Capitol Report, Feb. 25, 2011

In Legislative News, Missouri Press News On
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This is the weekly Capitol Report from the State Government Reporting Program of the Missouri School of Journalism. Use the material as you wish; no further permission is necessary.

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+ Audio report from Alysha Love for the week of Feb. 21 [Entered: 02//2011]

[ Get the file at ]

+ House unanimously votes for travel transparency from Gov. Nixon [Entered: 02/23/2011]

Without opposition from even Gov. Jay Nixon’s own party members, the House approved a measure Wednesday [Feb. 23] that would require the governor to post details of his travel, including costs, passengers and purposes on the Missouri Accountability Portal website.

The amendment was approved after administration documents released last week revealed the governor had billed other agencies $380,000 for his airplane travel expenses since he became governor.

The bill was tacked onto a bill that would require public schools to report how school districts and counties are spending their budgets on the accountability website. The site is accessible to all taxpayers and gives them information about where tax money is spent.

The measure was given first-round approval by the House 155-0 and cleared the House and was sent to the Senate on a technical vote of 154-0.

The amendment’s sponsor is the chair of the House Budget Committee, Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City.

Silvey told his House colleagues it had taken months for him to get the information he had requested about the governor’s travel.

“I asked verbally over the interim through the Budget Transparency Committee, which I chaired for this information and did not receive it,” Silvey said. “I asked formally in a written statement for this information and it took about a month.”

The information Silvey got late last week listed 260 flights by Gov. Jay Nixon for 2009 and 2010. Except for his first seven flights in January 2009, all of the costs are shown to have been covered by a variety of different government agencies. Agencies were billed for flights even when there was no employee for the agency traveling with the governor.

Not a single Democrat rose to defend the governor’s travel practices during a brief House discussion on the disclosure amendment.

Democratic Floor Leader Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County, said more transparency in government is a good thing.

“As far as being able to see where money is coming and going, regardless of who’s doing it or what it is, it’s something that if you’re going to have an accountability portal you should include statewide travel budgets for all the statewide elected officials,” Talboy said.

A spokesperson for the governor offered a brief comment on the House action.

“If this bill reaches the governor’s desk, with this particular amendment as part of it, it will get a full and fair review from the governor,” said the governor’s spokesperson, Scott Holste.  “That’s really the extent of comments that we would have on this particular subject today.

Get the print story here. [ ]

Get the list of the governor’s flights. [ ]

Get the House roll call. [ ]

+ Senate committee considers tying state minimum wage to federal standard [Entered: 02/22/2011]

A proposed change to current minimum wage legislation could affect thousands of Missouri workers.

The Missouri Senate bill calls for voters in the 2012 election to decide whether to bind the state minimum wage to the federally mandated wage. The Senate Small Business, Insurance and Industry Committee heard the bill Tuesday [Feb. 22].

Committee Chairman Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County, said he sees the change as benefiting Missouri’s business community.

“If we start to exceed the national minimum wage, then all of a sudden we become even more uncompetitive compared to neighboring states,” Rupp said. “(The bill) is something to look at, especially in an era of low employment.”

While the federal and state wage are both currently set at $7.25, critics worry inflation could eat up the amount that workers would receive in the future.

The current law was enacted in 2006, after voters supported an increase in the state’s minimum wage levels. Lara Granich, director of the Missouri Jobs with Justice Coalition, helped push for passage of the 2006 increase. She said the amount of support the proposal received around the state proves that lawmakers should keep their hands off the status quo.

“76.4 percent of Missourians voted for the increase in minimum wage,” Granich said. “Actually, even more powerfully, it passed in every single county by 16 points or more.”

However, Rupp said the current economic downturn makes it imperative to try to attract employers to the state.

“We can kick it back to the people and say is this something that you wanted to do to try to spur economic growth in our small businesses, which hire most of the employees here in the state,” Rupp said.

Sponsor of the bill, Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, could not be reached for comment.

Get the print story here. [ ]

Get the radio stories here. [ ]

+ Charter schools could expand across the state [Entered: 02/23/2011]

Traditional public schools would face more competition under a bill presented to the House Education Committee Wednesday [Feb. 23].

Rep. Tishaura Jones, D-St. Louis City, sponsored the bill, which would allow school districts outside of Kansas City and St. Louis City to create charter schools.

