Capitol Report, Sept. 16, 2011

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+ Senate passes modified version of China hub bill (Entered: 09/14/2011)

Missouri senators passed and sent to the House of Representatives a scaled-down version of the tax plan proposed by the governor for the legislature’s special session.

On Tuesday (Sept. 13), Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, dropped $300 million in tax breaks to developers for building the infrastructure, including warehouses, to attract a Chinese airline to base an air cargo hub in the St. Louis area.

Mayer acknowledged he did not have the votes to pass the plan that the governor and legislative leaders had agreed upon.

“I don’t think that we could have gotten votes to pass the ‘Aerotropolis’ provision as we had it written out,” Mayer said.

Mayer’s decision to scale down the bill came after a closed-door Republican caucus late Monday (Sept. 12) night in which only a few members indicated they definitely would support the original proposal, members who attended the caucus said.

The caucus was held shortly after a briefing earlier that night for senators by a private company hired by the administration to study the financial impact of the plan. The results encompassed multiple scenarios, most of which only predicted a small positive return 10 years after the initial investment.

Several members expressed dissatisfaction with the predicted outcomes.

“Understanding that every dollar that we invest in this or any other economic incentive is a dollar that we’re not going to put in education or we’re not going to put in roads or we’re not going to put in bigger issues,” said Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville. “We need to understand what those returns and opportunity costs are.”

Mayer’s revised plan, approved Wednesday (Sept. 14) by the Senate, would retain $60 million in tax breaks to companies that help facilitate shipments for international export. Mayer and the House speaker said there might be a possibility for the warehouse tax breaks to be implemented through another provision in the bill for economic development, called “Compete Missouri.”

During Senate debate, members deleted another key provision of the proposal that would have terminated tax credits for lower income elderly and disabled people who rent their homes.

“We ought to treat poor people who aren’t lucky enough to own their homes the same as those who are,” said Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph.

Elimination of the “circuit breaker” for renters was one of a number of reductions and eliminations of tax credits that currently cost the state more than $500 million per year. Schaaf’s amendment, approved by the Senate 17-16, cut the projected savings in the bill by nearly half.

A day later, Wednesday (Sept. 14), the Senate gave formal approval to the revised tax package 26-8.

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, voted against the bill, saying it still fails to protect small businesses.

“I’m concerned about those small businesses in the first senatorial district that have never come to the state and asked for one red cent of tax credit money,” Lembke said.

Senators who voted in favor of the bill said it would promote local business and foster economic growth. However, it ran into immediate criticism from the House speaker, who announced House action would be delayed until the middle of next week.

“When you’re talking about a bill that’s this big, I think it would be dangerous just to rush it, just for time’s sake,” said House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville. “So we’re going to take our time. I want an in-depth analysis of what it does and what was changed from the deal.”

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+ health care implementation plans for Missouri delayed (Entered: 09/15/2011)

Plans to begin implementing the federal health care law in Missouri were halted after a group of state senators disrupted a state agency meeting on Thursday (Sept. 15).

Legislators at the meeting of the Senate Interim Committee on Health Insurance Exchanges were told that that the Missouri Health Insurance Pool was meeting that day to award contracts to private groups to begin putting federal health care requirements in place. The two meetings would lead to conflicting outcomes in Missouri’s health care policy under the federal law.

“What are we doing here? The Constitution is out the window, the republic has dissolved, and we’re going to have dictatorship by fiat,” said Sen. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville. After the committee meeting, three senators rushed over to the agency’s board meeting to protest their planned action. After hearing the senators’ objections and holding a closed-door meeting with the Health Insurance Pool’s president, the board postponed action on the proposed contracts.

The Health Insurance Pool provides health insurance coverage for persons unable to get regular insurance. At issue is a $21 million federal grant the agency received to begin planning for development of the exchanges, one of the key provisions in the new federal health care law. A spokesperson for the Insurance Department said much of the money would be used to develop a computer system for the exchange.

Under federal law, Missouri must construct its own exchange plan by 2014 or the federal government will impose a plan on the state. The governor can implement a health insurance exchange plan for the state at any time.

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(By: Alex Goldman(Email:, Cell: 847-650-7097))

+ Lawmakers leave the governor’s vetoes unchallenged. (Entered: 09/14/2011)

Not a single motion was made in either the House or the Senate to override any of the governor’s vetoes.

Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed 14 non-budget bills in July. His veto of congressional redistricting was overridden during the regular session.

The state Constitution provides that the legislature is to meet in mid-September to be able to consider vetoes made by the governor after spring adjournment of the regular session.

The Senate majority leader had said they did not intend to make any motions unless there were enough votes to actually override.

+ Senate committee urged to pass amended disaster relief bill (Entered: 09/13/2011)

The Senate Ways and Means Committee was urged to pass a disaster relief bill Tuesday (Sept. 13) that was amended to include aid for new businesses in disaster areas.

The original bill gave tax breaks to businesses completely destroyed by natural disasters. Now, changes made to expand the bill include creating incentives for new commercial development in the disaster zone.

“It’s a fairness issue: When you’re hurt you get taken care of, and when you’re healthy you do your obligations,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin.

These changes were added to encourage development in the areas hit by the May tornado but sparked debate among some who said they felt these changes could lead to unintended consequences, such as less money for schools from less tax revenue.

If the bill passes, the tax base would be much smaller, which would not only impact schools but the entire city of Joplin. City infrastructure that was destroyed in the tornado could risk not getting repaired if there is no money in the city’s fund.

Gov. Jay Nixon already awarded Joplin school districts $150 million to avoid increasing taxes for local businesses and residents, but there could still be some gaps in the budget.

New developments would continue paying taxes, but city collections for those taxes would be frozen at the 2011 base rate. All other revenue from the taxes would be put in a separate fund to support the rebuilding efforts. Under the tax-increment financing, approved developing districts would receive assistance from the city fund.

The original bill only included tax breaks for businesses that were wiped out after the May 22 tornado.

+ death, likely from brain-eating amoeba, spurs no response from Missouri health officials (Entered: 09/12/2011)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the presence of a freshwater, brain-eating amoeba in a specimen from a Kansas resident who is now dead.

The Sedgwick County Health Department in Kansas is investigating and said Winfield City Lake is likely the source of the amoeba. Primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, a disease caused by the amoeba, is the probable cause of death, the department said.

Miranda Myrick of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said there is no plan to close the lake or test for the amoeba.

“The testing is expensive and it takes a very long time to get results … and you know cases like this are very rare,” Myrick said.

Officials from the Missouri Department of Health did not return repeated phone calls, though the death took place less than 200 miles from Missouri borders.

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(By: Mariel Seidman-Gati(Email:, Cell: 781-820-9971))

+ Modernizing 911 access in Missouri up for debate in statehouse (Entered: 09/13/2011)

As Missouri 911 centers struggle with funding, lawmakers and leaders from surrounding states examined 911 call center improvements on Tuesday (Sept. 13).

As more residents disconnect their landlines and replace them with cellphones, 911 call center funding, which is financed by a landline charge, takes a huge hit.

Every state but Missouri charges a wireless 911 user fee, according to the Save911 website.

Funding for call center improvements in Missouri would come from a sales tax. However, Missouri Republican Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, said voters have shut down this proposal twice.

According to the Missouri Advisory Committee Strategic Plan, Missouri does not have a 911 state program. Instead, each county jurisdiction is responsible for the establishment of its own 911 center, public-safety answering points and the funding for these systems.

The fact wireless system funding doesn’t exist in Missouri state legislation baffled the executive director of the Tennessee Emergency Communications Board, Lynn Questell. Tennessee has collected funding from a 911 service charge since 1998 and adopted a wireless 911 system in 2005. The state charges users a $12 service fee every year to their cellphone bills.

“911 has become something that people expect,” she said. “Tennessee is a national leader in 911.”

Improvements in 911 communication also could aid hearing loss victims.

“(A new 911 system) will help the deaf immensely, especially wireless capabilities,” said James Marks of the Deaf Empowerment Awareness Foundation Inc. General Counsel.

Questell added that wireless emergency communication can open the door to texting 911 in the future.

Keith Faddis of Kansas 911 Mid-America Regional Council discussed the possibility of a 911 texting system in his state, but he said it is ultimately left in
wireless providers’ hands whether to administer the service.

