of every campus in the state."
But a former House Majority floor leader came forward as one of the resolution's first critics. Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, said that he doesn't "think this has a chance of passing."
"Now is not the time to be maxing out the state's credit card," Crowell added.
►Amputees, autism and deadly force «Entered: 03/05/2009»
Other bills receiving consideration the week of March 2 include: