Capitol Report, Sept. 23, 2011

In Legislative News, Missouri Press News On
- Updated

This is the weekly Capitol Report from the State Government Reporting Program of the Missouri School of Journalism. You may use as much of it as you wish without further permission.

NOTE: Program director Phill Brooks’ column, Capitol Perspectives, is attached to the bottom of the Capitol Report. They are TWO DIFFERENT items.

Capitol Report — a news report
Capitol Perspectives — analysis column

Phill Brooks, who writes the Perspectives column, should not be given byline credit for writing the Capitol Report, which is done by his students.

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— Missouri’s special session effectively closes without passing the major issue of the session (Entered: 09/23/2011)

The Missouri General Assembly effectively ended its work for the special session on Friday (Sept. 23) but left the door open to continue if the two chambers manage to compromise on the China cargo hub/tax break bill that has divided them.

The legislature adjourned and agreed to set technical sessions, which few members are required to attend, to simply keep the session going in case they strike a deal, but leaders have said chances that will happen are slim. The special session effectively ended without the legislature passing many of the major issues presented to lawmakers by the governor.

In the morning, the House passed and sent the governor two measures — a fix to the restriction on school staff using social media to communicate with students and a bill providing tax breaks to businesses involved with science, health and technology.

The House did not take up the main issues of the session — the package of business tax breaks for a China air cargo transport hub in St. Louis and cuts in existing tax credits.

Indications that Republican leaders were considering giving up arose when House Republicans ended a two-hour closed-door caucus Thursday (Sept. 21) night with no decision announced on whether to continue efforts to pass the bill or quit.

In the end, leaders decided to adjourn until next week, holding out what the House speaker acknowledged was a slim chance the Senate would agree to a compromise.

On Thursday (Sept. 22), the House Economic Development Committee twice postponed a vote on the tax-break bill, with the committee chair saying more time was needed to work out a compromise. Eventually, the committee adjourned without taking any action.

The day before, on Wednesday (Sept. 20), the top leader of the Missouri Senate emerged from a Republican caucus saying a majority of his members favored simply ending the special session without passing the governor’s tax bill.

Earlier in the day, Republican leaders in the House announced what they termed a compromise plan for providing tax breaks for the China air cargo hub. However, Republican Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer told the Senate he had not been given a copy of the plan nor had he been involved in any discussions.

Mayer said the House version is not acceptable to the Senate because, among other things, it does not make deep enough cuts in special interest tax credits that cost the state more than $500 million per year in lost tax revenue.

The key provision of the tax measure would award tax breaks for development of the air cargo transport hub in St. Louis. The plan, proposed by Gov. Jay Nixon, also includes tax breaks for digital data centers, amateur sports contest organizers and business development.

The stumbling block has been Senate insistence that the bill include deep cuts in various tax credits to lower-income residents, developers and businesses and for selected activities that altogether cost the state more than $500 million per year.

On Monday (Sept. 12), the House Economic Development Committee heard impassioned testimony from Francis Slay, the mayor of St. Louis.

Slay said if the bill is not passed, China will lose interest in trade with Missouri and turn to other cities it’s already looking at, such as Cincinnati, some of which are also preparing incentives. The deal could open trade from St. Louis to other areas such as Brazil, South America and Africa. China wants to use the Midwest to open trade with other countries, Slay said.

The first Chinese flight will be landing at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport this weekend, with flights once a week to test if exports can match flight activity, Slay said.

“If some reasonable form of this does not pass, then my prediction is that we will lose the opportunity and they will go someplace else,” Slay said.

The committee also heard from opponents such as Bob Wood from Glasgow, who said he spent the past 20 years using a St. Louis warehouse to store Chinese goods and argued that the state shouldn’t give tax credits to developers for the same thing.

“There’s a lot of money going to people who maybe don’t need that help,” Wood said.

