Capitol Report, Feb. 18, 2011

In Legislative News, Missouri Press News On
- Updated

MPANewsBook: Statehouse News for MPA Members

Go to http://www.mdn.org/mpanews for the latest version.

Audio report from Alysha Love for the week of Feb. 14 [Entered: 02/11/2011]

[ Get the file at http://www.mdn.org/2011/MULTI/02-18-2011.ALYSHA7.MP3 ]

State agencies paid nearly half a million dollars for governor’s expenses [Entered: 02/18/2011]

Missouri state agencies paid nearly $400,000 dollars to finance airplane flights for Gov. Jay Nixon during his first two years as governor.

Data provided by the Office of Administration on Friday [Feb. 18] documents that Gov. Nixon was flying on taxpayer financed airplane trips an average of one out of every three days in 2009 and 2010.

The data is contained in a spreadsheet requested by House committees working on the administration’s budget for the next fiscal year.

Although the legislature provides the governor with funds to cover his office expenses, the information provided to legislators lists more than 250 flights in which other agencies were billed for trips by Nixon, his wife, top staff aides and his personal security.

Agencies funding the governor’s airplane travel expenses, according to the administration document, include the departments of Health, Labor, Economic Development, Natural Resources, Insurance and Public Safety.

The purpose for several of the trips is listed as “press conference” or just “meeting.”

The last time that the governor’s own office budget is identified as paying for one of Nixon’s flights was a trip on Jan. 31, 2009.

The governor’s communications director, Christy Bertelson, said she did not have specific information as to why Nixon was not financing his personal trips from his own office budget.  She said the office could not fully comment on the administration document until Wednesday.

In the House, both Republicans and leaders of Nixon’s own party have endorsed a budget plan that would prohibit the governor from using funds from other departments to cover his personal travel expenses in the future.

+ proponents call “Right to Work” passes Senate committee [Entered: 02/15/2011]

A Senate committee approved legislation to prohibit forcing workers to pay union service fees, which supporters call “right to work.”

The Senate General Laws Committee passed the bill on a party-line vote, with six Republicans voting for it and two Democrats against. One of the two “no” votes came from Sen. Robin Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis.

“Union workers have been the backbone of this country to build it — in the modern industrial age and they also have been the middle class. And all of that is under siege,” said Jones, a member of the Communications Workers of America Union. “We don’t need anything to change or make it difficult for us to represent the worker.”

Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, supported the bill. She and others say the legislation would make Missouri more attractive to businesses looking to relocate, and that would bring down the state’s 9.5 percent unemployment rate. Missouri is in the worst one-third of U.S. states in joblessness.

“If we have ‘right to work,’ (businesses) look further, if we don’t have right to work, they don’t even look at us anymore,” Cunningham said. “That was very deciding for me.”

Supporters of “right to work” say the state’s current law puts Missouri at a disadvantage with neighboring states including Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee that prohibit union service fee requirements.

Opponents, however, argue that without the service fee requirements, non-union workers enjoy the benefits of contracts negotiated by organized labor without helping pay the cost.

“I think we need ‘right to work,'” said Sen. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown. “It is something that if you look at other states where it is, the industries look to move to those states.”

With Tennessee being the exception, all of Missouri’s other bordering states with “right to work” measures have higher employment rates. Tennessee added jobs in 2010, whereas Missouri lost jobs, according to information from the Census Bureau cited by the Senate’s “right to work” bill sponsor, Sen. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville.

“Every one of those ‘right to work’ states picked up population and has a lower unemployment rate than the non right to work states,” Ridgeway said. “We have got to turn this situation around for the approximately 10 percent of Missourians who want to work but can’t find jobs.”

Ridgeway cited that 50 percent of manufacturing jobs that seek site locations and expansion specifically request locations in “right to work” states. She said more employment opportunities will come to Missouri if it enacts the measure.

Get the radio stories from the Senate General Laws Committee here. [ http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/UNION.HTM ]

Get the print story about “right to work” here. [ http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/PROBIZ.HTM ]

+ Senate approves legislation to require photo ID for voters [Entered: 02/15/2011]

Missourians would be required to present a state-issued photo ID to vote under a bill passed by the House Elections Committee and Senate this week.

In 2006, the Missouri Supreme Court declared a similar law requiring photo IDs to vote unconstitutional. This time, Republicans in both the House and Senate are proposing putting an amendment about photo identification in the state constitution.

