Capitol Report, March 11, 2011

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+ can’t charge his travel expenses to other agencies, budget chairman says [Entered: 03/07/2011]

Gov. Jay Nixon would no longer be able to charge his travel expenses to other state agencies under new bill language presented to the House Budget Committee Monday [March 7].

Since elected, the governor has billed about $400,000 in air transportation to other departments. The presented language would prohibit this practice for the governor’s office, as well as other statewide elected officials.

House Budget Chair, Rep. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, presented the changes to the committee as part of his budget bills. The bill language appears on every state appropriation bill except for the Department of Public Safety, which provides security for the governor.

“We wanted to give clear legislative intent that the governor is not to be raiding everyone else’s budget for his personal travel,” Silvey said.

Governor spokesman Scott Holste said, “It is very early in the budget process and we don’t have any additional comments at this time.”

Silvey said he understands the need for the governor to travel and has included $500,000 in his office budget for that purpose.

The proposed bill language comes after the governor’s office released information last week regarding his air travel expenses.

Silvey said he does not think the governor’s $400,000 estimate on his travel cost is correct, but that the real cost is around $1.2 million. Silvey said the governor’s report estimated a cost of $400 per hour for flying, but Silvey believes the real cost for the flights is between $1,100 and $1,200 per hour.

The governor’s office provided no additional comment.

Silvey said he noticed shortly after Nixon took office that his office requested a small amount of money for travel.

“I asked the governor’s chief of staff specifically if that was enough money to cover travel, and the only answer I would ever receive is ‘that is all we are requesting,'” Silvey said.

After investigation, Silvey said he discovered the travel was being paid for by other state agencies and not the governor’s office.

“They were doing it around our backs, behind our backs not telling anyone about it,” Silvey said.

Early in the legislative session, House Democratic and Republican leadership said they were going to stop the governor’s practice of billing other agencies for his travel. Last week, the House unanimously passed an amendment requiring the governor to submit details of his travel to the Missouri Accountability Portal.

The budget committee will vote on the changes during budget mark-up next week.

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+ Ameren vies for second nuclear power plant [Entered: 03/09/2011]

Ameren Missouri’s plan for a second nuclear plant in Callaway County drew crowds to the state Capitol on Wednesday [March 9]. Those gathered came to express their opinion on the attempt by the state’s main utility provider to put the cost of building the plant on its ratepayers.

Testifiers gathered outside two Senate hearing rooms an hour before a hearing on the issue even began, causing blockage of a hallway that continued even after Senate doormen allowed some of the crowd to enter the rooms. The crowd was forced to pile onto nearby benches and watch the proceedings on a TV in the hallway.

To build the plant, Ameren must acquire an early site permit from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which would allow the utility company to hire outside researchers to analyze environmental, geological and safety aspects of the proposed building site.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City, said the bill is a compromise between Ameren, supporting energy providers and state lawmakers to ensure the site permit moves forward, all while ratepayers are protected from suffering a major tax increase.

Warner Baxter, CEO of Ameren Missouri, said the ratepayers would be charged an additional $2 for the average resident and 0.2 percent for large industrial users. Baxter called the charge a low cost for building and promoted the potential benefits a site permit and nuclear plant could bring.

“[A site permit] gives us the opportunity to access federal incentives, which can save our customers money,” Baxter said. “Certainly there is no doubt that a nuclear plant could present a great economic development opportunity by creating thousands of clean energy jobs and hundreds, if not more, permanent jobs in the future.”

Opponents to the bill said making consumers pay for the plant’s construction goes with the Construction Work in Progress proposal, which allows utilities to charge ratepayers for the payment of new power plants during construction. Ed Smith, the No-CWIP representative with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, said the proposed legislation should not pass since voters shot down similar legislation two years ago. He also said Ameren needs CWIP to build the second Callaway reactor.

“Without CWIP, Ameren would not be able to finance a second nuclear reactor and Ameren needs CWIP because the free market gave up on nuclear power decades ago,” Smith said. “While construction of a second nuclear reactor is sure to create jobs in Missouri, no state has ever improved its economic well-being by going with the more expensive option.”

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+ Missouri Senate passes bill easing Proposition B restrictions on dog breeders [Entered: 03/10/2011]

The Missouri Senate removed a year’s worth of efforts to restrict Missouri dog breeders by passing a bill that dilutes most Proposition B restrictions.

The bill, passed with a vote of 20-14, removes the measure’s limitation on 50 dogs in breeding facilities and also dissolves requirements for bigger cage sizes.

Missourians voted 52 percent in favor of Proposition B in November general election.

Since then, some lawmakers have argued voters were unaware that the measures passed in Prop. B were harming good breeders and a legitimate industry in the state.

Humane Society spokeswoman Barb Schmitz said this isn’t true.

“The issue was thoroughly debated for a year,” Schmitz said. “Voters knew what they were doing. And if lawmakers are really intent on overturning the will of the people, then I find that extremely disappointing.”

Sen. John Lamping, R-St. Louis County, warned there is a problem with easing the restrictions Missourians voted to pass with Proposition B.

“There’s a risk to legislating this way, by proposition,” he said. “I think I’m quite confident that my district read the bill, did their best to understand the bill and voted their will. I think this is a very dangerous way to legislate.”

Sen. Maria Chappell-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, voted against changing the law, but she acknowledged supporters’ arguments about voter confusion in November.

“Proposition B does not deal with pounds, yet it is messaged to our constituents that Proposition B is saving puppies,” she said.

The bill now will be sent to the House for debate. If it passes, it will be sent to the governor to sign into law.

Get the radio stories. [ ]

+ English-only driver’s tests passed in Missouri House [Entered: 03/10/2011]

English would become the language of Missouri’s drivers and roadways under a bill passed Thursday [March 10] by the state House of Representatives. The House voted to eliminate all languages except English from driver’s license examinations.

The current Missouri driver’s test is offered in 11 languages besides English. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jerry Nolte, R-Galdstone, said limiting the exam to English-only would make Missouri roads safer by requiring the driving test to be administered in the same language that appears on street signs.

“There are substantial number of signs saying things like ‘left lane closed’ or ‘bridge out’ that, especially at highway speeds, people need to be able understand relatively quick for safety,” Nolte said.

However, Nolte said there were no statistical data available on how many road accidents were caused by foreigners because of their incapacity to read English on traffic signs.

In 2010, more than 10,000 out of 167,000 written tests in Missouri were administered in foreign languages; the most common were Spanish and Chinese. Of those given in a foreign language, roughly 3,000 passed.

Critics of the legislation said it discriminates against legal immigrants who have not learned English and against people who use their driver’s license as a form of identification and for voting.

One of the opponents was Rep. Joe Fallert, D-Ste. Genevieve, who said this bill would not succeed in removing nonproficient English speakers from Missouri roads, anyway.

“International driver’s license holders and foreigners who got their licenses in other states were still going to be able to drive here,” Fallert said.

However, 102 representatives in the Missouri House defended English-only exams. Rep. Mark Parkinson, R-St. Charles, said everyone applying for U.S. citizenship is required to prove a sufficient ability to speak English, which he said should be a part of the American transition. Parkinson said he saw no reason why requirements should be lowered when it comes to drivers’ license tests.

“Driving is not a right,” Parkinson said. “It is a privilege.”

After two sessions of discussion, the Missouri House passed the original bill with an added clause, allowing American sign language interpreters were allowed to interpret for applicants.

The illiterate already can have the examiner read the test to them, according to a spokesperson for the Public Information and Education Division of the Missouri Highway Patrol.

Nolte said another motive for writing the bill was a recent discrimination lawsuit filed in 2007 against Oklahoma. When immigrants were denied the option of taking the driving test in Farsi, the predominant language of Iran, they sued the state.

However, Democrats say this is an anti-jobs move that will make Missouri less appealing to workers who have not mastered the English language as well as prevent thousands of legal immigrants from working if they can’t drive to their jobs.

The bill heads to the Senate after passing with a 64 percent majority vote in the House of Representatives.

Get the radio story. [ ]

Get the print story for the bill’s first-round approval. [ ]

+ Hundreds flood the Capitol in support of disability rights [Entered: 03/09/2011]

The public lined the staircases and the upper galleries; in the rotunda, every seat was filled.

Advocates arrived in masses at the Capitol building Wednesday [March 9] for a rally in support of legislation that would expand the rights given to Missouri’s citizens with disabilities.

Among those speaking at the rally were Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and the Speaker of the House, Rep. Steve Tilley, R-Perryville.

They spoke amidst cheers and chants from a crowd calling for the extension of its civil rights, the end to institutionalization and the appropriation of funds for disability services.

About the proposed legislation, Kinder said, “All thumbs up on that.”

One of the major pieces of legislation disability rights advocates are trying to push through this session is a series of bills that will close Missouri’s final six habilitation centers. Supporters say the habilitation centers do not provide adequate care and isolate those with disabilities.

“The problem is, we’re more concerned about programs than we are about people,” said Doug Riggs, appointee to the Missouri Planning Council and father to a son with Down syndrome. “If you want to be concerned about individuals with disabilities, then provide services. And provide them in community settings.”

If the legislation is passed, Missouri would join a list of 12 other states that have already deemed habilitation centers nonessential.

Opposition to the legislation lies with constituents’ fear that the same level of personal attention given to habilitation center patients will not be available to them in a community-based setting.

