Capitol Report, August 26, 2011

In Legislative News, Missouri Press News On
- Updated

— Our first issue for the fall [Entered: 08/26/2011]

Friends,

Below is the first week of MPANews for the fall.

A couple of notes:

The Capitol Perspectives column I had written to you about earlier is at the bottom of MPANews. This first one is a bit introspective, explaining the purpose and myself. If you feel it is too self-centered, do not feel any obligation to run it. Next week’s column will focus on historical background of one of the two major budget disputes between the legislature and governor.

As I’d mentioned previously, some of the items now have contact information for the reporter. I really encourage you to let a reporter know if you have a suggestion for improvement or praise. But, also, I ask that you delete that contact information if the item is going to be posted in a public forum (printed or on your website).

Alysha and I did not produce the audio report we had done last semester. We did not have a sense that it was of particular use. But, if that is not the case, let me know (prb@mdn.org) and we can resume it.

Finally, one of you mentioned the old graphics header we had provided to run with MPANews. I had forgotten about it, but here they are:

1 column logo [ http://mdn.org/mpanews/1collogo.jpg ]

2 column logo [ http://mdn.org/mpanews/2collogo.jpg ]

Phill Brooks, Director

—-

— Nixon adds social media communication by teachers to the legislature’s special session. [Entered: 08/26/2011]

Gov. Jay Nixon issued a news release Friday (Aug. 26) adding another item to the agenda of the legislature’s special session that begins Sept. 6.

Nixon added repeal of a provision that critics have charged would block teachers from using social media like Facebook from communicating with their students.

The provision was part of a broader bill dealing with requirements for public schools in dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct by school employees.

“In a digital world, we must recognize that social media can be an important tool for teaching and learning,” Nixon was quoted as saying in his office announcement.

Nixon’s announcement was issued shortly after a Cole County judge issued an order barring enforcement of the new law.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, said restricting use of social media for legitimate communications with students was not the intention of her measure. She was reported to be meeting with education leaders to draft a bill clarifying the issue.

— New Missouri Laws Take Effect Sunday [Entered: 08/26/2011]

More than 100 bills passed by the legislature took effect [will take effect] Sunday [August 28].

Some of the most controversial include drug testing for welfare recipients, additional requirements for an abortion of a potentially viable fetus and restrictions on nuisance lawsuits against property owners.

Also passed by the legislature were measures imposing restrictions on when a public school athlete can resume play after suffering a concussion, expanding the crime of human trafficking and phasing out the corporate franchise tax.

On Friday [August 26], a Cole County circuit court blocked implementation of one provision of a broad bill dealing with requirements on public schools for handling allegations of sexual misconduct by a school employee.

The provision would impose restrictions on teachers from using social media like Facebook to communicate with their students.  Effectively it would require any social-media communication with a student be public.

The Cole County judge ruled that provision would have a chilling effect on free speech.  The governor also put the issue before the legislature’s special session that begins Sept. 6.

— Top Senate Republicans bash Gov. Nixon’s recovery spending [Entered: 08/23/2011]

During testimony in a hearing of a Senate committee charged with finding disaster relief funding, Republicans blasted Gov. Jay Nixon’s handling of that money.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, said he wanted Nixon to wait until the beginning of the January legislative session before tackling relief spending. Schaefer particularly decried Nixon’s refusal to allocate education funding.

“The basis of withholding money on public education, on the concept that we have to spend it somewhere else–on natural disasters, for example–there’s nothing that backs that up,” Schaefer said.

Using legislation allowing him to estimate potential expenditures, Nixon has already spent funds on disaster relief after Missouri endured a torrid summer of severe storms and flooding.

The move was largely condemned by Republicans in both the Missouri House and Senate. State Auditor Tom Schweich released a statement condemning the governor’s spending, calling it unconstitutional.

The sentiment was shared by Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, who said he refused to allow Nixon free reign over relief spending.

“There’s a difference between an immediate responsible approach to this and just foolish spending. And if we’re not careful we’re going to be paying for foolish spending.”

A Nixon spokesman declined to be recorded when asked about the comments.

Nixon called a special session of the Missouri legislature on Aug. 22 but did not include disaster recovery funding in the agenda. He can still add this issue to the special session, however.