Another witness, Ron Calzone, compared the government handing out tax credits as mercantilism similar to the colonial Tea Act of 1778. Calzone and others asserted that tax credits were unconstitutional and did not treat people as equals. Several witnesses who identified themselves as members of the Tea Party wanted government to step aside, using models such as John Locke’s Wealth of Nations.

“Unfortunately, the world has changed, and it seems like working hard and doing the right thing isn’t enough,” said Rep. Michael Brown, D-Kansas City. Brown engaged in heated conversations with multiple witnesses, saying the free market approach would not work in “undesirable” areas like his district.

“Where I come from, if you have a chain and there’s a weak link in the chain, the smartest thing to do is support the weak link so that the overall chain is strengthened,” Brown said. “And I think that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Get the text story on the House hearing on the bill (http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/HUBVOTE.HTM ) .

–Fix to ‘Facebook bill’ in governor’s hands (Entered: 09/23/2011)

Missouri’s House of Representatives approved and sent the governor on Friday (Sept. 23) a measure to assure that school districts can allow their staffs and teachers to communicate with students through social media such as Facebook.

The bill amends a law passed in the regular session of the legislature earlier this year that critics charged banned social media communication, violating First Amendment rights to free speech.

“When we make errors, we need to fix them, and that’s what we’re doing here today,” said the House bill handler, Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia.

The current restriction was signed into law by Gov. Jay Nixon in July, but a Cole County judge blocked the law from taking effect at the end of August due to concerns about free speech violations.

The revision approved by the legislature requires that individual school districts adopt their own policies for using social media.

The legislative measure exceeds the governor’s special session call that limited lawmakers to simply repealing the provision. The state constitution restricts special sessions from going beyond the specific recommendations of the governor. The governor’s office repeatedly has said Nixon did not plan to expand his call on the issue.

The Facebook fix is one of only two bills passed by the special session that began Sept. 6.

The legislature Friday (Sept. 23) also passed a measure providing tax breaks to businesses in science, health and technology, but whether legislative approval will have any effect is unclear. The bill contains a provision that for it to take effect, the legislature also must pass the China tax breaks bill that has stalled between the House and Senate.

— Kansas City school district to lose accreditation in 2012 (Entered: 09/20/2011)

The Missouri State Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday (Sept. 20) to pull the Kansas City school district’s accreditation. For Missouri, this means unaccredited schools in the state’s two largest cities.

This is not the first time the Kansas City school district has been unaccredited. The school district also lost accreditation in 1999, which took affect in 2000. Then in 2006, the school district was improved to a provisionally accredited status.

The Missouri School Improvement Program, also known as MSIP, recommended this downgrade to the board after the school district failed to meet state progress and assessment standards.

The loss of accreditation puts Kansas City schools on a two-year probation where the district will work closely with the state board of education.

According to Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro, this is the best action for students and children of the school district. Nicastro said she hopes that it will in fact galvanize some definitive action on the part of the district, the community and the department.

Out of the 18 school districts reviewed at the hearing, Kansas City was the only district to lose its accreditation. The school district will officially become unaccredited Jan. 1, 2012.

(By: Jenner Smith, Email: JJSR4C@mail.missouri.edu, Cell: 913-220-5700))

— Lieutenant governor criticized for special interests by state audit (Entered: 09/21/2011)

In an audit released Wednesday (Sept. 21), the Missouri auditor’s office berated Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder for trying to fund a nonprofit with money from a state agency he headed.

In 2009, Kinder served as chairman of the state’s Tourism Commission. He voted to send $2.5 million in taxpayer money to Tour of Missouri, a nonprofit group that organized professional bicycle races in Missouri. Kinder was chairman of that company at the time.

Deputy State Auditor Harry Otto said this created a possible conflict of interest.

“In wearing the hat of one board, you vote to send dollars over to the other organization — that is a potential conflict,” Otto said. “It should have been disclosed, and a recusal should have occurred.”

In a press release, Kinder’s office called this an “accidental failure” and said Kinder had no financial interest in Tour of Missouri.