Kristal Lindstrom, secretary and treasurer of the Nevada Habilitation Center’s parents association and guardian to a former habilitation center patient, said the bills were a “very poor decision.”

“Nobody is addressing the root issue,” Lindstrom said. “The patients wouldn’t be there in the first place if the services existed in the community. If they put them back in the community, many of these people are going to die.”

House Bill 411, one of the bills in the group of legislation that propose to shut down the habilitation centers, was passed by the House Rules Committee Wednesday [March 9]. The bill will be up for debate on the House floor soon.

+ Hospitals could be required to provide emergency contraception [Entered: 03/09/2011]

All Missouri hospitals would be required to provide emergency contraception for victims of sexual assault under a bill heard by the House Committee on Children and Families Wednesday [March 9].

The bill, which has been called the Compassionate Assistance for Rape Emergencies Act, would ensure that 100 percent of Missouri hospitals and health care facilities have the drug in stock at all times. A 2009 study found fewer than 50 percent of the state’s hospitals stock emergency contraception, according to Paige Sweet of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights league.

The patient would not be required to take the emergency contraceptive, but the hospital would be required to inform the woman of its availability.

The Rev. Pat Vollertsen’s daughter, Amanda Vollertsen, was the victim of a sexual assault that resulted in pregnancy. Pat Vollertsen, a constituent from St. Louis, testified in favor of the bill on behalf of her daughter, who has a developmental disability.

“Had we had this offered to us, Amanda would not be afraid of people,” Pat Vollertsen said. “She might even have a boyfriend. She would be a different person now with much less fear in her life.”

The pregnancy threatened Amanda Vollertsen’s life, and because of the moratorium on abortion in Missouri at that time, her family was forced to travel to Kansas for her abortion procedure. Pat Vollertsen described the experience as “the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my whole life.”

The Missouri Catholic Conference was among the organizations that testified against the bill. Tyler McClay, who serves as the conference’s general counsel, spoke at the hearing.

“The directives (of the church) say that it is not morally permissible to initiate or recommend treatments that have as their purpose, or direct effect, the removal, destruction or interference with the implantation of a fertilized ovum,” McClay said.

Emergency contraceptive, commonly known as “the morning after pill,” prevents ovulation and inhibits fertilization. According to a 1999 report by the Princeton Office of Population Research, the pill is known to reduce the risk of pregnancy by 89 percent if taken within the first 72 to 100 hours after unprotected sex.

Get the print article. [ ]

+ Primate regulation isn’t just monkey business for Missouri Senate [Entered: 03/09/2011]

A chimpanzee named Travis mauled a woman and left her face unrecognizable when he escaped his home in Stamford, Conn., and attacked a close friend of his owner in 2009. A year later, another chimpanzee, Sueko, also escaped from his home in Kansas City, Mo., and attacked a police car. Both Travis and Sueko came from Jefferson County, Mo.

The Senate Agriculture Committee debated a bill that would require owners to obtain permits for and neuter their primates incited passionate testimonies from several Missouri primate breeders.

Sen. Joseph Keaveny, D-St. Louis City, sponsored the bill after Eric Miller, veterinarian and senior vice president at the St. Louis Zoo, requested these large and exotic animals be regulated.

“Missouri is one of the few states with no [statewide] regulation of large and exotic animals,” Miller said. “It’s a national standard Missouri is working on catching up to.”

Currently, Missouri regulates these primates on a county-by-county basis. Some counties in Missouri don’t have primate requirements; others require primate owners to register their pets with the county sheriff.

If the bill passes, the Missouri Department of Agriculture would issue the statewide permits to primate owners; however, they have not yet taken a position for or against the bill.

More than 25 people attended a March 3 committee hearing to speak against the bill. Miller, the only proponent who spoke in favor of the bill, testified on behalf of the St. Louis Zoo.

Suzanne Windsor, a U.S. Department of Agriculture-licensed exhibitor of primates, opposed the bill. Her main concern was the bill’s requirement to spay and neuter — both of which are high-risk surgeries for a primate, whose reproductive system resembles a human’s. She said it would result in the gradual phase-out of Missouri primate breeding.

“For people that are USDA-licensed to breed and sell, it causes unnecessary surgeries on primates that could cause their deaths,” Windsor said. “If you have a 22-year-old primate that’s never been spayed, there’s a good chance she could never come off that table [alive].”

The bill would exempt zoos, nonprofit organizations, animal control and law enforcement, circuses, educational institutions and exhibits, animal sanctuaries and veterinarians. A violation of the act would result in a class A misdemeanor charge unless the personal intentionally releases a non-human primate, which would result in a class D felony.

Currently, 15 states have a permit system for owning primates and 20 states have outlawed some, if not all, primate ownership. States that don’t have regulations include Missouri border states Kansas and Nebraska.

Get the print story. [ ]

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