Capitol Report, Sept. 30, 2011

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–It’s back – the China hub is to return to the legislature [Entered: 09/29/2011]

Less than a week after legislative leaders adjourned without action on the China hub, the Missouri House of Representatives’ leaders announced plans to renew debate on the measure. The proposal packages reductions in various tax credits with other business tax cuts to develop a China air cargo hub in St. Louis.

Under the new plan, the House Economic Development Committee will take up the bill Wednesday [Oct. 5] followed by a House GOP caucus later that day. Full House action is scheduled for Thursday [Oct. 6].

Previously, the committee chair had adjourned the committee without considering the bill after canceling sessions scheduled to talk about the bill.

The House GOP leader, Rep. Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County, expressed confidence that supporters have the votes to pass a plan in the House.

But the bill’s fate in the Senate is uncertain. The revised House plan does not have sunsets–or plans to phase out–on major tax credits such as historic preservation that the Senate has demanded.

The new House schedule came on the same day the Columbia Daily Tribune reported that the China hub will include the same Chinese investment tool as was used for a Chinese project in Moberly. That project failed to meet bond payments and led to a downgrade in the city’s bond rating.

The firm, Mamtek, had offered Chinese investors long-term U.S. visas and ultimately residency permits. The visas were offered under a federal program that provides foreign investors and their families visas in exchange for investments of up to $500,000 or $1 million. The amount depends on the business location, and the money must remain invested in the firm for five years.

As part of the Mamtek project, Moberly issued $39 million in development bonds. Mamtek was supposed to produce an artificial sweetener at a plant financed by the bonds. The company, however, failed to meet the first bond payment, and the facility’s building is now closed.

On Thursday [Sept. 29], the Tribune quoted a St. Louis county official as saying the same visa offer for investments would be used to attract investors in the China hub.

The Tribune article quoted Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, as questioning the arrangement.

“… You have to be very careful to not use Missouri taxpayer money to subsidize a Chinese investment, make them more wealthy and get American citizenship without doing much for already-unemployed workers in the St. Louis area,” Schaefer said. “What we are finding, there are so many moving parts to this thing that have not been vetted.”

Legislative leaders say failure of the Mamtek project, which had been praised by the Nixon administration, has created problems for the China hub proposal in the legislature.

The Senate Governmental Accountability Committee has scheduled a hearing on the Mamtek matter for Wednesday [Oct. 5].

— Missouri Senate launches an investigation into the administration’s China deal [Entered: 09/26/2011]

The Missouri Senate Governmental Accountability Committee has been approved to investigate the China-based company Mamtek’s failed economic development project in Moberly.

The committee will examine the process used to determine which programs the government chooses as investments for the taxpayer’s money, said Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, the committee’s chairman.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, was appointed to the committee after he requested to be involved in investigating the possibility that state officials misled local leaders when they presented the deal to city leaders. Schaefer’s district includes Moberly.

“Each day more and more information is unfolding when it comes to how this deal started and how it failed,” Schaefer said in a press release. “It is extremely important for everyone across our state to learn what happened here so we may prevent other communities from falling victim to similar scenarios.”

The company has been under a magnifying glass recently. Legislative leaders said Mamtek’s failure was one of the reasons the General Assembly has prevented the bill to create a trade hub with China in St. Louis from moving forward during the special session.

Last year, Gov. Jay Nixon touted the benefits of the deal between Moberly and Mamtek, which was finalized in 73 days rather than the usual six months. Questions have been raised regarding Nixon’s support of the Mamtek project, accusing the governor of announcing the project before doing the necessary research.

“We’ve got to find out: Why the fast track? What shortcuts did we take?” Lembke said. “And did that have any effect on not being able to find out everything we needed to know about this deal and why it was a bad deal for the citizens of Moberly and the taxpayers of Missouri?”

Get the text story [http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/MAMTEK2.HTM].

Get the radio story. [http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/MAMTEK1.HTM]

— Moberly gives Mamtek CEO another chance after defaulting on bonds [Entered: debt 09/27/2011]

After China-based manufacturer Mamtek defaulted on its first payment on $39 million in bonds, Moberly is doing business once more with Mamtek CEO Bruce Cole.