Both Schaefer and Nixon’s spokespeople said they think it is unwise to hold public debate on relief funding without knowing exactly how much money will need to be allocated.

After severe flooding in 1993, Missouri legislators ended up spending over $27 million on relief.

Get the radio story [http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/NATDIS.HTM].

Get the newspaper story [ http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/BUDGETDR.HTM ] .

[By: Scott Kanowsky[Email: scottkanowsky@gmail.com]

— House budget chairman berates governor’s staff changes [Entered: 08/23/2011]

Three of Gov. Jay Nixon’s advisers have been shifted from the governor’s office to the Department of Insurance, state Budget Director Linda Luebbering said Wednesday.

The same three staffers are still working to advise the governor on gubernatorial appointments, Luebbering said, but their salary no longer comes from Nixon’s budget.

House Budget Chairman Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, attacked the move.

“They’re primarily advising the governor? But they’re working for the Department of Insurance?” Silvey asked. “I think you need a new definition of appropriate.”

[By: Alysha Love[Email: alysha.s.love@gmail.com, Cell: 417-425-6975)]

— Missouri plans cheaper, safer corrections system [Entered: 08/24/2011]

Missouri’s governor put his stamp of approval Wednesday (Aug. 24) on the efforts of a group of legislators and criminal justice officials to find ways to reduce the revolving door effect in prisons.

Led by Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, and Sen. Jack Goodman, R-Mt. Vernon, the group has been working together since the spring to analyze the current corrections system, sentencing and public offenders. The 13 members are working to create a plan that would decrease recidivism and increase efficiency — all while saving tax dollars.

“It is vital to ensure that we not only continue to keep Missourians safe by holding offenders accountable, but also the taxpayers continue to get a good public safety return on their investment,” Nixon said at a press conference Wednesday.

Currently the Department of Corrections houses more than 30,000 inmates.

Get the print story. [http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/CORRECT.HTM]

Get the radio stories. [http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/JAIL.HTM]

[By: Alysha Love[Email: alysha.s.love@gmail.com, Cell: 417-425-6975)]

— A House Republican calls on Peter Kinder to drop his campaign for governor. [Entered: 08/23/2011]

The call came from Nixa Republican House member Kevin Elmer.

The southwest Missouri legislator said that Kinder’s behavior in which he admitted to attending a club with scantily clad women was not in keeping with Republican values.

“It is the type of behavior that does not speak well for what it is that we stand for,” Elmer said.

“It does not bode well for what it is our party stands for and the integrity of the people that we want to represent our state and community.

Elmer is the second Republican from southwest Missouri to abandon Kinder’s campaign. Earlier a major contributor was reported to have asked for return of his contributions to Kinder.

Elmer said he had talked with other Republicans before announcing his position. He said none sought to discourage him and that he expected other Republicans to join his call for Kinder to step aside.

There was no immediate response from Kinder’s spokespersons.

— Governor calls special session of the Missouri General Assembly [Entered: 08/22/2011]

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon put a job-creation package and reforms to the state’s tax credits on the schedule Aug. 22 for a Sept. 6 special session of the Missouri General Assembly.

“I appreciate the work the general assembly has already done to achieve broad consensus on these priorities, and I look forward to continuing to work with legislators on both sides of the aisle during an efficient, focused and productive session,” Nixon stated in a press release calling the session.

Missing from the agenda is the roughly $150 million that the governor has pulled from the budget and reallocated for disaster relief in areas such as Joplin —  an item Nixon promised in July he would put on the agenda. However, Republican State Auditor Tom Schweich released an audit last week contesting Nixon’s action.

The governor’s office said Aug. 22 that the state is already spending out of that pool of funds. In the statement on the special session, Nixon said the topic wouldn’t be formally addressed because the damage assessments are still in progress.

Other items that made the agenda for the special session include:

-Creating tax incentives for an air cargo hub for China at St. Louis Lambert Airport;

-Giving St. Louis control of its police force;

-Adding tax breaks for business, technology and amateur sports;

-Moving the state’s presidential primary to March.

Get the print story. [http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/SPECIAL.HTM]

Get the radio story.