Charter schools, which are publicly funded, are governed by an independent school board and are currently sponsored by a Missouri public university. They are held to the same performance and attendance standards as other public schools around the state.

“The bill would give superintendents another tool in their toolbox,” Jones said.

Many parents from St. Louis City came out for the hearing wearing yellow scarves in support of school choice and the expansion of charter schools.

“This is a choice issue; families should have a choice for their children,” said Pamela McLucas, a parent whose children have attended charter schools.

Byron Clemens, a spokesman of American Federation of Teachers Missouri, said charter schools are not working well enough to justify expansion.

“The vision is simply not happening at charter schools right now,” Clemens said.

Rep. Sara Lampe, D-Springfield, said the bill could allow business firms and organizations to turn a profit on education.

“We need to follow the money,” Lampe said.

Lampe said she supports alternative school choices but not the charter school expansion bill.

Get the print story here. [ ]

+ Prosecuting attorneys recommend abolishing a sentencing advisory group. [Entered: 02/25/2011]

The Missouri Prosecuting Attorneys Association urged a House committee to abolish a commission that proposes alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders.

The organization’s secretary, Platte County’s prosecuting attorney Eric Zahnd, charged the organization had made sentencing recommendations “with virtually no scientific foundation and only one apparent goal in mind, and that is to decrease the prison population without regard to public safety.”

The testimony before the House Judiciary Committee came just a few weeks after Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice William Ray Price warned lawmakers about the rising cost of putting nonviolent offenders in prison.

It was the second year in a row that the legislature’s “State of the Judiciary” address by the chief justice had focused on prison alternatives for non-violent, first-time offenders.

Get the newspaper story [ ] .

Get the radio stories [ ] .

Get the bill, HB 257 [ ] .

+ Lawmakers hear from a crying inmate about smoking in prison. [Entered: 02/24/2011]

A former state prison inmate broke down when he urged the House Corrections Committee to ban smoking in state prisons and prison grounds.

Gorden Bell, who described himself as asthmatic and a former prison inmate, said he had seen fellow prisoners assault each other over cigarettes.

Nobody spoke in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on the measure.

Get the radio stories [ ] .

Get the bill, HB 445 [ ]

+ committee approves 7% decrease for higher education [Entered: 02/22/2011]

The House Education Appropriations Committee approved a 7 percent cut in appropriations for higher education.

This is no change from what the governor proposed in his budget, and no one proposed an amendment for increasing or decreasing funding for higher education.

“From what I’m hearing at the senate, I think that 7 percent is probably pretty solid,” said Committee Chairman Mike Lair, R-Chillicothe. “It’s something that colleges have told us they can live with and it’s something we are going to be able to fund.”

Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia, said she is not so happy with the decrease in funding.

“I am very, very disappointed that we are in this situation in this state because I firmly believe there are things we can do to increase revenue,” she said.

Still said she thinks the University of Missouri will most likely have to raise tuition to deal with the decrease in funding.

The bills were approved, and the next step is to go to the budget committee.

+ begin to redraw Congressional districts [Entered: 02/25/2011]

Missouri lawmakers received detailed data from the U.S. Census Bureau Thursday [Feb. 24] on the breakdown of the state’s population that will be used to eliminate one of the state’s nine congressional districts.

On the eve of getting the official figures, legislative leaders announced a set of hearings across the state to let Missourians voice their thoughts about redistricting.

“As you start going around the map on the state, every district is going to change and it’s going to change significantly,” said Rep. John Diehl, R-St. Louis County.

Diehl said each of the eight new Congressional districts will ideally contain a population of 748,615. Currently, only two of nine districts have populations of more than 700,000 people.

With a solid GOP majority in the legislature and Democrats holding just three of the state’s current nine congressional seats, several House Democrats have acknowledged the district of Democrat Russ Carnahan in eastern Missouri is the most likely to be merged into other districts.

Diehl and Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Charles County, the respective chairs of the House and Senate redistricting committees, said Monday [Feb. 21] that the state must implement changes to the current districts before the 2012 elections.

They said they would be working together in joint sessions to streamline the process of drawing the new districts. Diehl said they planned to collaborate to address what he called a “time crunch.”

“To an extent, we can coordinate resources … but I think it’s important for each body to begin on its own because we need to get a [district] map done by early May,” Diehl said.

The chairs said they plan to visit cities across the state to get feedback on their redistricting plan.

“We’re just going to take it on the road and listen to as many people,” Rupp said.