Cole now heads Delaware-based American Surcralose Manufacturing Inc. On Sept. 23 he signed a deal with Moberly to take over Mamtek’s failed economic development project. American Sucralose Manufacturing Inc. was formed on Sept. 19 in Delaware.

Moberly City Manager Andy Morris said he is aware that Cole is involved in the new company but is still confident about the project.

“I think we have hit a speed bump — a major speed bump — and I think that we can set this back on the straight and narrow,” Morris said.

Get the radio story. [http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/MTEKMO.HTM]

[By: Matt Evans[Email: mletg2@mail.missouri.edu, Cell: 660-525-1313)]

— Missouri’s Republican Party will ignore the presidential primary [Entered: 09/29/2011]

Missouri’s Republican Party has voted to use the caucus system for picking delegates to the 2012 Republican National Convention, abandoning the presidential primary.

The action comes after the legislature’s special session stalled on a bill to move the primary date from February to March.

Both the national Republican and Democratic parties have warned that only half of Missouri’s delegates would be seated if the state did not establish a later date for the primary.

A bill to change the date cleared the House but stalled in the Senate. A similar measure was passed by the legislature in the regular session, but it was vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon because of other provisions, including one that would strip him of the power to make an appointment to fill a vacancy in a statewide elected office.

Under the caucus system, delegates to the national convention are picked at congressional district party meetings and the state party convention. Missouri’s first presidential primary was held in 1988 as a one-time occurrence to boost the campaign of U.S. Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-St. Louis, who was running for president. Ten years later, the primary process became a regular event every four years.

On Monday [Sept. 26], Senate Majority Leader Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, expressed skepticism the national parties will really take seats away from Missouri delegates if Missouri does not change the primary date.

“Four years ago, a threat was made to penalize the state and take away delegates,” Dempsey said. “We did not follow through four years ago. Other states didn’t as well, and I know there are a number of states that are keeping their primary dates the same as well.”

House Elections Committee Chairman Tony Dugger, R-Hartville, said if Missouri does not pass the bill, there will be two major consequences.

“One, that we stand the chance of losing half of our delegates to be seated at the national convention,” Dugger said. “And if that happens, then two, I don’t see very many presidential candidates paying attention to Missouri.”

Get the radio story [http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/PRESPRI.HTM].

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

— Letter reveals Nixon endorsed federal health care plan for Missouri [Entered: 09/27/2011]

Gov. Jay Nixon offered an official endorsement for a health care grant to implement President Barack Obama’s federal health care plan in Missouri, which lawmakers argue circumvents the legislative process.

A letter Nixon sent in June endorsed the grant Missouri requested for $21 million to begin implementing a federal health care exchange.

Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, said on Tuesday [Sept. 27] that Nixon is ignoring the legislative process and voters’ rights.

“The governor has sought out this money, he wants to see us establishing the exchange, and he’s ignoring the will of 71 percent of the voters in Missouri,” Lembke said, referring to the primary election in August 2010 when voters propped up a ballot measure to “deny the government authority to penalize citizens for refusing to purchase private health insurance or infringe upon the right to offer or accept direct payment for lawful health care services.”

Lembke said he knew Nixon wanted to implement the federal health care plan in the state, but he was unaware of the endorsement for funding to kick off the process.

“We shouldn’t circumvent the legislative process through executive order or rule to get there,” Lembke said.

The governor’s office declined comment.

Get the radio story. [http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/LEMREACT.HTM]

[By: Stacey Kafka[Email: smkcm8@mail.missouri.edu, Cell: 630-329-5886)]

— Listeria reported in Missouri [Entered: 09/29/2011]

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports there are three confirmed cases of listeria in Missouri linked to cantaloupe from Colorado.

All three people have been hospitalized, according to a Thursday [Sept. 29] statement issued by Missouri’s Health Department.

One of the three people has died. The cause of death for the 94-year-old person was listeria, according to local medical officials cited by the health department.