Kinder has been regarded as a possible Republican candidate for governor next year, but he hasn’t announced whether he will run against incumbent Gov. Jay Nixon.

Get the radio story ( http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/TOURAUD.HTM ) .

(By: Elizabeth Hagedorn (Email: echrp7@mail.missouri.edu, Cell: 314-913-0639))

— Consolidation of Missouri State Highway and Water patrols will cost taxpayers more money (Entered: 09/21/2011)

Merging the Missouri State Highway and Water patrols was supposed to save money, but it’s now costing the state nearly $1.8 million.

After the merger, many Water Patrol workers switched to the Highway Patrol due to its better retirement policy, which is driving up the cost of the move, a state audit released Wednesday (Sept. 21) found.

Deputy State Auditor Harry Otto said the state and agencies should have been more careful in calculating the costs of this decision.

“We say they should provide complete and accurate information concerning the fiscal impact, and they should give that complete information to the various entities that are doing the research as to whether this is a good move or not,” Otto said.

The consolidation of the two agencies did provide more manpower for responding to the Joplin tornado, but he’s not sure the benefits outweigh the costs, he said.

“They couldn’t have done that had they been two separate organizations, but combining themselves into one organization they were more easily able to react,” Otto said. “But we don’t know how to put a dollar value on that.”

Get the radio story ( http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/WATPAT.HTM ) .

(By: Rebecca Woolf(Email: rmwr43@mail.missouri.edu, Cell: 317-828-5131))

— University of Missouri building new campus in China (Entered: 09/22/2011)

The University of Missouri is going to the Sichuan Province in China, thanks to a combined effort from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and Missouri University of Science and Technology, Rolla, the schools announced Wednesday (Sept. 21).

Although the Chinese Ministry of Education hasn’t given its final approval yet, construction on the new campus has already begun.

UMSL Chancellor Thomas George said the project is a good cultural exchange between China and the U.S.

“It will also be a recruitment device that we can get some excellent Chinese students coming to our universities,” George said.

American students can study at the new campus for one semester, and Chinese students can choose to transfer to the University of Missouri system after studying at the new campus for two years.

Andrew Careaga, director of communications at Missouri S&T, said the two campuses will work together with Tian Fu College in China to contribute to creating curriculum and hiring teachers.

“We are providing Chinese students the opportunity to attain the same quality of education based on our model,” Careaga said.

The new campus will be an English-language university. The project is waiting for final approval from the Chinese Ministry of Education later this fall.

Get the radio story here (http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/CAMPUS2.HTM)

(By: Mengti Xu(Email: mx3hb@mail.missouri.edu, Cell: 573-289-8229))

— Missouri kindergarten student brings mother’s crack pipe to show-and-tell (Entered: 09/20/2011)

A western Missouri kindergarten pupil drew national attention by bringing his mother’s crack pipe and drugs to school for a class assignment.

The Sweet Springs Elementary school faculty found a crack pipe and an estimated $3,000-worth of methamphetamine in the boy’s backpack before he was to present it to the class on Sept. 6.

Faculty the informed the Sweet Springs Police Department about the situation.

“I’ve been doing this for all my career, and I have never had a show-and-tell, not like this,” Chief of Police Richard Downing said. “You don’t expect something like this from a kindergartener.”

The boy’s mother, Michelle Cheatum, was charged with child endangerment and possession of a controlled substance in Saline County Circuit Court on Sept. 12.

The local police department will continue to conduct canine inspections throughout the kindergarten-to-high school building every two years.

Superintendent Donna Wright said the school is solely concerned with the safety of the child.

“This is a situation where you have a child who, in my opinion, had no idea what he had,” Wright said.

Wright said nothing remotely like this has ever happened at Sweet Springs Elementary School in her nine years there.

“This was totally new to us,” Wright said. “This is giving a lot of people the wrong perception of Sweet Springs, Mo. This is something that doesn’t happen here at school and hopefully will never happen again.”

Cheatum is scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 28.