Lawmakers will submit a 911 call center improvement report by Dec. 31.

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(By: Jessi Turnure(Email:, Cell: 314-780-1078))

+ Missouri Senate approves a fix to the Facebook law (Entered: 09/12/2011)

Missouri senators unanimously voted yes to pass the “Facebook law” fix on Monday (Sept. 12), entirely cutting out the state’s role in determining school district’s online communication policies.

Under the new bill, school districts must have their own policy regarding communication between employees and students in place by March 1, 2012.

Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Jackson County, said her only concern was trying to regulate technology because it changes so quickly.

“I had a couple of teachers over the weekend ask me a question about, ‘OK, so they fix this on Monday or during special session, can I have a Facebook page?’ and the answer, I think, is I don’t know,” Justus said.

Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County, who sponsored the bill, said it’s up to the school boards to decide whether a teacher can have a Facebook page.

The bill now moves on to the House of Representatives.

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(By: Andrew Weil(Email:, Cell: 612-859-7000))

(Photo of Phill Brooks available on request)

+ Phill Brook’s column, Capitol Perspectives:

Governors and special sessions (Entered: 09/16/2011)

The difficulty that Gov. Jay Nixon has encountered to get legislative approval of his China hub and tax-credit reduction proposal stands out when you look at the history of special sessions.

Only twice in the past half-century has a special session rejected the main issue for which a governor called the session.

In 1981, the Senate called it quits and gave up on congressional redistricting. In 2003, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives refused to even take up Gov. Bob Holden’s tax increase package.

There are several factors that make a special session a powerful tool for the governor to force lawmakers to take up a priority issue.

During a regular session, it’s a lot easier for the governor’s ideas to get lost in the huge pile of other issues before lawmakers. In a typical session, there are more than 1,000 bills filed.

In a special session, however, the governor’s proposal stands out, because only his issues can be introduced as bills. Over the years, I’ve heard legislative leaders express concern that the higher visibility for the governor’s proposals means the public’s perception of legislative “success” or “failure” is determined by the governor getting what he wants.

A desire to get it done and go back home plays a significant role. During a regular session, lawmakers are stuck living in Jefferson City from January until mid-May, regardless of what gets passed or not. But in a special session, they can go home as soon as they complete their work.

That was a clear factor when the legislature passed the elderly prescription drug coverage bill in 2001. On the morning of Sept. 11, the legislative disputes over that bill seemed so less important. There was a collective desire by lawmakers to get back home to their families. Within days of the attacks, the legislature finished its work and went home. It was one of the more emotional times I’ve seen in the statehouse, when the desire to be back with family was enormous.

Despite the advantages a special session offers a governor, there are some drawbacks. If the legislature is controlled by the opposite party of the governor, a special session provides a platform for launching investigations into the administration.

Another drawback involves what Gov. Mel Carnhanan described to me as the seductive trap of a special session, although even he was forced into calling a couple. The trap is that legislators and the administration can end up feeling less pressure to pass something in the regular session if they think the governor will simply call a special session.

We’ve seen a bit of that the past couple of years when legislative leaders heard, or at least believed they heard, that the governor would call a special session on an issue still pending in the closing hours. It took a bit of the steam out of the issue.

On the other hand, one of my colleagues points to a few years ago when the governor’s threat to call a special session sparked legislators into getting a bill on illegal foreigners passed so as to avoid being forced back into Jefferson City during the summer or fall.

Intertwined in this issue is what I sense is a declining interest among legislators in spending their summer or fall in Jefferson City. Prior to term limits, you had a much larger number of lawmakers who saw their legislative service as a near full-time job with interim committee work going on throughout the year. Some actually enjoyed being in session. They enjoyed being with their legislative friends and lobbyists.

Lawyers in the legislature, at least a few, gained too because of a law that gives a lawyer-legislator representing a client the legal right to postpone a civil or criminal court hearing whenever the legislature is in session.

Sen. Dick Webster used that right to delay the criminal case hearing of the “Town Bully” of Skidmore, Ken McElroy. That delay ultimately led to residents gunning down McElroy in 1981. It’s a murder that remains unsolved to this day.

As always, let me know (at if you have any comments. If you would like your comments, or a portion of them, included in a future column, let me know and be sure to include your full name in your email.

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