The department reported that the suspected cantaloupe was shipped between July 29 and Sept. 10 and features a green-and-white sticker that reads “Product of USA – Frontera Produce – Sweet Rocky Ford.”

Nationwide, the outbreak has caused more than a dozen deaths in 18 states, according to The Associated Press.

— A St. Louis firefighter with three kids in private schools asks state lawmakers to find an alternative. [Entered: 09/28/2011]

A St. Louis firefighter told lawmakers in his appeal to the Missouri General Assembly’s Joint Committee on School Accreditation on Wednesday [Sept. 28] that he can’t get his kids into good public schools.

St. Louis firefighters’ families are locked into an unaccredited school district. They are required to live within the city limits of St. Louis as long as they are employed by the fire department. Their options are to enroll their children in the city’s unaccredited district or pay tuition for private parochial schools.

Andrew Hesse has been a firefighter in St. Louis for 12-1/2 years. He said he pays $20,000 in tuition a year for all three of his children to go to private school.

“What I am asking the committee to do is to please enforce the law as it is written so my kids can have a good school to go to without paying in excess of $10,000 a year to accomplish that,” said Hesse. “If that’s not doable, at least provide them another solution to access high quality high schools.”

Hesse said he’s spoken to many potential St. Louis firefighters who won’t apply to work in St. Louis because of the problems with the school system.

The law Hesse refers to requires accredited school districts to accept students from unaccredited schools, sending the bill to their old district, according to the Missouri Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Turner v. School District of Clayton. However, the case is now back in the St. Louis County Circuit Court, so districts aren’t accepting new students, leaving them in the unaccredited St. Louis schools. Kansas City schools soon will be unaccredited also.

“I’d ask that you think of the plight of these students and parents that are kind of trapped by their zip code into these unaccredited or so-called failing schools,” said Joe Knodell from the Missouri Education Reform Council, “and hopefully a solution can be found for that.”

The state’s charter school association suggested that expanding charter schools could be the solution to the urban education crisis at the first meeting of the Joint Interim Committee on School Accreditation.

Get the text story. [http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/SCHOOLS.HTM]

[By: Stephanie Ebbs[Email: ebbs.stephanie@gmail.com, Cell: 618-525-4700)]

— Missouri Transportation Department uses a cheap, effective bug to control weeds [Entered: 09/29/2011]

Two types of weevils introduced into Missouri are working to take down out-of-control weeds, the Missouri Department of Transportation said Thursday [Sept. 29].

An aggressive and noxious weed called knapweed is spreading rapidly beyond the roadside onto private lawns and pastures. The weed produces an herbicide within its root system that kills nearby plants.

The transportation department’s roadside manager, Chris Shulse, said knapweed reduces the available wildlife habitat and reduces the available forage for cattle.

The department introduced two types of weevils to solve the problems. The females of one of the weevils can reduce the amount of seeds the weed produces, and a root-boring weevil can kill the weed.

Shulse said using weevils is cheaper than using herbicide because the weevils reproduce, so the department doesn’t have to keep buying them every year.

Shulse also said the weevils can spread and reach the areas where it is hard to treat with herbicide. When the weevil populations increase enough to suppress the spread of the weed, it will bring the knapweed under control onto manageable level so the department can use other methods, such as herbicide, to control the knapweed as well.

The weevils were first released in Missouri in 2008, and it will take a few years for their populations to increase to make a difference, but Shulse said the bugs are playing an important role in controlling the weed.

Get the radio story [http://www.mdn.org/2011/STORIES/WEEVILS.HTM]

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

— Missouri’s public universities accepting unaccredited high school graduates – for now [Entered: 09/27/2011]

Some of Missouri’s public universities are waiving the admission requirement that students must graduate from an accredited high school — but it’s only temporary, Missouri’s public higher education director said.

Kansas City School District 33 lost accreditation from the Missouri Board of Elementary and Secondary Education last week. This put Kansas City in the same boat as two unaccredited St. Louis school districts.