The House Elections Committee approved the bill 7-3 along party lines after hearing nearly two hours of testimony from opponents on Tuesday (Feb. 15).

The Senate approved and sent to the House legislation to implement a photo ID.  The underlying constitutional amendment was given first-round approval by the Senate, but awaits a formal vote to send it to the House.  To take effect, a constitutional amendment requires statewide voter approval.

Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton, who sponsored the proposal in the Senate, said that photo IDs are already a standard in society.

“It just brings about integrity of our voting,” Stouffer said. “We’re not trying to suppress any votes; we’re not trying to create any problems.”

Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, agreed with Stouffer, saying it is not unreasonable to ask Missourians to have a photo ID, which he said will help prevent voter fraud.

“The idea that someone might be able to manipulate the system, either through identification or otherwise, is a reason that causes people not to want to participate,” Cox said.

Denise Lieberman, an attorney for the voter rights advocacy group Advancement Project, said the bill would create unnecessary obstacles for Missouri voters and prevent some eligible voters from casting a ballot.

“Missouri already requires voters to show ID,” Lieberman said. “Missouri already has one of the stricter voter ID laws in the country. What we are talking about is actually limiting the acceptable forms of ID to a very specific, state-issued ID.”

Sen. Robin Wright-Jones, D-St. Louis City, also opposes the legislation although she said she anticipates the bill will pass.

“There’s no point in us putting this burden back on our citizens,” said Wright-Jones. “We wound up in court before, and we have not resolved that.”

Get the radio stories from the Senate. [ http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/VOTER-ID.HTM ]

Get the radio stories from the House Elections Committee. [ http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/VOTERID.HTM ]

Get the Senate roll call [ http://www.mdn.org/2011/FORMS/VOTEVIEW.HTM?ne_year=2011&ne_vote=987 ] .

+ House committee votes to stop administering driving tests in foreign languages [Entered: 02/15/2011]

Foreign-language driver’s license tests would cease under a measure approved by the House Transportation Committee Tuesday.

Currently in Missouri, a driving license applicant can choose from among 11 different languages besides English.

In 2010, more than 10,000 people used the option of taking the Missouri driver’s test in languages other than English, according to the state Highway Patrol. An applicant must pay the cost of an interpreter, if one is used. The two most frequently chosen alternatives were Spanish, with 4,457 tests taken, and Chinese, with 2,724 tests.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jerry Nolte, R-Gladstone, said the bill would “acclimate the people more quickly in our society.”

Nolte pointed to similar legislation in Oklahoma, which dropped foreign language test options after a federal discrimination lawsuit was filed because the state did not offer tests in Farsi.

“The lawsuit in Oklahoma has pushed us into a position where it is either everyone or no one,” Nolte said.

“At some point we are looking at the 322 languages spoken in the U.S., so there’s got to be some point where we draw the line,” Nolte said. “The lawsuit in Oklahoma has pushed us into a position where it’s either everyone or no one, unfortunately so.”

Nolte said his proposal would also bring more safety to the roads. “At the highway speeds, people need to understand what the signs written in English say, really quickly,” Nolte said, expressing his concern that drivers who have not mastered a sufficient command of English could be a potential threat to others on the road.

At the bill’s committee hearing, opponents argued the bill would not help applicants learn English and, instead, restrict them from access to basic services.

Vanessa Crawford, executive director of the Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates, argued English-only tests would make integration into society even more difficult, as it would “prevent many of them from getting jobs or simply driving their children to school or to the doctor.”

Pat Dougherty, lobbying for the Catholic Charities Archdiocese of St. Louis, supported Crawford’s opinion and added that the bill is a “solution in search of a problem.” Dougherty said the current law has been functioning very well and has not given any reason to make significant changes.

Missouri Highway Patrol spokesperson Capt. Tim Hull said the patrol was not aware of any existing data in regard to the number of accidents caused by foreigners unable to speak English.

“We have been giving these tests in foreign languages from about 1960s,” Hull said.

As to the driver’s license testing, he said he believed the road signs “are pretty universal” in all countries, so allowing people to take the test in foreign languages should not cause any problems.

Nolte said his bill was partly prompted by federal government investigation of the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety over alleged violation of the civil rights of two Iranian immigrants who had been denied the possibility to take the driver’s license test in Farsi, the dominant language of Iran.

Aware of what happened in Oklahoma, Nolte said, “We must protect the state from the possibility of the lawsuits.”

