Capitol Report, April 1, 2011

In Legislative News, Missouri Press News On
- Updated

This is the weekly Capitol Report from the Missouri School of Journalism’s State Government Reporting Program. Use as much of it as you wish; no further permission is necessary. You can link to the audio reports from your website.


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+ The weekly audio report from Phill Brooks [Entered: 04/01/2011]

The weekly audio report from Phill Brooks

[ Get the audio file at ]

+ Missouri’s House votes to curtail the governor’s travel. [Entered: 03/29/2011]

Missouri’s House voted to block the governor from using other agencies to pay for his travel expenses.

Shortly after he took office, Gov. Jay Nixon began charging his travel to other state agencies instead of his own office budget. Leaders from both sides of the aisle called for an end to the governor’s practice.

This week, the House approved a budget plan that blocks the governor from using funds from other agencies for his travel.

The House, however, went a bit further than budget leaders had proposed and rejected a compromise approach for the governor.

The House voted to
strip the governor’s office an extra $500,0000 the House Budget Committee
had proposed adding to the governor’s budget to cover his travel costs
since the budget plan blocked Nixon from using other agency budgets for his

On Tuesday [March 29] however, the House voted to transfer than money for a school dropout prevention program.

Rep. Jamilah Nasheed,D-St. Louis City, offered the amendment and said the House needed to
address the problem of students dropping out of school.

“When those children that have dropped out go out in those streets, they are committing
crimes in the worst way and we are the ones that have to pay for it when they go into the penal system,” Nasheed said.

One Democrat stood up for Nixon and criticized his colleagues.

“This is a manipulation of the governor’s office and a manipulation of these kids…we should not drag the
budget process into the mud and not drag these children with us,” Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said.

But Rep. Ryan Silvy, R-Kansas City, chair of the House Budget Committee that had proposed adding extra travel funds to the governor’s budget, ended up voting to strip those extra funds for
Nixon’s travel.

“Do we let the governor continue continually flying around excessively on the state plane, or do we help kids in inner city St. Louis who need a leg up,” Silvey asked.

The governor was traveling out of town during the House debate and was not available for comment.

Get the newspaper story [ ] .

Get the roll-call vote on cutting the governor’s travel funds [ ] .

+ benefits expire for about 10,000 Missourians [Entered: 04/01/2011]

Unemployment benefits for about 10,000 Missourians will expire Saturday for those who have reached their 79-week limit for coverage.

On Thursday, Sen. Jolly Justice, D-Kansas City, delivered an emotional rebuke against four of her colleagues who had blocked passage of a measure to authorize use of federal funds to extend benefits another 20 weeks.

“So I want you to go home this weekend and talk to those families who will no longer be able to feed themselves because we’re cutting off their benefits,” Justice said in a breaking voice.

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, has been the leader in a filibuster that blocked the Senate from voting on accepting the federal funds.

Lembke argued that the federal government is being reckless in spending money it has to borrow to expand
the benefits.

“The states are going to have to band together and say we’re no longer going to be willing accomplices in what you’re doing to our nation and to the next generation,” Lembke said after Justice’s rebuke.

The House had passed authorization to spend the funds by an overwhelming majority nearly two months ago.

The measure is one of two bills involving federal funds that Lembke and other fiscal conservatives in the Senate have blocked from getting a vote. Also stalled is authorization to provide $190 million of one-time federal funds to public schools. It passed the House a month ago without a single negative vote.

Get the unemployment compensation bill, HB 163 [ ] .

Get the education funding bill, HB 15 [ ] .

+ A House Republican plan eliminates one of two St. Louis City congressional districts [Entered: 03/30/2011]

The House Redistricting Committee chair presented Wednesday night [March 30] a plan that would eliminate the Congressional district of south St. Louis City Democrat Russ Carnahan.

Lawmakers are dealing with 2010 census data that requires Missouri to eliminate one of its nine districts.

“The city of St. Louis lost the most population over the past decade,” said Rep. John Diehl, R-St. Louis County.
“So it’s almost impossible to justify that the city, in and of itself, maintains two congressmen.”

Under Diehl’s plan, the district of Democratic U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay would be expanded to include the entire city
of St. Louis and a portion of north St. Louis County. Carnahan’s territory would be included in Clay’s new district.