Brian Long, director of the Council on Public Higher Education in Missouri, said state universities have decided to waive the requirement in hopes that the high schools will work to improve their status with the board of education. In the meantime, admissions offices will evaluate students individually.

“As long as these high schools continue to work with our state department of elementary and secondary education and regain accreditation, the graduates from those high schools should not be negatively impacted,” Long said.

Long said this won’t be a long-term change, and if the school districts don’t turn around eventually, it will become a college admissions problem for students.

“When those schools are no longer working with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, in that case, students from those schools would face a real dilemma. Happily, we have not arrived at that date,” Long said.

However, Missouri State University’s website states, “You will qualify for admission to Missouri State if you are (or will be) a graduate of an accredited high school.” The University of Missouri’s policy is not as strict but still limits graduates. “Graduates of high schools which are not accredited by recognized regional accrediting associations or approved by recognized state agencies are required to have a minimum ACT enhanced composite of 24.”

Governor spokesman Scott Holste said although three school districts in Missouri’s two largest cities have lost accreditation, an increasing number of their graduates are heading into higher education.

[By: Ashley Massow[Email: armgy5@mail.missouri.edu, Cell: 847-858-1906)]

—-
By Phill Brooks

— Capitol Perspectives: Term limits and civility [Entered: 09/30/2011]

One of the more poignant moments of this fall’s legislative special session came when a senator, Jason Crowell, hurled a curse word at the Senate’s president pro tem, Rob Mayer — h**l.

It was a rare loss of civility in a chamber that prides itself on decorum. At least one member cited it as an example of the effects of legislative term limits.

There is a lot to be said about that argument.

Before term limits, legislators looked at their colleagues almost like members of a family. Many of the senators I’ve covered over the decades saw the Senate as the pinnacle of their political careers, which they did not intend to abandon until infirmities, defeat or death drove them out.

Think of those long-term Senate lions who stayed in chamber for decades — Norman Merrell, Dick Webster, John Russell and Clifford Jones.

A former Senate Democratic leader, Basey Vanlandingham, once told me he had no interest in running for governor because governors come and go while senators always will be there. He was not entirely joking.

Because of the extended time many members expected to spend in the Senate, they saw their colleagues as people with whom they would have nearly lifelong relationships. They truly respected one another and enjoyed their company to a degree I do not sense today. There’s not the kind of socializing or the spirit of what’s almost a family gathering when the legislature is in session.

In particular, members treated their leadership with public respect. There was an understanding that the Senate’s president pro tem represented the collective “family” of the Senate in dealings with the House, the governor and other outsiders.

Conversely, Senate leaders did not take their members for granted. Leadership slots rotated. Before term limits, the Senate president pro tem knew that in a few years he’d step down to return as just a regular member. That led to a quite different mindset, I suspect, than if a top Senate leader sees the position as the culmination of Senate service.

And because members stayed around for so long, there was a long-term collective memory for bad or offensive behavior. Treating your colleagues poorly could have years of consequences.

It would, however, be a mistake to completely glorify the old days.

Supporters of term limits argued that these long-term veterans developed an arrogance of office. There is something to be said about that.

Some members would use their office for personal vendettas. Former State Auditor George Lehr once told me that the House Appropriations Committee chair at the time, Jay Russell, had threatened to cut Lehr’s budget by $1 million unless Lehr fired an auditor’s office staffer who had upset Russell.

Clifford Jones was one the Senate’s most educated and genteel members. But during committee hearings he sometimes would put his stocking-clad feet on the committee table facing a witness (the socks did not always match, by the way).

And the Senate was not always so civil during those pre-term limit years. There was one senator decades ago who was threatened with having his seat and desk placed outside the chamber if he did not stop his frequent cursing on the Senate floor, when members assumed he was intoxicated.

A few years later, the Senate collectively hushed up a physical altercation with a female staffer by a colleague.

Today, it is a far less rowdy atmosphere in Missouri’s legislature. There’s a more business-like tone. Does that lead to better public policy? There are those who argue that the loss of long-term personal relationships has hampered the opportunities for members with different political and cultural perspectives to forge compromises.

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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