Legislative staff estimate the state would save about $52,000 from elimination of both the paper-based and computerized tests in other languages.

+ House committee approves unlimited dogs in licensed breeding facilities [Entered: 02/15/2011]

The House Agriculture Policy Committee passed a bill Tuesday (Feb. 15) lifting the Proposition B restriction on the number of dogs breeders can have.

November of last year, Missourians passed Prop. B with 52 percent of the vote.

The bill would repeal the 50-dog restriction and lets breeders have an unlimited number of dogs at their facility.

Under the bill, dogs would not have to be examined by a licensed veterinarian unless they have an injury or illness.

Barb Schmitz with Missourians for the Protection of Dogs said the bill essentially guts Prop. B.

“It goes through and systematically undercuts every single important measure that would protect dogs, and it actually removes the protections from Proposition B and puts us back under the standards under pre-Proposition B law,” Schmitz said.

Bill sponsor Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, said voters in his district voted against passing Prop. B in the first place.

“There’s a really good argument that you should not take away from, certainly, people who do a good job of breeding animals, raising puppies,” Cox said. “You should not take away their livelihood.”

A substitute to House Bill 131 was passed with six minor amendments, including specifications about licensed breeders. The new substitute will be sent to the House Rules Committee, which will vote whether to pass it onto the House floor.

Schmitz said she wants representatives to honor the voters’ wishes and not amend Prop. B so soon.

“For folks who are saying there’s some sort of mysterious problem with it, I think it’s way too early for us to know that,” Schmitz said. “Let’s let it take effect. If there’s some sort of problem, then it’ll become apparent, and it can be fixed then.”

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

+ Legislators work to close loophole in Internet tax policy [Entered: 02/16/2011]

As state lawmakers look for areas to deal with an expected budget shortfall, a couple of legislators are pushing legislation that would go after taxes that are not being collected from Internet sales.

The proposal would have Missouri join 24 other states, such as Kansas and Iowa, in a compact to assure the state collects taxes from Internet sales with merchants in other states.

Under the agreement, if a Missourian buys from an in-state online company, the revenue collected from the sales tax will go to the point of origin, or the local area in which the company is located. If a purchaser buys a product from an out-of-state Internet business, then the sales tax revenue collected goes to the point of delivery, or where the purchaser is located.

Rep. Margo McNeil, D-St. Louis County, called the streamlined sales tax a way to end the advantage that online retailers have over traditional brick-and-mortar businesses.

“The tax is a step in trying to even the playing field because right now we have a lot of people who are going in and using the stores as a showroom and then going home and buying on the Internet,” McNeil said.

The proposal to join the multi-state compact has been floating around Missouri’s legislature for the past few years. Last year, the measure cleared both House and Senate committees, but it did not get a full chamber vote. Both this year and last, no organization spoke in opposition to the idea to the House committee.

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

+ St. Louis gains control of its police department [Entered: 02/17/2011]

Missouri’s House voted overwhelmingly Thursday (Feb. 17) to return control to St. Louis City over it’s police department, after 150 years of control by a state-appointed board.

St. Louis and Kansas City are the only cities in Missouri with state control over their police departments.

Though the police force is divided on the issue, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City, said officers should not argue against her legislation, although at least 150 of them have come to the Capitol to do just that.

“I have said time and time again that if the police unions spent as much time fighting crime as it does fighting my bill, the City of St. Louis wouldn’t be the most dangerous city in the United States,” Nasheed said.

Nasheed’s bill was supported by House Speaker Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, and Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, however, has said he has reservations about losing state control over the police.

The lieutenant governor attended the bill’s discussion and vote.

“I’ve been vitally interested in the local control issue as a supporter of repealing the Civil War-era restriction on local control,” Kinder said.

A similar bill failed last year in the House, but Kinder said he believes Tilley’s support helped this bill pass.

The bill will be heard again in the House, then be sent to the Senate.

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

+ State auditor announces a new strategy for auditing state programs [Entered: 02/16/2011]

Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich outlined the new guidelines for auditing state programs Wednesday (Feb. 16).

The new guidelines are meant to quicken the pace of an audit and the recommendations made to a program.

The first guideline will allow an audit to start immediately and freeze a program’s documents. It will also allow power of subpoena to ensure the program and its staff cannot skirt litigation.

The second guideline allows the office to repeatedly check up on recommendations made to the program. The guideline will also assert a date by which the program must comply with the recommendations made.

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

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