Diehl said that having a single district in which St. Louis city was the dominant population center would
give the city a stronger voice than if the city had its constituents split as a minor part of two separate districts.

There had been speculation from the start of the legislative session in January that the Republican-controlled legislature would target Democrat Carnahan’s seat for elimination.

“Having a Democratic congressman the obvious odd man out in the discussion and having to change those borders drastically is never a fun proposition to have to deal with,” said House Democratic Leader Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County.

Diehl said the committee would hold hearings on his plan before taking a vote next week.

See theproposed congressional maps [ ] .

+ House committee approves tax breaks for a U.S. China hub in St. Louis [Entered: 03/29/2011]

The House Economic Development committee passed a bill that would provide tax credits to international cargo shippers bringing business to St. Louis.

The tax credits include an eight-year exemption on outbound international cargo flights leaving St. Louis as well as tax breaks on facilities being built around the airport to house imports and exports.

The bill sponsor, Caleb Jones, R-California, said the tax credits would create an incentive for cargo shippers to choose St. Louis over Chicago as a place of business.

Jones said Lambert has the capacity to be a great investment for shippers.

“And if we in the Missouri Assembly do not grab this opportunity with both hands, we are going to lose it to another state,” Jones said.

No one spoke in opposition to the bill, which was passed by the committee by a vote of 20-0. There was, however, discussion about whether the program should extend to Kansas City.

Other bill supporters included the AFL-CIO and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce.

Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, the sponsor of the Senate bill, said the Chinese government supports the opportunity in St. Louis and that the economic benefit would extend throughout Missouri and stressed the need for Missouri to provide an incentive.

“If we don’t act on this, other states will,” Schmitt said.

The bill will go to the House Rules Committee for a final vote before proceeding to the House floor.

Get the bill, HB 840 [ ].
Get the radio stories [ ] .

+ utility regulators get an update on nuclear power plant safety. [Entered: 03/29/2011]

Two utility officials spent more than half an hour Tuesday [March 29] detailing the safety and backup systems in place at the Callaway County nuclear plant and a nuclear plant in Kansas that serves western Missouri customers.

The officials described for the Public Service Commission the backup and redundant systems designed to protect against a radiation accident.

After the presentation, however, Ameren Missouri’s vice president, Adam Heflin, acknowledged in an interview that there are no absolute guarantees that an incident similar to that in Japan could not happen with the Missouri plant.

“I can’t assure that the unforeseen won’t happen at Callaway,” Heflin said. “What I can say and what folks can take some comfort in is that we’re always questioning and we’re always looking for ways we can be safer and more ready in case something unforeseen does happen.”

The PSC chairman, Kevin Gunn, stressed that what caused the failures at the Japanese plants was not the earthquake, but the subsequent tsunami that cannot happen in land-locked Missouri.

“We obviously don’t have tsunami issues here,” Gunn said. “We may have seismic activities, but I’m confident that these plants have been designed to take that seismic activity into account.”

Heflin said nuclear power remains the best future option for power generation. However, legislation to allow
Ameren to charge utility customers for the cost of pursuing a federal permit to build a new plant remains stalled in the state legislature.

+ A Senate filibuster stalls debate on a bill to restrict union rights. [Entered: 03/29/2011]

Extended Senate debate blocked Tuesday [March 29] a vote on a measure that would expand a ban on local governments from awarding contracts to businesses that require workers to join unions or pay union fees.

The measure’s sponsor, Sen. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown, came under stiff questioning from Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis County.

“You believe it’s right for us to dictate to local political subdivisions how best to use the tax dollars?” Green asked.

“I believe it’s right to stand up for the taxpayers in Missouri irregardless of what subdivision or political subdivision they are in,” Munzlinger responded.

It is the second bill restricting union powers that has been blocked by a Senate filibuster.

Two weeks earlier, before legislators left for spring break, a filibuster blocked action on what proponents call “right to work” legislation that imposes a broader ban on business from requiring workers to join unions or pay union fees — regardless whether working for private or government contracts.

Along with Democratic opposition, that measure faced stiff opposition from fellow Republicans in the Senate.

Get the Senate bill, SB 175 [ ] .

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