[http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/STLCNTRL.HTM]

[By: Alysha Love [Email: alysha.s.love@gmail.com, Cell: 417-425-6975)]

—-

Missouri’s auditor sues the governor.

A lawsuit filed today (Aug. 26) by Republican State Auditor Tom Schweich charges Missouri’s Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon with violating the state constitution by withholding appropriations to state agencies, including education, to provide funds for natural disaster relief.

At issue is a constitutional provision giving the governor power to withhold appropriations from state
agencies if revenues fall below the original estimates upon which the budget was based.

Gov. Nixon has based his withholding on the basis of needing the money in order to provide additional money for natural disaster relief involving damages from the Joplin tornado and flooding along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.

On Aug. 19, Schweich had sent the governor a letter questioning Nixon’s constitutional authority to withhold
funds. In the letter, Schweich charged the governor’s budget director failed to provide any data demonstrating there was an actual shortage in revenue collections.

Article IV, Section 27 provides that “The governor may…reduce expenditures of the state or any of its agencies below their appropriations whenever the actual revenues are less than the revenue estimates upon which the appropriations were based.”

Earlier this summer Nixon announced he would include the disaster relief funding in the legislature’s special session that begins Sept. 6.

But in his official call, issued after Schweich’s letter, Nixon dropped the natural disaster issue from his formal call. In a written statement, Nixon was quoted as saying they did not yet have a full estimate of the costs.

Phill Brooks’ column

— Capitol Perspectives – From Phill Brooks [Entered: 08/26/2011]

It will not be an opinion column. Rather, it will seek only to give you a bit of historical context and background on the issues, activities and problems facing our state.

Many of the issues before Missouri government today are, frankly, not new. In fact, I cannot think of a current major issue before Missouri that my news team will be covering for you that does not have decades of history.

Legislative term limits, adopted in 1992, will be a dominating theme for some of these columns because it has had a pervasive and a major impact on Missouri government. And some of those effects were unforeseen by both the critics and supporters of term limits.

The evolving and more intense political climate in government will be another dominant theme. The concept of a “perpetual campaign,” a phrase attributed to political consultant Pat Caddell in 1976 in a memo to president-elect Jimmy Carter, has become a near reality in Missouri government.

Partisan bickering and gamesmanship have become increasing factors in Missouri’s legislature. To a degree, politics always has been an integral component of the Missouri legislative process in ways quite different from a few decades ago.

We’ll take a look at some of the problems facing the state that have not been resolved for decades, and I’ll explore some of the reasons these issues have been so difficult for your government leaders. Missouri’s highway infrastructure clearly is at the top of that list. Other long-term, unresolved problems include a stable revenue base for government operations, education consolidation and school funding.

As I write this, I fear I may be coming across as a grumpy old curmudgeon who thinks everything was better in the old days. Not true. There are some major improvements in Missouri government I’ll write about.

The state has a much more rational budgeting process than when I first started as a reporter. Internet and Missouri’s integration of digital technology provide for Missouri citizens a degree of instant access to government that was unimaginable just a few years ago. Gender equality and respect in this building have undergone a near transformation.

I should close this first column with a description of my own background and qualifications to undertake this effort. I have been covering Missouri state government for a variety of news outlets since 1970, going back to the income tax filibuster of Earl Blackwell. It’s because of that history that some of my colleagues have been urging me to undertake this effort.

When I started, I was lucky to have some true Missouri government lions who took me under their wing to help me understand how government and politics really works. If I am able to provide for you a unique understanding of Missouri government, it partially is a credit to the backgrounding I got as a cub reporter from leaders like Warren Hearnes, George Lehr, Don Manford, Norman Merrill, Pat Patterson, Brice Ratchford, Dick Webster, Clifford Jones and so many others.

Currently, I am the director of the State Government Reporting Program for the Missouri School of Journalism. Although a member of the faculty supervising students covering Missouri’s statehouse, I continue to serve as the statehouse correspondent at KMOX Radio in St. Louis.

Writing a weekly column will be a new undertaking for me. So, your advice, thoughts and suggestions will be helpful — as well as comments you would like me to include. I’ve established a separate email account for our conversations — column@mdn.org.

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