Capitol Report, Feb. 4

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 the material as you wish — break into separate stories, use as is, edit for length.

 

The links are to more in-depth versions of the stories.

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 Jan. 31 [Entered: 02/04/2011]

[ Get the file at http://www.mdn.org/2011/MULTI/02-04-2011.ALYSHA5.MP3 ]

+ Stranded lawmakers play poker in Capitol as blizzard rages [Entered: 02/01/2011]

As Missourians woke up Wednesday (Feb. 2) morning to more than a foot of snow,
many of their elected representatives rose from their state Capitol offices
as high snow fall and drifts blocked them from leaving the statehouse.

Dozens of lawmakers and staff played poker and chatted in offices late
Tuesday (Feb. 1) night, stranded by the blizzard.

Capitol Police said about 120 people slept in the Capitol overnight, many with cars that
couldn’t even make it to rented apartments or hotels elsewhere in Jefferson
City.

“There’s no choice right now. You can’t move,” said Sen. Tim Green,
D-St. Louis County. “My car can’t go anywhere, so I’m sleeping in my office
tonight.”

Green and others planned to sleep on their office couches or on
the floor with thin, gray blankets that emergency crews had dropped off
earlier in the night.

“Typically we can make it out and back to our
apartments or whatever, but this is definitely a first for me,” said Rep.
Ryan Silvey, R-Jackson County and chair of the House Budget Committee. “I
certainly have not seen this many people stuck in the building.”

Silvey was one of several lawmakers playing poker in the House lounge. He joined
other Republicans and Democrats for a game that lasted until after 11 p.m.
Others clustered in small groups. One person played the piano, while doors
remained open and lights on well into the night.

Lawmakers said they were looking forward to Wednesday (Feb. 2), when plows could clear the roads and
lawmakers could drive back to their homes.

“In my 22 years here I’ve never been forced to spend a night in the Capitol, unless there was a
filibuster going on during the legislative process,” said Green, one of the longest-serving members in either chamber. “This is the first time in my 22-year career that I cannot leave the building.”

Get the radio stories with exclusive digital audio [ http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/TRAPPED.HTM] .

+ Missouri’s legislature gives in to the winter storm [Entered: 02/01/2011]

[ Get the image at [ http://www.mdn.org/2011/ART/SNOW1.JPG ]

Missouri’s House and Senate ended chamber action for the week before noon Feb. 1 as blizzard conditions enveloped the Capitol building.

The day before, legislative leaders had decided to continue with the full week
of the legislature’s schedule because many lawmakers already had arrived in town.

That approach was abandoned, however, after heavy snow began to
fall early Tuesday morning followed by increasing winds. The legislative
leadership decision left some members wondering how they would get home.

The executive branch, however, maintained its decision to not officially
close state offices. The Office of Administration Commissioner, Kelvin
Simmons, issued a statement on the agency’s website that urged state
employees to “exercise good judgment as it relates to travel to and from
work.”

The page, however, included a link to an administration policy
that requires an employee to get a supervisor’s approval to not show up for
work and cites loss of vacation time or pay as possible consequences for
not showing up for work.

Despite the penalty, state government parking lots around the Capitol building were nearly empty Tuesday.

See the administration policy [ http://oa.mo.gov/hazweather_policy.php ] .

+
Estimated $5.5 million spent to clear up roadways [Entered: 02/04/2011]

As Missourians shovel out from under this week’s massive snowfall, the state
Transportation Department has a big bill to pay.

MoDOT spent $5.5 million, said a spokesman, Jorma Duran. That estimate includes the more
than 40,000 hours of overtime labor and the 20,000 tons of salt used during
the storm, he said.

“There’s never going to be a time where MoDOT says,’We’ve got to stop our winter operations because of money,'” he said. “We want to make sure that the motorists are safe out there. So, if it costs however much it costs, it’s what it is.”

Duran said the amount of salt used during the historic storm only accounts for 10 percent of the department’s annual salt supply.

The transportation department’s salt supplies are divided among districts across the state. On Monday (Jan. 31), the state’s most populated districts still had at least half of their salt supplies remaining. Crews in St. Louis had begun salting the roads Sunday (Jan. 30) with a mixture of salt and sand to conserve their supply.

+
MoDOT allows heavier loads on state highways to help farmers [Entered:
02/03/2011]

Farmers will be allowed emergency permits to transport heavier-than-usual loads of agricultural supplies in an effort by the Missouri Department of Transportation to keep livestock feed supplies from running low after the blizzard.

The permits legalize loads that are 10 percent heavier than normal, the department said in a news release. They’re free and are set to expire at noon Sunday (Feb. 6).

But they might not be what farmers need, said Albert Kennett, an MU Extension livestock specialist. He said the biggest problem is not that feed supplies are running low, but farmers are struggling to clear paths through the snow to get the supplies they do have to their animals.

“The feeding is just really horrible. Just as difficult as it has been to get our cars out, it
is that difficult to get feed to livestock,” says Kennett.

Sandra Rankin from Rankin Farms said her farm is lucky to have equipment to clear enough
snow to get to the cattle. But it’s hard to get water to their animals
because ponds have frozen over, she said.

“That’s just the best you can do is see that they have feed and water. In this type of weather, it’s an
all-day job and sometimes part of the night,” Rankin said.

The executive vice president of the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, Jeff Windett, said
a herd of cattle can withstand the cold temperatures, but problems are
linked instead to the moisture they will have to endure. Windett said the
presence of moisture requires farmers to provide significantly more feed
for the cattle in their pastures, and the drifts created by the high winds
obstruct the paths farmers need to get to their herds.