Even though Republicans are in charge of the redistricting process, Minority Floor Leader Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County, said he trusted the leadership to do what needed to be done.

“There is always a concern when you lose a congressional seat, but you hope that there are no shenanigans during the process and you need to take the representative at his word,” Talboy said. “It is no fun to lose a congressional seat because the state loses representation at the same time.”

The design of congressional districts is handled like any other law — passed by the legislature and signed by the governor.  If the Democratic governor rejects the legislature’s plan, lawmakers can override his veto with a two-thirds vote.  If the legislature fails to draw new district boundaries or cannot override a governor’s veto, the job falls to the courts.

Get the print story here. [ ]

Get the radio stories here. [ ]

+ Dog breeders converge at Capitol to save their industry just months after voters restrict them [Entered: 02/24/2011]

Just months after Missourians voted to limit the number of dogs in breeding facilities, lawmakers already are attempting to change that restriction. Many breeders have converged at the Capitol to argue for more lax regulations to save their businesses.

Hubert Lavy owns a large dog breeding facility in Silex, in Lincoln County. He sells many puppies but also donates some to organizations as companion dogs for people with special needs. He said under Prop. B legislation, he no longer will be able to sustain his business.

“Please don’t let these people take this away from me,” said Lavy. “It’s all I have. It’s all I want to do.”

Lavy said Proposition B, which restricts breeders to owning only 50 breeding dogs, is flawed because its authors do not have knowledge of the breeding process. He said cage size dimensions specified under Prop. B are too big for puppies to survive in.

“If you have this area for the mother when she has her puppies, the puppies will walk away and go into the corner and chill, and you will lose the puppies because it’s too big,” Lavy said. “You need a smaller area no bigger than a four by four (feet).”

Columbia Second Chance founder Betsy Casteel said her no-kill shelter has had difficulties rehabilitating dogs from bad breeders.

She said the current legislation might not be perfect but said it’s better than nothing.

“It is probably flawed, so people who are critical may have some weight, but to me it is flawed in that there is no funding to go with it,” Casteel said. “If we had sufficient funding for the inspectors we already have, there probably would be no reason to have Proposition B.”

Both Senate Bill 113 & 95 and House Bill 131 would take away the 50-dog limit for breeding facilities and repeal other restrictions if passed.

Get the radio stories here. [ ]

+ State auditor proposes plan he estimates will save millions of dollars [Entered: 02/23/2011]

State Auditor Tom Schweich, backed by Republicans in the House and Senate, has proposed legislation for his office to do a “comparative analysis” of the costliest five to 10 agencies to streamline procedures among them, he said Wednesday [Feb. 23].

Schweich said he hopes that the information gathered by the analysis will help make the agencies more efficient and ultimately save the state money.

“We think it’s really going to introduce a new ability for the legislature to evaluate agencies and budgets in the future,” Schweich said. “Instead of having to do a ‘meat cleaver’ approach because of a lack of insight into how these agencies operate, we will have some real data to determine where the savings can be made on a more precise basis.”

To pay for the analysis, Schweich is requesting $300,000, which he said would be recouped once the standardized procedures are in place. Schweich said he does not know exactly how much revenue could be saved by this proposal but believes it would be a significant amount, perhaps in the millions.

House Democratic Floor Leader Mike Talboy, D-Jackson County, questioned the auditor’s motives in proposing the legislation. He said he does not see why Schweich needs the proposal or the money to do a job that his office should already have the ability to do.

“I realize that [Schweich] is new to the job, but I don’t understand why he can’t do a comparative audit now,” Talboy said. “I understand he may be upset about his budget being cut but if it’s a matter of money then I think we should be having that conversation instead.”

Get the print story. [ ]

Get the radio stories. [ ]

+ MoDOT spends $7.7 million on snowstorm clean-up [Entered: 02/22/2011]

The state Transportation Department has spent $7.7 million to clean up after Missouri’s worst snowstorm in a decade.

More than 2,500 workers logged 90,000 hours in the aftermath of the storm, MoDOT said in a statement. The department used 30,000 tons of salt, but has said it has plenty of salt supplies to last the rest of the winter.

The Feb. 1-2 storm dumped 18 inches of snow on Jefferson City and trapped more than 100 lawmakers in the state Capitol overnight. Gov. Jay Nixon had called a state of emergency for all of Missouri.

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