Get the text story ( http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/CPIPE.HTM ) .

(By: Jessi Turnure(Email: jatmb7@mail.missouri.edu, Cell: 314-780-1078)

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— Capitol Perspectives: Omnibus bills (Entered: 09/23/2011)
By Phill Brooks

Our Missouri General Assembly has discovered both the advantages and liabilities of what is called an “omnibus” bill.

An omnibus bill is one in which a bunch of supposedly related issues are tossed into a single, monstrous package.

That definition clearly fits the China cargo hub/tax credit bill that, at various times, exceeded some 250 pages of single-spaced sections dealing with all sorts of tax giveaways.

Rolling everything into a giant omnibus bill is a tempting approach for legislators and special interests. By adding largely unrelated items sought by various legislators, it’s possible to build majority support for an item in the bill that might not be able to clear the legislature if it had to stand on its own.

That’s clearly the case with the special session tax bill. Its combination of a large package involving various business tax breaks along with reductions in tax credits for lower income residents, developers, adoptions and other functions.

Although there had been strong support in the state House of Representatives for the China hub, there also has been strong House resistance, particularly from the leadership, to scaling back other tax credits.

The state Senate, on the other hand, has shown far less interest in the China hub, but it is eager to scale back tax credits that are costing Missouri more than $500 million per year.

It was the Senate’s Ways and Means Committee chair, Chuck Purgason, who came up with the idea last spring to roll those two issues into a large, single package.

Not all omnibus bills start out that way. Sometimes, a short and simple bill moving through the legislature will be seen by legislators as a convenient vehicle for their own ideas. The bill can become what some lobbyists call a “Christmas tree,” loaded with different colored ornaments.

Last session, for a example, a simple bill dealing with veterinarians’ power to administer drugs became a bloated, legislative behemoth chocked full of provisions dealing with the Housing Commission, medical licensing, student medical testing, hospital licensing, electronic prescriptions and insurance.

There are some drawbacks to taking the omnibus bill approach. As we saw with the special session’s tax bill, sometimes the various elements can build a coalition of opposition as well as support.

More significant is that so many unrelated amendments can get thrown into a bill in such a short time that there’s no real chance for lawmakers or their staffs to read through the entire bill before voting.

That’s what happened a few years ago when the legislature removed government regulation of midwifery. It got slipped into a huge omnibus licensing bill that few, if any, senators actually read before voting on the provision that had been buried among pages upon pages of unrelated and relatively minor items.

An even more serious example of the dangers of omnibus bills arose in 1985 when the legislature passed and the governor signed into law a bill repealing the law making rape a crime. It was a drafting mistake that got accidentally stuck into an omnibus anti-crime bill that nobody caught until it was too late.

To the relief of the legislature and governor, Missouri’s Supreme Court came to their rescue and threw out the entire bill.

Beyond the opportunity for mistakes, omnibus bills run the danger of violating a state Supreme Court decision termed Hammerschmidt.

In 1994, the court threw out an omnibus bill, holding it violated a provision of the state constitution going back to the mid-1800s that requires a bill be limited to just one subject. A related decision prohibits the legislature from expanding a bill beyond its original topic description, called the title.

Long-time lobbyists say that with legislative term limits, few lawmakers today understand that restriction or that major accomplishments of the legislature are in danger of getting tossed out by the courts when piles of unrelated issues get lumped into omnibus bills.

For me, there is a reporting frustration with an omnibus bill. Beyond the difficulty of staying on top of all the elements being added, changed or removed, there also is the difficulty in describing the measure.

For this special session with the tax bill, is it a St. Louis-area China cargo hub bill? Or is it a bill taking tax credits away from low-income elderly home renters? Or is it a tax break for amateur sports organizers? Or is it lowering the limit on tax credits for historic building preservation?

If you think that’s a difficult question for reporters, think about a legislator who must cast and then defend a single vote on such a diverse collection of topics.

As always, let me know (at column@mdn.org) 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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