+ Missouri’s Senate approves expanding the texting-while-driving ban [Entered:
02/01/2011]

Before the brunt of the blizzard hit Jefferson City on Tuesday
(Feb. 1), Missouri’s Senate gave first-round approval to a measure that
would expand the current ban on texting while driving to adults.

A few years ago, the legislature approved a ban on messaging while driving, but
limited it to drivers ages 21 and younger.

Although the measure won easy voice-vote approval, Rep. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, questioned singling
out a specific activity among the variety of things a driver can do that causes distraction.

“We just have this insatiable desire to think up another law and another way that we’re going to specifically mandate or control the behavior of people,” Nieves said during the Senate debate.

The measure faces one more vote in the Senate before going to the House.

Get the bill, SB 11 [
http://www.mdn.org/cgi-bin/bills/billhttp.exe?FORM=SB&NUM=11 ] .

+ Top Missouri Republicans again request health care stance from attorney general,[Entered: 02/04/2011]

Three top Missouri Republicans upped the ante Thursday (Feb. 4) in asking Attorney General Chris Koster to either declare his support or opposition to the federal health care law.

The Republicans, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer and
House Speaker Steve Tilley, sent the request in a letter to Koster. They
have repeatedly asked the attorney general to join a lawsuit against
federal health care and both houses of the state legislature passed
resolutions in January, also requesting Koster to join 27 other states in a
lawsuit against the federal government.

A U.S. District Court judge in Florida found “every word” of the law unconstitutional on Monday (Jan. 31).

“Our request to you is to render a legal opinion that can guide all of us
in state government,” the letter read. “Is the Act — now declared
unconstitutional — lawful and enforceable in our state, or isn’t it?”

In August, 71 percent of Missourians who voted in the state’s primary election opposed mandatory compliance with health care law.

+ State representative released from hospital after car accident [Entered:
02/04/2011]

The lawmaker who was hospitalized after a weather-related car accident was released from the hospital Thursday (Feb. 3).

Freshman Rep. Wanda Brown, R-Lincoln, was on her way to the Capitol Monday (Jan. 31)
morning when she lost control of her vehicle. She was driving on
ice-covered Missouri 52 in Benton County. Brown was flown to University
Hospital in Columbia with serious injuries to her neck and back.

Brown’s legislative assistant, Dan Kleinsorge, said some bones were broken in her
neck and back, but she has full feeling and is not paralyzed in any way.
Sporting a neck brace, Brown was discharged and headed home to recuperate
Thursday (Feb. 3), he said.

+ Missourian files complaint to ADA about
cigarette smoking in House offices [Entered: 02/04/2011]

Legislators smoking in their Capitol offices has prompted a federal complaint under the
Americans with Disabilities Act. Rossie Judd, Fenton, filed the federal
complaint after the House on Jan. 13 rejected a ban on smoking in private
offices. Judd says due to her health, she is being denied access to the
Capitol.

In a statement to Keith Sappington, the ADA coordinator for the
House, Judd said she has been disabled under the Social Security Act
because of her asthma and chronic bronchitis, and thus qualifies as a
person with a disability under the ADA.

“I allege that the House of Representatives’ smoking policy has a disparate impact on the breathing
disabled,” Judd wrote in her complaint. “I allege that I am being denied
meaningful access to the House of Representatives as a result of its policy
that allows members to smoke in their offices.”

Judd is working with Billy Williams and an anti-smoking advocacy organization called Gasp of
Texas.

Williams, of Texas, has helped Judd ever since she initially filed
a smoking complaint in 2003 against the Chrysler plant in Fenton, where she
worked for eight years.

Williams says federal law requires a prompt response by the government to a disabilities complaint. Williams said if he does not receive a response from Sappington by Feb. 8 about smoking in House offices, he will send the complaint to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The chief clerk of the Missouri House, Adam Crumbliss, said Judd
is not being denied access to the House. He says House staff will
accommodate people with disabilities who provide accommodation information.
According to Crumbliss, Judd did not provide details of her disability
needs prior to filing the ADA complaint.

The proposed change in House rules to ban office smoking was sponsored by Rep. Jeanette Oxford, D-St.
Louis. She said that if her amendment had passed, she hoped the House would
advocate the same policy in the Senate. The House defeated Oxford’s amendment 113-45.

Oxford said she wants everyone to smoke outside, as no visitor should be exposed to secondhand smoke.

Majority Leader Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, said Republicans voted no on the amendment because
there are already smoking rules in place, including a compromise passed on Jan. 13 to ban smoking in a private room behind the House chamber.

“The entire House voted unanimously for the rules that we did pass, including the representative that wanted the entire smoke-free ban,” Jones said.

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

+
Winter weather leads to MU’s longest campus closure [Entered:
02/04/2011]

For the first time in the school’s history, the University of Missouri flagship campus closed its doors for three days due to the weather.

Classes were canceled and campus was closed from 4 p.m. Monday,
Jan. 31, until 4 a.m. Friday, Feb. 4. Only “situationally critical” workers
were on campus during the closing, to continue running the University of
Missouri Health Care facilities, the Student Center and some dining
facilities and to clear the roads and sidewalks.

Though the storm had passed through Columbia by Wednesday (Feb. 2), classes were canceled again
because workers were unable to clear all pathways, doorways to buildings and roads quickly enough for an earlier reopening.

The last time the university canceled classes due to weather was after more than a foot of
snow fell in Columbia in 2006.

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